Theodore Wirth Regional Park; Photo by Todd Buchanan
While the first snow of the year often sends me running inside, I’m starting to realize that part of being a Minnesota is to not only accept, but to embrace, the winter weather. And what better way to do that than donning a (heavy) winter coat and emerging into the great outdoors? Our state has no shortage of outdoor activities with a proliferation of state parks, trails, and ski slopes to choose from. Here are some places to check out on your next snowy trek.
Downhill skiing/snowboarding: Be it the picturesque views of nearby Lake Superior or the sheer scale of its 1,000 acres, Lutsen Mountains offers a one-of-a-kind Midwest skiing experience. The four interconnected mountains within the ski area cater to a diverse array of skill levels, and lessons are available for children as well as adults. If alpine skiing isn’t your thing, their Nordic ski and snowshoe trails, sleigh rides, or lakeside lodgings might capture your interest.
Nordic Skiing: Although it’s very much off the beaten path, Maplelag Resort is an oft-mentioned local destination for Nordic skiing. With nearly 40 miles of trails, skis and snowshoes available to rent, and five bottomless cookie jars available 24 hours per day, everyone from the exercise fanatic to the couch potato will find something to enjoy. Though the resort is notably technology-averse—they have no TVs or landline phones—a trip to Maplelag represents an escape from the real world, which may sound pretty appealing right now.
Snowshoeing: The University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has separate trails for snowshoeing, so there’s no need to worry about getting mowed down by an oncoming skier during your walk. The trails, which are designated for a variety of skill levels, loop through the U-maintained 1,215 acres of natural lands. Its specially groomed trails, picturesque views, and reasonable rates—the first hour is $6—make the arboretum the ideal place for a low-key winter walk.
Hiking: Minnesota’s North Shore is known for its beautiful landscapes, and the Superior Hiking Trail is no exception. Its 310-mile path follows the shores of Lake Superior with stops every 5-10 miles and campsites along the way. The free trail spans from Duluth to the U.S.-Canada border, affording hikers to stop by the Split Rock Lighthouse and the frozen falls at Gooseberry State Park. For inexperienced hikers, guided hikes are available at designated times.
Sledding: Theodore Wirth Regional Park’s tubing hill makes sledding easy and safe. A towrope for getting back up the hill helps keep sledding paths clear, and specially designed tubes are available for rent at the park. Along with the tubing hill, the Winter Recreation Area includes a designated snowboard park, an off-road cycling trail, ski and snowboard lessons, and a kids’ camp for days when school is cancelled. The area is tentatively scheduled to open December 19, conditions permitting.