Escape and explore outdoors with family and friends this winter
By: Wendy Gehlhoff
Looking for outdoor winter adventures or a cozy spot to come in from the cold and enjoy great food and great times with friends and family? Look no further than Florence County, located in northeastern Wisconsin on the border of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Florence County has a population of only 4,500 and 195,193 acres of land under public ownership. That means over 60% of county land is available to the public giving you endless possibilities for your adventure into the outdoors. With 28 locally-owned restaurants and family-friendly taverns, there is a wide range of food and atmospheres to choose from when you want to relax and refuel after your excitement outdoors.
If you haven’t heard of Florence County, it may be because it’s so small; after all, there are no stop lights in the whole county. Perhaps it’s because it isn’t on the main north-south highway routes. No matter what the reason, now you know about Florence County and it’s time to explore this fantastic place with its friendly people and natural beauty.
Here is just a sampling of activities and events this winter:
Ice Fishing: With 265 lakes and four major rivers, there are many places to fish. Ice fishing up north is a social activity aimed at curing cabin fever as well as catching some fish to eat. The most social form of this activity happens at ice fishing derbies. For a small entry fee, participants have the chance to win prizes while having fun with family and friends and meeting many new acquaintances.
The Roadhouse 139 Ice Fishing Derby on Long Lake is February 4th this year. Long Lake is known for nice northern pike and panfish. Leff’s Sports Bar is hosting their 6th Annual Ice Fishing Derby on February 11. This derby allows fishermen to fish on Lake Emily or Keyes Lake. The Homestead and Aurora Conservation Club sponsor the Pete “Toad” Church Memorial Ice Fishing Derby generally in January, but depending on ice conditions, it has been postponed some years. Check out the ExploreFlorenceCounty.com events tab for the latest information. This event is held on the Pine River Flowage known as an excellent smallmouth bass fishery.
Tip-up fishing for northern pike is a relaxing family activity. Northern pike feed actively throughout the daylight hours, so you don’t have to brave the dark and cold. And once you get your tip-ups set, you can sit back and watch them, or throw a football, play a game of badminton or snow-golf on the ice. The best lakes in Florence County to catch northern pike through the ice are; Patten Lake, Twin Falls Flowage, Fay Lake, Seidel Lake and Sea Lion Lake. If you are looking for a trophy pike, give Lake Ellwood or the Brule River Flowage a try. There aren’t as many fish per acre in these two lakes, but the fish there are monsters.
If you are looking to jig for panfish, the better waters are the Spread Eagle Chain of Lakes, Sea Lion Lake, Twin Falls Flowage and Halsey Lake. Or if you prefer walleye, Patten Lake and the Brule River Flowage are the hot spots through the ice. So call ahead to make sure the ice is thick enough and then pack up your ice fishing gear, shanty or bucket and come join the fun.
Snowmobiles and ATV/UTVs: Winter is a great time to enjoy rolling hills, miles of rivers and streams, tall pine and hardwood forests as you travel Florence County’s 160 miles of ATV and 180 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Many town roads are also open for snowmobile/ATV/UTV access to local businesses. While traveling the trails, stop for a breathtaking winter picture at a scenic overlook or beautiful frozen waterfall. ATV enthusiasts can also go off trail through sand dunes and mud at the 17-acre ATV park east of Florence just off Trail 2. Trail passes and any required registrations are sold at the visitor center on the corner of US 2 and Hwy 70. The visitor center is located on one of the main ATV/snowmobile trails and offers parking for those wishing to drop their trailers and go.
