10 Best Cross-Country Ski Trails in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a perfect winter destination if you are planning on cross-country skiing in the Midwest this season. The Badger State literally has hundreds of cross-country ski trails to offer, from state parks and forests to Nordic centers with a wide range of facilities. Now we have chosen 10 of our favorites trails to make your decision easier.

Cross-Country Ski Trails in Northern Wisconsin

There are thousands of glacial lakes in the massively wooded forests of the Northern Highlands, and they make a superior terrain for Nordic skiing. Its Northwoods are considered one of the best places to cross-country ski in the entire Midwest. Here are some of our favorites.

Minocqua Winter Park & Nordic Center at Minocqua, WI

  • Trail length: 54 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: Available
  • Dog friendly: 3.7 miles of Skijoring route
  • Lighted: 1.3 miles
  • Snowmaking: No
  • Warming Shelters: Trailside shelters and fire pits available
  • Other Services: Wax room, Ski shop, Lessons, Café, Snowshoe and fat bike trails, Ice skating pond;

The Minocqua Winter Park and Nordic Center lies in the middle of a 6500 acres large nature preserve, which is something that makes them already a great place to relax and get lost in. And you could really get lost easily in their labyrinth of a trail network, if not for the great maps and signage.

The Minocqua Winter Park is a must-see destination for cross-country skiers of all levels and abilities. For the utmost beginners, as well as children, the cookie trail is the ideal and recommended starting point, but there are several other easy, green routes as well. As for the families, their programs and the available facilities make it a great weekend destination.

If you are already out of breath, don’t worry. Several trailside warming huts and fire pits welcome you, as well as a superb tea house with everything you need to make you comfortable, plus the helpful and charming staff.

The more seasoned cross country skiers should find more than enough trails to satisfy their need for a balance between variety and challenge. Despite all the variety, there are a couple of things shared by all trails here: the gorgeous scenery and the meticulous grooming. From unique vistas to intimate, atmospheric forests, thanks to its enormous extent, frustrating crowds of skiers you sometimes find at less spacious resorts are practically nonexistent in the Minocqua Nordic Center.

For those who like to ski with their furry friends, it’s good to know that there is a specific skijoring trail as well.

minocqua winter

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest around Woodruff, WI

  • Trail length: 58.5 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: 5.5 miles loop at the McNaughton Lake Trail
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Lighted: No
  • Snowmaking: No
  • Warming Shelters: Available
  • Other Services: –

The Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, also known as NHAL, is a winter playground for cross-country skiers, combining the magical atmosphere of glacial lakes and the snow covered woods with precise grooming and well-maintained trails. There are altogether six trails available for cross-country skiers, four of which are groomed and each having one warming shelter at your service.

Being the easiest, the McNaughton Lake Trail is classified as “novice”, and offer altogether 13.5 miles of trails. The Blue, Green and Yellow are groomed for classic skiing, but the 5.5 miles long Red loop is reserved for skate style. The Escanaba Trail is a bit more challenging, all of its four trails are classified intermediate, encompassing 16 miles. They loop around a couple of kettle lakes (namely: Escanaba and Palette lakes are the larger ones) with a couple of steeper hills graded even 20-30%.

The Madeline Lake Trail (16.5 miles) is about the same difficulty as the Escanaba, although you might find a couple of steeper slopes providing more of a thrill (and a beautiful vista). Lastly, the Raven Trail (12.5 miles) holds the most challenging experience, since its 5 miles long Red trail looping around the area next to Clear Lake is reserved for the expert level cross-country skiers.

As you might have guessed, all of these trails meander between and around glacial lakes surrounded by a surprising variety of forests and land formations. Come to the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest for an otherworldly, exceptional beauty.

Note, that all NHAL trails require a WI State Trail Pass for cross-country skiing, and that dogs are not allowed at any of the groomed during the winter. On the other hand, NHAL also offers 2 multiuse trails for cross-country skiers (Lumberjack and Powell trails), and although they are not groomed, but for this reason you can even bring your four legged friend with you.

The Birkie Trail near Hayward, WI

  • Trail length: 67 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: Available
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Lighted: 3.1 miles
  • Snowmaking: Yes
  • Warming Shelters: Trailside shelters

It’s a dream come true for every cross-country skier to get to the world-class trail system that hosts the legendary cross-country ski race: the American Birkebeiner. The massive 67 miles long trail leads from Cable all the way to Hayward. There are several warming shelters alongside the trail system, as well as a couple of more equipped houses located at the trailheads. There, you will also a couple of loops available for shorter intervals of training, among them a loop with manmade snow (during pre-season) and lighted sections for night skiing (at “00” and Hatchery Park trailheads)
The Birkie Trail is especially a great opportunity for skate skiers, since it is a rare thing to have 45 miles long trail reserved solely for skating.

