15 Great Midwest Winter Weekend Escapes
Don't let a snowy forecast stop you from setting aside time for a quick winter getaway. Head to the woods for a peaceful hike, curl up by the fire in a cozy cabin, or hit the town for some frosty window-shopping.
Hocking Hills, Ohio
The Hocking Hills' rock formations and caves become even more dramatic in winter, when snow settles on the damp rocks and bare trees, and water freezes into huge icicles.
At Glenlaurel Inn & Spa nearby, inventive food and plush cabins balance brisk hikes for a perfectly woodsy winter getaway. Guests retreat to nicely appointed, Scottish-theme cottages and rooms, some with hot tubs and some with two-person whirlpools. Meals are an occasion: Six- and seven-course dinners are served in the Manor House (where a bagpiper in full kilt dress pipes on the weekends).
Parke County, Indiana
You won't find many other visitors in Indiana's covered bridge country when snow begins to fall—and that's the best reason of all to come here in winter. You'll have the picturesque historic bridges practically to yourself, making it easy to imagine you've stepped back in time. Pick up a map at the local visitors center, and make a special trip for the flaky biscuits at the Clabber Girl Museum and Bake Shop in Terre Haute.
Overnight at the Turkey Run State Park Inn, which has both a lodge and cabins set in 2,382 acres of woods and sandstone gorges. More info: Parke County Visitors Bureau, Montgomery County Visitors and Convention Bureau
Who needs Rockefeller Center when we have gorgeous Millennium Park (or the Skating Ribbon in Maggie Daley Park) right here in the Midwest? Ice-skating energizes both your mind and body. Bring skates or rent your own, and twirl around with the Chicago skyline as your backdrop. At Millennium Park, check out your reflection in "The Bean" sculpture, or catch the sales along Michigan Avenue.
Related: Top Things to Do in Chicago
Door County, Wisconsin
Many people call Door County the Cape Cod of the Midwest, and that's no less true in winter, when snow covers the picturesque northeast Wisconsin peninsula. Bundle up for a wintry hike around Cave Point County Park. Shops, galleries and inns stay open for visitors who come for cozy shopping and peaceful walks along frozen Lake Michigan beaches. Sleigh rides, trolley tours and wine tastings round out a romantic weekend.
The opening of the Lauritzen Gardens' $21 million conservatory provided just one more way to ward off winter's chill in Omaha. At the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory, take in the Tropical House, Temperate House and seasonal displays. Then head to the Henry Doorly Zoo, where you can stay toasty in the Desert Dome, explore a rainforest at the indoor Lied Jungle or see colorful creatures at the aquarium. Omaha's excellent museums include the Durham Museum, with exhibits on history and science, and the Joslyn Art Museum, which wows with gorgeous Art Deco architecture and an 11,000-piece permanent collection. Shop and dine at downtown's charming Old Market area.
Black Hills, South Dakota
In the Black Hills, snowmobiles zip through landscapes so jaw-dropping you'd swear you were in one of the great western national parks. Head to the woods with a pair of rented cross-country skis, and swoosh through the snow-covered pines.One snowmobile magnet is the Spearfish Canyon Lodge, a classic log hideaway on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, where guests dine on dishes like butternut squash ravioli but still park sleds outside their rooms. For skiing and snowboarding, Terry Peak, the Midwest's highest downhill ski area, is about 20 miles south of Spearfish and offers multiple runs and lifts. There are plenty of zippy hills for beginners, too.
Old Mission Peninsula and Traverse City, Michigan
Even if you don't see the workers harvesting frozen Riesling grapes at Chateau Chantal, be sure to try the sweet ice wine the vintners will make from them. In winter, visitors duck in from the cold to sample wines at Old Mission Peninsula's wineries, sipping warm reds and dry whites while watching the sun set over frozen Lake Michigan.
