This time last winter, Milwaukee had received just 7 inches of snow for the season.
So far this winter, the city has seen nearly 30 inches of snow, almost double the average.
That's good news for snow lovers and groups holding snow-based events, including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource's popular candlelight ski, snowshoe and hiking events.
The series of 27 events kicked off Jan. 4 and continues on weekends through Feb. 15.
The weekend of Jan. 24-25 and Jan.31-Feb.1 provide some of the best opportunities for attending an event in the Milwaukee area. Most of the free events feature trails lit by candles or tiki torches, with bonfires and refreshments available as well. Shake your cabin fever at these events within day-trip distance of the Milwaukee area.
One of the closest Jan. 25 is a candlelight ski and hike at the Kettle Moraine State Forest — Southern Unit's Nordic trails, just north of La Grange in Walworth County. Normally closed to hikers when groomed for cross-country skiing, the purple loop will be lighted by candles and open to those on foot or skis from 6 to 9 p.m. Trekkers can warm up at a bonfire or warming shelter after their hike.
Farther west, the Friends of Governor Dodge will also host a candlelight ski, hike and snowshoe event Jan. 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the state park in Dodgeville. Meet at the Cox Hollow Beach Picnic Area and enjoy limited snacks and hot beverages after your hike as you warm up near a bonfire.
About an hour and a half north of Milwaukee, Point Beach State Forest will host a candlelight ski and hike Jan. 25 as well. I love the mix of forest and beach at this state property, whose lakefront features unique ridges and swales along a beautiful, six-mile sandy beach.
Point Beach is also home to Rawley Point Lighthouse, an operational steel lighthouse tower and lighthouse keeper quarters built in the late 19th century. The lighthouse is operated by the Coast Guard and is not open for tours, but you can still admire it from the outside.
On Feb. 1, Big Foot Beach State Park in Lake Geneva will host a short candlelight hike and snowshoe along a less-than-mile section of the park's blue/yellow trail. The event, from 6 to 8 p.m., will also include a campfire and hot chocolate and treats available for a small fee.
West of Madison, ski, hike or snowshoe a 1-mile loop at Blue Mound State Park, the site of the highest point in southern Wisconsin. Two observation towers provide spots for taking in the view. Naturalists will lead hikes at 6 and 7 p.m., and pets are welcome on the hiking/snowshoeing loop.
After your hike or glide, enjoy free warm drinks and marshmallows for roasting over the bonfire courtesy of the Friends of Blue Mound State Park. The friends group will also have brats, chili and baked goods for sale to raise money for the M.S. Society.
For more great views, head to High Cliff State Park on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago in Sherwood. On Feb. 1 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. skiers and hikers can trek along the 1.3-mile Forest Management Trail, which will be lighted by torches, and warm up by a bonfire with hot beverages and snacks.
Closer to Milwaukee, the Friends of Harrington Beach State Park will host a candlelight event Feb. 1 from 6 to 9 p.m. at this park north of Port Washington. The group will light the park's trails with hundreds of tiki torches and open up the welcome center for staying warm. One of the highlights of this park, aside from the mile-long beach along Lake Michigan, is the 26-acre Quarry Lake. White cedar trees cling to the limestone cliffs that ring the lake, which is a popular fishing spot in warm-weather months.
If you're a novice cross-country skier, head to the Kettle Moraine State Forest—Northern Unit's Zilmer trails near Campbellsport. The trails, which include four loops without any significant drops or turns, are a good spot for beginners to get the feel for cross-country skiing. This candlelight event will take place Feb. 1 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
More candlelight events:Mirror Lake State Park, Lake Delton, Feb. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m.; Kettle Moraine State Forest — Lapham Peak Unit, Delafield, Feb. 8 from 6 to 9 p.m.; Lake Kegonsa State Park, Stoughton, Feb. 8 from 6 to 9 p.m.; Kettle Moraine State Forest — Pike Lake Unit, Hartford, Feb. 8 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Members of Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center (urbanecologycenter.org, (414) 964-8505) can borrow skis from three of the center's branches for free. Skis cannot be reserved but can be borrowed for up to three days at a time.
How much it will set you back: While all events are free, you'll need a state parks sticker to get into the park ($25/annual, $7/daily for Wisconsin residents; $35/annual, $10/daily for out-of-state residents).
Cross-country skiers also need a trail pass for skiing on some Wisconsin trails — including Lapham Peak, the Zilmer trails, the Nordic trails, Blue Mound and Hartman Creek. Annual passes cost $20; daily passes are $4.
More information: These events are weather dependent; be sure to check with each park's office before heading out.
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