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11 Fun Things to Do in Milwaukee in Winter

Milwaukee in Winter - Visit Milwaukee

Milwaukee might be best known for beer and bratwurst, but in the winter months it is full of snowy wonder. Here are the best things to do in Milwaukee in winter.

Stretching along the western edge of Lake Michigan, with Arctic temperatures blowing in from Canada, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a delightful winter season destination for people who get their thrills with a bit of chill. But Brew City also offers many indoor attractions, delicious eateries, and breweries, so there are plenty of ways to warm up after an exhilarating day outdoors or to avoid the cold altogether. So pack your warmest coat (and probably a few pairs of long johns), and check out these fun activities in Milwaukee in winter.

    

Have You Visited Milwaukee in Winter?

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Woman Bundled Up for Winter

What to Wear in Milwaukee in Winter

If you’re a native Wisconsinite, you’ll probably be fine in a t-shirt, shorts, and knit cap. Otherwise, you may want to dress in layers. And if you’re me, we’re talking about several layers! All kidding aside, when you visit Milwaukee in the winter, you’ll want to be prepared for chilly temperatures and potentially snowy weather. 

First and foremost, you’ll need a good winter coat. Look for something that is insulated and windproof, with a hood to protect your head and neck from the elements. A parka or puffer jacket are both great options. You’ll also want to make sure you have a warm hat, gloves, and scarf to keep your head, hands, and neck protected from the extreme cold. Consider using hand warmers and toe warmers. They can be especially useful on the coldest days or when spending an extended period of time outdoors. 

For your feet, start with wool or alpaca socks and then add a good pair of boots that are waterproof and insulated as well as comfortable enough for walking on snow and ice. I recommend opting for a pair with a good grip to help prevent slips and falls.

In terms of clothing, layers are key. Start with a base layer – such as long underwear or thermal leggings and a top – to help regulate your body temperature. Add a sweater or fleece and a pair of pants or jeans. If you’re planning to be outdoors for an extended period, consider adding a down vest or extra layer of insulation. And, if you’re going to be playing in the snow, add a waterproof layer like ski pants or a snowsuit. 

Woman sitting on the ice tying the laces of white ice skates
Photo Credit: Canva.

1. Go Ice Skating at Slice of Ice in Red Arrow Park

Located in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, Red Arrow Park offers a picturesque outdoor rink for visitors to enjoy ice skating during the winter months. Whether you’re an experienced skater or have never put on a pair of skates before, the Red Arrow Park skating rink is a fun family activity for all skill levels. Getting a little chilly? Step into the warming house, where you can take a break from the cold and sip on hot chocolate, seasonal latte, or other warm beverages available from the on-site Starbucks.

Photo Credit: Visit Milwaukee

2. Slide Down a Hill on a Sled or Snow Tube

For someone who grew up in the Midwest, there’s nothing quite like zipping down a snowy hill to bring back the best memories of snow days past. And Milwaukee has plenty of fantastic options for this fun outdoor winter activity. Whether you want a neighborhood hill illuminated by street lights so you can keep sledding after the sun goes down or a bona fide toboggan run, this list details the best sledding hills in and around Milwaukee.

Couple Downhill Skiing
Photo Credit: Canva.

3. Hit the Slopes for Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding

For steeper slopes and more exhilarating runs, strap on a pair of skis and head to Little Switzerland. About a half hour northwest of Downtown Milwaukee in Slinger, Wisconsin, it’s one of the oldest ski hills in the state and offers trails for skiers and snowboarders of all experience levels.

Sage Advice: New to skiing? Little Switzerland’s terrain-based learning program has been hailed as one of the best beginner lesson programs in the country.

Cross-Country Skier Surrounded by Trees

4. Take a Cross-Country Skiing Trek

For a less strenuous alternative, strap on a pair of cross-country skis and explore  Milwaukee’s abundance of cross-country trails for skiers of all experience levels. 

One of the best places to cross-country ski in Milwaukee is Lapham Park in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. With over 17 miles of wooded trails, cross-country skiers can enjoy a variety of terrain, including rolling hills and flat stretches. And the lighted trails make it easy for skiers to enjoy this winter activity from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm. You will need a vehicle admission sticker to visit the park and a state trail pass to ski. And you can check out ski trail conditions before you go by visiting the Wisconsin State Park System’s website.

Sage Advice: Discover more great cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails in and around Milwaukee here.

Snowy Hike

5. Hit the Trail for a Snowy Hike or Snowshoeing

Milwaukee’s parks and trails are transformed into a winter wonderland during the coldest months of the year, making them a picturesque place for a snowy hike or snowshoeing trek. In addition to these great spots in and around the city, the Urban Candlelight Hike in Three Bridges Park is a beloved annual event. For one night each winter, the Hank Aaron State Trail is illuminated with hundreds of flickering candles and toasty campfires as guests enjoy a snow walk (with or without snow) right in the heart of Milwaukee.

