This Winter, Bring the Outdoors In

By Erica Wacker

There's no question that Minnesota is one of the world's top destinations for winter fun. 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.

Summer Sports

Vertical Endeavors Duluth rock climbing
Vertical Endeavors in Duluth

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.

For the Kids

Tropics Trail, Minnesota Zoo
Tropics Trail at the Minnesota Zoo

Opening in December, the new Great Wolf Lodge in Bloomington will also have a climbing wall, as well as 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.

‘Outdoor’ Eats

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.

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