Great winter festivals

Enjoy the chilly season with snow sculptures, ice castles, sleigh rides and lots of hot chocolate.

Smoosh racing is part of the City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis.

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True northerners don't let cold weather keep them indoors, not when they could be out on the ice playing broomball and bowling turkeys. 

Many festivals in winter are held on frozen lakes, the best place for kite-flying, ice golf and hot-air balloon lift-offs. 

In parks, elaborate ice and snow sculptures entertain passersby. On rivers, buses take tourists to see bald eagles. Bonfires and hot chocolate are offered everywhere.

Below are some of the fun festivals going on around the region in 2021

Always check before you go to verify dates and to make sure you catch the best parts of a festival, especially the parades.

For candlelight events, see Ski or snowshoe by candlelight.

For more about eagle-watching events, see Where eagles land.

For events year-round, see the Events Calendar.

New Year's celebrations

Look for fireworks everywhere New Year's Eve, especially in La Crosse, where the Skyrockers are famous for their pyrotechnics from Grandad Bluff (midnight, with a kids' show at 6 p.m.).

For getaway ideas, see 10 great ways to celebrate New Year's.

Holiday Lights Festival in Milwaukee, WI The season-long lights festival includes more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown's parks and streets.

 

Nov 19. – Jan 1.

ZooLights in Chicago, IL The annual display of 2.5 million lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is operating at 25 percent capacity this year and charging $5 per person. Tickets are available for timed slots between 4 and 9 p.m.; on Nov. 24 and Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29, tickets are free (available at 4 p.m. the previous Sunday).

Nov 21. – Jan 3.

Cheese Drop in Plymouth, WI For the big Cheese Drop in this eastern Wisconsin town, an 80-pound lighted wedge of cheese is dropped 100 feet at 10 p.m. There will also be free live music, cheese wedges and a s'mores bar.

Dec 31.

Second weekend of January

Vintage World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River, WI Vintage snowmobiles race in this northeast Wisconsin town.

Jan 8. – Jan 10.

Third weekend of January

Janboree in Waukesha, WI The fest in this Milwaukee suburb includes Friday-night fireworks, ice sculpting, Ojibwe snow-snake games, ice bocce, a penguin-egg hunt and tobogganing on the lighted run in Lowell Park.

Jan 15. – Jan 24.

Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac, WI This town along the Wisconsin River, next to a hydroelectric plant, offers guided bus tours, live birds of prey programs and kids' activities. 

This year, the festival is virtual, with some live programs and some pre-recorded.

Jan 16.

Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Keokuk, IA In this Mississippi River town, there's live-eagle presentations, Native American activities, demonstrations and viewing on the river.

This year, all indoor activities will be virtual.

Jan 16. – Jan 17.

Back to Hack Winter Festival in Hackensack, MN The festival in this Brainerd Lakes town on the Paul Bunyan State Trail features snow sculpting, an ice-fishing contest, penguin plunge, kids' games and Saturday fireworks.

Jan 16. – Jan 17.

Ice Fest in Dubuque, IA The National Mississippi River Museum hosts this indoor-outdoor festival, which includes ice-harvest and ice-rescue demonstrations, snow sculpting, a live-raptor program and youth ice fishing.

Jan 16. – Jan 17.

Wisconsin Free Fishing Weekend in All over the state, WI No license is needed for fishing in Wisconsin or on its side of the Mississippi River and lakes Superior and Michigan.

Jan 16. – Jan 17.

Take a Kid Ice Fishing Weekend in All of Minnesota, MN Take a kid younger than 16 spear- or ice-fishing this holiday weekend, and you can fish for free.

Jan 16. – Jan 18.

Fourth weekend of January

Janboree in Waukesha, WI The fest in this Milwaukee suburb includes Friday-night fireworks, ice sculpting, Ojibwe snow-snake games, ice bocce, a penguin-egg hunt and tobogganing on the lighted run in Lowell Park.

Jan 15. – Jan 24.

Winterfest in Amana, IA Go on a wine walk or scavenger hunt or compete in ham-throwing, log-sawing, wreath-tossing, the Amana Freezer Run/Walk, snowshoeing or for the best beard. There will be ice sculptures, storytelling and schnitzel-sampling, too.

Jan 23.

Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac, WI This town along the Wisconsin River, next to a hydroelectric plant, offers guided bus tours, live birds of prey programs and kids' activities. 

This year, the festival is virtual, with some live programs and some pre-recorded.

Jan 23.

Winterfest in Mackinaw City, MI In this town on the Mackinac Straits, there's a snow-sculpting competition, sleigh rides, a poker run and outhouse races.

Jan 23.

Frostival in Moorhead, MN The first Saturday, there will be a birding festival, cardboard-sled races, a Hunger Games-themed snowball fight and a skate social.

Events on the second Saturday include snow-sculpture and disc-golf competitions, games, snowga and free ski and snowshoe rentals.

Jan 23.

Fifth weekend of January

Winter Carnival in St. Paul, MN The feature this year is a drive-through ice- and snow-sculpture park at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Tickets are $20 per vehicle, $35 for theme packages, and available only in advance.

There will also be three scavenger hunts, pop-up outdoor concerts, ice-fishing, softball and puzzle tournaments and Frozen Family Fun Night.

Jan 28. – Feb 7.

Winter Games in Lake Okoboji, IA This resort area in northwest Iowa will offer human sled races, flag football on ice, indoor golf, snowball drop, stein-holding, horse-drawn carriage rides, a Freeze Yer Fanny Bike Ride, keg toss and fireworks.

Jan 28. – Jan 31.

Groundhog Days in Woodstock, IL The 1993 movie "Groundhog Day'' was filmed in this town an hour northwest of Chicago, and it celebrates with trivia and tours of movie sites, including the 1889 Opera House, where actor Bill Murray jumped from the belfry. At 7 a.m. Tuesday, Woodstock Willie will look for his shadow.

Jan 29. – Feb 2.

Schnee Days in Elkhart Lake, WI The Snow Days festival in this town in east-central Wisconsin includes such activities as a hunt for colored ice cubes, dog sledding and a chili cook-off.

Jan 29. – Jan 31.

Lake Superior Ice Festival in Superior, WI On Barker's Island, there's a snow slide, ice carving, Kubb games, disc golf, ice racing, kids' activities and fireworks on Saturday.

Jan 29. – Jan 30.

Fire & Ice Winter Social in Stillwater, MN In this St. Croix river town, there will be hot-air balloons, an ice-cream social, ice sculptures, music, bags and pond-hockey tournaments and a beer tent.

Jan 29. – Jan 31.

City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis, MN For recreational skiers, the highlight of this big cross-country ski festival are the nightly Luminary Loppets on Lake of the Isles, with glowing ice pillars and "ruins.'' 

There are also classical and free-style races, orienteering, fat-tire, snowshoeing and skijoring races in Theodore Wirth Park, location of most events.

 

 

 

Jan 30. – Jan 31.

Norge Ski Jumping Tournament in Fox River Grove, IL See some of the nation's best jumpers compete in this northwest Chicago suburb, which has produced several Olympians.

Jan 30. – Jan 31.

Frostival in Moorhead, MN The first Saturday, there will be a birding festival, cardboard-sled races, a Hunger Games-themed snowball fight and a skate social.

Events on the second Saturday include snow-sculpture and disc-golf competitions, games, snowga and free ski and snowshoe rentals.

Jan 30.

John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth, MN From Duluth, marathon mushers travel to to Grand Portage and mid-distance racers to Tofte.

Spectators are not allowed this year but can follow the race at WDIO.com or MushingMidwest.com.

 

Jan 31.

First weekend of February

Winter Carnival in St. Paul, MN The feature this year is a drive-through ice- and snow-sculpture park at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Tickets are $20 per vehicle, $35 for theme packages, and available only in advance.

There will also be three scavenger hunts, pop-up outdoor concerts, ice-fishing, softball and puzzle tournaments and Frozen Family Fun Night.

Jan 28. – Feb 7.

Winterfest and U.S. Snow Sculpting Championship in Lake Geneva, WI In this lake town, there's music, magic shows, a human sled-dog race, ice bars and an ice castle, plus the U.S. snow-sculpting championship.

Feb 3. – Feb 7.

Winter Carnival in Houghton, MI This snow fest at Michigan Tech University includes a human dog-sled race, snow volleyball and a tug of war and ends with a torchlight parade and fireworks at Mont Ripley ski hill.