Sage Advice: This year’s Urban Candlelight Hike in Three Bridges Park takes place on Saturday, February 25th. You can learn more and get your tickets here.

Photo Credit: Visit Milwaukee

6. Go Ice Fishing

Even when the lakes are frozen over, fish like walleye, bass, trout, crappie, and perch are still biting, making ice fishing another fun thing to do in Milwaukee in winter.  Some of the best spots for ice fishing in and around Milwaukee are Nagawicka Lake and Little Cedar Lake. But if you’ve never tried ice fishing before, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers a free annual ice fishing clinic for kids at several parks and lakes across Milwaukee County. And since the children must be accompanied by an adult, you’re sure to learn a little something as well!

Regardless of your skill level, you can visit an outfitter in the Milwaukee area to rent ice fishing equipment, including ice augers, shanties, and heaters. And if you’re not super familiar with the area or ice fishing, I recommend hiring a guide to show you the best spots, provide tips to improve your technique, and help you catch your limit.

Sage Advice: Get the scoop on Wisconsin fishing licenses here.

Person sliding a curling stone across the ice

7. Try Curling

Have you ever watched Olympic curling teams glide stones down an icy corridor and  whip out their brooms and thought, “I’ll bet I could do that”? The Milwaukee Curling Club is excited to let you give it a shot! Located a short drive north of Milwaukee in Cedarburg, they offer two-hour introductory sessions. Who knows, maybe you’ll be competing in the next Winter Olympics!

Alpinage Artisan Cheese at the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market. Photo Credit: Milwaukee Winter Farmer's Market

8. Shop the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market

Although Milwaukee is known for its harsh winters, the Winter Farmers Market makes it easy to shop small and shop locally even when the weather outside is frightful. The 2022-2023 market is being held at The Table, where it is open Saturdays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm through April 29th. Visit to support local producers and to purchase a variety of seasonal ingredients as well as freshly baked goods, jams, cider, honey, maple syrup, soups, and more. 

9. Visit Milwaukee Museums

Whether you admire art, would like to learn more about the history of Milwaukee, or just really want to escape the snow, you’re sure to find it in one of Milwaukee’s amazing museums.

Here are a few of my favorites.

The Milwaukee Art Museum building is itself a work of art.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Warm up inside this stunning building designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava that looks like a cross between a sailing vessel and a soaring gull. Visitors to the Milwaukee Art Museum can explore a range of galleries showcasing art from around the world, including paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and more. But the Milwaukee Art Museum isn’t just a destination for art lovers. It also offers a variety of events and programs throughout the year that are sure to entertain visitors of all ages. From hands-on art activities for kids to lectures and workshops for adults, there’s always something happening at the museum.

Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee

Harley-Davidson Museum

After its beer, Milwaukee may be best known as the home of the “hog.” So no matter when you visit Milwaukee, you’ll want to make time to stop by the only Harley-Davidson Museum in the world. Visitors can explore the history of Harley-Davidson, from its founding in 1903 to its current status as a global brand. Along the way, you’ll learn about the company’s innovations, famous riders, and cultural impact.

Inside the Milwaukee Public Museum
Photo Credit: Visit Milwaukee

Milwaukee Public Museum

Another great indoor activity during the cold winter months is a visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum. From the era when dinosaurs roamed the region to the streets of Old Milwaukee in the late 19th century to a flight on a replica International Space Station, it gives visitors a view of the city’s rich history and vibrant culture.

Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Domes - Visit Milwaukee
Photo Credit: Visit Milwaukee

Milwaukee Domes (Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory)

Resembling giant glass golf balls partially embedded in the snowy earth, the Mitchell Park Domes offers a beautifully fragrant and warm escape from the winter weather. The conservatory has three glass domes: the Desert Dome (filled with cacti and succulents), the Tropical Dome (featuring lush greenery, exotic flowers, and a waterfall), and the Show Dome (with rotating exhibits throughout the year). No matter which dome impresses you most, a visit is likely to chase away any winter blues and make you forget about the snow and chilly temperatures outside – at least for a little while.

10. Take a Brewery Tour

Dedicated to brewing amazing beer since the mid-1800s – and wisely navigating Prohibition – Milwaukee comes by its nickname “Brew City” honestly. It’s where famous brands like Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller were founded and is now home to a growing number of microbreweries.

Nearly all of the city’s more than 70 breweries offer tours and tastings, but these are a few of my favorites.

Miller Brewing - Visit Milwaukee
Photo Credit: Visit Milwaukee

Miller Brewery

One of Milwaukee’s original brewing companies, and a household name across America, Miller Brewing Company was established in 1855. The Miller Brewery Tour guides you through more than 160 years of brewing history, from the way founder Frederick Miller brewed beer to the high-speed production lines in use today. Each tour includes a souvenir glass and a chance for guests over the age of 21 to sample ice-cold beer.

