A couple friends walk along the Luminary Loppet in Minneapolis

10 Things To Do in Minnesota This Winter

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A couple friends walk along the Luminary Loppet in Minneapolis  / Paul Vincent
Things to Do // List

10 Things To Do in Minnesota This Winter

By Caitlin Hannah

Minnesota is a winter haven for outdoor activities, theater, food and drink, seasonal festivals and more. Get out and win at winter with these unique #OnlyinMN activities. 

  1. Explore the Trails
    Two cross-country skiers at Whitetail Woods

    Cross-country skiing at Whitetail Woods in Farmington / Paul Vincent

    Explore the Trails

    Whether you lace up your boots for a winter walk or prefer exploring powdery paths on snowshoes, snowmobile, fat bike or cross-country skis, you'll find plenty of room to roam on Minnesota's thousands of miles of winter trails. More than two dozen Minnesota state parks offer groomed trails for skiing.

    In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, some popular cross-country spots are Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove, Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington and Theodore Wirth Regional Park in Minneapolis, which hosts the COOP FIS Cross-Country World Cup on Feb. 17-19. Snowshoe rentals are common in state and local park systems but call ahead to confirm availability before heading out.

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

    For the ultimate winter outing, check out a popular luminary event where trails are illuminated by cozy candlelight. These events are suitable for all ages and ability levels.

  2. Attend a Winter Festival
    Kites on Ice Festival in Buffalo

    The Kites on Ice Festival  / Stacy Bunting

    Attend a Winter Festival

    Minnesotans love to embrace winter weather, and nothing brings out our rosy-cheeked enthusiasm like a winter festival! 

    The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is the oldest winter festival in the United States. Since 1886, downtown St. Paul has been transformed into a winter wonderland with ice sculptures, parades and live music in Rice Park. These days it's also an integral component of The Great Northern festival, which unites some of the Twin Cities' premier winter events under one, snowy banner from late January through early February. 

    Head north to International Falls for Icebox Days, where “Only the Bold Run the Cold,” during this famous border town’s Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run. The festival includes other wacky events, such as frozen turkey bowling, smoosh races, frozen golf and boot hockey. Find incredible ice castles, ice mazes, ice bars and more at these popular events or see incredible snow sculptures at the World Snow Sculpting Championship in downtown Stillwater in January 2024.

    If you're in northwest Minnesota, Polar Fest in Detroit Lakes features a polar plunge, fireworks and an illuminated ice castle. Head to the frozen waters of Lake Harriet to explore the popular Art Shanty Projects where artists create temporary structures and interactive, engaging art experiences and performances for four weekends in January. Look to the skies to see kites of all shapes, sizes and color at the Kites on Ice Kite Festival on Buffalo Lake in downtown Buffalo in February. 

  3. Try a New Winter Sport
    Carly Aplin riding a dog sled

    Minnesota journalist Carly Aplin dogsledding in Ely / Dave Puente

    Try a New Winter Sport

    Did you know the U.S. Men’s 2018 curling team (who claimed the inaugural Olympic gold medal for American Curling in 2018) is from Duluth? Minnesota has the most curling clubs in the nation. With more than 30 clubs across the state, you are bound to find one near you.

    Dubbed one of “16 Unexpected Adventures You Need to Experience” by Expedia, dogsledding is a winter must-do. Ely-area dogsled outfitters offer a wide variety of options; there are day trips and overnight trips. Best of all, no experience is required. The Boundary Waters has over a million of acres of pristine, snowy environment to explore. There are also opportunities to see or try dogsledding along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Duluth or Two Harbors, Monticello, Hastings and Lake Minnetonka.

    You probably have gone sledding in Minnesota, but have you tried cosmic snow tubing? At dusk, the cosmic lights light up the night at Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls, Mount Kato in Mankato, Powder Ridge in Kimball or Buck Hill in Burnsville for a thrilling winter night.

  4. Plan a Cozy Getaway
    Lanesboro in winter

    Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce

    Plan a Cozy Getaway

    If you’re looking for a cozy lodge to curl up by a fireplace or a hip boutique hotel with great cocktails, you’re bound to find what’s right for you this winter. Warm up in the rooftop hot tub at Hotel Crosby in Stillwater, sip handcrafted cocktails from the on-site distillery at Cantilever just outside Voyageurs National Park, or dine in an igloo at Hotel Landing in Wayzata. Get your hygge on at Elliot Park Hotel’s Scandinavian inspired rooms just minutes from the excitement at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

    If cozy resorts and roaring fires are more your style, stay at Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids, Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge in Bemidji or warm up from a day on the snow filled trails at the Lakes Inn in Pelican Rapids.

