Top-10 List: Outdoor & Active Midwest Winter Activities

Top-10 List: Outdoor & Active Midwest Winter Activities

Get yourself out and about and maybe even try something new this winter. Our top-10 list of Midwest winter activities includes a mix of indoor and outdoor fun for the whole family.
New Year - New Adventures: Where to travel in 2020 Reading Top-10 List: Outdoor & Active Midwest Winter Activities 6 minutes Next 8 Must-Watch Outdoor/Adventure Films

Winter in the Midwest is COLD and often grey. It's easy to get stuck in a rut of sitting on the couch or frequenting the local pub. While there's nothing wrong with a little down time, we want to remind you of all the other amazing activities you can do both inside and outside during this time of the year.

While most activities in our list are available throughout the midwest, the examples are primarily located within our home state of Wisconsin. However, a quick Google search for each one in your specific location should help you find something local for you!


Your favorite warm-weather trails are still accessible in the winter! If there's no snow, layer up and hit the trails. If there happens to be snow on the ground, just strap on a pair of snowshoes and get outside. The peacefulness of the trail with snow all around is something not to miss. Plus, it adds a new look and feel to the trails you may already know. In Wisconsin, the Ice Age Trail has lots of great segments for a winter snowshoe. Check out your own local county or state parks for open times and details.
Don't have snowshoes? Many local outdoor shops, REI or places like Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center rent them for adults and kids throughout the winter. 

XC Skiing
Want to move a bit faster? Cross country skiing is the way to go. It's a great workout too, if you want to push your speed/distance. Lots of state and county parks have special cross country ski trails open throughout the winter. Some even have lights set up for night skiing, like Lapham Peak in Delafield, WI. Details and open times are available on park websites or by calling their visitor center. Similar to snowshoes, you can rent skis/boots/poles directly at some of the parks or from shops like REI and the Urban Ecology Center (in Milwaukee), etc. for adults and kids.

Apostle Island Ice Caves 
For some, the Apostle Islands may be a long drive but it's worth every minute. Located at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in the very north-west corner of Wisconsin, the beautiful caves turn into an ice castle fairyland in the winter. To access the Ice Caves, you hike at least 2-miles (round trip) on the ice of Lake Superior. Once there, you can explore around the caves and take photos. Call the Apostle Islands Ice Line at 715-779-3397 Ext. 3 to get current ice conditions. You can also go to their Facebook page to keep up to date on closures and other important information.

Downhill Skiing 
While the Midwest is not known for its mountainous landscapes, there are plenty of great places to spend the day on the slopes. In fact, there are over 20 ski resorts in Wisconsin and over 30 in Michigan! The UP (Michigan's Upper Peninsula, just north of Wisconsin, for those who don't know) can get quite a bit of snow each winter and has some slightly larger ski resorts to check out like Ski Brule, Mount Bohemia and Blackjack & Indianhead.

Not feeling the human-powered winter activities? Try snowmobiling! There are tons of rental locations, specifically in the Northern Midwest like Minnesota, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. Most places offer trips from 2-hours to an entire day or even an overnight trip for the adventurous folks.

Dog Sledding 
Dog sledding is another activity that's more popular in the northern Midwest. While you'll be outside, you will be cozy and warm wrapped in blankets in your sled. There are half-day, full-day or even overnight trips where you'll get to learn about the dogs and history of dog sledding from experienced guides. Some facilities with great reviews include: Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing in Bayfield, WI; White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures in Isabela, MN; Nature's Kennel Sled Dog Racing and Adventures in McMillan, MI

Weekend Getaway to Door County, WI 
If you're a Wisconsinite, you've at least heard of if not been to Door County- the north-east "arm" of Wisconsin with its variety of little lake towns, breweries, wineries and state parks. While it's known as a summer destination, there is still plenty to do and see in the winter. First off, you won't be fighting the typical summer crowds (yay!). Many shops and restaurants remain open throughout the winter as well. There are the candlelight hikes, fat tire biking, cozy fires and so much more. The town of Fish Creek also hosts an annual Fish Creek Winter Festival at the end of January with fun games and activities for the whole family.

Sliding 42-pound granite stones across a sheet of ice towards a target area... this is the gist of curling! You may have seen the sport on tv and wondered about how it all works. Well, lucky for you there are Curling Clubs located all around the Midwest that offer "learn to curl" sessions, open play time and team leagues! If you're in Wisconsin, there are three clubs near Milwaukee: in Hartland, Wauwatosa and Cedarburg.

Rock Climbing Gym 
Indoor rock climbing is a great activity for all ages. You can spend an hour or the whole day climbing to your heart's delight. Rock gyms have memberships like regular gyms where you can pay a monthly fee for anytime access or pay for just the day. They also offer rental equipment so you don't have to buy everything before you've even tried the sport. 
For first timers, most gyms have an "auto-belay" system that they'll quickly train you on how to use. This way, you can start climbing even on your first day. If you want to learn more about the sport and fine-tune your skills, gyms offer group and private lessons as well. Whether it's your first time or your are a seasoned rock climber, a day at the rock gym will give you some great exercise and lots of fun.

Indoor Water Park 
These are ALL OVER Wisconsin, but the majority of the state's major indoor water parks reside in the Wisconsin Dells. There are also a handful in northern Illinois and a few splattered throughout the remaining Midwest states. The water parks have something for everyone from kiddie pools/slides to adult pools and even swim-up bars. Spend the day or the whole weekend at one of the big resorts and pretend it's still summer!


Let us know if you try any of these. If your favorite Midwest winter activity didn't make the list, share it with us in the comments!

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.