Weekender in the Northwoods

Winter is made for long weekends—and while gently lapping waves on a tropical shore can be appealing when your windows are frosted over, the distance can be hard to cover.

Instead, why not embrace the season and all that entails? Head north to Minocqua, Wis.

Why Minocqua? It’s about a 6-hour drive from Chicago’s northern suburbs, making it close enough to reach in a day, but far enough that you can really get away from it all. A Northwoods experience is about getting back to nature without having to channel Bear Grylls.

Get outdoors

The woods! The woods! Minocqua and the surrounding area are home to mile after mile of groomed cross-country ski and hiking trails.

“We have a great trail system in Minocqua that people really enjoy,” says Minocqua Chamber of Commerce executive director Kim Baltus. “The Bearskin Trail, for example, is an 18-mile trail on an old railbed that also crosses lakes.”

Minocqua’s marquee destination? Winter Park (12375 Scotchman Lake Road, Minocqua, WI, 715-356-3309) offers 80 kilometers of groomed trails, with a course for every skill level. The best part? The Tea House, located on the Nepco Trail. Straight out of a fairy tale, it serves tea, hot chocolate and snacks to hungry skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts.

Dog-lovers can also take advantage of the park’s Skijoring trail—designed for skiers and their furry friends to enjoy the outdoors together. Dogs are placed in special harnesses and can pull skiers along—it’s not quite the Iditarod, but you’re not having to trek to Alaska, either.

If skis aren’t your thing, Winter Park also offers ice skating and tubing, complete with a tow operation.

travel-northwoods-tubing

Don’t forget to eat

Here’s your chance to do the supper club thing—and some of the best steaks outside of Kansas City are found in the Northwoods.

“I think the thing about the Northwoods dining experience is that it’s come as you are,” Baltus says. ”People enjoy that they can come off the trails, freshen up and eat.”

Baltus recommends Marty’s Place North (2721 US Hwy 51 North, Arbor Vitae, WI, 715-356-4335) or Mama’s Supper Club (10486 State Hwy 70, Minocqua, WI, 715-356-5070) for the real deal—relish trays, family-style serving, fish frys, lake views and stuffed animals mounted on the wall. Another classic is Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty (8653 US Hwy 51, Minocqua, WI, 54548, 715-356-6270). Yep, it’s got the classic Paul and Babe looming large at the entrance. You are in the Northwoods, after all.

A couples’ weekend? Try The Vine Minocqua (203 Front St., Minocqua, WI 54548, 715-614-5920). We’re talking tapas, small plates and exquisite desserts for the après-ski drowd.

Where to stay

There’s no shortage of rooms for Minocqua area visitors, with everything ranging from chain hotels such as Best Western to waterpark resorts like The Waters of Minocqua (8116 S. Hwy 51, Minocqua, WI 54548, 877-992-8377).

travel-northwoods-the-waters

Two of the more popular resorts include The Pointe Hotel and Suites (8269 S. Hwy 51, Minocqua, WI, 54548,  888-356-4431), which is located in Minocqua and within walking distance of the downtown shopping district, and The Beacons of Minocqua (8250 Northern Rd., Minocqua, WI, 54548, 800-236-3225), a great winter resort with its own skating rink and sledding hill.