Surviving and thriving in a Madison winter — the fun edition
Stave off that cabin fever and those cold-weather blues with this list of winter activities.
It may be a snow-free 2023, or maybe we’ll get six feet next week. It’s hard to say, but one thing’s for certain: it’s still winter. Stave off that cabin fever and those cold-weather blues with the below list of winter activities — from the great outdoors to great food to gratefully giving back, there’s lots to explore.
Get Outdoors. You can handle the cold.
Festivals & Events. Something’s always on.
Food & Drink. ‘Tis the season for eating.
Arts & Culture. For those classy among us.
Sports & Games. Spectate or sweat.
Volunteer Opportunities. Do some good.
It’s good for your health.
Go birding. Skip the sparrows on State Street and head to Nine Springs, Cherokee Marsh, Pheasant Branch Conservancy, Owen Conservation Park, or the Arboretum. For beginner birders, winter is a great learning opportunity — there are fewer species in town, making identification that much easier. Need gear? Head to the Madison Public Library and check out one of their birding backpacks.
Go snowshoeing. If the white stuff falls, snowshoe on the marked trails at Indian Lake County Park, Door Creek Park, and Yahara Hills, to name a few — frozen creeks are fun, too. Rent snowshoes at the Wisconsin Union ($8/hr if you stay on Lake Mendota); the City of Madison rents out snowshoes at Vilas and Elver parks Wednesday through Sunday ($5/hr).
Hike the IAT. 38.5 miles of Ice Age Trail (IAT) wind through Dane County. If Emily Ford can thru-hike all 1,200 miles, you can handle one afternoon. The Indian Lake, Cross Plains, Table Bluff, and Brooklyn Wildlife segments are all stand-outs.
Strap on some skis. The city’s cross-country trails — when there’s snow — are groomed weekly at Cherokee Marsh South, Owen, Turville Point, and Yahara Hills. There’s also cross-country opportunities at Blackhawk Ski Club and CXC Outdoor Center, both in Middleton. And, of course, skiing and tubing at Tyrol Basin.
Get on the lakes. From snowshoeing and fat-tire biking to ice-fishing to ice-boating (yep, that’s a thing), when the lakes are frozen, somehow, there’s more to do. Fat-tire bikes can be rented at Machinery Row ($100/day).
Ice skate. Though the city has 19 ice rinks/lagoons (all are free to use, with no reservation required), only a handful are open as of mid-January, so check in advance. Rentals are available ($6/hr), plus concession stands. The Edgewater’s ice rink is also open to the public. One-hour tickets are $7 and skate rentals are $3.
Festivals & Events
Mark your calendars.
Beer & Cheese Fest. What’s there to explain? Beer and cheese, Jan. 21 at Alliant Energy Center.
Frozen Assets. Family-friendly events at The Edgewater and Lake Mendota — think pond hockey, kite-flying, and free s’mores — are on the calendar for Feb. 4 and 5.
Winter Carnival. If you haven’t seen Lady Liberty a la Planet of the Apes in person, your chance arrives Feb. 6–11.
Madison Makers Winter Market & Pub-Crawl. Browse 70+ vendors with a drink in hand, Feb. 18.
Winter Festival of Poetry. The Art & Lit Lab runs this two-month festival on Sundays through mid-March. Festivities kick off Jan. 22. The theme? Cheese.
World Premier Wisconsin. A statewide festival celebrating new plays and musicals — with multiple Madison venues — begins March 1.
Food & Drink
‘Tis the season to hunker down — and eat up.
Late Winter Market. Back as of Jan. 7, Garver Feed Mill’s Late Winter Market — produce, meats, cheeses, bakery goods, handicrafts, and more — pops up every Saturday through April 8.
Winter Restaurant Week. Run by Madison Magazine, participating restaurants offer a three-course prix-fixe menu starting at $30, Jan. 22–27.
Dine in a dome. Destination Madison has a list of spherical suggestions for those bored with cubes.
Explore new flavors. Eat Xpress — run by the folks from east-side-fave Global Market and Food Hall — will soon be serving up home-cooked Chinese fare at 203 W. Gorham.
Arts & Culture
No AI in sight.
Catch live theater. Head to the Bartell for Hir, Hedwig & The Angry Inch, Sondheim on Sondheim, and more. At Overture, the docket includes Hadestown, Harry Potter in Concert, and Chicago. At Forward, Airness — a Wisconsin premiere — runs through mid-February.
Scope out some art. Immersive Van Gogh runs until Feb. 20; Resource & Ruin: Wisconsin's Enduring Landscapes is up at the Chazen through late March; Souvenirs of Service: The Things They Kept, at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, rotates artifacts through 2023.
Sing along. To Anthrax at The Sylvee (Jan. 27); Samara Joy at the Wisconsin Union Theater (Feb. 16); and Indigo Girls at The Orpheum (March 21).
Sports & Games
Balls, pucks, and more balls.
Hockey. So much hockey. The Madison Capitols play at Bob Suter's Capitol Ice Arena through April — tickets range from $11-$33. Catch Badger games for $5/GA ticket (both women’s and men’s).
Basketball. The Badger women’s regular season runs through February ($5/GA ticket); men’s basketball runs into March ($33-$41).
Climb. Chalk your hands at one of Madison’s two Boulders climbing gyms ($20/day pass).
Golf. Indoor golf simulators at Hook & Fade and Blind Shot Social Club will happily let you practice that drive.
Learn a new skill. Madison Ice Skating School offers classes for all ages. Madison Curling Club may let you in. Then there’s everybody’s indoor favorite: bowling.
If you're looking to spend your hours giving back.
Here are just a few local spots that regularly need volunteers: