Making tracks up, down, over, and around the Twin Cities
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William O’Brien State Park
Landscape is William O’Brien’s selling point: a mix of restored prairie, oak savanna, and woodlands on the bluffs overlooking the St. Croix River. The 12 miles of trails are groomed for classic cross-country and skate skiing, and range from easy to difficult. A fun perk to the park (if you can score them) are the three heated cabins available to rent for overnight excursions. As at all state parks, skiing at William O’Brien requires a Minnesota ski pass for those 16 and older ($6 a day; $20 a season).
Address: 16821 O’Brien Trail N., Marine on St. Croix
Afton State Park
Afton is similar to William O’Brien in nature—prairie and oak savanna on the bluffs overlooking the St. Croix Valley—but differs in its trail offerings. A beginners’ loop is 2.5 miles long, but the rest of the trails are rated intermediate or expert. In fact, the park boasts some of the longest and hairiest twisting down-hill challenges among Twin Cities cross-country ski trails. The 18 miles of trails are groomed for classic skiing only. That’s too bad for skaters, but it does give the place a secluded, backcountry feel. Four camper cabins with electricity and heat are available year-round for weekend adventures.
Address: 6959 Peller Ave. S., Hastings
Battle Creek Regional Park
Perched on the Mississippi River bluffs just east of St. Paul, Battle Creek Regional Park offers a variety of hilly, winding, and wooded trails. The eastern section of the park has 3.6 miles of classic trails ranging from easy to difficult, with plenty of possible combinations. The western section has nearly 8 miles of mostly difficult trails, groomed for both skate and classic skiing. About 2.5 miles are lighted for nighttime skiing. A Minnesota ski pass is required.
Address: 75 S. Winthrop St., St. Paul
Fort Snelling State Park
Located in the bottomlands at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, Fort Snelling State Park is about as flat as it gets—the perfect park for shuffling along while watching for deer, fox, owls, and other wildlife. The park has 12 miles of easy trails groomed for classic skiing, with the most popular trail circling Pike Island.
Address: 101 Snelling Lake Rd., St. Paul