Nestled along the shoreline of Lake Superior, gazing out sleepily at the Apostle Islands, lies the dormant town of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Come summertime this place will be hopping with kayakers, campers, concert-goers, seasonal workers and black bears. In the winter, it’s tough to find a place that is a) open and b) serves beer. But dig deep, and you will be rewarded. While Bayfield may be resting up for summer, there is plenty of food, drinks and fun to be found. You just have to be resourceful, which is what it’s all about in Wisconsin in the wintertime. Plan a trip to Bayfield in March for the Winter Festival and prepare to schmooze with the locals. Here’s what you need to know, if you go.*
1:30 p.m. 1) SOMEBODY BUY THIS KID A SODA POP (OR A CHAI TEA)
Along Highway 63 on the way to Bayfield, you will find the town of Hayward, infamous for a giant fish.
While in Hayward, make sure to stop at Backroads Coffee & Tea (10526 Dakota Avenue, Hayward) for an afternoon cup, recommended by this brave young man who spends his lunch hours helping to keep the dream alive.
3:30 p.m. 2) WELCOME TO THE PINEHURST INN
The Pinehurst Inn (83645 State Hwy 13, Bayfield), offering eco-friendly lodging with views of Lake Superior, is the place to stay. The rooms are cozy, the complimentary breakfasts are organic and delicious (ours included yogurt with granola and blueberries, egg and mushroom quiche with whole wheat crust, and tart apple cider), and the vintage bathtubs have claws. The owners of the inn, Steve and Nancy, are friendly and knowledgeable- they love the area and have lots of recommendations about where to go and what to do.
4:30 p.m. 3) DOES ANYONE KNOW WHERE WE COULD FIND A BEER?
After a brief stroll around downtown Bayfield, it’s time for happy hour.
Which may end up being more difficult than you would think in Wisconsin. On a Friday. At 4:45 p.m. But luckily there is the Pickled Herring Club at Pier Plaza Restaurant (1 Rittenhouse Avenue) in downtown Bayfield.
Not only will you find beer, you may just be entered in a ‘crazy sweater contest/raffle’ by your friendly server (who may just call you the next day to inform you that you have won, despite the fact that your ‘crazy sweater’ was a kelly green cardigan).
8:00 p.m. 4) A GOOD THYME WAS HAD BY ALL
For a memorable dinner head south from Bayfield toward the town of Washburn. Look for the yellow house on your left. An upscale restaurant featuring local ingredients, Good Thyme (77180 Hwy 13, Washburn) is not to be missed (unless you get to Washburn, and then you have gone too far).
If you eat meat, try the meatloaf with blue cheese; if you don’t, the house salad with miso dressing is a highlight. Either way you slice it, be sure to order a dessert martini and try not to spill it on yourself.
10:oo a.m. 5) I KISSED A POLAR BEAR
Traditionally held on the ice between Bayfield and Madeline Island, this year’s Run on Water event was a 3. 5 mile run next to the water on the scenic Brownstone Trail, due to unstable (non-existent) ice conditions. If you place (6th- out of 13- narrowly beating out a man in his 80s who was running on snowshoes), you can look forward to arranging a personal awards ceremony with a polar bear.
11:00 a.m. 6) HELL YES I WOULD LOVE A KIM CHI BURRITO
After a morning run through the snow, head to Big Water Cafe (117 Rittenhouse Avenue). Order a cold fusion (possibly one of the more delicious iced coffee beverages you could ever have), a kim chi burrito that is the epitome of healthy and hearty, and a cookie. Go back the next day and do it again.
1:00 p.m. 7) IT’S FIVE O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE (GREENLAND?)
For a festive atmosphere, stroll to Maggie’s (257 Manypenny Avenue). The walls are brightly painted, there are flamingoes everywhere, they have a good selection of beer and they are open past seven. It’s a great place to load up before an epic trip into the woods.
2:30 p.m. 8) COUGARS AND SASQUATCH AND BEARWOLVES, OH MY
After a beer in town, it’s time for more adventure in the snow. Drive two miles south to Ski Hill Road and hang a right for Mount Ashwabay Ski and Recreation Area (32525 Ski Hill Road). Home to Big Top Chautauqua in the summer, Mount Ashwabay is a charming ski area in the winter. If you enjoy cross country skiing, the Mount Ashwabay/ Jerry Jolly trail system covers 40 kilometers of trails.
If you have an overactive imagination, you may consider skiing with a companion through the quiet and snowy forest, or just sit back and enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes from wondering again if you are supposed to fight back against a bearwolf or turn and run for cover.
Take this excitement to the next level when you end up at the top of a downhill ski run on your cross-country skis.
My insider tip? Stay to skier’s left along the traverse and snowplow like hell.
6:30 p.m. 9) BARN PARTY
After a lively day of fun in the snow, return to the Pinehurst for a shower and a cribbage game and then head back to Mount Ashwabay for the Winter Bash. Featuring live music in a heated barn, South Shore beer, and a bonfire, it’s the perfect way to kick off your Saturday evening.
10:00 p.m. 10) THE BEST FROZEN PIZZA YOU HAVE EVER HAD
Beware the early closing times of restaurants in the winter in northern Wisconsin. But thanks to a tip from our new friend Blaze (a local ski hero at Mount Ashwabay) and his wife, I can tell you with all certainty that if you can make it to a place called Stage Door Bar in Washburn (123 W Omaha St), you will be rewarded with a magical-tasting homemade frozen pizza. Local legend (at least it seemed like legend at this point in the evening) is that these pizzas are made from all organic and local ingredients by an elderly couple who may or may not be elves. They live somewhere near Washburn on a farm and produce a frozen pizza that is well worth the trip to the far reaches of northern Wisconsin in March. Or in any month, for that matter. Hopefully see you this summer, magical pizzas and Lake Superior- I’ve got a gift certificate from winning a crazy sweater contest to redeem.
*Thanks to the New York Times travel feature, 36 Hours, for the inspiration for this post.