Reader mailbag: what to do during winter

Janey Kimpton knows there is beauty in rural Wisconsin – and in Rural, a picturesque village on Highway 22, a couple of miles from King and four miles south of Waupaca.

“The Crystal River winds through the little town, which has bed and breakfasts, craft shops and mid-1800 buildings,” writes Janey, who lives in Warrens (Monroe County, the state’s hotbed for cranberry lovers). Rural is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also nearby is Red Mill, which has a gift shop and Wisconsin’s oldest covered bridge on its premises. There is a chapel that holds about 20 people; it is a popular spot for wedding ceremonies.

The river flows through Red Mill, too. Just turn on Hwy. K, off of Hwy. 22, a mile or two from Rural.

These are gems that are not well-publicized, but you can find out a bit more at (888) 417-4040, or

Janey, who worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital in King for 35 years, says she will take friends and relatives to Rural during any time of year.

“The Crystal River is so clear,” she says. “And they have a particularly nice fall festival.”

For her advice, Janey will receive a one-night stay at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center, 509 W. Wisconsin Ave., plus indoor waterpark privileges for up to five people. This downtown Milwaukee Hilton, (414) 271-7250 and, was billed as having the first urban indoor waterpark. Its 20,000-square-foot Paradise Landing opened in September 2000.

Janey was one of several people who responded to our call for suggestions about a great winter festival, activity, hideaway or getaway that you can get to with a tank of gas. Thanks to everyone who wrote. Here are excerpts from a few other responses:

“Enjoy the winter wonderland with horse-drawn sleigh rides through 400 acres of woods along scenic Paint Creek, bonfires and hot chocolate,” writes Lisa Brown, Eau Claire. Cabin Ridge Rides is in Cadott (Chippewa County); call (715) 723-9537 or go to

The annual Bicycle Ride to Rippey, which begins in Perry, Iowa (Dallas County), has a 25-year history and is held the first Saturday in February, regardless of weather, says Bill Scheitzach, La Crosse.

“It’s not unusual to find at least 1,500 hearty bicyclists taking part” in the 26-mile trek, he says. “Many of the summertime RAGBRAI riders (the granddaddy of all cross-state bicycle rides, about 471 miles in seven days) use this event as the de facto gathering of the clan and opening of the cycling season.” For more, call (515) 465-4601 or go to

“Whatever the weather, we read, talk or sleep while the Badger Bus takes us to downtown Milwaukee for our walk or trolley ride to the many museums, architecture tours, plays and restaurants,” says Rosie Meinholz, Madison. “And it’s a joy to fly kites along Lake Michigan on New Year’s Day.” For more about the bus system, call (608) 255-151 or go to

“One of my favorite ways to enjoy Lake Country winters is cross-country skiing or hiking on trails at Lapham Peak State Park in Delafield,” writes Tom Coates, Oconomowoc. “A workout in this gorgeous scenery is invigorating, inspiring and relaxing.” For more, call (262) 646-3025 or go to

Fay Bitter, Kenosha, recommends the Door County Maritime Museum, Sturgeon Bay, particularly its new “Guillotines and Champagne” exhibit about ship launching; open until March 7. For more, call (920) 743-5958 or go to

Jim and Marcia Shirley, Madison, were delighted with their recent stay at the Heidel House, Green Lake. “It has everything you could want on a vacation,” they write. There is “a swimming pool, hot tub and sauna, three restaurants to pick from and gorgeous grounds.” Room rates will vary wildly, but theirs was $69 during the Christmas break. For more, call (800) 444-2812 or go to

The Shirleys also described downtown Green Lake (Green Lake County) as “charming” with “lots of wonderful shops and antique stores to browse.” (I also know it as having pretty cross-country ski choices nearby, particularly on the American Baptist Assembly grounds.)

Sharon Guenther of Onalaska recommended the Wisconsin Dells’ Flake Out Festival, held every January. It includes hot-air balloon rides, fireworks and bowling with frozen turkeys. (As a judge for the snow sculpting contest this year, I can vouch that the show goes on – in some form – with or without snow. This year, snow-making equipment was borrowed so that around three dozen tremendous sculptures could be carved.) For more, call (800) 223-3557 or go to

Rita Thompson, La Crosse, wants us to know about the Mazomanie Beach, on the Wisconsin River in Dane County, where clothing is optional. Stay zipped up and go now because “it is beautiful there,” she writes, and “then you will know how to get there when summer days return.” Go west on Hwy. Y, off of Hwy. 12, and look for Laws Drive. The beach, which has both staunch critics and advocates, is in the Mazomanie State Wildlife Refuge.

Another reader wrote to recommend snowcross races (Feb. 22-23) and ski jumping tournaments in Westby (Vernon County). For more about winter events in this part of southwest Wisconsin, go to

Still another directed us to the LakeView RecPlex, a huge indoor and outdoor recreation facility on Lake Andrea and in Pleasant Prairie (Kenosha County). For more, call (262) 947-0437 or go to

Our mailbag also included notes from business operators, who want you to know about them.

“Warm weather will be coming and with it many newborn lambs,” writes Ray Antoniewicz of A-Z Farm Tours, Oregon (Dane County). “Since we have been using our sheep farm to offer educational agricultural experiences to the general public, the response has been great.” For more, call (608) 835-5553 or go to

Rob Dippen Sr. of Tomah says the Cranberry Country Lodge’s new indoor waterpark opened in December. “We feel confident that we have made a good decision,” the lodging operator says. For more, call (800) 243-9874 or go to

Percheron Paradise Romantic Hideaway, near Norwalk (Monroe County) and 20 minutes east of La Crosse, is “like no place you’ve ever been,” say proprietors Karl and Tracy Hackbarth. “Bask in beautiful surroundings. Fireplaces, whirlpools, waterfalls.”

They decided that “the world needed a perfect hideaway,” and that’s what they have tried to develop on 200 secluded acres. A bungalow opened in June 2001; two of four chalets also have been completed. For more, call (608) 366-1212 or go to