5 Winter Adventures in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest’s Lakewood AreaPack the car with the family’s snow gear and set off on a budget-friendly winter trip you'll never forget. These 5 winter adventures in the Lakewood area of Wisconsin’s National Forest, from snowshoeing to snowmobiling, are sure to make great memories this winter.
Winter is beautiful in Northern Wisconsin’s Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. It’s a snowy old-growth forest woven with groomed trails perfect for outdoor winter activities. Head to the Lakewood area of the forest, covering Northern Oconto County, to experience it for yourself.
Ski the Lakewood Cross-Country Ski Trails
Another treasure of the Chequamegon-Nicolet, the Lakewood Cross-Country Ski Trails are some of the state’s highest-quality cross-country ski trails. And unlike many ski areas, they’re free to access.
Expert skiers come from all over to train for races on these trails. But you don’t need to be pro-level to enjoy them. Segment difficulties range from beginner to expert for both classic- and skate-style skiers, and easy-to-read maps are posted along the trails. They’re groomed often too, making them a perfect place for your family to try out cross-country skiing for the first time.
Snowshoe Through Cathedral Pines
Cathedral Pines, one of only few remaining old-growth forests in Wisconsin, is the crown jewel of this part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet. Seeing it is a must, and seeing it in the winter belongs on the bucket list.
Strap on snowshoes — rentals are available at Lakewood Ski & Sport — and set off from the trailhead off Cathedral Drive (look for the interpretive sign by a small 4-car parking area). You and your crew will find yourselves under a towering canopy of centuries-old pine trees, some with trunks too big to wrap your arms around. (Go ahead, try!) It’s serenely quiet; the snow softens every sound.
As the story goes, sometime in the early 1900s, Lucy Holt and her children were moved by the sacred beauty of this part of the forest. Looking up, the same pine canopy reminded Lucy of vaulted cathedral ceilings and tall, pointed steeples. She happened to be the wife of a prominent logging company president — and she convinced him to preserve it.
Now, over a hundred years later, the trees remain. And we’re welcome to explore.
Hike to the Top of Quartz Hill
Quartz Hill is a hidden gem of the Chequamegon-Nicolet. Literally. Brush off the snow from one of boulders along the trail, and you’ll see it’s inlaid with quartz crystal. While beautiful, be sure to leave the rocks and quartz as they are, so others can enjoy.
Park just off Highway 32 to the west. You’ll first see a trail leading further westward (which takes you to the site of the now-removed fire tower), but Quartz Hill is to the east. Walk across the highway and find the trail leading east into the woods — then you’re headed in the right direction.
The trek is less than half a mile, but keep in mind it goes uphill. It’s worth it — at the top, you’ll be rewarded with a scenic overlook of the Chequamegon-Nicolet forest. Depending on snow cover, you may need snowshoes for the short journey.
The overlook is a great family picnic spot in the summer and comes back in the fall to see the hills explode with fall color.
Snowmobile through Scenic Forest
If you don’t already have a snowmobile, or if you aren’t familiar with local trails, snowmobiling can seem like a difficult thing to try. But it doesn’t have to be.
Here in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, you’ll find one of the state’s only guided snowmobile tours, provided by Northwoods Powersports Adventures. They do equipment rentals too! The tour takes you through scenic pine forest (keep your eyes peeled for wildlife) and even across lakes frozen solid.
The area is home to hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails, and you can ride right up to many local dining and lodging businesses along them.
Stay in a Winter Cabin at a Horse Ranch
Each year, the grounds at Spur of the Moment Ranch turn into a winter wonderland. Located within the National Forest, a cabin stay at the ranch keeps you and your family close to nature (and away from stress).
Each of Spur of the Moment’s four log cabins have a cozy gas fireplace inside — the perfect setting for hot cocoa over family board games. And the ranch’s camp store rents out snowshoes and sells other cabin getaway essentials, like snacks and souvenirs.
While the horses stay off the trails in the winter, be sure to meet them, along with ranch’s adorable donkeys, during your stay. If you’re up for it, help feed the animals in the morning. They’re kind, used to people, and the kids will love spending time with them. Come back in the summer or fall to enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides and horseback riding lessons at the ranch.
All winter adventures take careful planning. These are some important tips on winter exploring in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest:
- Explore with friends or family. Not only are experiences made better by sharing them, you’re safer with others.
- Plan ahead. Check with local authorities about potential trail closures and grooming conditions. The Wisconsin Snow Report is a great resource, too! Familiarize yourself with maps and your route before you set off.
- Take only pictures. And leave only tracks in the snow. The forest remains beautiful because visitors help keep it that way.