Things to do on a budget in and around Eau Claire this winter


Located at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers in Wisconsin, the bustling town of Eau Claire offers a wealth of fun things to do come wintertime.

(Photo: Chippewa Valley Museum)

An independent-minded university town with a vibrant indie arts scene, Eau Claire buzzes with activity all year round. Winter brings with it the sights and sounds of the season, with a whole host of opportunities for festive fun and adventure on your doorstep. If you’re visiting Eau Claire over the coming weeks or months, check out our selection of 10 activities and attractions to add to your itinerary below.

Chippewa Valley Museum

Perched beneath towering pines in Eau Claire’s picturesque Carson Park, this nationally recognised museum offers award-winning exhibits, fun activities, a 1950’s ice cream parlor, a museum store, and plenty more. Open all year round, it’s a great place to head for some respite during a cold winter’s day to enjoy highlights such as the multi-media object theatre “This Day.” Be sure to save time to take a look around the museum grounds where you’ll find several beautifully preserved historic structures.

1204 East Half Moon Drive / Tues 5pm-8pm Weds-Sat 12pm-5pm Closed Sun-Mon

Children’s Museum of Eau Claire

(Photo: The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire)

Cure winter doldrums at Play Space Chippewa Falls and Play Space Menomonie – satellite locations of the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire. With hands-on engagement, exhibits that encourage immersive play and STEAM related programs, these spaces are a great option to get out of the house and get the wiggles out! Developed to stay engaged with rural communities while building a brand-new museum, Play Spaces are meant to be enjoyed by all but are most appropriate for children under age 10. The new Children’s Museum of Eau Claire will open January 2023

40 S Barstow Street / Thurs-Sat 9am-5pm Sun 9am-12pm Closed Mon-Weds

Go sledding

Eau Claire’s sledding hills are as fun as they sound, offering adventurous visitors and locals alike the chance to throw on some snow pants, pull on hats and mittens, board a sledge and hurtle down one of the undulating hillsides that surround the town for the ultimate winter thrill. Among the most popular spots for sledding are Pinehurst Hill, where you’ll also find plenty of other family-friendly winter activities to enjoy.

LE Phillips Memorial Public Library

(Photo: Franz Fox / Courtesy Franz Fox)

The largest library in west central Wisconsin, the LE Phillips Memorial Public Library also plays host to regular art shows. This winter, through to the end of December, local artist and graphic designer Paul Cyr is bringing his show ‘Essentially PC’ to the library’s brand new gallery space. Featuring a collection of recent artwork, the exhibition showcases the artist’s penchant for exploring new media from simple pencil drawings to more complex painted wood sculpture.

400 Eau Claire Street / Mon-Thurs 9am-8pm Fri-Sat 9am-6pm Closed Sun

Irvine Park

Come winter, the vast green expanse of Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls, 20 minutes’ north of Eau Claire by road, is transformed into a scene of festive merriment. Over 100,000 Christmas lights sparkle and over 100 life-size re-enactments tell the story of Chippewa Fall’s long history. Free to attend, the magical display is available to drive or walk through on Monday to Sunday from 7am to 9.30 pm from Thanksgiving through to New Year’s Day. Donations are welcome.

Beaver Creek Reserve

Popular with families looking for some local outdoor fun, Beaver Creek Reserve makes for a fantastic winter’s day out. Twenty miles east of Eau Claire, this acclaimed environmental, educational and recreational complex includes an interactive Nature Centre, nine miles of trails, the Hobbs Observatory, a seasonal Butterfly House, rustic rental facilities and a Citizen Science Centre. There are also a variety of winter activities and programs that encourage visitors of all ages to experience nature.

Polar Plunge

Each year, thousands of brave – possibly crazy – participants unite at numerous locations around Wisconsin to support Special Olympics Wisconsin. Among the flagship events is the infamous Polar Plunge, which sees people throw themselves into icy cold waters in the good name of charity. The Eau Claire edition takes place off of Half Moon Beach in wintertime and also features a host of activities for all ages, including live music, raffles, food and drink vendors, and much more.

Eau Claire Downtown Farmer’s Market

(Photo: Eau Claire Downtown Farmer’s Market)

Taking place on the second Saturday of every month through winter, this busy farmer’s market provides the ideal chance to pick up some quality produce during a time of year when most people like to get down to some serious home cooking. Situated at the E. Phillips Senior Center close to downtown Eau Claire, the market features a wide assortment of local vegetables, mushrooms, meats, eggs, bakery, honey, hummus, baba ghannouj, chips, maple syrup, beverages, dog treats, and other products sold directly by the people who produce them.

E. Phillips Senior Center / November-April 

Ice fishing

Spending the day in the middle of a frozen lake might not be for the faint-hearted, but intrepid types willing to brave the cold and try their hand at ice fishing might be rewarded with some major catches. All-comers are welcome to participate at the annual JIG’s UP Ice Fishing Contest, hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Lake Wissota in Chippewa Falls, a 20-minute drive northeast of central Eau Claire, each February. And if you don’t get lucky with your rod, you may get lucky with some of the raffle prizes on offer.

Lake Wissota, Chippewa Falls / February each year

UW-Eau Claire Holiday Concert

A festive local tradition, this annual Holiday Concert features hundreds of students, faculty and community members from various ensembles performing a selection of music of the season. Hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Foundation and Department of Music & Theatre Arts, the popular event serves to showcase students’ musical talents and spread holiday joy, with the proceeds from ticket sales going to raise money for scholarships.

Pablo Center at the Confluence, 128 Graham Avenue / 4 December 2022

By Paul Joseph