Winter To-Do List: 46 Can’t-Miss Events

Get up north, downtown, to theaters, among the clouds, jamming out, fishing, eating, riding a giant kite across a frozen lake—and more January through February
Saint Paul Winter Carnival
Saint Paul Winter Carnival

Photo by SPFHF

Maybe declaring that you “can’t miss” 46 events January through February is a little ambitious. But you can do it. We believe in you.

Sandstone Ice Festival

Sandstone | 1/3-5

Ice climbing has grown in popularity, and so has the Sandstone Ice Festival. In central Minnesota, climbers strap spiky crampons to their boots and dig picks into sheer walls for a 15th year—with clinics for beginners and a gear swap for vets.

Land O’Lakes Dog Show

St. Paul | 1/3-5 

Minnesota’s best in show strut their stuff while you check out exhibits, shopping, and dog seminars at the St. Paul RiverCentre.

The Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race
The Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race

Photo by Nace Hageman

Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race

Grand Marais | 1/10-12

You can qualify for the Iditarod by mushing pristine miles north of Grand Marais, or simply peep pups from a cozy lodge (try: Trail Center, Big Bear, or Rockwood).

Ski Party

Lutsen | 1/10-11

Lutsen Mountains blends chalet vibes with a six-act local music lineup, including Charlie Parr, the Cactus Blossoms, and Black Eyed Snakes.

Mankato Craft Beer Festival

Mankato | 1/11 

Taste craft beers from over 40 breweries at the Mankato Civic Center, all while enjoying live music, food vendors, and a chance to learn more from brewers.

“Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus” Tour 

St. Paul | 1/11

During a full day of workshops at the Xcel Energy Center, hear Oprah’s wellness journey firsthand and work to create your own 2020 action plan. Guest Tina Fey joins her in St. Paul.

I.C.E. Fest

Little Falls | 1/11-12

Once again, Little Falls’ third annual winter fest targets a world record: Largest Ice Carousel. That’s where you chainsaw an enormous circle into a frozen lake, and spin it. How enormous? Enough to host hockey, curling, skating, and smaller ice carousels on it.

National Geographic Live

St. Paul | 1/12 

Explore the world of ancient Egyptian queens with Dr. Kara Cooney and revel in a time when women ruled the world at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul.

Frozen turkey bowling at Icebox Days
Frozen turkey bowling at Icebox Days

Photo by Lilly Ball

Icebox Days

International Falls | 1/16-19

International Falls holds its title as “Ice Box of the Nation.” Even as winters trend warmer, the Canada-nuzzling town enters year 40 of frozen-turkey bowling, toilet-seat tossing, collaborative cross-country skiing—plus less eccentric activities, like a chili cook-off, a moonlit snowshoe hike, and a 10K.

SnowKato Days

Mankato | 1/17-26

For Mankato’s inaugural winter fête, outdoor outings go hard: skiing, ice skating, snow sculpting, sled bowling, a learn-to-curl event, and a team challenge that mixes biking and snowshoeing with other chilly pursuits.

Monarch Migration Shanty soars again in 2020
Monarch Migration Shanty soars again in 2020

Photo by Shine On Photos

Art Shanty Projects

Minneapolis | 1/18-2/9

Art installations on frozen Lake Harriet. Read all about their big comeback this year.

John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon

Duluth-Grand Portage | 1/18-29

This year, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon—the longest sled dog race in the lower 48—has broadened its appeal: It’s now part of an international, four-race circuit that includes Alaska’s famed Iditarod. Spectators lodge along the North Shore and can take part in mini races, a beer fest by Canal Park Brewing at Duluth’s Glensheen Mansion (Jan. 25), and other pop-up happenings.

Ski jumping
Ski jumping

Courtesy of U.S. Ski and Snowboard

International Ski Jumping Competition

Bloomington | 1/19

Olympic hopefuls from Europe, the U.S., and Canada convene at Bush Lake Ski Jumps. While they launch some 300 feet, you, more likely, watch and enjoy hot chocolate, beer, and food-truck fare in the chalet.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Minneapolis | 1/21-26

The 50th-anniversary tour turns a Biblical story into a rock concert at State Theatre in Minneapolis.

How the Wild West Was Spun

Minneapolis | 1/23-26

Tapping into her own Indigenous ancestry, storyteller and activist Dovie Thomason updates the stereotype of Buffalo Bill Cody’s “Wild West” with the help of host Kevin Kling at the Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis.

Grey Rock

Minneapolis | 1/23-26

At the Guthrie Theater, Grey Rock looks at the 1969 moon landing through the eyes of a man living in the West Bank.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival
Saint Paul Winter Carnival

Photo by SPFHF

The Great Northern

Saint Paul Winter Carnival

St. Paul | 1/23-2/2

St. Paul’s annual stretch of wintry fun in Rice Park—with kids’ activities, on-stage entertainment, multiple ice bars and parades, and contests for ice carving, hotdish making, and snow sculpting (remember the state champ who caught flak for making a Donald Trump sculpture?)—expands across the street this year, to Landmark Plaza. That means a heated tent for craft beers, cocktails, games, and more live entertainment. (WinterSkate relocates from Landmark Plaza to CHS Field.)

