Breathtaking Views and “Snow-Much” Fun in Northeastern Wisconsin
When it’s been very cold and there hasn’t been much sunshine, living in this northern clime as we do, snuggling into the couch can seem far more appealing than piling on our winter clothing and heading outdoors. However, there are many mental and physical benefits to enjoying the outdoors, which can give you a boost of vitality in the wintertime.
A study by the American Chemistry Society for Environmental Science and Technology Journal found that compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, as well as increased energy.
And the movement doesn’t need to be intensive—it can be as easy as a hike or walk in the woods solo or with a partner, or as active as ice-skating with the kids and cross-country skiing with the family. If you’re looking to break out of a wintertime rut, Northeastern Wisconsin provides ample “winter whoas” to inspire you to enjoy the great outdoors.
Titletown Ice Rink & Ariens Tubing Hill, Ashwaubenon
If you want to enjoy the outdoors under the glow of nearby Lambeau Field and thousands of white lights strung through the air, Titletown is the place to be this winter.
“We offer a wide variety of winter activities, but I would say that our big ones are our skating and tubing,” explains Titletown Marketing and Digital Manager Hannah Meyer.
Visitors are provided with tubes to slide down the 46-foot-tall Ariens Hill. Gone are the days of lugging your tube back up the hill in heavy coats, snow pants and moon boots—one of the unique features of Ariens Hill is its tube return. Titletown employees place the tubes back into an escalator of sorts and it will be waiting for you when you get back to the top.
If an afternoon or evening of ice-skating under the twinkle lights is more your speed, skates are available for rent from toddler sizes all the way through to a men’s size 15. They also have skate assists for ice-skaters young and old.
If you get hungry for a nosh or want to quench your thirst with a beer or drink, there are menu items and beverages available from 46 Below Café during the week and weekend, or from the outdoor beer garden, which is open on the weekends. There is also seating and fire pits to cozy up next to while the kids skate or if you need a breather during date night.
“Aside from the activities, the overall atmosphere is truly like stepping into a Hallmark movie – it’s a winter wonderland,” said Meyer. “This year we have over 20,000 strands of lights, which equals over 500,000 lights total within the park. So, even if you’re just looking to walk around, it is a truly magical atmosphere.”
Navarino Nature Center & Wildlife Area, Navarino
The Navarino Wildlife Area (WDNR) is located in southeastern Shawano County and northeastern Waupaca County, and boasts 15,000 acres of wetlands, forests, prairies and agricultural fields. There are a variety of recreational opportunities available throughout the year, and in the wintertime you can cross-country ski, snowshoe, walk your dog, and sled.
“There are over 100 miles of trails,” says Tim Ewing, director and naturalist. “During the winter months, the Nature Center volunteers and staff help to groom about 15 miles of cross-country ski trails … There are also probably about five miles of groomed or packed snowshoe trails as well as walking trails, but then the rest of the trails are just let go for the winter. You can still snowshoe them, you can still walk them. If you’re wanting to break trail on cross-country skis, you can break trail on those skis — they’re just not packed or groomed.”
At the Navarino Nature Center, the nonprofit center located within the wildlife area, visitors can use the sledding hill any time for free, as well as a practice loop for cross-country skiing. Most people bring their own sleds for sledding, though there have been a few donated to the NNC. Rentals of both skis and snowshoes are available during operational hours for a small fee, Tuesday through Saturday. The trails throughout the wildlife area are available for use at any time and are free to use.
The standard winter etiquette is in place for visitors, so if you’re a cross-country skier, those trails are mainly for you. There are the packed trails for snowshoers and walkers. Dogs are allowed in the wildlife area, but during the winter months Ewing says they ask that dog walkers use snowshoe trails and walking trails and stay away from the cross-country trails. Trail conditions and information about the latest grooming can be found on the NNC Facebook page and skinnyski.com.
If seeing porcupines, deer, eagles, songbirds and even otters playing while enjoying the tranquility of the outdoors sounds like the perfect afternoon, the 45-minute trip to Navarino is worth consideration.
“It’s just a beautiful property to explore,” says Ewing. “Like I said, there are countless miles of trails. You can come out here and you may see a couple other people, as you’re snowshoeing or skiing the trail, but it’s not mobbed. There are not a lot of people and you can get spread out.”
The Plaza at Gateway Park Ice Rink, Neenah
Recently named one of the top 10 most charming ice-skating rinks in the United States by national lifestyle website Best Life, The Plaza at Gateway Park is an extraordinary gathering site to have here in Northeastern Wisconsin. Lizzy Bergstrom, director of The Plaza & Globe Coffee, says the ice rink is the same dimension as Rockefeller Center in New York City and can hold 150 skaters at a time.
“It’s a great family destination because both young and young-at-heart find The Plaza to be a magical place,” says Bergstrom.
