Meteorologists are predicting the coldest winter on record since 1904 — but why not make the most of it? In Chicago’s neighbor-to-the-north, Wisconsin, there is a plethora of places to help make the most of the snowy season. We consulted the experts and put together itineraries for three destinations that heat up during the cold season.
“So many people think of Lake Geneva as a summer destination, but truth be told, we are a four-season recreation and resort area,” says Julie Baron, spokesperson for the Lake Geneva Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. There is truly something for everyone in this little town, just an hour drive from Chicago’s North Shore. “There’s a surprising array of events and activities for all different ages, tastes and budgets in the area,” says Baron.
Get outside: Visitors can get their sled on at Big Foot Beach State Park (1452 S. Wells, Lake Geneva; Dnr.wi.gov) or strap on their skis, snowboards or skates at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa (7036 Grand Geneva, Lake Geneva; Grandgeneva.com) — there’s even complimentary hot chocolate with ice-skate rentals. Snowmobiling is another common Lake Geneva pastime — there are trails all throughout Walworth County.
Warm up: For a more romantic getaway, the Abbey Resort (269 Fontana, Fontana-on-Geneva Lake; Theabbeyresort.com) provides a quiet retreat where skaters can hit the ice for daytime or moonlit sessions and spend the rest of their visit relaxing at the Avani Spa. And with all the downtown shopping and dining options, it’s the perfect spot to do some serious exploring.
Don’t miss: The week-long Winterfest at The Riviera Park runs Jan. 28-Feb. 7 and includes one of the only national snow-sculpting competitions. “It creates a huge celebration of Mother Nature,” says Baron. The Riviera Park, 812 Wrigley, Lake Geneva; Lakegenevawi.com.
Photos courtesy of Grand Geneva Resort & Spa
In the cold winter months, Door County offers a perfect escape — especially for those looking to snuggle up to their sweethearts by a fire. “We’re a rural destination, so that quiet, romantic vibe permeates its way throughout the county,” says Door County Visitor Bureau spokesperson Jon Jarosh.
Get outside: Sledding, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are very popular activities, says Jarosh. For the more adventurous type, there are great ice fishing opportunities in the area as well. “The bay of Green Bay freezes solid every year, and most of the little villages have guides that [will take people] out,” he says.
Warm up: Door County is host to eight local wineries that are open all year on what is known as the Door County wine trail. “It’s a way to explore the area, and they each have tasting rooms inside,” says Jarosh. Every Saturday (through March), the Door County Trolley offers a Winter Wonderland Tour that includes a visit to a few of the wineries, a group sleigh ride and fireside lunch. $62/person, visit Doorcountytrolley.com/winter-wonderland-tours.
Don’t miss: The 2015 Fish Creek Winter Festival, Feb. 6-8, includes chili cookoffs, dogsled rides, winter volleyball and a carriage ride through the village (Visitfishcreek.com). For a different sort of New Year’s Eve celebration, Jacksonport hosts one of the largest Polar Bear Clubs in the Midwest. Join hundreds of people in jumping into icy Lake Michigan to ring in the New Year. Visit Jacksonportpolarbearclub.com for more information.
Photos courtesy of Jon Jarosh/Door County Visitor Bureau
As one of the growing cultural centers of the Midwest, the state’s capital is a must-see destination for fighting the winter blues. At three hours away, it’s the longest drive on our list, but it’s worth the trip. Plan your visit around Madison Hotel Week (Feb. 13-23; Visitmadison.com), when participating hotels offer rates as low as $75-$100 per night.
Get outside: “For those willing to layer up and brave the colder temps, there is so much to do in Madison,” says Judy Frankel, spokesperson for the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have an appreciation for each of the distinct four seasons.” For the adventurer, Devil’s Head Resort (S6330 Bluff, Merrimac; Devilsheadresort.com) in nearby Merrimac features 30 scenic ski runs and five restaurants. Off the slopes, they offer ice skating and candlelit snowshoeing.
Warm up: Take time to visit the state capitol building and enjoy some of the great cuisine. Tempest Oyster Bar (120 E. Wilson, Madison; Tempestoyster.com) and Gates and Brovi (3502 Monroe, Madison; Gatesandbrovi.com) are great for happy hour, or try Cooper’s Tavern (20 W. Mifflin, Madison; Thecooperstavern.com) for date night. Madison also offers a great nightlife scene, so get out and explore the booming Atwood, Willy Street and Monroe Street neighborhoods.
Don’t miss: The Isthmus Beer and Cheese Festival on Jan. 17 features some of Wisconsin’s best cheeses and craft beers — guests can sample hundreds of options. $50 general admission, $85 premium tasting, visit Isthmusbeercheese.com.
Photos courtesy of Trevor White and Michael Sullivan/Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau