People from all over the Midwest come to St. Germain in the summertime to play in the picturesque lakes. But if you ask the locals, they’ll tell you that the town is the most fun during the dead of winter. When temperatures plummet, the lakes freeze over, and the snow piles up, St. Germain becomes a hub for winter sports.
Home to the Midwest’s largest independent snowmobiling club, the town is known the world over for its 100 miles of well-marked and meticulously groomed snowmobile trails, which can take you all the way up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. However, St. Germain also has become one of the Midwest’s top ice fishing destinations. Anglers of all ages drill holes into the frozen lakes and catch fish big enough to throw on the grill for dinner.
Those who want to be more active will seek out St. Germain’s well-maintained cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails, which wind through giant pine trees and past expansive lakefronts. The trails are dotted with rental cabins, most of which have cozy fireplaces and Northwoods-themed décor.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about St. Germain is its friendly vibe and hospitable residents, assuring everyone who visits — even first-time snowmobilers or families trying out ice fishing — will feel welcome.
Here are some of the many ways to experience St. Germain this winter.
Shhh! Serious anglers warn that loud talking scares away the fish, so you might want to keep it down as you walk out onto one of the thick ice, find a perfect spot, drill a one, to two-foot hole, and drop in your fishing lines. Ice fishing can be a family-friendly activity, as kids love to play on the ice while waiting for the fish to bite. Adults may opt to ride snowmobiles out to more remote spots on the lake and maybe put a few New Glarus beers in their warming hut next to their fishing hole.
Ever tried ice fishing before? It’s simple and fun. Consider hiring a guide from Rays Landing, a friendly place to rent ice fishing gear and buy bait. The season generally begins sometime after Thanksgiving and runs through early March.
Some of the easiest lakes to access — all you need to do is drive up to a parking lot and walk out onto the ice — are Big St. Germain Lake, Little St. Germain Lake, Lost Lake, and Found Lake. The waters are populated with nearly a dozen types of fish, including Northern pike, smallmouth bass, and walleye.
Many anglers like to make a pre-fishing stop at Camp’s Supervalu Foods for fresh coffee and made-that-morning donuts. The store also sells an assortment of local beers and cheeses.
An enjoyable winter workout includes snowshoeing on different trails that weave through quiet forests of aspen, oak, and pine trees. Snowshoes let you travel over the snow rather than sink into it, and a short trek can burn 600 calories or more! Lightweight aluminum snowshoe rentals are available at multiple stores in town.
A good beginner trail is Awassa Nature Preserve and Hiking Trail. With one to 2.6-mile loops to explore, Awassa is a perfect destination to meander through the St. Germain winter landscapes with friends, family, and even pets. Follow along the level and groomed trail through stands of mature pines, oaks, maples, and a rich understory of balsam fir. Perfect for side-by-side use of classic winter sports like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking, Awassa is a local favorite.
Fat biking — off-road snow biking — is also a favorite winter activity in St. Germain. Fat Bike Loop is a popular single trail that winds through tall pines and open woodlands. With only a few small hills, it is a great path for beginners. Accessible from the Awassa Trails trailhead, the Fat Bike Trail connects to both trail systems for as long or short of a ride as you would like. For other trails, check out The Map It Vilas County trail app. This helpful tool helps find snowshoeing trails best suited to your skill level and location.
If you see a log cabin along the path, stop and go inside. You should find a big bag of birdseed. Grab a handful and use it to feed the chickadees, who, if you’re brave enough, will fly up and take the food right out of your hand.
Etiquette tip: stay on the snowshoeing paths and avoid walking on the cross-country ski trails.
Nearly all of the rental homes at Hiller Vacation Homes are on the lakefront or along the snowmobiling or snowshoeing trails. For multi-family get-togethers or guys’ and girls’ weekends, Hiller’s sprawling cabins provide plenty of bedrooms so everyone can have their own space. Couples can opt for a smaller, romantic cabin in the woods, where they might see deer walk past in the falling snow or hear woodpeckers in the trees. Hiller Vacation Homes’ inventory covers the gamut from luxury rentals to budget-friendly places to rest your head after a long day of winter fun.
One of the most popular rentals in St. Germain is an updated three-level, 4-bedroom house along East Bay Hideaway trails. The open layout includes a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over Little St. Germain Lake, plus an expansive lake-facing deck.
The county prohibits hot tubs, but Hiller’s rental homes have other fun amenities, like pool tables, saunas, outdoor fire pits, wood-burning fireplaces, and giant flatscreen TVs that are perfect for movie nights or watching sports. The charming Northwoods-styled décor makes the rentals feel homey and comfortable.
Cross country skiing in St. Germain is a fun way to exercise and soak in the scenery of the winter woods. The sport can be physically taxing until you get the hang of it, so most skiers opt for the trails with short, gentle loops.
Rent gear at any of the outfitters in town and head to the family-friendly Shannon Lake Trail. Visitors can meander along well-groomed trails and experience firsthand St. Germain’s scenic backcountry.
St. Germain also has additional cross-country skiing and snowshoeing paths for more advanced recreationists, like the short and rugged Fern Ridge Trail. This intermediate to challenging trail offers striking contrasts in terrain. The hills and open, mature woodlands provide an excellent destination for winter explorations. Two loops bisect the property, totaling 1.4-miles of trail, including a bog boardwalk.
Whether exploring Fern Ridge or traversing ungroomed backcountry paths, there are miles of trails to experience, with nothing but the sound of your swishing skis. Visit The Map It Vilas County Trail app to select the best option.
From snowshoeing to ice fishing, there’s an abundance of ways to play in St. Germain.