7 Ways to Have Fun in the Minnesota Snow

By Explore Minnesota

Cross country ski aerial Paul Vincent
Minnesota is one of the top destinations in the country for cross-country skiing / Paul Vincent

From skiing to snowmobiling to urban adventures, options for fun in the snow are practically endless in Minnesota. This winter, take advantage of nature’s gift to the north. The snow will be gone before you know it.

Cross-Country Skiing

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

Minnesota is known for its great cross-country skiing, with more than 2,000 miles of dedicated trails to explore. Harder than it looks, cross-country skiing requires good balance, arm and leg strength, and a lot of practice. Once there's enough snow, skiers flock to local, state and national parks, many of which groom their trails specifically for this popular activity. Trails in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, near Ely and along the Gunflint Trail, are among the top destinations for serious skiers.

Snow is most reliable in the northern half of the state, but good cross-country skiing can be found everywhere. In fact, machine-made snow is available at several Minneapolis-St. Paul area parks, including Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove, Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington and Theodore Wirth Regional Park in Minneapolis.

Statewide, more than two dozen Minnesota state parks provide groomed trails, and some rent skis. You can also find groomed trails at Voyageurs National Park, near the Canada border, and at several downhill ski areas, including Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Spirit Mountain in Duluth and Buena Vista Ski Area in Bemidji.

Downhill Skiing

On top of Lutsen Mountains
Lutsen Mountain on Lake Superior is Minnesota's highest ski hill

Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn learned to ski in Minnesota, but even novices can take advantage of the state’s 18 downhill ski areas. In addition to big hills, many areas also feature terrain parks for ski and snowboard tricks, as well as cross-country ski trails.

Northeast Minnesota is home to the Midwest’s largest, longest and highest hills. Long runs and scenic vistas are memory makers. Ski areas in central and southern Minnesota also offer picturesque, high-quality experiences. Many are gracefully carved into towering river bluffs and broad forested valleys.

Minneapolis-St. Paul area visitors have several downhill ski areas within a 90-minute drive. Visitors to other parts of the state have plenty of choices, too. Equipment rentals and lessons are available at most ski destinations.

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling near Detroit Lakes_Paul Vincent
Exploring the trails near Detroit Lakes / Paul Vincent

Minnesota has nearly as many miles of snowmobile trails (roughly 22,000) as it does highways. These trails, many of which are maintained by local snowmobile clubs, extend to all corners of the state. Many trails run through picturesque federal, state and county forests, and can take riders to restaurants, lodging, and other popular amenities.

Thanks to Minnesota’s unmatched trail system, snowmobilers can gain a new perspective and appreciation for the beauty of Minnesota’s winter wonderland. Registration and safety training are required and available through the Minnesota DNR. Once you're legal, you can ride through the snow to your heart's content.

Weekly trail condition updates are available by email, and you can order or download a free copy of the annual Snowmobiling Destinations Guide.

Ice Fishing

Minnesota’s panfish season never closes, and walleye, northern pike and other seasons extend deep into winter. As a result, fishing continues to be one of Minnesota’s most popular outdoor activities long after waves have turned to ice.  

Ice fishing’s ongoing allure, in part, stems from ice house improvements. Safe and reliable heaters, grills and comfortable beds are all part of the modern ice fishing experience. Warm, lifelong memories are often forged from nature’s northern lights, stunning sunsets and the hushed silence of winter.

Popular lakes for ice fishing include Leech, Gull, Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods and more. Ice fishing festivals on these and other lakes are tons of fun, even if you’re not fishing. Sign up for free fishing updates to learn where the fish are biting every week.

Fat Biking

Riding a fat bike across the snow at Cuyuna
Fat biking near the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area / Aaron W. Hautala

Not enough snow for skiing? No problem. Unlike other popular winter sports, fat bikes don’t depend on snow for an adventure.

The skinny on fat tire biking is that Minnesota offers outstanding options. One of the most notable is the rugged and hilly Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, where winter trails slice and curve through forests and lake country. In many ways, Cuyuna isn’t a trail; it’s an experience.

Several state parks and downhill ski areas offer winter mountain biking opportunities thanks to the sport’s increasing popularity. So do park systems in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Duluth and Winona areas, with more opening up every year.

Dog Sledding

Dog sledding in the Ely area
The Boundary Waters is a premier destination for dog sledding

Dog sledding is one of the most fun and unusual ways to experience winter. People of all ages and physical abilities can do it, and trips can be tailored to your comfort level. Short trips, day trips, overnight trips, and trips that include ice fishing are among the many iterations available.

Lodging options also vary. You can spend the night in a cozy cabin or in a yurt—an insulated tent-like shelter—complete with a chef to cook your meals.  

The primary destination for this sport is the Boundary Waters, but outfitters can also be found in Duluth, along the North Shore, and even in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Snowshoeing

For those who want to enjoy the snow with something other than skis on their feet, snowshoeing is a great, low-impact activity. Snowshoe rentals and trails are common in state and local park systems, including several in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Many nature centers provide snowshoe rentals and trails, too. Look for clinics and candlelight events as soon as there's enough snow on the ground.

Find ski areas, trails, equipment rentals and outfitters on the Snow Sports page.