As temperatures continue to drop and the sun keeps setting earlier this winter, many Wisconsinites will probably begin dreaming of a warm, tropical vacation.
But, these destinations might change your mind and have you planning a day trip to a cozy winter wonderland instead.
Right in time for December, New York Travel Guides just released its 2023 list of the “110 Coziest Winter Towns in America for a Magical Getaway.” Travel Guides writers researched 575 American small towns and evaluated them based on their popularity among online searchers and photographers in the wintertime, as well as their “cozy” winter weather ― average high temperature, total winter snowfall and snow frequency.
Most importantly, though, towns were evaluated based on their “cozy activities and atmosphere.” The presence of Christmas or winter festivals and each town’s appearance and number of performing arts theaters, places to stay, cozy restaurants and coffee shops were factored in.
Three Wisconsin towns made the list, making them perfect for your next winter weekend adventure. Bayfield, up north near the Apostle Islands, was named the 19th-coziest winter town in America. Meanwhile, much closer to Milwaukee, Cedarburg earned the 29th spot, and Lake Geneva took 39th.
So, what makes these three towns such great winter destinations? Here’s what to know.
Enjoy Christmas lights and snow sports up north in Bayfield
More than six hours from Milwaukee at the very top of the state, the historic small town of Bayfield sits on the shores of Lake Superior, just a ferry ride away from Madeline Island. Although only just over 500 people call the town home full time, it receives thousands of visitors year-round for its beaches, water sports, restaurants, resorts and more.
Bayfield is New York Travel Guides’ 19th-coziest small town in America to visit for a “magical getaway” this winter. According to Travel Guides, one of the town’s best winter events is the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Downtown Bayfield, where “you can see beautiful holiday lights and listen to music.”
The ceremony is part of Bayfield’s “Hometown Holidays” event line-up in November and December, which also features a small-business shop crawl, special late-night shopping hours, a ferry visit from Santa, and recurring music and improv performances.
Throughout the winter, Bayfield boasts a wide range of outdoor activities, including cross country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, downhill skiing and snowboarding.
After a fun day in the cold, Travel Guides recommends visitors check out Wonderstate Coffee for a warm beverage and fresh, local baked goods. You can also enjoy the town’s many locally-owned stores, bars, breweries and restaurants, including Copper Crow Distillery, the first Native American owned distillery in the United States, according to the Bayfield town website.
Just north of Milwaukee, Cedarburg has multiple winter festivals to explore
If the six-hour drive to Bayfield doesn’t fit with your schedule, Cedarburg ― which Travel Guides named the 29th-coziest American small town for a winter getaway ― is only 30 minutes from Milwaukee.
One of the main events is the widely acclaimed “A Cedarburg Christmas,” where families can visit a life-sized Santa’s workshop, meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, and participate in a wide variety of other holiday events. Other Christmas festivities include Christmas movies all December long at the historic Rivoli Theatre, “Enchanted Christmas” events at the Cedarburg Art Museum, festive musical performances and the Santa’s Dash Away 5K run.
Christmas lights lovers can enjoy “Illuminate Ozaukee,” a drive-thru holiday light show on select nights in December at Cedarburg’s Zeunert Park. Cedarburg is also home to the Holiday Art Fair presented by the Cedarburg Artists Guild, where you can find work from over 40 local artists in a wide variety of mediums.
Once Cedarburg’s many Christmas festivities have wrapped up for the season, Travel Guides recommends visitors check out the town’s Winter Festival, which takes place in February. Fest-goers can enjoy or participate in an indoor marketplace, craft beverages, a chili cookout, an ice-sculpting contest, a dog pull contest and more.
Come see giant, illuminated ice castles in Lake Geneva
The year-round resort destination of Lake Geneva, about an hour from Milwaukee, was named the 39th-coziest American small town for a “magical” winter getaway by Travel Guides.
Travel Guides recommends checking out “Winter Realms” at Geneva National Resort and Club. “Winter Realms” is an immersive, outdoor Ice Castle experience, featuring giant, colorfully-lit ice caverns and archways. You can also see and experience horse-drawn rides, ice volcanoes, igloos, tubing activities, ice sculptures, ice slides and ice thrones at “Winter Realms.”
In early February, visitors can get in on the fun at Lake Geneva’s Winterfest, which hosts the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship. “Witness 15 state-champion teams at work during an epic three-day competition where their artistry is put to the test in creating remarkable, larger-than-life snow sculptures,” Visit Lake Geneva writes. Winterfest-goers can also enjoy the Downtown Ice Sculpture Walk, bonfires on the beach, live entertainment and more.
All winter long, Lake Geneva is also home to plenty of snow sports activities. Go skiing and snowboarding on the Grand Geneva Resort’s hills. Or try sledding, snowshoeing, cross country skiing or ice-skating at the resort. You can even experience winter zip-lining over snow-covered trees with Lake Geneva Ziplines and Adventures.
If you prefer to stay inside, Lake Geneva hosts numerous indoor winter events and performances, including holiday-themed horse shows and magic shows, a “parade” of over 40 decorated Christmas trees at the Geneva Lake Museum, and the Grand Geneva’s “Gingerbread House Walk” and decorating competition.