Snowshoe Trails Galore!

Picking a snowshoeing trail in Wisconsin is tough. Do you follow a trail that meanders through the farm country of the south, along the ice-shelved shoreline of a Great Lake or through the vast pine woods of the north?

The Scenic South

Given Wisconsin’s extensive trail network, even within an hour of Madison, snowshoeing options are almost too numerous to name. Before we begin our winter romp, however, there’s one etiquette “rule” to keep in mind: Don’t crush down groomed cross-country trails. Stay off to one side, or cut your own trail. After all, Native Americans invented snowshoes to do just that. And this quiet practicality is an abiding part of the sport.

The flat prairie landscapes of UW Arboretum and Nine Springs E-way are great places for beginners. Hilly Indian Lake County Park (east of Mazomanie on Highway 19) offers great vistas, a good workout and a cozy warming hut heated by a woodstove. The trails in Donald County Park (on Highway 92 west of Mount Vernon) run along a trout stream and through a woods studded with rock outcrops. As you shuffle along, notice the flowing stream and bubbling springs. There’s something incredibly invigorating—and hopeful—in seeing moving water in the dead of winter.

About an hour east of Madison, Kettle Moraine State Forest—both the Northern and Southern units—boasts the largest collection of snowshoeing trails in southern Wisconsin. Another collection Kettle Moraine is known (and named) for is glacial landforms. You’ll literally be moving among Ice Age relics: scooped-out hollows, once filled with ice, called kettles; long ridges of glacial till known as moraines; and long hills resembling upturned canoes or teardrops, called drumlins.

’Shoes and Brews

While geology is on the menu in southern Wisconsin, brewery hopping mixes easily with snowshoeing in central Wisconsin. Whether you’re following a trail or cutting your own, there’s plenty of room on 64,000-acre Black River State Forest, east and south of the city of Black River Falls. If you’re lucky, you might also startle a snowshoe hare or ruffed grouse in the swales of this pine-oak wilderness. And if you need more terrain to cruise, there are tens of thousands of acres available at Jackson County Forest. If your legs aren’t too worn out, shuffle on over to Sand Creek Brewery in downtown Black River Falls and sample a Wild Ride IPA or Pioneer Lager.

Stevens Point, fifty miles to the east of Black River Falls, is another ’shoe-and-brew town. An interconnecting network known as the Green Circle Trail wends through the city of Stevens Point and the surrounding woodlands. Much of the twenty-five-mile Green Circle Trail parallels the clear, sandy-bottomed Tomorrow River, where you might jump a wintering black duck or merganser. The Green Circle Trail is a unique partnership of state and local funding, among the first of its kind in the country. Point Brewery, Wisconsin-owned and operated since 1857, is just a short jaunt away; reservations are recommended for tours.

True North

No article on Wisconsin snowshoeing would be complete without mentioning the array of trails in the north. Snow-shoeing along Lake Michigan’s rocky icebound shoreline at Newport State Park in Door County is an unforgettable experience. The jagged bays and pine-and-hemlock backdrop feel more like coastal Maine or Labrador than the Midwest. Similarly, Lake Superior’s wild, sprawling shoreline can be viewed from the Brownstone-Bayfield or Mount Valhalla trails near Bayfield.

And then there’s the almost archetypal experience—whether at Nicolet National Forest or Northern Highland American Legion State Forest or any number of county forests—of slipping through the pinewoods clad in a mackinaw jacket. Snow squeaks under the frames of your snowshoes, a northern sun sinks low on the horizon and there might just be a flask of brandy in the glovebox of your old Subaru.

John Motoviloff is a Madison-based outdoors enthusiast and writer.

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