Winter in Madison is certainly a lot more tolerable if you get out there and embrace it. In fact, some people—count me among them—can’t wait for the snow to fall and the lakes to freeze. Here are some of the more popular places (but not the only places) you will find winter lovers doing their thing outdoors:
Madison-area downhill skiers or boarders don’t need to travel far to enjoy some of the best action in the Midwest. Cascade Mountain near Portage, Devil’s Head near Merrimac and Tyrol Basin near Mt. Horeb all make snow, have challenging terrain and are a short drive away on major highways.
More than a dozen places in Dane County groom trails for cross-country skiing. Among them are Elver Park on Madison’s west side, which has lights for night skiing; Blue Mound State Park, which has scenic wooded trails and University Ridge Golf Course in Verona, which offers food and drink in its clubhouse.
The city of Madison Parks Department provides free skating at several city parks, with Vilas on the west side and Tenney on the east side, which are the most popular. Also, watch for good ice conditions at Esser Pond in Middleton, site of the 2017 Mad City Pond Hockey Championships.
Old-timers in Madison might remember the ice block toboggan runs at Olbrich and Hoyt Parks. Those are long gone. But when the snow is fresh, families still flock to Elver Park, which has lights, and Hiestand Park on the east side, which has two sledding hills. Blackhawk Country Club off University Avenue is also popular and has a long runout.
The beauty of snowshoeing is that you can go just about anywhere. There are several designated snowshoe trails, with Blue Mound State Park among the most popular. Other places to explore include Token Creek County Park on the far east side or one of the half-dozen paths along the Ice Age Trail surrounding Madison.
Many hard-core bicyclists in Madison commute all winter on paved trails, which often are cleared of snow before city streets. But the new thing is fat biking on snow with specially designed wide tires. While fat bikes are not allowed on groomed cross-country ski trails, they are permitted at the John Muir Trails in the South Kettle Moraine State Forest near Whitewater, the Cam-Rock Trails near Cambridge and the Quarry Ridge Mountain Bike Trails in Fitchburg.
Ice fishing is a winter pursuit somewhat unique to the upper Midwest, and Madison’s chain of lakes offer countless spots with easy access. Monona Bay is a well-fished spot with early ice and offers a view of the Capitol. Other places to try your luck include Governor’s Island in the north end of Lake Mendota and Squaw Bay on Lake Monona, which freezes early.