It’s been a wacky winter so far, with a short-lived blast of snow in November, followed by December temperatures that shattered record highs and reopened golf courses.

Then finally some real seasonal weather on Monday — perhaps a bit more than we bargained for. Now we’ll see what January has in store.

Snow or no snow, sunny skies or winter rains, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the season outdoors — at no or little cost. Here are a few ideas for celebrating the new year in the fresh air.

Madison parks

Start off 2016 with a Bird and Nature Walk guided by an expert volunteer each Sunday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Upcoming dates include: Cherokee Marsh North, 6098 N. Sherman Ave., this Sunday and Feb. 7; Turville Point Conservation Park, 1156 Olin-Turville Ct., Jan. 10 and Feb. 14; Warner Park, 2930 N. Sherman Ave., Jan. 17 and Feb. 21; and Lakeshore Nature Preserve, 2002 University Bay Dr., Jan. 24 and Feb. 28. Find details at" href="" target="_blank">

Want to ski or skate? Keep an eye on the Madison Parks winter activities web page at, or sign up for winter activity e-mail alerts.

When the ice is nice, Madison Parks will kick off skating lessons and open cross-country ski sites. Friday night Groove and Glide ice skating parties are tentatively on the calendar for 6 to 8 p.m. at Tenney Park, Jan. 8; Elver Park, Jan. 15; Westmorland Park, Jan. 22; and Vilas Park, Jan. 29.

The UW Women’s Hockey Team has plans to join skaters on the ice from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 17 at Vilas Park. Admission is free; skate rentals and concessions are available.

Cross-country skiing in Madison Parks will return once there’s at least four inches of “good” snow on the ground. Ski rentals are available at Elver Park (daily) and Odana Hills Golf Course (weekends).

Cross-country ski permits for groomed trails in 2016 cost $7 daily, or $30 for an annual pass ($15 for seniors). Permits are required for skiers ages 16 and up at Elver Park, Odana Hills and Yahara Hills golf courses, and also are good on Dane County Parks Ski Trails.

Sledding hills can be found at several Madison Parks, including Elver Park, which has a warming house with concessions and is lit for evening sledding.

The annual Candelight Ski at Olin-Turville Park is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Jan. 23. Bring your skis and tour the candlelit scenic trails, then enjoy hot chocolate at this free, family-friendly event sponsored by Friends of Olin-Turville Park.

Regardless of the weather, consider cleaning out your closet and joining the winter clothing drive sponsored by Madison Parks and the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin. Drop off gently used winter wear during open shelter hours Jan. 4-15 at Odana Hills, Elver, Tenney and Vilas parks.

Dane County parks

Dane County offers groomed cross‐country ski trails for permit-holders at CamRock, Indian Lake, Lake Farm and the Lewis Nine Springs E‐Way, and Token Creek County Parks. No permit is required for the volunteer-groomed trails at McCarthy County Park.

More information on snowshoeing, sledding, snowmobiling, winter mountain biking, winter dog parks and more from Dane County Parks is at Skiers can get trail updates by calling 242-4576.

State parks

From Devil’s Lake to Blue Mounds, state parks offer a range of candlelight ski events, scavenger and geocaching hunts — plus several “First Day Hikes” scheduled for New Year’s Day. Or simply go on your own for some peaceful winter solitude. Check out the full listing of state park offerings at

UW Arboretum

Explore the winter landscape at the UW Arboretum, where trails are open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Free, drop-in guided walks take place each Sunday at 1 p.m.

Family Walks, focused on topics that appeal to youngsters, are held the second Sunday of each month from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. And the Arboretum’s Family Nature Programs, held from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. each fourth Sunday, combine an outdoor, naturalist-led tour with indoor activities. All tours start at the Arboretum’s Visitor Center.

A free Saturday night walk held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 23 will explore the “First Bear Moon,” which celebrates the birth of bear cubs in winter dens even as much of nature sleeps. A “Snow Moon” night walk is scheduled for Feb. 20.

The Arboretum’s Winter Enrichment Lectures feature talks by a broad range of UW experts. The lecture series runs Thursday mornings from Jan. 7 through March 10, $10 fee; for a schedule and to register, go to

Aldo Leopold Nature Center

Wander the trails at the center’s Monona campus, 330 Femrite Dr., for a free, self-guided hike any day from sunrise to sunset. Admission to the ALNC‘s indoor Climate Science Center and other exhibits is $4, or $3 for children age 3 and up, seniors and military personnel. It is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends.

On Jan. 9, celebrate the birthday of the legendary naturalist Aldo Leopold with an evening Tiki Torch Tobaggan and Campfire Cookout held from 4 to 7 p.m. at the ALNC’s Black Earth Campus, 10648 Sutcliffe Road.

Bring a dinner to cook over the campfire or eat in the cabin, and enjoy (possible) sledding, hiking and snowshoeing (equipment available). Cost is $8, or $29 per family. Drop in or register in advance at" href="" target="_blank">

A free public candlelight snowshoe hike, sponsored by ALNC, the City of Monona and the City of Madison, is on the calendar for Jan. 16, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Explore the trails at ALNC, Woodland Park and the Edna Taylor Conservation Park. Hot cocoa and popcorn will be for sale at $1 each, and snowshoes will be available on a first-come, first-served basis (bring photo ID as a deposit).

All parking for the event is at Meriter Monona, 6408 Copps Ave., with a free shuttle to the event. For information, see or call the Monona Parks Department at 222-4167.

Olbrich Gardens

Explore the gardens in winter or take a stroll through the tropics in Olbrich Botanical Gardens’ Bolz Conservatory, open daily. Special upcoming programs at Olbrich include “Children of the Rainforest” performances celebrating the authentic cultures of rainforest regions on Jan. 23 and Feb. 27, and the gardens’ Winter Concert series on select Sundays in February and March. See for a complete schedule.

Ski with MSCR

Madison School & Community Recreation sponsors its annual fundraiser to support the MSCR Adaptive Ski Program with an evening of skiing from 4 to 9 p.m. Jan. 23 at Tyrol Basin in Mount Horeb; $25 includes snowboard, ski and helmet rentals. Details, registration and more MSCR winter activities are listed at

Snowshoe scurry

Race on snowshoes or fat bikes at the Snowshoe Scurry events held in Donald County Park in Mount Horeb and Middleton’s Pleasant View Golf Course. The first event in the series is a 5K and 10K race, plus a 5K dog jog, at 9 a.m. Saturday in Donald Park. Registration and details are at

Madison Winter Festival

Save the date Feb. 13-14 for Madison Winter Festival — with fun runs, fat bikes, cross-country skiing, children’s activities, the Madison Adaptive Winter Games, and more. The fest takes place on Capitol Square; find details at


Gayle Worland is an arts and features reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.