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Your Vilas County winter guide


  • Article
  • Cross-country Skiing
  • Dining
  • Hiking
  • Lodging
  • Shopping & Services
  • Snowshoeing
  • Trails
  • Winter

Vilas County is the perfect place for silent sports, the ones where you can really get out there and experience the sights and sounds of nature.

Credit Ashley Merkel Manitowish Waters Bike Bridge2

(About the author: Ashley Merkel is an outdoors blogger who writes about her travel experiences throughout the Midwest. See the original blog here. See more of her work on her Ash in the Wild blog. All photos provided by Ashley Merkel @ashinthewild)

If you haven’t been to Vilas County before, let me give you a quick rundown. It’s exactly what you think of when you picture being “up north”—tall pines, more lakes than you can imagine, supper clubs, and log cabins. Something that I especially love is that you can really experience all four seasons here and this time I’ll be highlighting winter. Thanks to Vilas County for sponsoring this trip! All opinions are my own.

The majority of trips and weekend adventures I go on are focused on the outdoors. Despite the negative temps, this trip was no different. I honestly love how crisp the air smells when it gets really cold (with the right clothing and only for a short while of course.) Vilas County is the perfect place for silent sports, the ones where you can really get out there and experience the sights and sounds of nature. Keep reading to see how I explored the area with details on where I stayed, hiked, explored, and ate! You can also visit the Vilas County website for even more info!

Credit Ashley Merkel The Lodge2


We stayed two nights at The Lodge in Manitowish Waters. It’s super cute and cozy and I really like the location right in the little downtown area. After pulling up to the log exterior and checking in for the night I immediately threw on the fireplace and relaxed by the warmth. This became a very important step when coming in from anytime we were outdoors for a bit. Take off all the winter gear, rinse off in a scolding hot shower, put on the softest clothes possible and then fireplace time. They had coffee from the local café in the room as well so we had this at all hours as well haha!

Credit Ashley Merkel Dsc08325

Silent Sports

Ah my favorite part. Now, I’ve visited this area multiple times in the past through different seasons. I remember quite frankly being a little overwhelmed by the number of trails and lakes and had a hard time choosing. However, this time around when Vilas County reached out to me, they also told me about the app they have, “Map It Vilas County.” Let me tell you it was a game changer. All the trails are mapped out for you, with a description, and categorized for the type of adventure you want!

Initially I had wanted to go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating. However, Mother Nature said, “no.” So we opted for hiking since we could be in more control of how much time we were exposed to the cold air. Good news is it did not disappoint! Our first full day we went out on Lumberjack Trail and then Star Lake Trail. Both were beautiful with different types of pines hovering close to the trail so you felt like you were in your own little world. We also didn’t see a single other person so that helped too. The trees were all topped with sparkling snow and it was so quiet and calming. I always recommend winter hiking as long as you have appropriate clothing!

Our final day we explored the North Lakeland Discovery Center at Manitowish Waters. They had well groomed trails that were perfect for any of the silent sports.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the hikes:

Credit Ashley Merkel Lumberjack Trail 5


Credit Ashley Merkel Lumberjack Trail4


Credit Ashley Merkel Star Lake Trail3

If you’re looking to rent some equipment for outside sports you can check out the Discovery Center, Coontail Sports, and many more places!

Credit Ashley Merkel Dixie’scoffee

Where we ate

Hot drinks + comfort food were the theme for this trip. Whenever we visit up here we have to make a stop at Dixie’s for coffee. I love their location right on the lake, especially ideal in warmer weather when you can sit out on the dock. We grabbed lunch at George’s Pub and then had carry out for dinner from Stoney’s in Manitowish Waters. I also recommend Monical’s for pizza in Arbor Vitae. There’s a handful of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars in each town and you can always call head to see if they offer carry out options.

Credit Ashley Merkel The Lodge At Manitowish Waters

Final thoughts

I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to escape up north for the weekend. I think one of the most special things about this area is that with so many trails, lakes, and town you can find your own little pocket to make memories in. We had so much solitude out on the trails and really got to immerse ourselves in nature, which is always my goal even if for a little while. I hope this was helpful in planning your own trip up north. Let me know if you have any favorite spots in Vilas County or if you have any questions for planning your future trip!