Where to Find Ice Mazes, Sculptures, Bars and Festivals in Minnesota

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Ice Castles in New Brighton / Ryan Taylor
Things to Do // Article

Where to Find Ice Mazes, Sculptures, Bars and Festivals in Minnesota

By Andrew Parks

While we’d rather not deal with it on our morning commute, ice is the driving force in many popular activities and events throughout Minnesota during its colder months. We’re not just talking about heated fish house hangs, rock wall workouts, and a wide range of ice rinks, either. Nearly every corner offers frosty mazes, bars, sculptures and festivals starting around the holiday season and lasting well into the late winter.

Here is a breakdown of what you can expect to see between now and March depending on when this year’s deep freeze breaks and spring reminds us about all the awesome hiking trails and scenic byways that are spread throughout the state….

Minnesota Ice Maze

The Minnesota Ice Maze in Viking Lakes 

Ice Castles & Mazes

One million pounds of hand-sculpted ice and half a mile of winding walkways went into the Minnesota Ice Maze’s unveiling at Viking Lakes this year. The largest installation of its kind in the Twin Cities, it runs through Feb. 19 and is part of a special Winter SKOLstice event that includes multiple pond hockey rinks, Olympic-style curling ops, and nighttime skating next to the Omni Hotel.

Similar in spirit and slightly more DIY is the annual Ice Structure event at Spicer Winterfest, which brings community members and volunteers together to build a brightly lit point of pride on Saulsbury Beach. It's part of a month-long soiree that includes a polar plunge, a "Fire on Ice" dance, and a pond hockey tournament.  

Sporting everything from ice slides to frozen waterfalls is the New Brighton location of Ice Castles (Jan. 14 – March 6), a social media sensation that started in Utah and can only be found in five states across the U.S. Delano’s Fountain Hill Winery also has an outsider bringing their ice block skills to Minnesota for a Norwegian-style Ice Palace (through March 4). Designed and developed by Idaho native Jim Youngstrom, it features 20-foot walls that are more than 350 feet long, as well as tunnels, slides and bridges.

“You’re not just coming out to look at some ice,” Youngstrom’s son Brigham told Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. “You’re coming out to explore a magical ice palace.”

World Snow Sculpting Championship

World Snow Sculpting Championship

Ice Sculptures 

The World Snow Sculpting Championship kicks off in downtown Stillwater on Wednesday, Jan. 18, and wraps up on Saturday, Jan. 21, with a closing ceremony right along the St. Croix River in Lowell Park. Teams from as far away as Finland, Argentina, Ecuador and Turkey will be competing for a grand prize of $4,000 and bragging rights in what’s become the event for sculptors who are able to turn mounds of snow into museum-worthy works of art.

A wild rice cook-off, indoor market and warming house will also be happening all weekend. If you’re still around on Sunday, Lowell Park will be hosting a MinneSnowta Nice Day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., complete with a beer tent, appearances by Goldy Gopher, Mudonna and Paul Bunyan, and your last chance to see everyone’s sculpture before they start to melt.

The Social-ICE Festival in Rochester

The Social-ICE Festival in Rochester / Alpha Digital

Ice Bars

Speaking of sculptures, Saint Paul’s longtime Winter Carnival features several ice carving competitions that start on Thursday, Jan. 26, and end on Sunday, Jan. 29. While you ponder surreal pieces from several different skill levels and divisions, be sure to swing by Rice Park’s outdoor bar, which serves Minnesota-made beer and mulled wine. There’s also a frozen royal throne for you to sit on and live entertainment and local vendors throughout the week.

Building on the buzz of last year’s floral ice bar at Cardamom is a similar outdoor setup at Daniel del Prado’s new Rand Tower restaurant Blondette. Swing by on Friday or Saturday night to gaze up at downtown Minneapolis’s most grandiose skyscrapers and sip on such highly experimental cocktails as the Pomme Pomme (aquavit, apple soda, amber wine and elderberry), a tricked-out G&T (gin, dry vermouth, coriander, chamomile, cinchona, calluna and poppy seeds), and a non-alcoholic blend of allspice, cassia, clove, orange peel, honey, lemon and club soda.

Downtown Rochester’s Social-ICE is more than your average ice bar experience; it’s a full-blown winter extravaganza, held annually in Peace Plaza and boasting a wide assortment of themed ice bars. Previous years have featured signature drinks and speaker-rattling DJ sets alongside tributes to everything from the Minnesota Wild to Ghostbusters.

A winter staple on Lake of the Woods, the Igloo Bar at Zippel Bay Resort is a wooden structure covered with foam insulation that’s dragged out onto the ice for anglers and anyone else who wants to brave the elements with a beer. Pull open trap doors to go fishing from the comfort of your bar stool, or simply grab a drink, kick back and soak up the unique charms of the heated igloo bar.

Brainerd Lakes Ice Fishing Extravaganza

Ice fishing in the Brainerd Lakes Area

Ice Festivals

Even if you don’t ice fish, you can still celebrate this tried-and-true Minnesota tradition at one of many festivals around the state, including the world’s largest ice fishing contest: the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Extravaganza. Hosted each January on Gull Lake’s Hole-in-the-Day Bay, the tournament pulls in 10,000 anglers from around the world to compete for more than $150,000 in cash and prizes. Other notable ice fishing fests include the Sleepy Eye Sportsmen’s Annual Ice Fishing Derby, the Poles N Holes Fishing Derby in Detroit Lakes, and the ice fishing contest at Wabasha’s annual Grumpy Old Men Festival.

The world’s largest ice carousel is one of the main draws at the annual Sunny Zwilling Memorial I.C.E. Fest in Little Falls, a free two-day event rounded out by igloo building, dog sledding, curling, ice diving with an underwater drone (!) and a spearfishing demo. One of Minnesota’s longest running ice-related events is Moorhead’s Frostival, which spreads cardboard sled races, kickball matches, a snow sculpture competition and disc golf over six action-packed weeks.

For more trip ideas and a complete rundown of the countless festivals that keep Minnesotans busy all winter, check out our frosty fun guide here.

Andrew Parks

Andrew Parks is the multimedia editor at Explore Minnesota. His past lives include copywriting and content strategy for such clients as Food & Wine, Apple, Condé Nast Traveler, Bandcamp, AFAR, Bon Appétit, and Red Bull.