When you live in the Midwest, winter is what you make of it. Go skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, dogsledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, ice skating, or on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Check out a winter festival. After braving the elements, warm up at a hotel or lodge (many with hot tubs and fireplaces) and enjoy a regional dish paired with a hot drink. Don’t hibernate this winter. Seize the deep freeze.
The family that plays together stays together, and that’s true of those who visit the Brainerd Lakes area in the wintery months. Brainerd is not only home to three indoor waterparks, but 1,200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, cross-country skiing at the Northland Arboretum, Pillsbury State Forest, and Crow Wing State Park, and world-class fat tire winter mountain biking at Cuyuna Lakes Recreation Area. Mount Gull, just a short drive away, offers a tubing hill and a dozen runs for skiers and boarders. Visit February 21-23 for the Gull Lake Frozen Fore, featuring a two-day party in a heated tent right on Gull Lake, live music, a food fest, and snowmobiling or shuttling between 10 different restaurants or resorts for family-friendly activities like sledding, ice golfing, snow bowling, pond hockey, and more. visitbrainerd.com
Getting away from the crowds and traffic to the peace and quiet of a lake community is a dream come true for most busy city dwellers. Pristine trails, excellent ice fishing, fun community festivals, one-of-a-kind attractions, fascinating wildlife, and unique shops add to the appeal of the Grand Rapids area, about a three-hour drive from the metro. “We don’t run when the snow flies, we relish it,” says Megan Christianson of Visit Grand Rapids. Winter events include the First Friday Art Walk downtown, when businesses showcase area artists and performers, “Into the Woods” programs every Saturday at the Forest History Center (highlighting forestry, logging, and wilderness history), monthly performances at The Reif Center, and the Women and Girls Expo February 22. visitgrandrapids.com
On the North Shore, it’s all about the outdoors. In the Lutsen-Tofte area, guests make the most of winter by skiing and boarding at Lutsen Mountains (the largest and highest ski destination in the Midwest, with over 90 runs), or exploring mile after mile of scenic landscapes—think ridgelines, hillsides, woodlands, and dramatic Lake Superior overlooks—on cross country skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles. Those looking for a unique winter adventure can schedule an hour-long dogsledding ride or longer half or full-day dogsledding trip, and those wishing for a more low-key winter experience can go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride or take the mountain gondola to the top of Moose Mountain for dramatic Lake Superior vistas. The village of Grand Marais is a short drive away. Ski packages and deals are available at area lodges and resorts.
There really isn’t a bad view from any of the lodging options at Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior, where the waves crash against the rocky shoreline of the largest freshwater lake in the world right outside your door. Other compelling reasons to visit Bluefin include well-appointed rooms, a heated indoor and outdoor pool (used even in winter!), award-winning food at The Bluefin Grille, friendly service, spa services at nearby Surfside, and complimentary activities (reserve snowshoes for no additional charge, or skate on the outdoor ice rink, lit at night). Guests appreciate the pet-friendly lodging, free shuttles to Lutsen Mountains, and kids’ activities program, led by Bluefin staff. bluefinbay.com
Caribou Highlands Lodge
Lutsen Mountains is literally in your backyard at Caribou Highlands Lodge, where ski-in/ski-out access simplifies your skiing or snowboarding vacation. Lodge amenities include an on-site restaurant and tap room, spa and wellness center, heated indoor pool and sauna, and complimentary activities for kids. Stay in a luxury log home, townhome (sleeps up to 12), condo, or hotel-style room in the lodge, all with optional whirlpools and fireplaces. caribouhighlandslodge.com
Lutsen Resort’s classic Scandinavian ambiance creates the perfect setting for a quick winter getaway. Located on Lake Superior, the historic lodge is warm and cozy, with a welcoming fire lit lobby, beautiful hand-hewn timbers, and lakeside dining room and pub featuring hearty cold-weather dishes and drinks.
Guests can try out free snowshoe or cross-country ski equipment, courtesy of the resort, and even have the option of complimentary ski and snowshoe instruction.
