Celebrate the beauty of the coldest season here in Minnesota by attending one or more of these winter festivals
photo by Ronny Purba
Have you ever snowshoed by moonlight, watched a sled dog marathon, or participated in the Polar Plunge? These are just some of the exciting winter activities going on across the state of Minnesota this winter. Don’t let the cold winter months get you down, join in on the frozen fun and attend a winter festival.
Bentleyville Tour of Lights
Look no further than Bentleyville Tour of Lights for America’s largest free walk-through lighting display. Bentleyville guests stroll under the glow of over five million lights in a 20-acre park situated on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth. Bentleyville is open from 5-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 5-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays during November and December. In addition to free admission, visitors can enjoy complimentary hot cocoa, cookies, popcorn, and roasted marshmallows.
Nov. 17-Dec. 26; 704 W. Railroad St., Duluth; bentleyvilleusa.org
Holidazzle—kind of like the winter version of the Minnesota State Fair—draws in people from around the state to celebrate winter and the holidays in downtown Minneapolis. Holidazzle highlights local people, products, and places that embody the food scene, art district, local entertainment, and community groups that make the region special. Enjoy food, beverages, and unique gifts and craft items, all provided by Minnesota-centric vendors, plus musical performances, outdoor ice skating, and more.
Nov. 23-Dec. 23; Loring Park, 1382 Willow St., Minneapolis; holidazzle.com
photo by Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool
Check out the downhill course in St. Paul that has become the hotbed of ice-cross racing in the United States. Starting at the steps of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Crashed Ice draws tens of thousands of spectators each year to watch the thrilling race live over two nights. Enjoy the fastest sport on skates while indulging in some deep-fried cheese and beer.
Dates TBD; Cathedral of St. Paul, 239 Selby Ave., St. Paul; crashedice.redbull.com
International Falls, coined as the “Icebox of the Nation” by Collier’s Magazine, celebrates winter with their wacky festival called Icebox Days. CBS, NBC, and ABC networks have covered the festival’s out-of-the-box winter festivities in previous years. Some favorite annual events include frozen turkey bowling, a can crushing contest, a toilet seat toss, a moonlit snowshoe hike in Voyageurs National Park, and the Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run.
Dates TBD; Various locations in International Falls; ifallschamber.com
Rochester WinterFest celebrates Minnesota winters, but more importantly, it also raises awareness and funds for events sponsored by area nonprofit organizations. For the first two weeks of February, WinterFest brings together more than 6,500 attendees and over 30 unique events. Some of the festivities include outdoor curling, Baconfest, candlelit skiing and snowshoeing, and a pancake breakfast.
Dates TBD; Various locations in Rochester; rochesterwinterfest.com
Spicer, a delightful community located on the shores of Green Lake, hosts WinterFest events throughout January and February each year. The festival includes several outdoor events to keep locals active during the winter months, such as the Frozen 5K Run/Walk, the Polar Plunge, a softball tournament, and a pond hockey tournament. WinterFest also hosts an array of indoor activities, featuring live music and dancing, crafts, food, and beer and wine tastings.
Dates TBD; Various locations in Spicer; willmarlakesarea.com
The Chisago Lakes Winter Blast has many events for people with all kinds of interests to enjoy. Athletic-types can strap on their cross-country skis or snowshoes and enjoy the trails at Ojiketa Regional Park, kids can get their craft on with art activities, while adults can join in the games with the Rotary casino night and chili cook off, and much more.
Dates TBD; Various locations in Chisago Lakes; chisagolakeschamber.com
U.S. Pond Hockey Championships
photo courtesy U.S. Pond Hockey Championships
The Great Northern
The Great Northern festival showcases the best of what Minnesota winters have to offer by bringing together the Twin Cities’ largest events, including the St. Paul Winter Carnival in downtown St. Paul, U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis, and Loppet Festival in Uptown. As part of the St. Paul Winter Carnival, visitors can enjoy live music in Rice Park, marvel at the beauty of the Ecolab Ice Palace, slide down the giant snow slide at Vulcan Snow Park, and more. Other activities include the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis, multiple speed skating and skijoring races at the Loppet Festival, and countless other events.