Florence County trails are known to be the best-groomed trails in the region thanks to the Blue Ox Trail Riders; the local ATV/UTV/Snowmobile club. The club maintains the trails in Florence County and works hand-in-hand with Florence County, State of Wisconsin, Federal government and private landowners to assure continued availability of the trail system. The members of the club are all unpaid volunteers and are responsible for grooming, brushing, signing and re-routes as well as all maintenance on the grooming equipment. The club owns and operates four groomers which maintain all of the snowmobile trails in Florence County. There are four trail coordinators that set up their own grooming schedules; so please ride safely and watch out for the groomers. About 50% of the trail system in Florence County crosses private landowner property. Please respect their property and stay on the trail. Visit BlueOxTrailRiders.org for more events, trail rides and other information. Or why not donate $20 to become a single or family club member and support the club’s efforts.
Keyes Peak Hill Climb and Hill Cross: Snowmobile enthusiasts should mark their calendars for February 11thand 12th when the MASTERS Circuit (Mid-America Snow and Terrain Expert Racers) will host the Wisconsin State Championship Snowmobile event at Keyes Peak on Hwy 101. Saturday, February 11th features the Keyes Peak Snowmobile Hill Climb event. Multiple divisions covering a variety of snowmobile sizes and styles will be running throughout the day. The course travels through turns up the triple-X chute on the ski hill. Until you watch them, you’d bet big money that nothing could climb this hill. The Hill Cross event follows on Sunday February 12th. Viewers will be thrilled watching racers compete against each other on a course of man-made jumps. A weekend pass costs $10 and kids under 12 get in free. Gates open at 9 am with competition starting at 10am on both days. Concessions are available in the Keyes Peak Ski Lodge. Proceeds go to the Keyes Peak Ski Hill Committee to improve the hill. For more info call 906-884-9101 or visit www.MastersRacing.net.
Keyes Peak Winter Recreation Area: Keyes Peak Ski Hill is open Friday through Sunday and other non-school days. It offers six downhill ski runs for beginners to experts plus rails and jumps for snowboarders. New to the hill this year is an extreme skiing triple-X cut-out-run. Keyes Peak also boasts one of the longest vertical drop tubing runs in the state. For younger kids or those less adventurous, a beginner’s snow tubing run is located next to the bunny hill. Keyes Peak is owned and operated by the county so the prices are a great value. A single season pass is $100 and a family season pass is only $150. Daily lift tickets range from $8-$12. Rental equipment is available for a small fee too.
If downhill skiing or tubing isn’t what you are looking for, try snowshoeing the Chickadee Snowshoe trails that start and end near the ski lodge. The packed trails are suitable for all snowshoe types. This 2-mile signed trail system winds through tall pines and mixed hardwoods on a gently rolling terrain. Or make your own route on the many acres of public land adjacent to the ski hill.
The gorgeous Keyes Peak Ski Lodge is constructed from large pine logs harvested from the property. It offers games and concessions for visitors to warm up and fuel up before their next run. The lodge is also available to rent for parties and weddings from April-November. It features a full kitchen, hardwood dance floor, air conditioning and a new outdoor playground set to keep kids entertained. For more information, contact Florence County Forestry and Parks at 715-528-3207 or during season the lodge number is 715-528-3228.
Family Winter Events at Keyes Peak:
Mike Roberts Memorial Ski Race and Lessons: On Saturday, January 28 coaches from the Granite Peak Ski Team out of Wausau, WI are offering a ski instruction and ski racing day at Keyes Peak for kids ages 6-17 for only $10 per child. This fee includes lessons, lift ticket and ski rentals and maxes out at $20 per family. Thanks to the generous donation of time by these professional ski coaches, this event is the most affordable opportunity to expose your family to the joys of downhill skiing. From9am until 11:30am coaches guide students in small groups through proper skiing techniques on the slopes. Then from 12:30 until 3pm these students have the option of taking several timed runs through a NASTAR type ski racing course where they will receive times that could qualify them for other racing events. All participants receive a medal and awards are given to the top three male and female finishers in many age categories. All proceeds go to the Keyes Peak Ski Hill Committee to continue funding this great facility.
