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8 Great Festivals Celebrate Winter in Minnesota

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Navigate through a snow maze at the Saint Paul Winter Carnival / The Great Northern Festival

8 Great Festivals Celebrate Winter in Minnesota

By Loren Green

In Minnesota, where the winter sun sets early and the trees are bare, the fun doesn’t move indoors. Instead, we pull on our snow pants, or in some cases, strip down to our swimsuits: It’s polar plunge time!

In addition to our plentiful outdoor activities, from cross-country and downhill skiing to snowshoeing and ice fishing, Minnesota hosts numerous festivals and events that celebrate our northern climate and foster a sense of community in spite of the cold. So bundle up and head out into the Minnesota winter: The only thing you have to lose is the experience of a lifetime.

  1. The Great Northern, Minneapolis & St. Paul
    Dad and son on a sled at the Saint Paul Winter Carnival

    Take a ride down the snow slide at the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, part of The Great Northern

    The Great Northern, Minneapolis & St. Paul

    Three signature winter events—the U.S. Pond Hockey ChampionshipsCity of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival and Saint Paul Winter Carnival—are under a new umbrella known as The Great Northern. In addition to these mainstays, the festival adds new elements including an outdoor public art display and other arts, sports and culinary-related programming.

  2. Kites on Ice Festival, Buffalo
    Kites on Ice Kite Festival in Buffalo

    Kites on Ice Kite Festival, Buffalo / Matthew Barron

    Kites on Ice Festival, Buffalo

    Kites of all shapes, colors and sizes will fill the sky above Buffalo Lake this February. Watch the pros fly, learn to build your own kite, play corn hole, or enjoy some food and drink on the frozen lake.

  3. Arrowhead 135, International Falls
    Arrowhead 135, International Falls

    It’s difficult to comprehend the “ultra-endurance” of the Arrowhead 135, a winter ultramarathon that pushes athletes to the limit, racing 135 miles across northern Minnesota in subzero temperatures, over patches of hard compact snow and through piles of newly fallen fluff. The race—which can be done on foot, bike or skis—takes participants down the Arrowhead State Trail from International Falls all the way to Tower. Approximately 150 typically enter, but only a few cross the finish line.

  4. Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival, St. Paul
    Crowd at Beer Dabbler  Winter Carnival in Saint Paul

    Crowd at the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival in St. Paul

    Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival, St. Paul

    This now-annual beer festival has grown in parallel to the state’s brewing scene. Boasting samples from more than 150 breweries near and far, the Dabbler takes over the Minnesota State Fairgrounds for a giant outdoor party that isn’t just about beer, but embracing cold weather and togetherness. Meat and cheese samples fill the heated Coliseum for a quick getaway, while outdoor fire pits and live music spread cheer on the Fairgrounds as if it were August.

  5. Polar Fest, Detroit Lakes
    People posing for a picture in the ice palace at Detroit Lakes Polar Fest

    Ice palace at Detroit Lakes Polar Fest / Paul Vincent

    Polar Fest, Detroit Lakes

    Little Detroit Lake is in the heart of Minnesota’s winter wonderland. This community festival includes kid and adult activities ranging from arts to sports to a hotdish challenge. There’s the Freeze Your Buns 5K, curling and hockey on the sports side, while the entertainment takes the weather into play with a polar plunge and “frozen fireworks.” After all, a frozen lake isn’t a desert; it’s a winter playground.

  6. Winterama, Glenwood
    Winterama, Glenwood

    A city festival on Lake Minnewaska in central Minnesota, this one-day event combines all elements of lake culture and winter wonder into a single snow-packed Saturday. It begins with the Sweati Yeti obstacle run and later includes kids games on ice, a chili cook-off and polar plunge before ending with a classic fireworks show. Hosted by the town of Glenwood, area businesses from Starbuck, Alexandria and beyond come together to celebrate the season.

  7. Grumpy Old Men Festival, Wabasha
    Dog at Grumpy Old Men Festival in Wabasha

    Dog at Grumpy Old Men Festival, Wabasha

    Grumpy Old Men Festival, Wabasha

    Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon have both passed on, but “The Odd Couple’s” influence remains strong in the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, where they filmed both of the “Grumpy Old Men” movies late in life. Like the namesake films, the festival finds fun on the ice, on the river, and in costume. There’s a goofy costume contest and minnow races that bring the movies to life, and more classic fare in the form of the ice fishing contest, and cribbage and Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments.

  8. OTC on Ice, Ottertail
    OTC on Ice, Ottertail

    Live music, a polar plunge, ice fishing, a snowmobile trail ride, and food and drink in a giant tent on the ice are the highlights of this annual event on frozen Otter Tail Lake. Six bands will play throughout the weekend, and if you're not staying in an ice house, you can stay at one of the many resorts nearby.

Loren Green

Loren Green is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer covering music, culture, food and beverage across the state. His work has appeared in The Growler, City Pages, Paste and more.