Blue Hills Trail near Bruce, WI

  • Trail length: 22 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: Available
  • Dog friendly: Yes, on designated trails.
  • Lighted: No
  • Snowmaking: No
  • Warming Shelters: Available

The 22 miles long Blue Hills trail network is actually separated by Fire Lane Road to two separate networks: the West Side and the larger East Side trails. The West Side being small, cozy and friendly, it’s an ideal terrain for beginners. It is also the only place where you are allowed to skijor (ski with your dog).

If you have more routine or you are already an expert skier, you will find no problem with the East Side trail that ranges from easy to intermediate difficulties, with the exception of a few sections aptly named “Elevator” and “Roller Coaster”. However, our favorite was still the literally breathtaking core loop that takes you through a wonderful scenic route, while also making sure, that you are making the most of your skiing. If you are out of breath, you will also find a heated warming shelter available at the East Side trailhead, operating all winter.

Note, that dogs are permitted only on the west side of the trail system, and not allowed on the east side skiing trails.

Huge thanks for the photos to the Blue Hills Trail Association!

Palmquist Farm near Brantwood, WI

  • Trail length: 22 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: Available
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Lighted: No
  • Snowmaking: No
  • Warming Shelters: Available
  • Other Services: Lessons, Rentals, Lodging, Meals, Ice skating, Sauna

With only a 30 minutes drive from Minocqua Winter Park, there is a hundred years old family farm with altogether 22 miles of groomed trails for you to explore in the 800 acres of peaceful farmland.

Most trails are recommended for beginner to intermediate skiers, so if you haven’t tried cross-country skiing, but looking for the perfect winter getaway, this is your place. You don’t even need any equipment for starting out, since our most friendly and welcoming hosts offer rentals, and don’t forget, lessons as well. The trails are groomed for both classic and skate skiing. Dogs are also welcome, if they are well-behaved.

After a long day of skiing, you are welcome to relax in the lodge, or stay in one of the cabins for the weekend, with every amenities you could wish for. The massage, sauna and full board service will surely reenergize you for getting back to the trails. A good point for families, that there are several children’s program available from scavenger hunt and ice skating to sleigh rides or petting farm animals.

Cross-Country Ski Trails in Central Wisconsin

Whitefish Dunes State Park in Door County

  • Trail length: 8.8 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: –
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Lighted: No
  • Snowmaking: No
  • Warming Shelters: Available
  • Other services: Nature Center

The Whitefish Dunes State Park has a relatively small, but uniquely beautiful trail network on the east side of the always fantastic Door County Peninsula. The almost 9 miles long trail system is especially recommended for beginner level cross-country skiers. The entire park lies between two lakes, one being Lake Michigan itself.

Whitefish Dunes has three trails groomed only for classic style, as well as an additional multi use trail that is ungroomed (Black Trail). The groomed trails are the Green, Red and Yellow trails. With all trails being relatively easy with only a couple of hills that could give more of a challenge, it is an ideal place to learn and practice cross-country skiing.

The 1.8 miles long Green trail runs along a forested dune and makes a loop through a lower area covered with white pine and hemlock trees. This route partially covers the yellow trail as well, which then goes on from this hilly area to the farthest point of the Park, crossing a red pine plantation and then looping back to the Green trail.

Meanwhile the most gorgeous trail that is the Red Trail goes along the Lake Michigan and Whitefish Bay shore as well as its eponymous dunes. The trail takes you to the top of the highest dune in the park being 93 feet above the lake level, and the Old Baldy as it is nicknamed, has a scenic observation platform with a one-of-a-kind view over the two lakes.

If you don’t like to turn around and take the same route, like me, don’t miss the connector route connecting the Red Trail with Yellow & Green. Also, next to the Nature Center there’s a warming shelter available as well, that you should definitely check out after the chilly winds coming from over Lake Michigan.

baraboo range
The Baraboo Range by Jonah Westrich

Standing Rocks Park at Steven’s Point, WI

  • Trail length: 10 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: Available
  • Dog friendly: separate Dog Park available
  • Lighted: Yes
  • Snowmaking: Yes
  • Warming Shelters: Lodge
  • Other Services: Lockers, Lodge Rental,

They have green, red (intermediate) and blue (expert) trails available, but since many of the trails go over steep hilly terrain, most of them are rated intermediate or expert level trails. The blue trail is actually meandering around in several loops, making it not only the steepest, but the longest trail at the Park.