Feb 3. – Feb 6.

Winter Festival in Ely, MN There's snow sculpting, an arts walk and Ely Folk School classes. Much of the festival also can be enjoyed virtually.

Feb 4. – Feb 14.

WinterFest in Crosslake, MN In this Brainerd Lakes area, there are horse-drawn sleigh rides, bonfires, ice car races, helicopter rides, Friday fireworks and Italian Outdoor Olympics.

Feb 4. – Feb 6.

Snowflake Ski-Jumping Tournament in Westby, WI At the top of a hill that's the equivalent of a 41-story skyscraper, watch jumpers fly by at 55 mph. It's fun to watch because the jump is built onto the side of a coulee, and spectators can climb it and watch from the top. There are hot drinks and food at the bottom.

Feb 5. – Feb 6.

Hot Air Affair in Hudson, WI There will be geocaching, bird-watching, a fat-tire bike race, a corn-hole tournament and drive-through moon glows.

Other events will be virtual.

Feb 5. – Feb 7.

Knickerbocker Ice Festival in Lake Mills, WI The festival in this town east of Madison includes such events as a fish toss, snowball-eating contest, dad-sled race, chili cook-off and Iceberg Open golf tournament. There's ice carving and ice wine, too.

Feb 5. – Feb 6.

City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis, MN For recreational skiers, the highlight of this big cross-country ski festival are the nightly Luminary Loppets on Lake of the Isles, with glowing ice pillars and "ruins.'' 

There are also classical and free-style races, orienteering, fat-tire, snowshoeing and skijoring races in Theodore Wirth Park, location of most events.

 

 

 

Feb 5. – Feb 7.

Magical Ice Fest in St. Joseph, MI Watch the pros carve sculptures in this Lake Michigan town. There's also entertainment, a scavenger hunt and magic and crafts for kids.

Feb 5. – Feb 7.

Scandihoovian Winter Festival in Mount Horeb, WI The festival in this town just west of Madison features such events as turkey bowling, a snowman-building contest, kick sledding, a spelling bee and a vintage snowmobile show and ride.

Feb 5. – Feb 7.

Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac, WI This town along the Wisconsin River, next to a hydroelectric plant, offers guided bus tours, live birds of prey programs and kids' activities. 

This year, the festival is virtual, with some live programs and some pre-recorded.

Feb 6.

Winterfest Sled Dog Race in Merrill, WI More than 100 mushers compete, and there will also be skijoring, children's and celebrity races.

Feb 6. – Feb 7.

Second weekend of February

Winter Festival in Ely, MN There's snow sculpting, an arts walk and Ely Folk School classes. Much of the festival also can be enjoyed virtually.

Feb 4. – Feb 14.

Frozen River Film Festival in Winona, MN This festival shows a large selection of documentaries specializing in adventure, extreme sports and environmental issues.

This year is mostly virtual.

Feb 10. – Feb 14.

Polar Fest in Detroit Lakes, MN This festival features such events as ice golf on Friday, a Freeze Your Buns run on Saturday and, on Sunday, a snowshoe hike in Tamarac Wildlife Refuge and kite-flying with professional giant-kite flyers, kite decorating and prizes for amateurs.

 

Feb 12. – Feb 14.

Fire & Ice in Sturgeon Bay, WI Ice and snow sculptors create pieces around town. There's a novice category for beginners. On Friday, there will be a candlelight ski/hike at Big Creek Nature Preserve, and on Saturday, there will be fireworks.

Feb 12. – Feb 13.

Sturgeon Spectacular in Fond du Lac, WI Lake Winnebago is the setting for this celebration of giant fish. There will be ice carving and snow sculpting, a snowman-building contest, bonfires and live music.

Feb 12. – Feb 14.

Free Entrance Day at Minnesota state parks in All state parks, MN Entrance to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas is free today, as well as April 24, June 12 and Nov. 26.

Feb 13.

Free Weekend in Michigan state parks in All state parks, MI There's no vehicle-entry fee in Michigan state parks this weekend, and Saturday and Sunday also is Free Fishing Weekend.

Check events listings for fishing derbies and candlelight ski and snowshoe evenings.

Feb 13. – Feb 14.