A free Lutsen Mountains shuttle service is available to guests, a snowmobile trail connects the resort to the Cook County and North Shore State Trails, and there are a variety of groomed cross-country ski trails nearby. After an active day outdoors, the WatersMeet massage and wellness center is a popular spot to soothe sore muscles. Lutsen Resort offers lodging for every taste and budget, from log cabins with fire-burning stoves to luxury condos with Jacuzzis and fireplaces. lutsenresort.com
Pack up your winter gear for iconic wintertime activities like ice-skating, snowmobiling (rentals available), sledding, and horse-drawn sleigh rides at Arrowwood Resort, located in Alexandria. If you’d rather stay indoors, amenities include a massive 38,000-square-foot waterpark, tennis court, swimming pool, whirlpool, arts and crafts activities, and reasonably priced full-service Darling Reflections Spa. On-site dining is available, with gluten-free options upon request for those with special dietary needs. As one guest commented, “This little piece of heaven is my go-to place” whether having a massage, enjoying views of Lake Darling from the restaurant, or sitting in front of a cozy fireplace. Stay in a lodge room, cottage, or townhome (ideal for larger groups). arrowwoodresort.com
The Lodge on Lake Detroit
Rejuvenate. Reconnect. Relax. Those three words are synonymous with the Lodge on Lake Detroit, a smoke-free lifestyle hotel with all rooms facing Big Detroit Lake.
Extra touches that leave a lasting impression include an on-site spa, lobby sunset serenades (enjoy a glass of wine while listening to live music), a focus on eco-conscious biodegradable products, an impressive continental breakfast, a handicapped-lift in the pool and hot tub, a top-of-the-line fitness center, and soothing sound machines beside comfortable beds.
The Lodge is a popular destination not only for those looking for a quiet and relaxing winter getaway, but also for ice fishing enthusiasts (there are more than 400 lakes within a 25-mile radius) and snowmobilers (cruise across 200 miles of rolling prairie and through secluded woodlands). Stay during Polar Fest February 7-16, a “celebration of winter in Detroit Lakes,” with activities around town including a snowman-making contest, snow games, dances, live music, and a fireworks display. thelodgeonlakedetroit.com
OUT OF STATE
The Midwest has a lot to offer when it comes to winter activities, but mountains aren’t part of the deal. Enter Colorado, where the air is crisp, the snow is fluffy, and there are 25 ski and snowboard areas and resorts to choose from. In addition to phenomenal skiing and boarding, Colorado is a great winter destination for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing along backcountry trails, snowmobiling in a true alpine environment, or dogsledding across mountain meadows. There are enough cold-weather recreation options to ensure you’ve earned that end-of-the-day hot cocoa or après Colorado craft beer, wine, or spirit. visitcolorado.com
Hawks View Cottages and Lodges in Fountain City, Wisconsin (about 45 minutes north of Lacrosse) is not your typical lodging experience, unless staying in a tree house is typical to you. The five cottages are on a steep ridge top bluff—offering “hawk’s eye views” of the Mississippi. Guests should have an adventurous spirit (prepare for stairs) and be ready to watch the eagles soar by, see fiery sunsets from a unique vantage point, unwind in the sauna and hot tub, and enjoy a free wine tasting at nearby Seven Hawks Vineyard. The cottages are modern and clean, beautifully designed, and well stocked with the basics. hawksview.net
Some of the best fishing in the world can be found in Canada, or more specifically, in Manitoba, Canada. Fishing in Manitoba is about three things: plentiful fish, friendly service, and room to roam. The best ice fishing happens late in the season, through February and March, with open-water season opening in May. “It’s a good idea to book your [summer] trip soon so you get the week you want at the lodge you want to visit,” says Shel Zolkewich, a fish and hunt marketing consultant for Travel Manitoba. Many of the province’s waters are accessible only by plane, adding to an unforgettable fishing experience. If you fly into a northern Manitoba lodge, you’ll share the entire lake with only a handful of other guests as you fish for northern pike (some in excess of 50 inches), walleye, lake trout, whitefish, and smallmouth bass. You might meet for a shore lunch to share your tales, but otherwise, Manitoba’s open space and feisty fish are yours alone to experience. travelmanitoba .com