Snowmobiling in Thief River Falls

See Spectacular Vistas and Wildlife While Snowmobiling in Minnesota

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Explore over 1,500 interconnected miles of groomed snowmobiling trails in northwest Minnesota / Visit Thief River Falls

See Spectacular Vistas and Wildlife While Snowmobiling in Minnesota

By Joe Albert

If any sport epitomizes the saying, “Life is about the journey, not the destination,” it's snowmobiling.

While some people certainly hit the trail intending only to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, many others squeeze the throttle simply to feel their sled sail over the snow; breathe in crisp, clean air; and take in the majesty of a winter’s day.

Thanks to Minnesota’s unmatched snowmobile trail system, which primarily is maintained by volunteers from local snowmobile clubs, snowmobilers can gain a new perspective and appreciation for the beauty of Minnesota’s winter wonderland.

Group snowmobiling in Voyageurs National Park

In winter, bring your snowmobile to Voyageurs National Park to ride 110 miles of groomed trails 

Stunning Views & Long Rides

Snowmobilers have seemingly limitless opportunity in Minnesota, where more than 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails crisscross the state and afford riders the opportunity to see places that would be difficult or impossible to reach without frozen ground and a layer of white.

The Highway 61 corridor between Duluth and Grand Marais, which skirts Lake Superior, is among the state’s most popular drives. Snowmobilers, too, can make that journey, thanks to the 146-mile North Shore State Trail, which traverses the wooded ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior. Trail spurs afford snowmobilers the opportunity to stop for food or gas, but the main trail runs primarily through the wilderness.

The Arrowhead State Trail, which runs between Tower and International Falls and covers 135 miles, affords snowmobilers an especially unique opportunity because it travels through areas that during the rest of the year are generally impassible due to standing water.

Snowmobilers who want to cover a lot of ground through the heart of Minnesota can try the Paul Bunyan State Trail, which connects Crow Wing State Park near Brainerd with Lake Bemidji State Park near Bemidji. Minneapolis-St. Paul-area snowmobilers can try the Luce Line State Trail or the Minnesota Valley State Trail, while those in the state’s southeastern corner can hop on the Great River Ridge State Trail, which provides riders with stunning views of the river valley.

Wolf pack at the International Wolf Center in Ely

Three wolves poised on a snow mound at the International Wolf Center in Ely / Eve Schrank

Wildlife Watching

Snowmobile trails in many areas of the state give riders access to places that are unreachable by vehicle or boat, and allow them to travel through the 'living rooms' of wildlife. Riders in the northwest and northeast parts of the state have the opportunity to see species such as bears, deer, lynx, moose and wolves, while those in southern areas can expect to see deer and birds such as eagles and hawks.

It’s important to note that snowmobile riders never should bother wildlife or attempt to chase them.

Man holding two big fish after ice fishing on Lake of the Woods

Bring home a trophy (or two) from Lake of the Woods / Arnesen's Rocky Point

Ice Fishing & Riding

Though some people consider ice fishing a solitary, sit-in-one-spot pursuit, it doesn’t have to be. That’s especially true when ice anglers have snowmobiles at their disposal. Even on the state’s largest and most popular ice fishing lakes—Lake of the Woods near Baudette on the state’s border with Canada, Leech Lake near Walker, Mille Lacs near Garrison, Lake Minnetonka in the Twin Cities, Upper Red Lake near Waskish, Lake Vermilion near Tower and Lake Winnibigoshish near Deer River, to name a few—ice fishermen can cover a lot of water by riding their sleds atop the ice.

Of course, anyone who rides on frozen lakes should be sure to follow the Minnesota DNR’s recommendations for staying safe atop the ice. Notably, there should be at least five inches of ice before snowmobilers travel across it.

Safety Training & Regulations

By law, anyone who operates a snowmobile in Minnesota—and who was born after Dec. 31, 1976—must complete a safety-training course. See the DNR snowmobile safety training webpage for more information.

When they purchase a three-year registration, snowmobilers can access any of the state’s 22,000 miles of state and grant-in-aid snowmobile trails. See the DNR snowmobile regulations webpage for more details.

For more information about snowmobiling in Minnesota — including maps, articles, places to stay and more — download the Minnesota Snowmobiling Destinations guide.

Joe Albert

Joe Albert is a Bloomington-based writer who currently works for the Department of Natural Resources. His work has appeared in publications including Outdoor NewsStar Tribune and Field & Stream.