Keyes Peak Winterfest: On Saturday, March 4th enjoy the last days of winter at Keyes Peak. For only $15/person you and your family and friends can enjoy a whole day of skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing and games. The price includes a lift ticket, rental equipment and the chance to take part in many fun activities. The event starts at 11:00 am and the lift ticket is good until the hill closing at 9:00 pm. This is a great family value and is often a warm, sunny day. Activities include snow carving, snowshoe potato races, human bowling and guided snowshoe hikes on the Chickadee Snowshoe trails. Make sure to try the fastest tube run in the region. Helmets are provided.
Keyes Peak Recreational area is not only known for winter recreation. There is a beach and boat landing on Keyes Lake with a pavilion for family picnics. It is also home to a 12-hole disc golf course cut into the forest adjacent to the ski runs. The #7 hole has a spectacular view teeing off from the top of Keyes Peak. Or you can drive, hike, bike, ATV or snowmobile to the top of Keyes Peak for gorgeous sunsets any time of the year. The most impressive view is in the fall when the blazing reds, oranges and yellows of Florence County hardwood forests cover the horizon. Keyes Peak Recreation Area is located on State Highway 101 approximately four miles south of Florence.
Cross Country Ski Trails: Another silent sport to try is cross country skiing. Florence County offers three groomed cross country ski trails traveling through scenic forests and terrain. The medium difficulty 2.5-mile Lake Emily trail is located just south of Keyes Peak Ski Hill on County Highway D. The more difficult 9-mile Lauterman Lake trail is on Hwy 70 just eight miles west of Florence. And the relatively flat 7-mile Hall’s Creek Trail is on LaSalle Falls Road north of County Highway C. The Friends of the Wild Rivers and the US Forest Service host an annual Chili Ski-In event on Saturday, February 4th. Attendees to this event from 10am-2pm can ski, snowshoe or hike the short distance into the pavilion to enjoy free chili, hot dogs, hot chocolate, coffee and cookies.
Winter Waterfalls: If you love to take photos or need a destination for an adventure, why not snowshoe or ski into one of Florence County’s seven waterfalls on the Pine and Popple Wild Rivers. These two rivers were designated as official Wild Rivers by the state back in 1965 and thus have remained undeveloped. The geologically diverse rocky bluffs, evergreens and mixed hardwoods surrounding the rivers make for gorgeous waterfall pictures year round. Winter can be especially breathtaking due to the frozen ice on the edges of the falls and the wind-whipped snow ridges and hollows. The Wisconsin Wild Rivers logo signs will guide you to the waterfalls located off Hwy 70, Hwy 101, County Road C and County Road N. The largest continuous falls is 22-foot LaSalle Falls on County Road C. The 1-mile hike in is a great workout on snowshoes or cross country skis.
28 Restaurants and Family Friendly Taverns:
Florence County is known for its family friendly bar and grills, casual Northwoods supper clubs and even fine dining that’s affordable and intimate in an elegantly restored early 1900s home. After a day outdoors, whether ice fishing, snowshoeing to a waterfall or riding the freshly groomed trails on your snowmobile, you can warm up, quench your thirst and enjoy warm hearty food with your travel companions. If you strike up a conversation, you’ll likely meet some new northern Wisconsin friends during your stay too. More detailed information about these businesses can be found in the Dining Guide at ExploreFlorenceCounty.com.
Florence County is located on US 2 east of Eagle River and west of Iron Mountain, Michigan. The county’s largest township, Florence, is the county seat and home to the visitor center at the corner of US 2 and Hwy 70. Visit ExploreFlorenceCounty.com to view a recreation guide, lodging guide and dining guide as well as maps and brochures. Materials are also available via mail delivery by clicking on the “Contact Us” page to submit a request.
Florence County might be small, but it is loaded with opportunity to escape the crowds and explore the great outdoors, while renewing your spirit and making new friends. So why not escape, explore and renew in Florence County this winter? Plan your trip at ExploreFlorenceCounty.com or call the visitor center at 888-889-0049.