Polar Fest, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Polar Plunge, Polar Fest
Polar Plunge; Photo courtesy of visitdetroitlakes.com

The small town of Detroit Lakes, about a 3-hour drive northwest of Minneapolis, is situated among several small lakes and can be frigid in the winter. But that doesn’t stop people here from throwing a yearly winter celebration filled with fun and unique games. Come out to Polar Fest in mid-February for 10 days of family fun and spectator sports.

If you dare, come take the Polar Plunge, whereby you jump into the icy waters of Detroit Lake. The jump is accompanied by a pancake breakfast, kids’ games and activities, and plenty to eat and drink. Other typical sporting events include an ice fishing derby, an intense ice motorcycle race, a 5K fun run, a professional snowmobile race and the chance to watch curling teams from near and far battle it out on the ice.


Cedarburg Winter Festival, Cedarburg, Wisconsin

Winter Carnival Bed Race
Costumed Bed Races on Ice Competition; Photo courtesy of David W. Feldbruegge

This little town 30 minutes north of Milwaukee features a winter festival filled with hilarity. Each year the festival has a seemingly paradoxical theme - one year it was Winter Safari. Competition is the name of the game at this kooky festival. You can participate in a chili contest, a musical talent contest, a winter golf tournament, a cupcake festival and a good old-fashioned snowball fight. If you happen to have an Alaskan Malamute dog, enter him or her in the sled-pulling contest.

The events kick off with a grand parade in which local businesses and citizens dress up and march through town. This event is followed by a race that you probably can’t find anywhere else in the world: A costumed bed race, on ice. Teams of five come up with elaborate costumes and race and old-fashioned bed, decorated to be a pirate ship, a school bus - you name it - down an icy street. There’s also an ice-carving contest and plenty more to enjoy at this fun family-friendly winter celebration.


Fire and Ice Winter Fest, Lava Hot Springs, Idaho

Polar Bear Float, Fire and Ice Winter Fest
Polar Bear Float; Photo courtesy of Lava Hot Springs Fire & Ice Winter Fest

The uniquely named quaint little town of Lava Hot Springs (population 400) is host to an annual Fire & Ice Winter Fest, which plays on the town’s peculiar position as a freezing winter locale that is home to natural hot springs that reach up to 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take part in some of the most unorthodox events for families and thrill-seekers alike. One highlight is the Polar Bear Float: Don your craziest costume and hop on an inner tube to float down the Portneuf River. Prizes are given for most original costume or fastest time. Or, take part in the Running of the Bulls - a crazy event where people strip down to their swimsuits and run down Main Street before jumping in the hot mineral springs to warm up.

In the must-see Torch Light Parade excellent skiers fly down the L Mountain with lanterns in hand, lighting up the mountainside in a stunning fashion. Kids will have a ball too, with the rubber penguin race where toy penguins are dropped into the Portneuf from the Pancake House Bridge and winners are awarded prizes. This fabulously fun festival is hosted the first weekend in February and is only about a 2.5-hour drive from Salt Lake City or Twin Falls, Idaho.


Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, Saranac Lake, New York

Ice Palace, Saranac Lake Winter Carnival
Ice Palace

Located in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, the small village of Saranac Lake is about a 3.5-hour drive from Syracuse and a 2-hour drive from Burlington, Vt. But don’t let the drive scare you! It’s well worth it, if only to see the famous Ice Palace.

Each year, a large group of volunteers cuts ice blocks from nearby Lake Flower. Then, an expert ice sculptor creates a stunning and large palace or castle to match that year’s theme. One year, the sculptor matched the under-the-sea theme with ice dolphins and shell benches to sit on! Kids like that they can climb on certain elements. At night, the Ice Palace is truly breathtaking - colorful lights are placed inside to make sure it glows and lights up the night.

This quaint winter carnival also boasts a fun run, a downhill ski race, a scavenger hunt, the coronation of carnival royalty and plenty of other events for 10 days of fun.