Sit down, hold on, push off, scream, repeat!
Rosy-cheeked kids, hands and feet linking one snow tube to the next, set off down one of the longest tubing runs in Wausau, Wis., at Sylvan Hill Winter Recreation Area, in a quasi-daisy chain of energy and exuberance. Parents followed, or some waited at the bottom of the hill, ready to brush snow from faces and make sure mittens and hats had remained intact on the slippery trip down.
Long and smooth enough at 133 feet to be satisfying (but not too scary), and with an operator-assisted, motorized towline, the hill lured the sledders back up again and again on a blue-sky afternoon. And for chilly kids, the nearby chalet offered a snack and a cup of cocoa.
Ready for more? Then it's off to explore Wausau, a lovely town with a fortunate blend of big-city amenities and Northwoods vibe.
If you've had enough of outdoor fun for the day, there is plenty to do inside.
Go birding: Visit the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum (www.lywam.org), housed in an updated and recently expanded 1931 English Tudor-period, Cotswold-style residence. With a permanent and rotating collection of historic and contemporary (Audubon, Warhol, Bateman) paintings, graphics and sculptures focusing primarily on birds, this museum is the only indoor venue listed on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource's Great Birding Trail. There is also a terrific area for children on the lower level, with plenty of opportunities for interactive play.
History on display: Another indoor option is a tour of the fully restored Yawkey House Museum (yawkeyhousemuseum.org). This fine example of a wealthy lumberman's home, built in 1901, is listed on the National Register and features a Classical Revival exterior, contrasting with its Arts and Crafts interior, creating an early 20th-century marvel. The house boasts stained glass windows, art glass lighting fixtures, many original Yawkey furnishings, a carriage house and formal gardens.
It's not that cold outside, right? Brave the elements and have a bit more outdoor fun. You're hardy.
Stroll the town: Explore the brick-paved streets of downtown Wausau, with its charming specialty shops housed in renovated 19th-century buildings, famous retail brands, historic theater, eateries and entertainment. Third Street is a hub, with shops like Janke Book Store, Nicole's Boutique, Sweet Lola's Cupcakery and Bake Shop and St. Clair's Menswear. Take a breather at Washington Square in the heart of the downtown area on the 400 block and watch ice skaters twirl. Want to join in? Head across the street to Shepherd & Schaller (www.shepssports.com) and rent a pair of skates for $10 a day.
Hike the woods: Explore Rib Mountain State Park, off Interstate 39 just southwest of Wausau. This billion-year-old rise is one of the oldest geological formations on Earth; climb the observation tower for spectacular views from two decks.
Go for a ski: You can also spend a day at Granite Peak (skigranitepeak.com) within the park — the highest skiable peak in Wisconsin, featuring five terrain parks for downhill skiing and snowboarding, 74 runs, 65 acres of tree skiing, 15 jumps, the Midwest's longest high-speed chairlift, plus outside fire pit and cozy chalet with surprisingly decent food. Take a ski or snowboard lesson at the Alpine Learning Center — there's plenty of beginner terrain at Granite Peak, too.
Where to eat
Head to the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co., offering varieties of house-brewed ales and lagers such as Crop Circle Wheat, Emerald Isle Stout and Devil's Lake Red Lager, as well as hearty made-from-scratch pub fare like Mad City Mama's BBQ meatloaf, Wisconsin-style cheddar mac, jägerschnitzel, brats and mash, chicken potpie and more. There's also pool, billiards, shuffleboard, darts, a fireplace and six TVs (www.greatdanepub.com).
The 2510 Restaurant (www.2510restaurant.com) is a restaurant, bakery and deli in a nicely relaxed atmosphere. At the bakery, you'll be treated to a dizzying variety of desserts. For fun, try the Pop Rocks cheesecake, a creamy, graham cracker-crust cheesecake covered in crackling candy. It's delicious. The Red Eye Brewing Co. (redeyebrewing.com), decorated with bikes of all kinds, has one-of-a-kind beers including the vanilla-infused Up Nort' Brew-ski bock plus terrific starters, burgers, panini and wraps. Michael's Supper Club (michaelsofwausau.com) is where you want to go if you are looking for a fancy night out on the town, with its specialty ravioli, Maryland crabcakes and beef short ribs.
Where to stay
Luxurious digs: Stay at the Jefferson Street Inn (www. jeffersonstreetinn.com) in downtown for a boutique experience. It's pet-friendly, too.
Just outside Wausau, in Rothschild, is Stoney Creek Lodge with North Woods stylings and the nearby Grand Lodge Waterpark Resort, great for families (both can be found at stoneycreekinn.com).
If you go
Wausau is about 187 miles from the Twin Cities. A straight shot up Interstate 94 east to Hwy. 29 east, it is an easy three-hour trip. For more information, go to www.visitwausau.com.