A great weekend’s journey is right inside our region. Here are some of our area’s excellent places to play.
Wausau, Wis.: Winter Revelry in the Heart of Wisconsin
By Lindsey Gapen, assistant editor
There’s no better way to embrace winter weather than to visit Wausau, Wis. Great skiing, snowboarding and other fun recreation await at the city’s crown jewel: Granite Peak Ski Resort, located in Rib Mountain State Park off Wisconsin Highway 29.
“Wausau is beautiful this time of year,” says Vicki Baumann, the general manager of Granite Peak. “You’ll never forget the incredible view of Lake Wausau from the top of the mountain.”
Granite Peak has more than 70 runs on a 700-foot mountain, making it a great getaway for snowy recreation. Various family packages, college-student discounts and child discounts are available.
This winter, a Family Festival Weekend occurs Feb. 5-7, during which families can enjoy live music, horse-drawn wagon rides and Saturday-night fireworks. In the midst of all the fun, Mardi Gras Festival happens on Feb. 6, with hurricane drink specials and Cajun food from Granite Peak’s outdoor grill.
“It will be a great opportunity for families to make memories that last a lifetime,” Baumann says.
From Feb. 12-15, Granite Peak celebrates a four-day Presidents Weekend with extended ski hours and live music Saturday through Monday. German Fest, happening Feb. 20, brings German beer and food specialties.
“People usually visit for multiple days in a row,” Baumann says. “Granite Peak has so much to offer, it’s difficult to get the full experience in just one day. Also, there’s always something fun happening in Wausau, so you can ski or snowboard all day before enjoying some great shopping and dining in the city.”
Baumann recommends a stop at Carmelo’s Italian Restaurant, 3607 N. Mountain Road, Wausau.
“It’s a family-owned business that serves delicious Italian food,” Baumann says. “In addition to Carmelo’s, there are so many great places in Wausau to find pizza, steak, burgers – whatever you might be craving.”
As for accommodations, Jefferson Street Inn, 201 Jefferson St., provides a luxurious and cozy overnight stay. Not only can guests take advantage of a complimentary shuttle ride from the Inn to Granite Peak, but they can also enjoy fireplaces, full kitchens, kid-friendly entertainment, an indoor swimming pool, spa service, an on-site restaurant and much more.
“When you arrive in the Wausau area, you’ll be incased in the beauty of the mountains, and the site will knock your socks off,” says Deb Rice, Jefferson Street Inn’s general manager. “We aim to provide the same kind of exhilarating feeling when you first step into the Inn.”
Rice insists that a visit to Wausau is likely to result in a desire to return.
“This city is one of the most fantastic places to visit in the Midwest,” Rice says. “Between the top-notch entertainment, fantastic scenery and endless opportunities to have a good time, you’ll want to make visiting Wausau an annual event.”
Starved Rock Lodge: Welcoming Winter Wonders
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
No one looks forward to winter more than outdoor enthusiasts who visit Starved Rock Lodge & State Park, in Utica, Ill.
Given the proper gear, hikers aren’t deterred by the cold and ice outside, where bald eagles fly overhead and feed along the banks of the Illinois River. Panoramic views of the scenic Illinois River Valley are beautiful year-round, but nothing compares to a snow-covered canyon with a frozen waterfall towering within it. (Starved Rock has 18 of ‘em!)
Before the snow flies, the Lodge is beautifully decorated for the holiday season and becomes a welcoming place for families and corporate groups. The massive, two-sided fireplace crackles with glowing logs that warm the air and welcome guests from near and far.
Gift cards may now be purchased on the Lodge’s website, so there’s no need to brave the weather and crowds at shopping centers. Gift cards to Starved Rock are perfect for dining, lodging, souvenirs, guided hikes, show tickets and more.
This time of year, Starved Rock Lodge’s annual photo contest opens for submissions. The deadline to enter is Feb. 14, 2016. Photographers of all skill levels are invited to submit their best images captured at the park. Details are on the Lodge website, starvedrocklodge.com. Photographers who enter the contest may also display their work at a photo show scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 21, in the Great Hall.
