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Discover Wisconsin: Five hidden winter getaways
Head north to Vilas County and explore Phelps, Conover and Land O' Lakes. Spend the day dog sledding or ice fishing or take in one of the classic winter celebrations, then cozy up by the fireplace in one of the iconic cabins. (Photo supplied)
I totally get it. That is, the urge to curl up in a ball next to the heater from November until April here in Wisconsin, but I'm here to tell you: Resist the temptation, my friends. Winter is a superb time to discover the nation's most beautiful and underrated state. And so, to pry you away from that cozy, crackling fireplace, here are five of my favorite wintry hidden gems in Wisconsin:

Barron County

If you love discovering hidden gems, Barron County in northwestern Wisconsin should be at the top of your list. Hop on your ATV, UTV or snowmobile to explore hundreds of miles of well-groomed trails. Hop off your vehicle of choice to discover places like Devil's Kettle and Tuscobia State Trail. Barron County is also home to a pretty stellar food and nightlife scene - take in Tokyo Japanese Restaurant, Aussie Brew House, Valkyrie Breweries, The Caddy Shack and more.

Lake Geneva

Typically heralded as a summer destination, Lake Geneva is equally impressive during the winter months. Stay, dine or play at the Historic Hotels of Lake Geneva, the Baker House 1885 or the Maxwell Mansion, the latter of which regularly hosts Murder Mystery Dinners (perfect for birthdays and bachelor/bachelorette parties). There's also the annual Winterfest and U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition held every February. (Ahem - maybe ... just ... don't park on the spring-fed lake).


Land O' Lakes

Head aaaallll the way north to Vilas County - even past Eagle River - and you'll find yourself among the charming trio that is Phelps, Conover and Land O' Lakes. There's dog sledding and ice fishing. (Tip: Dublin's Sports Bar & Grill on North Twin Lake actually delivers food to you while you're on the lakes monitoring your tip-ups. Genius.) If ginormous fireplaces are your winter go-to, you're going to want to book a stay at the iconic Gateway Lodge in Land O' Lakes. There's also the Gateway Lodge in Phelps, which sits on the shorts of the beautiful Pioneer Lake. Consider planning your trip around a classic winter celebration such as Blizzard Blast, where you can channel your inner Olympian at high brow sports such as snowshoe baseball, recliner races, archery, ice bowling and more.


They call it "the best place to play in the snow" and for good reason. Skiers and snowboarders - or folks who just appreciate a nice view and great hot chocolate - will love Granite Peak Ski Area. Downtown Wausau's river district - one of my favorite downtowns of Wisconsin - is great during the winter. Take in a performance at the Grand Theater, indulge in homemade soup and more at the historic Mint Cafe and pop in at Evolutions in Design for eclectic gifts and accessories.

Wisconsin Dells

Another hot spot during the summer ... but why not escape to the Dells when the temperatures drop? We love the Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort, home to one heck of an indoor waterpark. There's laser tag, go-carts, an arcade and a margarita swim-up bar. We also love the H.H. Bennett Studio, one of Wisconsin's official historic sites. Go skiing, snowboarding or snow tubing at nearby Cascade Mountain or Christmas Mountain. Pamper yourself at Sundara Spa or go for a wintry hike at Devil's Lake State Park. There's plenty to do in this kid-friendly town no matter the season.

The truly magical thing about Wisconsin? This state is brimming with hidden gems. Share your own travel ideas with us on Instagram or Twitter: #discoverwisconsin.

Bundle up. Happy trails.

- Mariah Haberman is the co-host of the nation's longest-running tourism TV show, "Discover Wisconsin." Her column is published Tuesday on Life page in the Times.