The 9 Best Things To Do In Lake Geneva In Winter

Posted by
Keith Langston
February 22, 2023
Updated February 02, 2024

things to do lake geneva winter
Photo: Visit Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva is a small town like no other. Despite having a year-round population of under 9,000, the lakeside retreat has been dubbed “Newport of the Midwest.”

During the late 1800s and into the 1900s, Lake Geneva became a who’s-who of the Chicagoland area, with giant gilded-age mansions built for tycoons like the Wrigleys and summer cottages hosting everyone from the Rockefellers to painter Claude Monet, and even mobsters like Al Capone.

Its history, combined with its stunning landscape, makes Lake Geneva a perfect four-season destination. But to truly experience the area, you need to visit in the winter, where the smell of roaring fireplaces fill the air and the frozen lake becomes a hotspot for ice fishermen, ice skaters, and flocks of Canadian geese. Check out these fantastic winter activities in Lake Geneva.

1. Visit the Mountain Top Ski Resort

lake geneva in winter - mountain top ski
Photo: Visit Lake Geneva

Located within the Grand Geneva Resort (don’t worry, you don’t need to be staying at the resort to visit), the Mountain Top Ski Resort offers a chill and laid-back space to go skiing, snowboarding, and even sledding. Wisconsin’s hills aren’t super big or steep, but that only adds to the resort’s charm and friendly vibe.

Instead of having to shame yourself in front of the snobby ski pros at places like Mammoth Lakes or Aspen, the ski vibe at Lake Geneva is super beginner-friendly and excellent for casual skiers who just want to have a good time. If you don’t feel like hitting the slopes, you can still have a good time in their sledding area.

Related Read: 7 Best Great Lakes Destinations for an Unforgettable Vacation

2. Sip Cocktails at the Original Playboy Club Hotel


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A post shared by Grand Geneva Resort & Spa (@grand_geneva)

The town that attracted Chicago’s rich and famous also attracted someone else…Hugh Hefner. What’s now the main building of the Grand Geneva Resort was originally a Playboy Club Hotel, where politicians, actors, and corporate tycoons used to wine, dine, and stay. During the height of the resort, Playboy even had its own airline, flying nonstop between Chicago’s O’Hare airport and a private runway at the resort.

Nowadays, the mid-century building still exists and is the centerpiece of the Grand Geneva. Visitors are welcome to stop in and grab a drink at the lounge that overlooks snow-covered rolling hills through massive lofted windows. Sit by the fire, listen to live music, or, if you’re feeling hungry after a day of skiing at the resort, stop by one of the restaurants for dinner.

Related Read: 7 Enchanting Treehouse Rentals in Wisconsin

3. Check Out A Real Ice Castle

lake geneva in winter - ice castle
Photo: Keith Langston

Lake Geneva has long been home to Ice Castles, one of the few organizations around the world that literally build ice castles throughout the winter months. Tunnels, slides, igloos, and more, all made from ice, light up with multicolored lights turning the frigid structure into a winter wonderland that’s perfect for families and date nights.

However, due to global warming, this is becoming harder and harder to pull off. For example, the incredibly warm winter this year has forced many of the Ice Castles locations to close early due to heavy melting. The good news is that they have a 100% refund policy if the castle has to close.

Related Read: 8 Best Camping Spots in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

4. Explore the Yerkes Observatory

lake geneva in winter - Yerkes Observatory
Photo: Keith Langston

Did you know that most astrophysical advancements of the 1900s happened in Lake Geneva? The Yerkes Observatory was run by the University of Chicago up until 2018, and throughout its lifetime students like Carl Sagan and Edwin Hubble studied there. In fact, It was here that scientists discovered the shape of the Milky Way and realized the universe was actually made up of numerous galaxies.

Now, the campus is run by a foundation dedicated to preserving its history. You can take tours and see the massive telescope housed in their observatory or check out one of the many events and lectures that take place throughout the year. It’s also a fantastic way to escape the Wisconsin cold for a few hours.

