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5 Ways to Make the Most of Winter

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Whitetail Woods in Farmington has two camper cabins open year-round / Paul Vincent
Family Fun // Things to Do // Article

5 Ways to Make the Most of Winter

By Erica Wacker

Winter in Minnesota is the perfect time of year to get together with loved ones, embrace old traditions, or even start some new ones. Here are just five of the many ways to make the most of this special season.

Holidazzle Interactive Illuminated Art moose installation

The Wolf and Moose, a Christopher Lutter-Gardella creation / Dusty Hoskovec Photography, courtesy Holidazzle.com

Get in the Holiday Spirit

A hallmark of the holiday season in Germany and Austria, holiday markets—called Christkindlmarkts—have made their way to Minnesota. Holidazzle in Minneapolis features more than 40 vendors selling ornaments, candles and other handcrafted gifts, as well as mulled wine and brats. Other highlights include fireworks, Santa visits, holiday movie screenings and free ice skating. The destination is open Thursdays-Sundays from late November through Dec. 23 and is free to attend.

Holiday plays and performances are a tradition for many families this time of year. Festive favorites include "A Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the Rochester Civic Theatre, a dozen iterations of "The Nutcracker," from classic to hip-hop, and Christmas concerts by big-name artists.

For light shows worth a drive, don't miss Duluth's Bentleyville Tour of Lights, the Kiwanis Holiday Lights in Mankato and the Trester Trolley Light Tours in Winona.

Snowy owl in tree at Voyageurs National Park

Snowy owl in Voyageurs National Park / Abdiel Nieves

Explore a Nature Center

Many of Minnesota’s nature centers are open year-round, offering opportunities to interact with wildlife and the winter landscape. Owls are a big draw at the Agassiz Audubon Center near Thief River Falls, which documented dozens of snowy owl sightings last year in the surrounding Red River Valley.

At the International Owl Center in southeastern Minnesota, Alice the resident great horned owl is so popular that the International Festival of Owls in early March is held in conjunction with her hatch day.

Since nature centers are often surrounded by trails, they make a great starting point for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling. Options include the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault (skiing and snowmobiling), Maplewood Nature Center (snowshoeing) and Hartley Nature Center in Duluth (skiing).

Giant Astronaut sculpture at Science Museum of Minnesota

This giant astronaut sculpture greets visitors in the Science Museum of Minnesota's sunny atrium / Science Museum of Minnesota

Check Out a Museum

At the Science Museum of Minnesota's vibrant, open space in downtown St. Paul, explore four floors of engaging exhibits on everything from dinosaurs to the human body, the Mississippi River, race, questionable medical devices and Legos. More of a moviegoer? Kids love the Science Museum’s 90-foot, giant dome screen Omnitheater. While you’re downtown, be sure to stop by Rice Park to see the ice sculptures and live entertainment as part of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival.

Other museums worth a winter visit include the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, the SPAM Museum in Austin, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Water slide at waterpark Great Wolf Lodge Bloomington

Kids and parents love the indoor water slides at Great Wolf Lodge in Bloomington

Warm Up at a Water Park

Waterslides, lazy rivers and splash pads aren’t just for the summer months. Several Minnesota water parks can be found indoors, offering a tropical escape no matter the weather.

Paul Bunyan Water Park, inside Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter, features tube and body slides, a treehouse equipped with water cannons and an indoor/outdoor hot tub. At the Edgewater Hotel & Waterpark in Duluth, a vortex pool allows guests to swim with or against a fast-moving current.

There's even a waterpark right by Mall of America, so you can take a dip after completing all your holiday shopping. 

Go Maple Syruping

A sure sign that spring is coming, maple syrup demonstrations and festivals start cropping up in March. On Maple Syrup Day, the Osprey Wilds Environmental Learning Center in Sandstone hosts a pancake brunch as part of its syrup celebration. Or see how the sap is gathered and turned into syrup, and get a taste of the end result, at the Wargo Nature Center in Lino Lakes.

Many Minnesota state parks, including Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Whitewater near St. Charles and Lake Maria near Monticello, offer maple syrup programs. Nature centers and other parks, like the Three Rivers Park District in the Twin Cities area, also get in on the fun.

Erica Wacker

Erica Wacker is a Midwesterner through and through, growing up in Illinois, going to college in Wisconsin, and settling down in Minnesota. She loves to run, travel with her family, and go to concerts to relive her youth.