In addition to the ice-skating, skating lessons and s’mores by the fire, Globe Coffee—located on site—is a cozy indoor spot for coffee and cocoa flights, soups, paninis, and baked goods.
With affordable options for skate tickets and rentals, as well as sizes on hand from toddler size 8 to men’s size 16, it’s a great location to meet for a play date, an evening out with friends, or a family outing. The Plaza also offers birthday party rentals and discounts during part of the week for Girl Scout, Boy Scout, 4H, church and school groups.
“We feel blessed to be a part of the Fox Cities community,” adds Bergstrom of The Plaza. “We get to be there for the big moments and small moments. From proposals to kiddo birthdays to family reunions, to weekly grandmother and granddaughter ice-skating dates, we are so lucky to see all this joy happen at The Plaza.”
High Cliff State Park, Sherwood
If you’re hoping to get outside and enjoy the serenity and solitude of the wintertime, High Cliff State Park is a great spot for exploration in the land of snow and ice. While many of us only think to visit our state parks during our other three seasons, Department of Natural Resources Park Ranger Kyle Pasch explains that High Cliff offers a unique combination of winter landscapes that almost anyone can enjoy.
“From snow-covered prairie to the icy banks of Lake Winnebago there are many novel sights to see,” he says. “With the leaves of fall long gone, the topography shows its true beauty of the exposed cliffsides and rocky terrain.”
Park visitors have several options for getting in and around the property. There are snowmobile trails and cross-country ski trails, in addition to hiking and snowshoeing—all of which are dependent on snowfall amounts. The park also hosts limited winter camping in the family campground, while ice fishing and sturgeon spearing are popular. Pasch recommends warm, sunny days for wildlife viewing. Visitors can expect to see white tailed deer, eastern gray squirrels (gray and black color phases), fox and red squirrels, cotton tail rabbits, red and gray foxes, coyotes, opossums, and raccoons. An assortment of songbirds, including cardinals, black capped chickadees, nuthatches, wild turkey and blue jays can also be seen, while a wide variety of waterfowl can be viewed as long as there is open water.
Pasch recommends visitors review local weather forecasts and plan their trips appropriately.
“Dress for the weather and know your limits,” he says. “Roads are maintained diligently, however some areas of the park may not be accessible by motorized vehicles. A select few pit toilets remain available within the family campground and Upper Park day use areas.”
Visitors accessing High Cliff State Park by vehicle are required to have an annual Wisconsin State Park admission sticker or daily admission pass. Both are available for purchase at the main office or at the self-pay fee station located at the entrance of the park. A Wisconsin State Park Trail Pass is not required for any portion of trail located on HCSP property.
“During scheduled hours, we provide a water station, restrooms, firewood sales, and even snowshoe rentals at our main office,” Pasch advises potential visitors. “We are more than happy to answer any questions in-person or over the phone. Trails can become icy quickly, and ice cleats are recommended for winter exploration on the Lime Kiln Trail. Visitors are asked to use extreme caution near cliff edges year-round, especially in winter.”
Ariens Nordic Center, Brillion
Located adjacent to Round Lake Farms on 200 acres at the outskirts of Brillion, Ariens Nordic Center recently opened in December. Construction began in 2021, and includes a year-round trail network for recreation, training and competition for cross-country skiing, biathlon, roller-skiing, running, hiking, and more. It also includes lighting, snowmaking, a paved roller-ski loop for off-season training, a pond for snowmaking purposes and a 20-point biathlon range. This winter the primary focus has been opening the Nordic ski trails for classic and skate skiing. Fat bike and snowshoe trails are also planned, but whether they are able to open this winter is dependent on the weather and whether the conditions will be suitable for trail building.
“I think it’s a unique opportunity that those in the Fox Valley haven’t been able to experience close to home,” says Monica Ariens, managing director of Ariens Co. Hospitality. “Most people are having to travel an hour and a half or so to experience what we have to offer. It’s something more local and gets them outdoors in the Valley and getting to enjoy what our area has to offer, close to home.”
The Ariens Nordic Center is part of the company’s drive to encourage collaboration within the community to provide amenities and recreation to make living in Brillion attractive for current and prospective residents.
“It’s part of a greater vision for the Brillion community,” she explains. “Ariens has been rooted in Brillion since the late 1800s, and we know that to continue for more generations, it’s about more than just the company – it’s about the community around us and being able to offer amenities and fun things for people to do. Besides being a place to work, it’s a place for people to live, work and play. The Nordic Center helps us achieve those offerings to the community.
“People are looking for things to do in the winter, and they feel cooped up at home,” she adds. “[This gives] them an opportunity to get outside and enjoy some recreational opportunities that maybe they’ve never tried before.”
The Ariens Nordic Center is a cash-less venue, so visitors should prepare for that ahead of time. Trail conditions and hours of operation in the wintertime are dependent on weather, of course, so be sure to check ariensnordic.com, their Facebook page or their Instagram page to be sure trail conditions are viable and the center is open.