Are you itching to get out of the house in search of wintertime adventures? Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or you prefer indoor activities this time of year, you’re sure to find something in southern Wisconsin.
Winters in America’s heartland can be bitterly cold, so “hibernation” often occupies the No. 1 spot on the “to do” list. But let’s not burrow into our dens just yet. When we look for ways to embrace the unique joys of winter, we find a number of options, many in southern Wisconsin. Here are a few to check out this season.
Gallivant in New Glarus
Located in Green County, the village of New Glarus is the Midwest’s mini-Switzerland.
Settled in 1845 by 108 Swiss pioneers who left their homeland during an economic crisis, New Glarus has since been settled by generations of Swiss immigrants, who have worked hard to keep the village true to its founders’ heritage. Visitors encounter a European-like culture that revolves around Swiss language, folk traditions, music and shopping experiences.
Susie Weiss, director of the New Glarus Chamber of Commerce, says the village provides winter entertainment in the form of snowmobiling and cross-country skiing, fine dining at restaurants that serve authentic Swiss cuisine, unique shopping opportunities and year-round festivals.
“It’s a great place with a small-town feel,” Weiss says. “New Glarus is a nice place to get away from the hustle and bustle.”
Another point of interest in New Glarus is the New Glarus Brewing Co., located at 2400 Highway 69. The brewery offers free, self-guided tours and tastings between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day, year-round, and a more extensive $20 tour Fridays at 1 p.m., by reservation.
Owned by Daniel and Deb Carey, the brewing company has received many accolades and awards. A few of its famous beers are Spotted Cow, Wisconsin Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart.
“Our brewery is fantastic,” says Weiss. “It’s at a beautiful location overlooking the village and has fantastic beer.”
For more information, visit swisstown.com.
Kick Up Your Heels at Kettle Moraine
With more than 22,000 acres to explore, the Southern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Park is a paradise for nature lovers. The highly glaciated forest contains hilly terrain and interesting landforms.
The park is divided into two large and three small units, the southern end extending from west of North Prairie to southwest of Whitewater Lake. Kettle Moraine features acres of glacial hills, kettles, lakes, prairie restoration sites and pine woods. Enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoe hiking and ice fishing, against a gorgeous backdrop.
“We have a lot of spectacular scenery and we also have three ski trails that are groomed,” says Paul Sandgren, forest superintendent. “We also have the Ice Age trail. The path offers great snowshoe opportunities.” The unique topography was caused by the area’s last glacier, explains Sandgren.
For visitors who wish to brave the elements, Ottawa Lake campground is open year-round. Self-registration is required for camping from November through March.
Kettle Moraine State Park also is home to Old World Wisconsin, a collection of historic farmsteads gathered from around the state. The historical buildings were dismantled and moved to the forest in an effort to recreate early pioneer living. The majority of Old World Wisconsin activities run from spring through fall, but there also are several wintertime events. Learn about them at friendsoww.org/winter_events.htm.
Kettle Moraine State Park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and is located at S91W39091 Highway 59, in Eagle. Visit dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/kms.
Eagles on the Wisconsin River
From mid-December through March, hundreds of eagles take up residence near the Prairie du Sac Hydroelectric Dam along the Wisconsin River. Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, a nonprofit organization that’s operated for more than 25 years, tracks the number of eagles roosting along the river. Council President John Keefe says the main area in which the eagles congregate extends 20 miles. There are several key overlooks, including an island in the middle of the river, dubbed “Eagle Island.”
“The dam keeps water open all year, which provides food for eagles,” Keefe explains.
Last year, 451 eagles were spotted; more than 400 birds have been observed so far this winter. Eagle sightings are so popular in the area that the villages of Sauk City and Prairie Du Sac celebrate by hosting Bald Eagle Watching Days, an annual January festival featuring a number of indoor presentations, bird of prey shows and organized eagle-watching tours. Rehabilitated eagles are often released back into the wild as part of the program.
If you missed that event, don’t worry – bus tours are available throughout January and February. Visit the Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce at 109 Phillips Blvd., in Sauk City, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon. Interested groups also can call ahead for privately arranged tours.
People driving their own cars are welcome to tour independently, but are encouraged to stay in their vehicles so as not to startle the birds. Keefe believes encountering a Bald Eagle in the wild is a spectacular event that everyone should experience.
“Have you ever seen an eagle flying? It’s absolutely majestic … Their whole dynamic is fascinating to watch,” he says. “It’s beautiful to watch eagles soar in such close proximity.”
Call (608) 643-4168 or visit ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org/eagledays.
Dare to Play at Devil’s Head
For snow lovers who want to show off their skiing or snowboarding skills, Devil’s Head Resort, S6330 Bluff Road in Merrimac, is the perfect place to play in the powder. Situated in the glacier-formed Baraboo Bluffs, the full-service facility is consistently named one of the best in the Midwest, says Joe Vittengl, general manager, who’s been with Devil’s Head for 26 years.
“We have lodging and slopeside lodging, everything in one location,” he says. “We also have one of the largest vertical drops in the Midwest.”
The resort was constructed in 1970, and a number of improvements have been made since. Today it features a mountain with a vertical rise of 500 feet; ski runs up to 1.5 miles; a 3.5-mile cross-country ski trail; plenty of terrain for beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers; a lift system featuring three quad chair lifts, a triple chair lift, six double chair lifts and two “magic carpet” chair lifts; several dining options; 138 hotel rooms and more.
Runs are geared toward all skill levels, and welcoming to both skiers and snowboarders. For beginners, the Devil’s Head bunny hill is a safe and fun place to build skills and confidence. The resort also offers a Ski & Ride School.