Milwaukee Brewing Company

Although it was founded more than a century after Milwaukee’s original brewing companies, Milwaukee Brewing Company has produced a rotating roster of year-round ales and more than 300 unique seasonal flavors since it opened in 1997. The Milwaukee Brewing Company tour showcases the company’s commitment to sustainability, innovation, and the community and includes a 30-minute pre-tour sampling session.

Lakefront Brewery Tour - Visit Milwaukee
Photo Credit: Visit Milwaukee

Lakefront Brewery

Another relative newcomer to Milwaukee’s 160-year brewing scene is Lakefront Brewery. Its 45-minute brewery tour is full of fun facts, interesting lore, clever jokes, and four 8-ounce pours of incredible craft beer in a souvenir pint glass.

Sage Advice: If you’re visiting Lakefront Brewery on a Friday, be sure to stay for the  fish fry. Not familiar with this Wisconsin tradition? Here’s why everyone in the state eats fish on Fridays (even if they’re not Catholic).

11. Dig into Delicious Food

All of the exhilarating outdoor activities that await when you visit Milwaukee in winter are sure to make you build up an appetite. These delicious eateries are great spots to fuel up (and warm up) after a big day in MKE.

Milwaukee Public Market - Visit Milwaukee
Photo Credit: Visit Milwaukee

Milwaukee Public Market

While there are many eateries along the Milwaukee River, throughout the Historic Third Ward, and across town, one of my favorite spots is the Milwaukee Public Market. Located just a few steps from the riverwalk, it features a wide range of eateries under one roof. 

Brats at Milwaukee Brat House
Photo Credit: Milwaukee Brat House

Milwaukee Brat House

Nothing pairs with world-class beer quite like a bratwurst, so you won’t want to miss the opportunity to warm up with a pint and a bite at the Milwaukee Brat House on a cold winter night. Located a few steps off the west bank of the Milwaukee River, it’s a great spot for the classic comfort foods that typically accompany beer, including brats (of course), Bavarian-style pretzels, and cheese curds. 

Seared Foie Gras - Sanford Restaurant
Photo Credit: Sanford Restaurant

Sanford Restaurant

About a mile up river from the Milwaukee Brat House, near Schlitz Park and Brewer’s Hill, Sanford Restaurant makes every dish with the finest possible ingredients sourced as close to Milwaukee as possible. Because Sanford embraces local farmers and artisans, its seasonally driven menu changes regularly.

Eldr + Rime in Milwaukee Wisconsin
Photo Credit: Visit Milwaukee

Eldr + Rime

Crowned “Best New Restaurant” by readers of Milwaukee Magazine, Eldr + Rime is a delicious spot year round for brunch on the weekends and happy hour on weekdays. And each month, chefs Gary Baca and David Cook create an artful four-course dinner as part of their Winter Dining Series.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Milwaukee in Winter

Before you pull on snow boots, bundle up in a parka, and head to Milwaukee, you may want to know the answers to these frequently asked questions about visiting Milwaukee in winter.

How cold is Milwaukee in winter?

From December 21st through the first official day of spring, the temperatures in Milwaukee are typically at or below freezing. You can expect daily highs ranging from 30 to 34 F and daily lows ranging from 18 to 23 F.

How long is winter in Milwaukee?

Like everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere, the first official day of spring in Milwaukee is March 21st. But that doesn’t necessarily cue Mother Nature to raise the temperatures and send in the butterflies. The daily temperatures in March still hover close to freezing, with highs in the low 40s and lows in the 30s. By April you can expect highs in the mid 50s and lows in the high 30s. And by the time May rolls around, the temperatures are usually above 50 F.

How much snow does Milwaukee get in the winter?

Milwaukee typically gets about 49 inches of snow a year. But since the turn of the century, they’ve received as little as 9.6 inches (in 2001) and as much as 106.9 inches (in 2008). Here’s how much snow Milwaukee has received so far this calendar year.

What was the snowiest winter in Milwaukee?

According to this site, the snowiest winter in Milwaukee was in 1886, when more than 110 inches fell on Brew City. But since that total predates anyone reading this answer, you may be remembering 2008, when nearly 107 inches of snow fell in Milwaukee. 

Is the Milwaukee Zoo open in winter?

Yes, the Milwaukee County Zoo is open during the winter months, but it does close earlier on weekdays in the winter than in the warmer months, typically at 2:30 pm. You can get information on zoo hours here.

Is the Winter Farmers Market in Milwaukee open daily?

No, the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market is only open on Saturdays. Be sure to stop by between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm until April 29th!

Have You Visited Milwaukee in Winter?

What did you do in Milwaukee in the winter? What was your favorite activity? Any additional tips and tricks to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Milwaukee Wisconsin skyline across Lake Michigan at golden hour

   

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