For an adrenaline rush: snowmobiling
Signposts slap-bang in the middle of a lake may seem odd, but when the ice is thick enough, temporary routes open up. And with thousands of kilometres of snowmobile trails winding around lakes and through the pristine forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota, there is no shortage of places to go for a spin. You can go with a guide or rent a snowmobile and go it alone.
Try it: Gunflint Lodge offers snowmobiling sessions through the surrounding boreal forestland.
For taking it easy: ice fishing
Brightly coloured tents sit on the ice, breaking up the expanse of glaring white. Some have smoke chuffing out of makeshift chimneys that are attached to wood-burners inside, providing a modicum of warmth. You drill a hole into the ice inside the tent until you reach the black water below, and drop a line down. Then you wait for a fish to bite. It helps to have a cushion for your backside and something warm in a flask.
Or, you can opt for the hi-tech speedy method and go with a company using sonar equipment to help locate your catch.
Try it: Mike Best Guiding offers trips in the Hayward Lakes Area, WI. With heated fishing shacks and electronic equipment for locating fish, you can catch a fair few walleye, crappies and northern pike, while keeping your digits toasty.
For a walk in the park: snowshoeing
A great way to soak up some splendid scenery is to strap on a pair of snowshoes and head off into the wilderness. Getting away from the marked tracks is a chance to appreciate solitude and the muffled hush of deep snow (and means you’re more likely to encounter a shy moose).
Try it: You can follow any of the designated snowshoe trails in one of the many state parks. Many of them have snowshoes for loan and offer guided walks.
For a day trip: visit Madeline Island
Until the big freeze you can hop on the small ferry from Bayfield, WI, across Lake Superior to La Pointe on Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands. Otherwise, when the ice is thick enough, taking the two-mile ice road, its route marked out by Christmas trees, by car, on skis or simply by walking is an adventure.
With only 300-odd year-round residents in La Pointe, visiting in winter is a quiet affair. And if you explore Big Bay State Park – on snowshoes, cross-country skiing or hiking – the chances are you’ll have the beautiful snowy setting to yourself.
Try to make time to duck into the homely Farmhouse Madeline Island café/restaurant for a delicious brunch (off season, Saturdays only), made from seasonal and local ingredients.
Where should I stay?
For kicking back in the back and beyond: Gunflint Lodge, Grand Marais, MN
Gunflint Lodge resort perches right at the edge of Gunflint Lake, so is a great base from which to access the Gunflint ski trails. You can book activities from here as well as rent equipment for outdoor activities.
And when you’re not out having a snowy adventure, you can cosily pass the time in front of a log fire in the pine-clad lodge, decked out in Northwoods paraphernalia (bear skin, moose head, canoe…). Whatever the North American equivalent of Danish hygge is, it’s here.
For lake views and a gourmet supper: Old Rittenhouse Inn, Bayfield, WI
Not short on lavish décor, involving much wood panelling and sumptuous furnishings, this Victorian bed and breakfast sits on the edge of Lake Superior. Meals are delicious: look out for special dining events, such as the five-course gourmet dinner with wine pairing, guaranteed to give you a rosy glow. A good overnight stop if you’re popping over to Madeline Island.
For historical charm: Phipps Inn, Hudson, WI
This Victorian bed and breakfast oozes opulence: floral wallpaper, four-poster beds, lacy curtains and doilies, claw-foot bathtubs, a billiards room and a parlour in which to sip tea from china cups and twiddle your moustache.
Proprietor Mary Ellen dishes out a splendid home-cooked breakfast. It’s 30 minutes from Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota, so a good stopover if flying in or out of Minneapolis.
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Michelle travelled with Great Lakes USA. Header image: Michelle Bhatia