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships

Minneapolis | 1/23-26

A Lake Nokomis tradition going strong: Hockey players with a soft spot for outdoor tussling compete in seven divisions, across age brackets and skill levels, for a golden shovel.

A fire dancer at the City of Lakes Loppet
A fire dancer at the City of Lakes Loppet

Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival

Minneapolis | 1/30-2/2

A “loppet” is a cross-country skiing event, and there are multiple ways to do it: the long-distance race, the sprint, the skijor (with dog). All on Lake Bde Maka Ska, the Loppet Winter Festival also features a walk among luminary lights, plus fat biking.

Brainerd’s Ice Fishing Extravaganza
Brainerd’s Ice Fishing Extravaganza

Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza

Nisswa | 1/25

In your wackiest costume, drill a hole into Gull Lake and join thousands for the world’s biggest charitable ice-fishing contest. Tiki bars and tailgaters make fishing half the fun, while a $150,000 donation gives back to local causes. Check out our guide here.

Lake Harriet Kite Festival

Minneapolis | 1/25

Your kite joins a colorful flotilla over Lake Harriet. Plus: family-friendly activities like ice fishing, snowshoeing, and marshmallow roasting.

Winter Ice Cream Social

Stillwater | 1/25

Fight winter blues at an old-fashioned ice cream social in Stillwater. With free ice cream from Leo’s Malt Shop, chili, and root beer floats, you won’t even feel that windchill.

Jogging

Minneapolis | 1/29-2/2

Jogging takes on prejudices against Arab women by way of one woman’s jogging route through Beirut, at the Guthrie Theater.

Duluth Ice & Mixed Fest

Duluth | 1/31-2/2

Novice ice climbers clink beers with the seasoned, then tackle the best icy verticals in Duluth, hosted by the Duluth Climbers Coalition.

The Ice Bocce Tournament in Longville
Yes, even more sharks—at the Ice Bocce Tournament in Longville

Photo by Amy Johnson

Ice Bocce Tournament

Longville | 2/1

Contenders slide pucks down slippery lanes atop Girl Lake, shuffleboard-style, for a shot at a trophy. Teams adjourn to Patrick’s Fine Dining after, in uniform as sharks, pigs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.

The White Card 

St. Paul | 2/4-3/1

A dinner party takes an unexpected turn and tense racial dynamics come to the fore in its regional premiere at the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul.

Ely Winter Festival

Ely | 2/6-16

These 10 days in Ely seize the cold: There’s an amateur snow-sculpting symposium, a beard championship at BoatHouse Brewpub, a Scandinavian baton-tossing game, a snowshoe hike to Native American rock art, traditional crafts at the Ely Folk School, and more.

Hot Air Affair
Hot Air Affair

Photo by Deanna Grigus

Hot Air Affair

Hudson | 2/7-9

Over Hudson, Wisconsin, the Midwest’s best hot air balloons take flight, while, below, a plaid-themed fest pulls off a parade, geocaching, ice carving, live music, a chili cook-off, and more.

Chilly Open
Chilly Open

Courtesy of Wayzata Chamber

Chilly Open

Wayzata | 2/7-8

Upwards of 1,700 golfers compete on Lake Minnetonka. Instruments of choice? Clubs, hockey sticks, and tennis balls. Spectators get down with snowkiting, ice skating, snow yoga, on-ice Porsche excursions, and a chili contest that taps big-name local restaurants.

Superman Becomes Lois Lane 

St. Paul | 2/8-3/1

Susan Kimberly, the first transgender woman to become deputy mayor of a major American city (St. Paul), tells her story with heart and wit at St. Paul’s History Theatre.

Lake Minnetonka dog sledding
Lake Minnetonka dog sledding

Photo by Joshua Hway

Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby

Excelsior | 2/9

A new dog sled race skirts Lake Minnetonka’s shores, inspired by metro races from the ’30s. Social events include Meet-the-Mushers and Hug-a-Husky, with Lakeside restaurant Lord Fletcher’s hosting weekend events.

The Love Show: Skyway to Heaven

St. Paul | 2/14

The O’Shaughnessy, in St. Paul, hosts Minnesota storyteller Kevin Kling as he reminds us that, though we may live in a frozen wasteland, we will always have skyways.

"Flags I," 1973, by Jasper Johns
“Flags I,” 1973, by Jasper Johns

Courtesy of the Walker Art Center

An Art of Changes: Jasper Johns Prints, 1960-2018

Minneapolis | 2/16-9/20

Consider six decades of work, spanning media, from one of America’s most celebrated artists at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Kissing an eelpout at the International Eelpout Festival
Kissing an eelpout at the International Eelpout Festival

Courtesy of the International Eelpout Festival

Eelpout Festival

Walker | 2/20-23 [Cancelled]

Editor’s note: On Thursday, January 2, the International Eelpout Festival announced that it would cancel the annual event for this season. “Because we are the only permit holder required to supply services and clean up, and are not allowed to control the lake, the economics no longer work,” the statement from festival headquarters says.

