7 Snow-Filled Minnesota Adventures

By C.B. Bylander 

There's no escape from winter, but a winter escape is fun and easy. From skiing and snowmobiling to urban adventures, options for snowy recreation are practically endless in Minnesota. So, take advantage of nature's gift to the north. The snow will be gone before you know it.


Minnesota is known for its great cross-country skiing, with more than 2,000 miles of dedicated trails to explore. In addition to day trips, cross-country ski resorts offer great meals, comfortable lodging, saunas, and spas to round out the experience. Trails in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, near Ely and along the Gunflint Trail, are among the state's top destinations for serious skiers.

Snow is most reliable in the northern half of the state, but good cross-country skiing can be found everywhere. In fact, snow-making machines are employed at several Minneapolis-St. Paul area trails to ensure quality conditions. More than two dozen Minnesota state parks provide groomed trails, and some rent skis. 


Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn learned to ski in Minnesota, but even novices can take advantage of the state's 16 downhill ski areas. In addition to big hills, many areas also feature terrain parks for ski and snowboard tricks, as well as cross-country ski trails. 

Northeast Minnesota is home to the Midwest's largest, longest, and highest hills. Long runs and scenic vistas are memory makers. Ski areas in central and southern Minnesota also offer picturesque, high-quality experiences. Many are gracefully carved into towering river bluffs and broad forested valleys.

Minneapolis-St. Paul area visitors have several downhill ski areas within a 90-minute drive. Visitors to other parts of the state have plenty of choices, too. Equipment rentals and lessons are available at most ski destinations.


Minnesota has nearly as many miles of snowmobile trails (roughly 22,000) as it does highways. These trails, many of which are maintained by local snowmobile clubs, extend to all corners of the state. Many trails run through picturesque federal, state, and county forests, and can take riders to restaurants, lodging, and other popular amenities. Weekly trail condition updates are available by email and on exploreminnesota.com.


Minnesota's panfish season never closes, and walleye, northern pike, and other seasons extend deep into winter. As a result, fishing continues to be one of Minnesota's most popular outdoor activities long after waves have turned to ice.  

Ice fishing's ongoing allure, in part, stems from ice house improvements. Safe and reliable heaters, grills, and comfortable beds are all part of the modern ice fishing experience. Warm, lifelong memories are often forged from nature's northern lights, stunning sunsets, and the hushed silence of winter. 

Popular lakes for ice fishing include Leech, Gull, Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, and more. Ice fishing festivals on these and other lakes are tons of fun, even if you're not fishing.               


The skinny on fat tire mountain biking is that Minnesota offers outstanding options. One of the most notable is the rugged and hilly Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, where winter trails slice and curve through forests and lake country. In many ways, Cuyuna isn't a trail; it's an experience. 

Several state parks now offer winter mountain biking opportunities thanks to the sport's increasing popularity. So do park systems in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Duluth, and Winona areas, with more opening up every year.


Dog sledding is one of the most fun and unusual ways to experience winter. People of all ages and physical abilities can do it, and trips can be tailored to your comfort level. Short trips, day trips, overnight trips, and trips that include ice fishing are among the many iterations available. 

Lodging options also vary. You can spend the night in a cozy cabin or in a yurt--an insulated tent-like shelter.   

The primary destination for this sport is the Boundary Waters, but outfitters can also be found in Duluth, along the North Shore, and even in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.


For those who want to enjoy the snow with something other than skis on their feet, snowshoeing is a great, low-impact activity. Snowshoe rentals and trails are common in state and local park systems, including those in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Many nature centers provide snowshoe rentals and trails, too. 

Find ski areas, trails, equipment rentals, and outfitters for your winter adventure at exploreminnesota.com/snowsports.