5. Head to the Lake for Winter Fun

lake geneva in winter - lakeshore
Photo: Visit Lake Geneva

No visit to Lake Geneva would be complete without actually visiting the lake the town is named after. During the winter months, the lake is loaded with ice fishermen and ice skaters, and during the coldest months, when the ice is really thick, you can even go out on hovercraft rides on the ice.

For anyone not interested in actually touching the ice, you can still enjoy the lake by hiking along the Shore Path. The trail is 26 miles long and rims the lake, giving impressive views of both the surrounding landscape and the massive gilded-age mansions plotted along the lakefront. The trail can get snowy and icy though, so be sure to bring boots or some good water-resistant hiking shoes.

Related Read: 6 Homey Campervan Rentals in Milwaukee Perfect for Any Escape

6. Snowshoe, Hike, or Cross-Country Ski


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A post shared by Robert Radtke (@supboy.19)

During the winter months, Big Foot Beach State Park becomes a stunning spectacle of nature. Snow-covered trees, deer running along the paths, shrews and rabbits hopping through the snow – if you want to really get out and explore winter, this is the place to do it. Snowshoeing and hiking are allowed anywhere throughout the park and groomed cross-country ski trails are made by park staff.

The park, along with the adjacent Ceylon Lagoon, leads right up to the lake, so you can experience a woodsy vibe and lakefront views, all in one hike!

7. Visit a Wisconsin Supper Club


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A post shared by Mars Resort 💫 (@mars_resort)

Supper clubs are no joke in Wisconsin. They’re still very much real and very popular, and they’re uniquely their own thing. They’re the kind of place where you go for dinner, drinks, and enjoyment. It’s not an in-and-out dining environment, but rather a place where you take your time – which is perfect for a long, cold Wisconsin winter.

Mars Resort and Anthony’s Steakhouse are two perfect examples of a classic Wisconsin supper club – the insides often look like they haven’t been renovated since the 70s, giving them an incredibly Midwestern charm that only further adds to their vibe. Must-order items include fried cheese curds for an appetizer and ice cream drinks for dessert. Ice cream drinks, like a grasshopper or Brandy Alexander, are blended frozen cocktails made using ice cream. They are an absolute staple of Wisconsin supper clubs and need to be tried.

Before your meal, don’t forget to order a Wisconsin Old Fashioned (another supper club favorite), which differentiates from the standard by including a brandied cherry and orange, and is often sweetened using honey or simple syrup.

Related Read: The Best Great Lakes Islands for a Scenic Midwest Vacation

8. Stroll Through Downtown

lake geneva in winter - Delaney St Mercantile downtown
Photo: Keith Langston

Like most small towns, Lake Geneva has a quaint downtown area loaded with local boutiques, artisan shops, restaurants, and bars. Two must-visit shops are My Sister & Me, an antique shop filled with tons of great finds, and the Delaney Street Mercantile, a store for all things weird, wonderful, and intriguing.

You can also escape the cold with a visit to the Olympic Restaurant for a cup of hot coffee or tea (and a slice of pie, why not?) Stepping inside is a total blast from the past, with the diner looking straight out of a movie. Plus, with a cup of Joe costing only $2.50, the prices seem like a trip to the past too.

Each winter, downtown also hosts Winterfest, which includes everything from ice sculpture competitions to bonfires on the beach, performances, and local food stalls.

9. Go Ziplining


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A post shared by LG Ziplines & Adventures (@ziplakegeneva)

For those who don’t mind braving the cold, Lake Geneva offers ziplining tours…even in the middle of winter. Walk across suspended bridges, zip through the trees, and complete the journey with a 1200-foot zipline race at the end.

Keep in mind that Wisconsin winters can be very weird and temperamental. It might be 40 degrees out, or it might be -40 out, you just never know. The good news is that they’re super flexible. If a tour needs to be canceled due to weather, you’ll get the option of rebooking another day or getting your money back.

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