If a wedding is in your future, attend the Lodge’s annual Bridal Expo on Sunday, Jan. 3. Starved Rock Lodge & State Park has become a destination for more than 130 outdoor weddings in the summer and indoor ceremonies in the historic Great Hall.
Sled Dog Demos, hosted by Free Spirit Siberian Rescue, return to the Lodge on Jan. 10 and Feb. 28. Dogs will run with their sleds in the lower park area, located west of the Visitor Center. Free seminars are hosted inside the Lodge.
Eagle Watch Weekend, set for Jan. 30 and 31, features free Birds of Prey shows and hands-on exhibits in the Great Hall. Bald Eagle Trolley Tours offered during January and February include lunch and a guided tour aboard a Starved Rock Trolley to see America’s symbol of strength. This is Starved Rock’s most popular winter tour.
In the quiet of winter, cozy cabins are set peacefully in the woods, providing a getaway that can be truly restful and rejuvenating. And, best of all, an indoor pool complex is just a few steps away, with a pool, hot tub and two saunas. Massage therapists are available by appointment.
Learn more about all of Starved Rock’s winter events at starvedrocklodge.com.
Goldmoor Inn: Galena’s Countryside Escape
By Chris Linden, executive editor
Tucked into the hills of Galena, Ill., in the state’s scenic Driftless Area, Goldmoor Inn provides a warm and welcoming escape year-round. This time of year, its 21-acre perch above the backwaters of the Mississippi gives overnight guests a scenic way to enjoy the winter season.
“The scenery and nature are all around us, even now with the leaves gone,” says Birgit Radin, who with husband Slobo, recently purchased the inn. “We have bird feeders all around the property, and we see so many birds, turkey, deer – the wildlife here is breathtaking.”
The luxurious bed-and-breakfast welcomes guests to 13 luxury suites, each unique in its decor. Enjoy your own whirlpool or cozy fireplace in rooms like the First Lady Suite, a cozy country room; or the turret Suite, a two-story room that has its own “drawbridge” entrance and a river view.
Some guests enjoy a more rustic retreat inside the Goldmoor’s two log cabins, which are available through winter, and three romantic cottages, which each have private entrances and galley kitchens. Guests at either accommodation can enjoy private porches, scenic views, warm fireplaces and cozy kitchen galleys.
Goldmoor Inn is a beloved location for weddings, even during the winter months. But its location makes it an ideal retreat for winter fun. The property is a prime location to view wintering eagles along the Mississippi River, the backwaters of which are in view of the estate. Visit on the weekend of Feb. 26-27 and join naturalist Terrence N. Ingram on a guests-only tour of nearby eagle nesting grounds.
Just a few miles away, Chestnut Mountain Resort boasts some of the area’s best skiing on 19 trails with a vertical drop of 475 feet. Ask the staff at Goldmoor about a special stay-and-ski package that provides a good excuse to make a long weekend getaway.
Just five miles to the north, downtown Galena is a favorite place to play. Stores and restaurants in its charming historical downtown welcome guests all winter long, and fun events like the Galena Wine Weekend, on March 18-19, keep the entertainment coming.
But with a fine dining experience right inside Goldmoor, there’s excuse enough to stay right here for dinner. Reservations are available every Thursday through Monday. The recently updated and seasonally driven menu includes classics such as beef Wellington and filet mignon, and Executive Chef Carlos Valdez happily accommodates diners with dietary restrictions.
“Everything he does is from scratch – no artificial ingredients, all very healthy foods,” says Radin. “He’s a fabulous baker, too. We are trying to do as much as we can by ourselves, to minimize artificial ingredients.”
Goldmoor opened in 1981 as a private estate-turned-inn and steadily expanded over the years. The inn was sold this past spring to the Radins, a couple from Europe who have more than 30 years of experience in hospitality. The couple continue to make small updates and plan to introduce cooking, painting and writing classes in the coming year.
The cozy Goldmoor Inn has won many accolades for the unique experience it offers; it entered the TripAdvisor 2015 Hall of Fame and was named one of the coziest bed-and-breakfasts in America by Yahoo! Travel. For more information, visit goldmoor.com.