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Winter lodge adventures on a budget

At non-profit centers, you can try something new ice fishing, dog mushing, wolf tracking and everything is included.

High ropes course at Wolf Ridge.

© Wolf Ridge

At Wolf Ridge, guests brave the high-ropes course year-round.

In winter, it's hard to find a lodge getaway that fits every budget.

Lodges that offer skiing on groomed trails, wood-fired saunas and home-cooked meals aren't cheap.

But if you'd like to try those things and be greeted by a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies afterward you have a friend in environmental learning centers.

These non-profit centers are the low-cost Club Meds of the north woods, offering all-inclusive weekend packages that include lodgings, meals and winter fun cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, even wolf-tracking and sled-dog mushing.

Here are some great winter adventures in 2020

Ice fishing and cross-country skiing for beginners

East of Traverse City, Mich., the Ralph MacMullan Conference Center on Higgins Lake is offering Ice Fishing 101 Feb. 7-9. Cost of $210, $191 for children 11 and under, includes lodgings, meals and a snowshoe kit.

The MacMullan Center also offers a Cross-Country Skiing 101 weekend March 13-14.

Cost of $130, $95 for children 4-11, includes lodgings, meals, use of skis and a skiing lesson.

Building snowshoes in Michigan

The Ralph MacMullan also offers a Snowshoe Building weekend March 21-22 includes a morning snowshoe hike and a lantern-lit snowshoe hike at nearby Hartwick Pines State Park.

Cost of $220, $198 children 11 and under, includes lodgings, meals and a snowshoe kit.

And on the four nights lantern-lit snowshoe hikes are held at nearby Hartwick Pines State Park, the center is offering an overnight package for just $65, including lodgings, snacks, breakfast and a morning snowshoe hike. The dates are  Dec. 28, Jan. 25, Feb. 22 and March 21.

Dog sledding at Camp Menogyn.

© Beth Gauper

A guest at Camp Menogyn mushes her own dog-sled team.

Tracking wolves in Wisconsin

The Timber Wolf Information Network organizes Winter Wolf Ecology workshops at nature centers around the state. Register in advance.

At Beaver Creek Reserve east of Eau Claire, it's Jan. 25-26. Cost is $70, plus $13 for lodgings.

At the Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center west of Wisconsin Rapids, it's Feb. 1-2. Cost is $90, including lodgings and two meals, plus $20 for Friday night, too.

At Treehaven near Tomahawk, it's Jan. 11-12. Cost is $130, including lodgings and four meals. 

Adventures for people over 50

North of Virginia on Minnesota's Iron Range, Laurentian Environmental Center is offering a Young at Heart Winter Getaway for people 50 and over Jan. 19-22.

Cost is $175, including lodgings, activities and meals. Cross-country skis are available.

Becoming an Outdoors Woman in three states

BOW workshops are offered year-round by state DNRs. Costs include lodgings, meals and gear unless noted. Often, scholarships are offered.

Minnesota offers many weekends for women and families that include cross-country skiing, snowshoe archery biathlon, dark-house fishing and outdoor survival. 

At Osprey Wilds Environmental Center near Sandstone, formerly Audubon Center for the North Woods, the state's BOW, or Becoming an Outdoors Woman, program offers a Winter Workshop Jan. 24-26

Cost of $195 includes dorm lodgings and all meals. Reserve as early as possible. 

A guided snowshoe hike in the Porkies.

© Beth Gauper

In Michigan, the MacMullan Center offers inexpensive lodgings on the nights there's lantern-lit snowshoeing at nearby Hartwick Pines State Park.

In north-central Wisconsin, Treehaven, a natural-resources center operated by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point between Tomahawk and Rhinelander, is offering a Going to the Dogs mushing and skijoring weekend Jan. 10-12, in Springstead, Wis. Cost is $515.

Treehaven also is offering a Becoming an Outdoorswoman Winter WorkshopFeb. 14-16. Cost is $399. Activities include cross-country skiing, ice fishing, bow-hunting, winter survival, even kayaking.

Michigan's BOW, or Becoming an Outdoors Woman, program offers a Winter Workshop Feb. 21-23 at Bay Cliff Health Camp, overlooking Lake Superior near Marquette. Activities included cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, archery, ice fishing and winter biking, and cost of $225 includes food and lodging.

Sampler weekends on the North Shore

A cross-country skier in Minnesota.

© Beth Gauper

A skier enjoys a trail in Minnesota.

In the hills above Minnesota's North Shore, Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center offers two Family Sampler weekends, Jan. 17-20 and Feb. 21-23. Activities include the ropes course, skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, winter survival adventures and indoor rock climbing.

Each family gets a suite with bath. Cost for three nights is $522 for two, $783 for three and $1,044 for four. Cost for two nights is $348 for two, $498 for three and $696 for four.

Adventure on the Gunflint Trail

On the central Gunflint Trail in northeast Minnesota, YMCA Camp Menogyn offers skiing, snowshoeing, sled-dog mushing and trips into the Boundary Waters.

Family Camps are Dec. 30-Jan. 2 and Feb. 14-17 and cost $205 for ages 13 and up and $105 for ages 3-12. 

Youths ages 12-18 also can go to Winter Camp Dec. 27-30. Cost is $310.

A wolf in Ely.

© Beth Gauper

Wisconsin offers many wolf workshops in winter.

Groups can rent the camp for a weekend of their choice. They'll be greeted by cookies, served meals in the cozy lodge and allowed to mush dogs on the lake. The bigger the group, the lower the price.

Over Martin Luther King weekend in January, the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness offers an annual Winter Weekend. Cost is $195 for adults and $100 for children 6-12, including meals and bunks in heated cabins. Reserve as early as October.

Running with wolves in Ely

In the northern Minnesota town of Ely, the International Wolf Center is offering  Wolves and Women's Weekend Feb. 28-March 1, based in rustic cabins at the Northern Tier High Adventure Canoe Base.

Activities include dog-mushing, wolf-tracking and snowshoeing. Cost is $275, $250 for members.

More adventures in Ely

North of Ely, on the North Arm of Burntside Lake, the YMCA's Camp du Nord offers many family and adult weekends in winter, all featuring outdoors sports and use of the camp's wood-fired sauna next to the lake.

Women's Ski & Snowshoe Retreats are Jan. 23-26 and Feb. 20-23. Cost is $375. A Men's Weekend is Jan. 30-Feb. 2, also $375.

Presidents' Day family weekends in northern Minnesota

On Minnesota's Iron Range, north of Virginia, Laurentian Environmental Center is offering a Family Winter Weekend Feb. 15-17. Cross-country ski instruction is provided for beginners, and advanced skiers can use more than 21 miles of groomed trails.

Cost is $150, free for children 3 and under.

Near Sandstone, Osprey Wilds Environmental Center, formerly Audubon Center of the North Woods, is hosting a Winter Family Weekend Feb. 14-17, with sleigh rides, kick-sledding and a high ropes course in addition to skiing and snowshoeing.

Cost is $650 for two, $900 for three and $1,125 for four, including lodging and nine meals.


For more on ELCs in Minnesota, see Minnesota's environmental learning centers.

Would you like to create your own winter weekend adventure? For more about inexpensive group lodges, see Cabins for a crowd.

Last updated on January 20, 2020