    If you seek the charm of a bed and breakfast, head to Lanesboro — Minnesota’s “bed and breakfast capital” — or explore Wabasha, which has been compared to one of pop culture’s favorite small towns, Stars Hollow, thanks to picturesque properties like Turning Waters Bed and Breakfast. No matter where you stay, exploring a new destination and treating yourself to a relaxing getaway will break your cabin fever.

  5. Go Downhill Skiing or Snowboarding
    Downhill skiing on Lutsen Mountains

    Downhill skiing on Lutsen Mountains  / Ryan Taylor

    Go Downhill Skiing or Snowboarding

    Minnesota features some of the highest hills in the Midwest, and Minnesota downhill ski areas offer thrills for any level of skills. From Spirit Mountain in Duluth to Detroit Mountain Recreation Area in Detroit Lakes, there are opportunities across the state to cruise the runs. Find 18 of the most popular places to ski or snowboard in Minnesota. 

  6. Shop 'Til You Drop
    Winter downtown New Ulm

    Downtown New Ulm looks like a winter postcard / Kyle Krenz

    Shop 'Til You Drop

    During the holiday season, support local makers marts, European-inspired holiday markets or find festive decorations and celebrations at Mall of America. Stroll through charming downtowns, shop Minnesota made goods or shop without your coat at one of our many indoor malls. Best of all, there is no sales tax on clothing or shoes in Minnesota so go ahead and treat yourself this season.

  7. Try a New Restaurant
    Argentinian-style pizza at Boludo in Minneapolis

    Argentinian-style pizza at Boludo in Minneapolis / Vic Campbell, Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

    Try a New Restaurant

    In winter, we love to indulge with our favorite comfort food and try new and unique dishes. Discover some of the best spots to eat in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

    If you’re looking to expand your culinary skills at home, try a cooking class, support local shops that specialize in international foods, oils, spices or visit these local butchers for new and fresh ingredients.

  8. Visit a Museum or Take in a Show
    Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul

    Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul  / Paul Vincent

    Visit a Museum or Take in a Show

    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.

    The Twin Cities is home to dozens of local theaters that produce local or host traveling productions. See what’s playing this winter and get your tickets. 

  9. Warm Up Inside
    Water slide at waterpark Great Wolf Lodge Bloomington

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

    Warm Up Inside

    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.

    Your favorite outdoor activities don’t need to stop with a little snow. Find rock climbing, golf, playgrounds, farmers markets and more inside at these spots.

  10. Get Out on the Ice
    Riverbend Skate Path in Warroad

    Riverbend Skate Path in Warroad  / Jonah Cory

    Get Out on the Ice

    Lace up your skates and glide onto the Riverbend Skate Path, one of the longest ice-skating trails in the United States. It connects to Doc's Harbor Inn’s public skating rink as well as several private rinks to provide 5 miles of open skating for all to enjoy in Warroad.

    You can skate North America’s largest outdoor refrigerated rink in Roseville, or head to Maple Grove to carve your way across one of the country’s only refrigerated ice skating trails. If frozen lakes are more your style, head to EdinaBuffalo, or one of three lakes in Minneapolis - Lake of the Isles, Nokomis and Powderhorn. Lace up at the Infinity Loop on Lake Minnetonka’s Wayzata Bay during the Wayzata Chilly Open in February and you can even watch a movie on a jumbo screen as you skate.

    Ice fishing is an iconic Minnesota winter activity. Visit Lake of the Woods, the "Walleye Capital of the World," to experience excellent ice fishing. This fishing destination features more than 50 resorts, sleeper services and hotels. Lodging options include a cozy cabin, condo, hotel, motel or a sleeper fish house on a frozen lake.

    No matter what you do this winter, get out and explore Minnesota.

Caitlin Hannah

Caitlin Hannah is Explore Minnesota's senior digital social strategist. When traveling around the state, she likes spending time near the water, hiking, antique shopping, trying new restaurants, and watching hockey.