Jan. 24-Feb. 3; Various locations in St. Paul and Minneapolis; thegreatnorthernfestival.com
Ice Fishing Extravaganza
What started out as a simple ice fishing contest in 1991, hosted by the Brainerd Jaycees, a local volunteer organization, has become the largest ice fishing contest in the world. The annual Ice Fishing Extravaganza helped put Brainerd on the map and raises more than one million dollars in revenue for area businesses and over $150,000 for area charities annually. In addition to ice fishing on Gull Lake’s Hole in the Day Bay, other activities include a raffle, prize giveaways, a kick-off party, and more.
Jan. 26; Gull Lake, Brainerd; icefishing.org
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon
The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is the longest race this side of Canada and one of the best displays of dog athleticism in America. The race celebrates John Beargrease and the vital role he played in the early history of the North Shore of Lake Superior. Beargrease and his brother delivered mail between Two Harbors and Grand Marais using a variety of methods, including dog sled. Along with the big race, the festival also features the Cutest Puppy Contest, a night of food and tours at the Glensheen Mansion, a silent auction, and more.
Begins Jan. 27; Various locations in Duluth; beargrease.com
Ely Winter Festival
photo by Layne Kennedy
Ely Winter Festival
For more than 25 years, Ely has been showing the rest of Minnesota how to celebrate winter. The Ely Winter Festival has grown more popular each year, with activities like a crafts fair, musical concerts, sled dog rides, and several food events. Don’t miss the festival’s main events, which include amateur and professional snow sculpting, art classes at the Ely Folk School, and the Ely ArtWalk featuring the work of local artists.
Dates TBD; Various locations in Ely; elywinterfestival.com
Grumpy Old Men Festival
The 26th annual Grumpy Old Men Festival is a weekend event you cannot miss. The festival takes place in Wabasha, which is the Minnesota town that inspired the Grumpy Old Men movie. Visitors can enjoy live music, a grumpy costume contest, a Grumpy Old Men movie showing, an ice fishing contest, and a hot dish luncheon.
Dates TBD; Various locations in Wabasha; wabashamn.org
Make sure to mark this 12-day winter celebration on your calendar. Every February, Detroit Lakes hosts Polar Fest, a festival created and run by an all-volunteer committee who love celebrating northwestern Minnesota. The festival features fun activities for the whole family, such as the Poles ‘n Holes fishing derby, ice golf, Freeze Your Buns 5K Run, fireworks, concerts, and much more.
Feb. 7-18; Various locations in Detroit lakes; polarfestdl.com
International Eelpout Festival
The 40th annual International Eelpout Festival is hosted every February in the tiny town of Walker. Crowds 10 times larger than the city’s population (pop. 1,069) gather at Leech Lake for a festival named after one of the ugliest bottom-dwelling fish, the eelpout. The festival features events such as a beer pong tournament, an eelpout fish fry, dog sled rides, and more. Plenty of festival-goers kiss an eelpout for good luck and attempt to catch the biggest one for a prize.
Feb. 21-24; Leech Lake, Walker; eelpoutfestival.com
March Bock Fest
Summon warm weather with a mug of Bock beer, food, dancing, and live music at Schell’s Brewery during Bock Fest. Seven Bocks of Winter are hiding around the brewery and in Flandrau State Park, waiting for those brave enough to capture them. As the legend goes, if all Seven Bocks of Winter are found and brought back to the brewery, winter will be over in Minnesota and bring an early spring. Stick around for one of the many after parties at the surrounding bars and make sure to take advantage of the free Bock Fest shuttle bus that runs from 9 a.m. to midnight on the day of the festival.
Mar. 2; Schell’s Brewery, 1860 Schell Road, New Ulm; newulm.com