This Winter, Bring the Outdoors In

by Erica Wacker

If you're looking for ways to get out and experience the wonders of a Minnesota winter, read the previous article. But if snow days leave you longing for sunnier ones, you'll find plenty of ways to partake in summer's many splendors from the comfort of the great indoors. From golfing and swimming to farmers markets and food trucks, you may be surprised to find many of summer's favorite pastimes happening year-round--yes, even in Minnesota.


Ever wish you could golf in January? You could fly to Florida, or you could head to an indoor golf center like Golf Zone in Chaska, which claims to be Minnesota's only year-round, all-weather golf center. The unique facility features 40 heated, full-length driving range stalls, plus 18 holes of mini-golf. Golf domes, which typically house dozens of hitting stalls, chipping targets, and putting greens under a large dome, can be found in Edina, Brooklyn Park, and Maplewood.

If simulators are more your speed, Cragun's Resort in Brainerd, Bulrush Golf Club in Rush City, Bunker Indoor Golf in Minnetonka, Bunker Hills Golf Club in Coon Rapids, and the PGA experience at MSP Airport allow golfers to virtually visit Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, and dozens of other world-renowned courses all from one tee.

For families, indoor mini-golf is a winter must-do. The relatively new Can Can Wonderland in St. Paul houses 18 quirky, artist-designed holes, a few of which pay tribute to Minnesota icons including the State Fair, St. Paul Saints, and Prince. Another fun twist is black light mini-golf, available at Glow in One in Blaine, Mall of America in Bloomington, AirMaxx in Eden Prairie, and Wow Zone in Mankato.

Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, Barn Bluff in Red Wing, and Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore are popular rock climbing destinations, but the sport is also lots of fun indoors. With locations in Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Bloomington, Vertical Endeavors offers lessons for all ages and abilities, as well as day passes and equipment rentals. First-timers can check out the monthly free climbing nights to get a taste of this exciting sport.

Vertical Endeavors' new bouldering gym--a form of rock climbing with no ropes and shorter walls--will be the second of its kind in Minneapolis when it opens this winter. Beyond the Twin Cities, independent rock climbing gyms can be found in Rochester, Monticello, and at universities in Winona, Mankato, Bemidji, Collegeville, and Moorhead. 


Opening in December, the new Great Wolf Lodge in Bloomington will also have a climbing wall, as well a ropes course, mini bowling alley, arcade, and live-action adventure challenge called MagiQuest. Unlimited access to the resort's water park is included with an overnight stay. 

Other resorts with indoor water parks include The Edge in Duluth, Arrowwood in Alexandria and Baxter, and Seven Clans Casino in Thief River Falls. Some offer day passes based on availability, so be sure to call in advance.

Zoos in Minnesota are an all-weather destination. In particular, the Tropics Trail at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley keeps the animals--and their human visitors--warm year-round, and hosts a tropical beach party starting in February. Penguins, snow monkeys, and various sea creatures are also on view indoors. In St. Paul, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park is another popular tropical escape.


Kids still have some energy to burn? In the Twin Cities area, towns including Maple Grove, Eagan, Edina, Chanhassen, Ham Lake, Minnetonka, and several others have indoor playgrounds that range from standard to spectacular. Most charge a daily fee of $4-$9 per child depending on the location; babies and parents are usually free. Elsewhere in the state, similar play areas can be found in Winona, Rochester, and Detroit Lakes.


If you think food trucks and farmers markets are closed until spring, think again. In St. Paul, the new Seventh Street Truck Park brings the joys--and quirks--of a summer road trip indoors, with trucks and trailers serving pizza, tacos, and ice cream sandwiches in a campsite setting, complete with picnic tables and repurposed porta-potties.

Several of the state's popular farmers markets hold winter markets on select days, including markets in Blaine, St. Paul, Eagan, Hibbing, Red Wing, Rochester, and five in Minneapolis. Expect to find foods like cheeses, chocolate, honey, jams and sauces, and root vegetables. 


Mini golf, rock climbing, and other amusements:

Indoor water parks: exploreminnesota.com/indoorwaterparks

Winter farmers markets: minnesotagrown.com