Everybody hates on the eelpout—yet these ugly-looking, crayfish-munching, bottom-dwelling fish get kissed an awful lot at the International Eelpout Festival. Whether you’re casting a line or casting judgments, this 41-year-old get-together offers a range of entertainment, from kart racing to dog sledding, from an ice bar to a beer pong tournament.

Beth Bombara performs at Rivertown Comics & Games during Big Turn Music Festival
Beth Bombara performs at Rivertown Comics & Games during Big Turn Music Festival

Photo by Nick Greseth

Big Turn Music Fest

Red Wing | 2/21-22

A weekend of music spread across town. Read about the new February happening—and other things to do in Red Wing—here.

Winter Beer Dabbler
Winter Beer Dabbler

Photo by Aaron Davidson

Winter Beer Dabbler

St. Paul | 2/22

Our most Minnesotan (read: coldest) beer festival is also the state’s biggest outdoors. Sample from 180-plus breweries and cideries, try your hand at shuffleboard, dance to live music, and stop complaining about the weather.

"Woven Chronicle," part of "When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art" at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
“Woven Chronicle,” part of “When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Art by Saini Kallat; Photo by Jonathan Muzikar

When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art

Minneapolis | 2/23-5/24

At the Minneapolis Institute of Art, see works of art—from sculpture to video—that respond to migration, immigration, and displacement, made by artists from around the world.

Minneapolis Home + Garden Show 

Minneapolis | 2/26-3/1

Ring in the warmer weather with this Minneapolis spring staple, to marvel at floral displays and gardens from the best landscapers in the state at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Tracy Morgan

Prior Lake | 2/28

Known for 30 Rock, SNL, and The Last O.G., Tracy Morgan headlines across the country, including at Mystic Lake in Prior Lake.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live

Minneapolis | 2/28-29

Enjoy this classic, Minnesota-born comedy show live at State Theatre in Minneapolis, featuring original host and creator Joel Hodgson.

Mille Lacs Kite Crossing
Mille Lacs Kite Crossing

Photo by Aaron Hautala

Mille Lacs Kite Crossing

Garrison | 2/28-3/1

Looking out on Lake Mille Lacs, you’ll see so many huge, parachute-like kites dragging so many hardy snowboarders and skiers across the lake. Maybe you’ll try it this year. Or maybe you’ll stick to the on-ice softball, the vintage snowmobile racing, or the food and beverage tent instead.

International Owl Center
International Owl Center

Courtesy of the International Owl Center

International Festival of Owls

Houston | 3/6-8

Minnesota, and Houston County especially, is owl country. Our own international center packs a weekend with activities for enthusiasts from across the globe: live owl programs, woodsy walks, pellet dissections, art exhibits, kids’ activities, and more.

Bock Fest
Bock Fest

Courtesy of Schell's Brewery

Bock Fest

New Ulm | 3/7

Schell’s Brewing Co. hides seven wooden goat heads (bocks) in Flandrau State Park. Folks on the hunt can call upon the wandering “human St. Bernard dogs” (people toting kegs of beer) for pick-me-ups. Or they can stick to the brewery, for brats, kraut, and dark German lagers (also called bocks).

Food & Wine Experience
Food & Wine Experience

Courtesy of Darin Kamnetz

Food & Wine Experience

Minneapolis | 3/7-8

Here’s your chance to sample bites from the best restaurants around and wash them down with award-winning local and national wines, beers, and spirits, all at Target Field and hosted by Minnesota Monthly.

Fastenal Parallel 45 Winter Festival

Minneapolis | 3/14-17

For the first time in two decades, the best cross-country skiers in the world will compete on U.S. snow: at the Trailhead, in Theodore Wirth Park. Spectators can enjoy a block party, live music, and mini races.

Tri 5
Tri 5

Photo Taylor

Tri 5

Elk River | 4/4

Longville native Levi LaVallee has been a world-class snowmobile racer and stunt artist for the past two decades. In 2016, the perennial Winter X Games medalist took to the streets of St. Paul and soared off buildings and bridges in a viral video spectacle. Ever the creative competitor, LaVallee hosts an annual Tri 5 race—named for the $500 maximum value for competing snowmobiles, the 599cc maximum engine size, and the abundance of high fives. All proceeds from the three-race event—scheduled for Saturday, April 4, at ERX Motor Park in Elk River—benefit Wings for Life, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving spinal cord injury treatment. Expect vintage snowmobiles, trippy costumes, and plenty of creative flair. –Reed Fischer

Looking for fun everyday activities this season? Check out our indoor and outdoor winter activities lists. 

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