5 ways to stay outside all winter long
Hiking, skating, snowshoeing and more
I have a vivid memory of my mother pulling my brother and me in a sled the block and half to Yahara Place Park on Lake Monona. We sat on the icy bank of the lake while she shoveled snow to reveal a generous rectangular patch of ice, then proceeded to lace up our skates. We would glide and stumble around until our cheeks were chapped before heading home to warm up in front of the fireplace. A lot of people who grew up in southern Wisconsin have similar stories of long, sunny winters filled with chest-deep snow and good ice on the lakes for months. No one can argue that our winters have become less consistent and some might say, less fun, even if our memories are a bit nostalgic. There are plenty of fun ways to recreate outdoors all winter that don’t require perfect conditions and keep us loving this unpredictable season. Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
Ice Skating at Tenney Park
Madison is a lake town. We are geographically defined by our bodies of water, and winter brings us so many opportunities for ice skating that I cannot begin to list them all. As someone who grew up on Madison’s east side, my favorite skating venue is Tenney Park near Lake Mendota. The shallow lagoon freezes early and the warming house is a charming place to dethaw in between hockey matches or exploring under the lagoon’s bridges. When warm weather or mixed precipitation make the ice less than ideal, the rink in the hockey boards is well maintained until lagoon conditions are restored. Skate and equipment rentals, lessons, concessions and a fireplace are found inside the newly renovated warming house, and skating is free! Tenney Park information
Ice Fishing on Brittingham Bay
A Wisconsin winter isn’t complete until you sit on a bucket and drop your hook through the ice. Ice fishing is so quintessentially Midwestern that everyone should try it at least once. Getting entirely outfitted for fishing on the ice won’t be necessary if you just want to dabble in the experience. Most sports and hardware stores will have the basics: a fishing rod (as cheap as $10), grubs, fishing line and tackle (hooks). You’ll need a five-gallon bucket to serve as a seat, or better yet, an ice fishing bucket, which has storage compartments and a well for fish. Don’t forget a DNR-issued fishing license, available at the same place you got the supplies or online. Put on your warmest boots and full-body warm clothes and head out to the ice. Most ice fishermen are really helpful and enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge. Just be prepared for long stories over an ice-cold Coors. An ice auger will make a clean hole in the ice or you can stomp through one that the previous guy left. Always be sure you understand the fishing regulations on what is legal and illegal to keep. Toss your fish back in if you’re unsure. Also, Brittingham Bay offers a view of the state Capitol and Lake Monona. Ice fishing information and regulations
Skiing at Elver Park
Wisconsin has an amazing Nordic ski culture, and it’s too bad we don’t have the snow to support all of the Madison folk that look forward to it all year. If we are lucky, we have some natural accumulation, but during times of scant snowfall, Elver Park maintains a 1k loop of trail with manmade snow. Other additional segments are groomed for both classic and skate skiing. The West trails, a 6k stretch, are lit for night skiing. Ski equipment rentals are available in the winter warming shelter. For those new to cross country skiing, lessons are provided by the Madison Nordic Ski Club. When you’re ready to put your skills to the test, MadNorSki hosts a race every Tuesday night. Elver Park is also a great place to sled and snowshoe if conditions are right. Elver Park Skiing information
Snowshoeing or trail running at a Snowshoe Scurry
There’s a ragtag community of trail runners who want to run trails year-round. The Snowshoe Scurry hosts events throughout the winter that celebrate trails whether they are snow covered or bare dirt. Dozens of runners of all levels gather in locations in and around Madison and charge onto the trails. If you have never been on snowshoes, it starts as joyfully awkward and quickly becomes a natural hustle across the snow. Even in the midst of intense focus, it’s hard not to smile through the effort. The fun doesn’t stop after you cross the finish line. Food and drinks turn the race into a mini festival of adventurous winter enthusiasts. NEXT EVENTS: 5k/10k on Jan. 28 at Camrock Park Trails in Cambridge; Winterfest 3k/5k Snowshoe on Feb. 4 at Elver Park in Madison. Details and registration
Day Tripping to Blue Mound State Park
Thirty-five minutes west of Madison, Blue Mound State Park–the highest point in Southern Wisconsin–is worth the trip. Blue Mounds is well-known for its gorgeous trails in the warmer months, but it is also a highly versatile winter park. When the snow is good, there are groomed cross country skiing trails that traverse hilly open prairies and thick wooded landscapes. This state park has 12 miles of hiking, fat biking and snowshoe/running trails that are some of the best in the state. Blue Mound is known for its steep, challenging trails and deep ravines, which will get you warmed up on even the coldest days. With dramatic rock formations, gnarly tangles of roots and panoramic views, the park is beautiful whether covered in snow or stark and leaf strewn. White-tailed deer, rabbits, owls and foxes are abundant, so keep a keen eye out for the beautiful fauna while you’re exploring. State park stickers are available at the park entrance. Park information
Appreciating southern Wisconsin during the swinging pendulum of winter weather can be challenging, but if we take a light-hearted, spontaneous approach to outdoor play, there is a lot to take away from this season. Reveling in the natural wonders and boisterous camaraderie of winter makes the changing elements an amusing character in our recreational adventures. I know that some of my new favorite memories are ones that I made just this year.
Jonnah Mellenthin Perkins is a manager at Vermont Valley Community Farm, a trail runner, a freelance writer and the blogger behind The Ultra Farmer.
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