Midwest Traveler: Eagle River, Wis.

  • Article by: KATHLEEN SCHEDIN STOEHR , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2014 - 2:00 PM
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Each year, volunteers led by the fire department cut 3,000 ice blocks from a local lake to build an ice castle in downtown Eagle River, Wis.

Photo: Courtesy Eagle River Convention and Visitors Bureau,

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With abundant snowfall annually (about 68 inches on average), it’s no wonder snowmobiles sometimes outnumber cars in Eagle River, Wis. Boasting some of the best snowmobiling in the world — the area offers well over 500 miles of some of the best groomed trails in the U.S. — plus the World Snowmobile Headquarters, the Snowmobile Hall of Fame, miles of cross-country ski and snowshoeing trails and the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in this otherwise tiny town of about 1,400.

But wintertime in Eagle River is much more than just snow. The pristine landscape is dotted with the beauty of nature at every turn, including a chain of 28 lakes — among the world’s largest. Accommodations, festivals, events and opportunities for every taste and age keep things hopping.

What to do

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Eagle River hosts an annual ice castle construction that has been a community tradition for more than 80 years. Over 3,000 10-inch ice blocks are cut from a local lake, using antique ice equipment. The blocks are placed and sculpted into a new design every year, fashioned by volunteers led by the regional fire department. The castle is located on a major snowmobile trail in the city — you can’t help but stop, explore and shoot a photo. Want to see some past castles? Eagle River retailer Grandma’s Toy Box (www.eaglerivertoys.com, 1-715-447-2227) has jigsaw puzzles for sale that capture the images.

Interested in silent sports? The facilities and trails are some of the best anywhere for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. You can whoosh past the ice castle at night — it will be lit up, a beacon in the dark.

Winter events

In January, snowmobiling rules the town, starting with the 51st annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby week, which ends Sunday. Vintage competition and the world championships are seen on the multimillion-dollar Derby Track (www.derbytrack.com, 1-715-479-4424). Three venues — ice oval, snowcross and vintage — host races leading up to the championship finals on Sunday. Or, join the town when it opens its doors just to the ladies with its 28th annual Women on Snow weekend (Jan. 24-26), an opportunity for women of all ages and abilities to snowmobile the beautiful trails. Meals, lodging, entertainment and gas are all part of the package — oil and refreshments are on your own.

Snowmobiling not your thing? In early February, head up for the ninth annual Labatt Blue USA Adult Pond Hockey Championship. Experience the thrill and challenge of this classic 4-on-4 event held at the Chanticleer Inn on Dollar Lake in Eagle River. Hundreds of teams compete on 24 ice rinks, and thousands of participants and fans from across the U.S. and Canada journey to the North Woods for the event.

Finally, March 1-2 offers the 24th annual Trigs Klondike Days, a winter family festival with American Indian exhibits, snow sculptures, cut, stack, and split contest, dogsled weight pulls, sleigh rides, horse pulls, ice sculpture, authentic Voyageur encampment and more (www.klondikedays.org).

If you can’t take another moment of rosy cheeks and layered attire, head indoors to the World Snowmobile Headquarters, just 200 feet north of the Derby Track, for a look at vintage Ski-Doos, Skee-Horses and Snow-Gos. Visitors can see rows upon rows of snowmobiles, along with International Snowmobile Hall of Fame inductees, and some great memorabilia, as well (worldsnowmobilehq.com, 1-715-479-2186).

Where to eat

Many of the better restaurants are associated with lodging in Eagle River. The Blue Heron Supper Club & Lounge, at Wild Eagle Resort on Chain ‘O Lakes Road, caters to diners from the martini drinker to the sippy-cup patron. Microbrews are on tap, and bird, fin, pasta and beef are on the menu (1-715-337-2144, www.blueheron supperclubandlounge.com).

At the Chanticleer Inn, enjoy an extensive menu including the famous Chantiburger while looking out over Voyageur Lake. Watch for snowmobiles racing by, or deer picking their way across the ice (1-800-752-9193, www.chanticleerinn.com). Want something simple? Go to Blend (1-715-337-2138, www.blendeagleriver.com) on S. Railroad Street for a light breakfast (quiche, French toast) or lunch (soup, grilled cheese, chicken salad), plus a nice assortment of beer and wine.

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