Looking for Winter Fun? It’s All Outdoors in Wisconsin

Look at all the winter fun to be had in Wisconsin and yes, it’s all outdoors. There are snowy owls to see, and winter hikes, and snowshoeing and skiing by candlelight. And this blog post will bring you links to all of it.

I should add, though, this little caveat:  use the phone numbers or email addresses at each site, to check on any last-minute changes. Even in Wisconsin, outdoor fun can be canceled by really-really cold conditions, or other bad weather features, such as cross-country ski trails that have turned to ice. Make no assumptions – not every event is canceled by seemingly impossible weather; others are canceled for things you’d never know about by just checking temperatures.

I made a New Year’s resolution to get outdoors more in 2015, but I could be doing better at it. How about you? Need some suggestions for motivation?  Without, further ado – here are some links!

Four Door County Hikes

I’m definitely going to do one or two of these soon: from the Peninsula Pulse in Door County, 4 Must-Hike Winter Trails. There’s one trail each for the four state parks within the county, each one described in some detail by the naturalist or park ranger at that location. The hikes range in length from a half-mile nature trail to 2.5 mile trails “best taken on with a good pair of hiking boots or snowshoes.”

A winter wetland in Door County, January 2015.

A winter wetland in Door County, January 2015.

After taking a short hike and getting in a little better shape, would you be up for a night of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing? Through the woods on torch-lit trails? Good, because many state park locations all over the state – with the help of their dedicated “friends of the park” volunteer groups – have offered an event like this.

Ski and Hike by Candlelight in Wisconsin’s State Parks

Here is a good list of participating parks from the Wisconsin Trails website, through January and February. You can see there are still a good number to choose from, but again – this coming weekend, if single digit temperatures won’t automatically keep you home, do check for cancellations. I’ve spoken with one park naturalist, Michelle Hefty at Newport State Park in northern Door County – “just too cold,” she agreed, “we’ve had to cancel.” Plus, she added, the snow cover this year just has not been the best. But the park’s Lind Point-Fern Loop hike – the hike with the most Lake Michigan shoreline access, and one of the hikes described above – is always popular and always available, she added.

Outdoors in Wisconsin: Follow a winter trail, January, 2015.

Outdoors in Wisconsin: Follow a winter trail, January, 2015.

Sometimes the cold just doesn’t win. Just when you’re not expecting it, you find an event like this:  Way up at the top of Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, the Book Across the Bay, a 10-K race, on the ice, across Chequamegon Bay from Ashland to Washburn – that event is most definitely NOT canceled.

The 10-K Book Across the Bay Race

I spoke with someone at the local Chamber of Commerce, answering the phone for the volunteer group that puts it on every year. It’s never canceled she said, looking up the projected temps while we spoke. “We tell everyone to dress appropriately. And there are day time activities scheduled with this too.” The race has become a staple in the communities and is described at the website as “one of the coolest ski and snowshoe events around,” (hmm . . . I thought about the single digit weather, and wondered about that word, “coolest.”)

Here’s a delightful description (from the website) of what you’ll experience at Book Across the Bay if you go: “The course is lit by the stars above and up to 1,000 candles in ice luminaries that line the entire route.” And some history: This ski and snowshoe race was started in 1996, partially as a winter boredom buster, and partially as a fund-raiser for the organizers’ favorite causes – the Tri-County Medical Society and the Washburn Public Library. They were hoping for maybe 100 folks to come out and support them, but 350 showed up the first year. This year you can multiply that number of participants times 10, then add a few more hundred. In other words, this is an uber-popular event. Good thing there’s a heated tent set up on the lakeshore and the post-race chilli feed waiting in Washburn for all those participants!

Seeing Snowy Owls

If you’re a birder, you know. And if you’re not, you’ve most likely have heard, or read, or have seen a picture somewhere of the big white-faced, striped and fluffy adorable-looking Snowies. These owls from the Arctic have invaded the midwest and east coast of the U.S., and the southern regions of Canada, in large numbers, this winter and last – a phenomenon that you will sometimes see described as “once in a lifetime.”

More than 300 Snowy Owls were recorded in Wisconsin last year, according to Chelsey Lewis, writing at the Wisconsin Trails website. Early in December observers were predicting that even more may be seen in Wisconsin this winter.

Their visit here is officially called an “irruption.” This is defined as “an unpredictable invasion” by Project SNOWstorm, which is a website for the study of “the ecology of wintering snowy owls.” According to Project SNOWstorm, arctic owls come down from the north in a such large numbers infrequently, and “for reasons that are not fully understood.” The website is a collaboration between dozens of scientists and organizations.

This Snowy Owl Image is by By Neil McIntosh from Cambridge, United Kingdom (Snowy Owl Uploaded by Magnus Manske) From Wikimedia.

This Snowy Owl Image is by
By Neil McIntosh from Cambridge, United Kingdom (Snowy Owl Uploaded by Magnus Manske) From Wikimedia.

Looking around the website (use the Latest Updates tab for their blog) you’ll learn how scientists are tracking them, and what they are learning, and which ones from last year have come back again. You’ll see that Snowies absolutely LOVE ice, and that even the worst days of winter are like a day at the beach for a Snowy Owl. If you haven’t seen a Snowy yourself, but would like to, you need to get busy. Remember, their presence here in great numbers may not happen again soon.

Here are two suggestions for seeing them, one is via guided field trip, and the other is to do it yourself with some guidance from Wisconsin Trails. And here are the details: the Natural Resources Foundation is offering two field trips, with only a few spots still open in each trip. Sign up for one on Sunday, February 15th, at Horicon Marsh, or another on Saturday, February 21st at Collins Marsh (between Manitowoc and Lake Winnebago) by calling Diane Packett, 1-920-219-2587. These field trips, which are fund-raisers for the NRF, have a fee of $50 per person.

If you’re going looking for Snowy Owls on your own, I’d suggest you read the Wisconsin Trails story about them. It identifies 5 known hotspots for the Snowies here in Wisconsin.

Ready for a Change of Pace?

After hiking, skiing, freezing, and searching for Snowies, you just might be ready for a complete change of pace. And here it is – in another (mostly)outdoor article from Wisconsin Trails (with a grateful nod in their direction) about 8 special places to seek and find solace in Wisconsin. This article, “8 place of Solace,” is a reprint of a 2010 article by former Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writer Jackie Loohauis Bennett.

A winter scene along the lower Wisconsin River. (Photo courtesy of WI Department of Natural Resources.

A winter scene along the lower Wisconsin River. (Photo courtesy of WI Department of Natural Resources.

Two of the places included are associated with a religious faith, but they were featured by the writer for their aura of “spiritual calm,” peace and solitude, the same as the others. From the centuries old Joan of Arc Chapel on the Marquette University campus to the Scuppermong Trails of the Kettle Moraine, most of the eight will probably be familiar to Wisconsin readers.

But there will also probably be at least one surprise on the list. For me it’s the Montello Falls, in Marquette County: “four sparkling waterfalls that cascade over granite outcroppings in the center of town.” I had no idea.

Are you a Wisconsin reader? Was there a surprise on this list for you?