Traverse City, at the base of the peninsula, offers a variety of accommodations, including the luxurious Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, as well as winter activities such as cross-country skiing at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
No matter how you like to travel, Brainerd, Minnesota (about 2 hours north of Minneapolis), fills the bill. Go adventurous and try snowboarding at Mount Ski Gull, dog sledding at Cragun's Resort or cross-country skiing at Northland Arboretum or Boyd Lodge. Take it slower and stomp a path through new snow or ski on a frozen pond. Or, if you'd really rather just stay warm, browse the shops in Nisswa and Pequot Lakes. No matter what you do, also make sure to book a massage at the lovely Glacial Waters Spa.
Most people who trek north to tiny Bayfield, Wisconsin, in winter come for one thing: to see the magical Apostle Islands frozen in Lake Superior. Many years, the lake freezes hard enough for cars to drive out to Madeleine Island, or hikers and skiers can explore the islands' sea caves by foot. Back on the mainland, warm your toes by the wood-burning stoves at the elegant Old Rittenhouse Inn.
Related: Top Things to Do in Bayfield and the Apostle Islands
Even in southern Missouri, snow and ice sometimes blanket the woods around Table Rock Lake, making the luxe cabins at Big Cedar Lodge perfect for those who prefer to sip hot chocolate and enjoy the winter landscape from the other side of a picture window.
If you care to venture outside your cozy lodging, Branson's entertainment still sparkles in December, when you can catch a show or spend a day at Silver Dollar City theme park. January and February are quieter, but the weather is often mild enough by Midwest standards (average highs in the 40s and 50s) to fish and golf; some of Branson's shows also continue through the winter.
St. Croix River, Wisconsin and Minnesota
One of the prettiest rivers in the Midwest, the St. Croix becomes downright gorgeous in winter, when the forested cliffs that form its banks are covered in fresh, white snow. In little towns like Stillwater, shoppers bustle on historic streets, while hardy hikers of all ages strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore Interstate State Park, which sprawls between Wisconsin and Minnesota.Special winter events in the area typically include a hot air balloon festival in early February and a "Chocolate March" tour of B&Bs and chocolate-tasting in March. Check the St. Croix Regional Tourism Alliance website for more information.
Southwest Lake Michigan Shore
Every winter, lake-effect storms leave southwest Michigan's lighthouses and sand dunes cloaked in ice and snow. It's a stunning winter landscape, perfect for snowshoeing in Warren Woods State Park outside Three Oaks, Michigan; walking up Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's famed dunes; and cross-country skiing in Love Creek County Park near Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Of course, the Lake Michigan shore in winter is also perfect for warming up over wine tasting at a vineyard.
Canoe Bay, Wisconsin
Looking for a romantic getaway with your sweetie? No kids allowed at Canoe Bay in northwest Wisconsin (outside Chetek, about two hours east of Minneapolis, Minnesota). Instead, you'll find the plushest-of-plush cabins and rooms, a gourmet restaurant and picture-perfect horse-drawn sleigh rides. Few sounds break the hushed winter spell of this 280-acre retreat surrounded by North Woods. A splurge? Yes, but you won't regret it.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
You don't need to go to Alaska to experience dog sledding. The owners of Nature's Kennel Sled Dog Racing and Adventures on Michigan's Upper Peninsula are Iditarod veterans. Visitors can help "train" their pups by going on day and overnight mushing trips. Participants learn to drive their own sled, so bonding with your canine crew is inevitable. The half-day, full-day or overnight treks start in McMillan, Michigan, about 90 miles east of Marquette.
Outdoor adventures also abound at nearby Tahquamenon Falls State Park, with miles of trails for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Check out Newberry Area Tourism Association for general information on the area.
Crystal Mountain, Michigan
Founded in 1956 as a community ski area, Crystal Mountain (28 miles southwest of Traverse City) has become a destination for healthful, pampering getaways. Guests ski, sample the spa menu at the Thistle Pub and Grille, and hit the we've-thought-of-everything 11,000-square-foot Crystal Spa. Alpine village-style lodging ranges from basic hotel rooms to five-bedroom mountaintop townhomes, where guests can ski out their back doors.