You will find some unforgettable vistas that makes this place, as well as central Wisconsin special. You should definitely get to the top of “Red Pine Run” section of the blue trail, where you will find the magnificent view over Bear Lake from the top of the hill, as well as the great granite boulders, after which the Park has been named.

What makes Standing Rocks even more attractive, is that there is also a 0.6 miles loop with manmade snow, and a 1.8 miles long lighted loop for night skiing too!

Black River State Forest near Black River Falls

  • Trail length: 24 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: Available
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Lighted: No
  • Snowmaking: No
  • Warming Shelters: Available
  • Other Services: –

This vast 68 000 acres land has unparalleled potential for cross-country skiers in the whole Midwest. The State Forest runs along the two forks of the Black River and provide 24 miles of classic, and 14 miles of skate groomed trails for all levels from beginner to expert.

The most challenging are the Norway Pine and Wildcat trails that will take you through steep but gorgeous rolling landscape covered with pine and oak, as well as snow, of course. The Ridge trail is only recommended for the most seasoned skiers, and for them too with caution. However, if you get to the top, you can relax for a moment and behold the beautiful scenic view.

You will find warming shelters (near County Highway O trailhead), fireplaces and even drinking water at various rest areas of the trails (don’t forget to check and download the map), and if you are lucky, you might even see some wildlife, including elk that were reintroduced to the area in 2015 after 125 years of absence.

Cross-Country Ski Trails in Southern Wisconsin

Kettle Moraine State Forest near Milwaukee, WI

  • Trail length: 70 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: Available
  • Dog friendly: Leashed dogs allowed at the Pike Lake Unit’s multi-use area
  • Lighted: 2.6 miles in the Lapham Peak Unit
  • Snowmaking: 2.6 miles in the Lapham Peak Unit
  • Warming Shelters: Several available
  • Other Services: Nature Center, Biathlon course at the Southern Unit,

The Kettle Moraine State Forest lies over a huge expanse of land to the west of Milwaukee, and has excellent opportunities for cross-country skiers in Southern Wisconsin. Kettle Moraine is divided into four distinct units and each have something different to offer.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Lapham Peak Unit: This area provides everything you could wish for. Fantastic terrain for cross-country skiing, formed by the moving glaciers 10 000 years ago. They have altogether 17 miles of combined classic & skate groomed trails, but more importantly a 2.6 miles long loop with lighting for night skiing and even snowmaking. As you could expect, there is a warming shelter available. Our favorite trail was the Moraine Ridge trail leading you through the ancient topography. At the end, don’t forget to climb the observation tower that will surely make you see from a bird’s eye view, what happened then in the Ice Age.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit: The largest unit of Kettle Moraine has similar glacial traces over all its rolling, then flat, prairie landscape. If you want to start with a bit of education, start out at the Ice Age Visitor Center, then you could explore all of the 25 miles of groomed trails for both classic and skate styles. As for backcountry enthusiasts there are 49 miles of ungroomed trails available too! The trails recommended for cross-country skiing are the Greenbush, New Fane and Zillmer trails. Most of the trails are for recommended for intermediate or rather advanced-level cross-country skiers.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Pike Lake Unit: The smallest trail system of all with only 4 miles of groomed trails (for both classic and skating), but has some fantastic views from Powder Hill, that you will have to definitely check out if you are nearby. You can also bring your dog with you at the multi-use area.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit: With 24 miles of groomed trails for both classic and skate styles, you will find plenty of space to explore in the magical atmosphere of snow-covered forest and the prairie. Two trail system loops are available for cross-country skiers: the Nordic and the McMiller trail systems. The McMiller Trails are great for training for all skills and abilities. They offer a wide range of topographic variety, that make some of the trails really dramatic and challenging. If you are also into biathlon, you’ll find there a biathlon course at your service as well.

The Nordic Trails are more forgiving, although they have a couple of more exciting routes too. Both trail systems have heated warming shelters open every day.

Blue Mound State Park near Madison, WI

  • Trail length: 10 miles
  • Classic grooming: Available
  • Skate grooming: Available
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Lighted: No
  • Snowmaking: No
  • Warming Shelters: Available
  • Other Services: Observation towers

The Blue Mound State Park boasts with sitting on top of the highest point of Southern Wisconsin, and offers 10 miles of precision groomed cross-country ski trails. The view alone at the dolomite cap rising above the surrounding landscape would make your visit worthwhile (the observation towers are a nice addition), but there is so much more there.

You will find both gentle hills with winding trails below them, to more dramatic terrain (see Ridgeview trail) with long ascends that will make you feel every breath and with just as long, but funnier descents. It’s an excellent place for training for intermediate and advanced skiers, but even novices will find a couple of easier trails with plenty of flat runs: e.g. John Minix and Pleasure Valley trails.