The lift opens at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Ticket prices and packages vary. Call (608) 493-2251 or visit devilsheadresort.com.
Go Cavorting at Cascade Mountain
Have a tot that wants to go tubing or skiing? Cascade Mountain, located at 2014 Cascade Mountain in Portage, is a family-friendly facility where kids under 12 always ski free with a paying adult.
The facility opened in 1962 and features 36 trails, four terrain parks and a 1,000–foot snow tubing chute in the Tube Town park. Tubes and a lift are provided.
“We have a lot of skiing variety and challenging terrain,” says Randy Axelson, vice president of sales. “There are lots of improvements here every year and we offer some of the best skiing facilities around.”
The scope of activities at Cascade Mountain is wide, from skiing and snow tubing to snowboarding. Snowboarding and skiing instruction is available.
Children ski free and the lodge is located along I-90/94, which makes it easily accessible – factors which keep people coming back year after year, says Axelson.
Cascade Mountain is open seven days a week, starting at 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. on weekends. Tube Town times, ticket prices and packages vary. Call (608) 742-5588 or visit cascademountain.com.
Back in Time at The Baker House, Lake Geneva
Originally built in 1885 as a summer residence for Lake Geneva resident Emily Baker – widow of two-term Wisconsin State Sen. Robert Baker – the 17,000-square-foot, 30-room mansion at 327 Wrigley Dr. was once called “Redwood Cottage,” but is now The Baker House, a restaurant and inn owned by Bethany Souza and partner Andrew Fritz.
Souza was enjoying a typical Sunday drive when she just happened to make a u-turn and saw the property.
“Fate snowballed from there,” she says. “I found a beautiful Victorian home that needed love and a concept.”
She bought the property in January 2010. Prior to her purchase, the house had been used as a summer home, a sanitarium for the wealthy and a Prohibition speakeasy.
Souza, who lives in the Victorian mansion with her family, knows people typically head to the Lake Geneva area for fun, and thought it would be exciting to offer a certain lifestyle at the house. Luxury hotel rooms are located on the second floor. There’s a library, music room, game room and, of course, a formal dining room.
“It’s a timeless property that appeals to people of all ages,” Souza says. “You can step back into time, but it’s definitely not your granny’s B&B.”
With personal butlers and original elements of the historical home still intact, one might expect life at the Baker House to be a bit stuffy. However, Souza says it’s more like “a virtual ongoing party. All of our staff members wear vintage-style costumes. We have over 200 vintage hats for people to wear when dining and to take photos in. There’s live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and we have a Cabaret dinner theater series, a murder mystery dinner, Saturday afternoon teas and an amazing Sunday brunch.”
In February, The Baker House sets up an ice bar in the front garden; during summer, there’s lakeside dining.
Oh, and there’s another interesting fact about this house: it’s rumored to be haunted.
“There are more spirits here than just in the bar,” Souza says. “But they’re just enjoying the party with us.”
For more information, visit bakerhouse1885.com.
Play and Dine at Pier 290 in Williams Bay
Gage Marine, a port for the Lake Geneva Cruise Line, has been in the Gage Family since the 1950s. The family opened a restaurant at the marina in July 2012, accessible by land, water and … ice.
“One big reason was to provide guests with a dining experience that involved quick access to the lake and water,” says president Bill Gage.
The restaurant derives its name from the fact that piers on Lake Geneva are numbered and Gage Marine is located on pier 290. It stands out for several reasons, says Gage. First, the building was constructed from materials salvaged from boats, barns and other items collected from around the Lake Geneva area. Menu options are unique, too. The fare is nearly all locally sourced and prepared from scratch. The menu highlights the season’s best local ingredients and changes periodically, and includes steak, seafood, sandwiches and salads. All burgers are made from grass-fed animals and there are vegan offerings, too.
The restaurant has fun features like two indoor fireplaces, a heated and enclosed outdoor dining area overlooking Geneva Lake, outdoor fire pits, live music on select evenings, an enchanting outdoor ice bar that’s very popular in winter months, and a lighted ice-skating rink, where guests can skate or partake in a game of broom ball.
“I don’t know of too many restaurants where you can eat and play,” Gage says. “It’s a unique venue.”
Pier 290 serves food from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. The bar areas stay open as late as 2 a.m. on the weekends.
Pier 290 is located at 1 Liechty Dr., Williams Bay. Call (262) 245-2100 or visit Pier290.com.
Grab a Pint at Geneva Lake Brewing Co., Lake Geneva
Father-and-son team Pat and Jonathan McIntosh head up the Geneva Lake Brewing Co. at 750 Veterans Pkwy. Jonathan, who works as head brewer, says he talked his father out of retirement and into creating the small-but-charming home brewing company that opened in 2010.
“As far as I know, we’re the only father-and-son-operated brewery in the country,” Jonathan says. “We offer a laid-back place where people can bring in their own food.”
The microbrewery also offers guests hands-on tours and tastings. Jonathan has a degree in brewing chemistry from the Siebel Institute in Chicago and is in charge of recipe development for all Geneva Lake Brewing Co. beers.
Jonathan says he has the “brewer’s touch” and brews 200 gallons of beer at one time. Some of his more popular varieties are Oatmeal Stout, Weekender Wheat, Cedar Point Amber Ale, Narrows and the No Wake IPA. He also brews up seasonal blends, such as Cherry Stout.
The company plans to expand, in time. Seating is limited; tours are available upon request. For hours, call (262) 248-2539 or visit genevalakebrewingcompany.com.