Grand Marais Winter Carnival in Grand Marais, MI On the east end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, this Lake Superior town offers a poker run, a snowman contest, cardboard-sled races, dog-sled rides and music.

Feb 13. – Feb 14.

Ice Lantern Festival in Mineral Point, WI See ice lanterns created by artists and students in this arty southwest Wisconsin town and visit the cupcake/cookie/hot chocolate bar as well as the ice bar.

Feb 13.

Third weekend of February

Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac, WI This town along the Wisconsin River, next to a hydroelectric plant, offers guided bus tours, live birds of prey programs and kids' activities. 

This year, the festival is virtual, with some live programs and some pre-recorded.

Feb 20.

Silver Mine Ski Jumping Championships in Eau Claire, WI Watch top skiers from North America and Europe compete at Silver Mine Hill, above the Chippewa River on the southwest edge of town.

Feb 20. – Feb 21.

WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race in Ely, MN There's a spaghetti feed Saturday and the race to Tower and back on Sunday, with a chance for spectators to mingle beforehand.

Feb 21.

Chinese Lunar New Year's Parade in Chicago, IL Celebrate the Year of the Ox in Chinatown with a parade, marching bands and lion dancing. It starts at 1 p.m. at 24th Street and Wentworth Avenue.

Feb 21.

Fourth weekend of February

American Birkebeiner in Hayward, WI The "Greatest Show on Snow'' includes races of all distances for all ages and abilities plus skijoring and vintage ski.

In 2021, racers also are skiing virtual races wherever they live.

 

Feb 24. – Feb 28.

Winterfest in Stillwater, MN In this St. Croix River town, there will be a parka pub crawl, ice maze, stein-holding and beard contests, axe-throwing, ice carving, ice bowling, a snow labyrinth, bubble-wrap races, an ice-cream social and a fire and ice bar.

Moved from January.

 

Feb 25. – Feb 28.

Grumpy Old Men Festival in Wabasha, MN There's always good eagle-viewing in this Mississippi River town, and during the festival, there will be an ice-fishing contest, polar plunge and minnow races.

Feb 26. – Feb 28.

Virtual International Festival in Madison, WI Dancers, musicians, storytellers and puppeteers representing traditions from around the world converge on the Overture Center for the Arts on State Street for this free festival. 

This year, the festival is virtual.

Feb 27. – Mar 5.

Chili Ice Walk in Racine, WI Between noon and 4 p.m., walk downtown to see ice sculpting, sample chili from eight restaurants and go on a scavenger hunt in shop windows.

Feb 27.

First weekend of March

Virtual International Festival in Madison, WI Dancers, musicians, storytellers and puppeteers representing traditions from around the world converge on the Overture Center for the Arts on State Street for this free festival. 

This year, the festival is virtual.

Feb 27. – Mar 5.

International Festival of Owls in Houston, MN This southeast Minnesota town offers owl prowls, hooting contests, pellet dissection, live-owl programs and children's activities.

Mar 5. – Mar 7.

World's Longest Weenie Roast in Cable, WI Lakewoods Resorts hosts this benefit on Lake Namekagon, which includes snowmobile speed runs, ice bowling, a weenie-eating contest and a frozen weenie polar plunge.

Mar 5. – Mar 6.

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi.

This year, it's offering a different online program each weekend to families, $10, free to members.

Mar 6. – Mar 7.

Second weekend of March

Virtual Canoecopia in Madison, WI It's the world's largest paddlesports expo, according to host Rutabaga, with dozens of demonstrations, workshops and presentations plus discounts on boats and gear. 

It's virtual this year.

Mar 12. – Mar 14.

Soar With Eagles in Wabasha, MN The National Eagle Center holds live-bird programs and nature presentations weekends in March, when bald eagles migrate northward along the Mississippi.

This year, it's offering a different online program each weekend to families, $10, free to members.

Mar 13. – Mar 14.

Irish Mask-arade in St. Paul, MN In this traditionally Irish city, the St. Pat's parade goes on . . . but this year, it will be a drive-past parade in the parking lot of the old Sears building at 425 Rice St.

Reserve a place by Feb. 17; only 150 vehicles are allowed. The noon "parade'' also will be broadcast live on Facebook.

 

Mar 17.

For St. Patrick's Day events, see Toasting St. Pat.

For the best events in spring, see Great spring festivals.


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