Winter To-Do List: Things to Do Outside

12 ways to get out there and do this season right—from biking and hiking to laser tubing and igloo bars
Winter To-Do List:
Lake Superior

Photo by Riley LeBlanc

Resolve to take a “First Day” hike

Many Minnesota State Parks host New Year’s Day hiking events. Use one as an opportunity to walk off any questionable behavior from the past year and literally start 2020 on the right foot.

Skate and slide at CHS Field

For January and most of February, the St. Paul Saints’ Lowertown ballpark gets outfitted with a 130-foot-long tubing slide and an on-field skating rink. The event, dubbed Destination Winter Saint Paul, concludes on February 22 with the Greatest Day Parade, honoring the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Men’s Hockey Team’s gold medal victory at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Winter To-Do List: Laser Tubing at Buck Hill
Laser Tubing at Buck Hill

Photo by Terra Sura

Try laser tubing

Hills all over Minnesota offer the thrills of whipping through the cold—met with an after-dark light show that gives the powder a neon glow. Book a psychedelic snow tube show at Buck Hill (Burnsville), Elm Creek Park Reserve (Maple Grove), Green Acres (Lake Elmo), Powder Ridge (Kimball), Spirit Mountain (Duluth), and Wild Mountain (Taylors Falls).

Winter To-Do List: Luminary Loppet
Luminary Loppet

Photo by Sommer Stelzer

Seek out night exploration that’s lit

Winter darkness gives way to beauty during lantern- and candle-lit snowshoe and hiking outings at Luce Line State Trail (Jan. 3); Itasca State Park and Minneopa State Park (Jan. 11); and Afton State Park, Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park (Feb. 1). Also on Feb. 1, the Luminary Loppet—featuring dancers, ice sculptures, and an after party—tops the icy Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis.

Winter To-Do List: Igloo Bar
Igloo Bar, on Lake of the Woods’ Zippel Bay

Courtesy of Lake of the Woods Tourism

Drink at an igloo bar

The final destinations are indoors, but  outdoor navigation is required to reach two watering holes that historically have opened on frozen bodies of water each January. On Lake of the Woods’ Zippel Bay, the Igloo Bar is an annual tradition for ice anglers and snowmobilers. As for the Ice Box H2I on Little Detroit Lake, operated by the Detroit Lakes Holiday Inn: Minnow shots are for the brave. Igloo-like domes have debuted on the Freehouse patio in North Loop, too—by reservation only.

Tettegouche State Park's "Sea Stack"—before a late-2019 storm toppled it into Lake Superior
Tettegouche State Park’s “Sea Stack”—before a late-2019 storm toppled it into Lake Superior

Photo by Riley LeBlanc

Walk on Lake Superior*

When northern Minnesota hits a consistent polar-level chill, the landscape starts evoking the wintry magic of the Game of Thrones universe. It’s rare for our greatest lake to totally freeze over, but when it does, it’s as if a portal to another world has opened. For hockey games, fat bike treks, snowshoe excursions, photo ops of rare winter phenomena, or even an impromptu live music happening, a fleeting frozen Lake Superior moment is something that lives inside us long after we all thaw out.

Photographer Riley LeBlanc captured one-of-a-kind moments on frozen Superior at Tettegouche State Park last winter. They’ll live on as documentation of the final winter for the now-fallen Sea Stack rock formation to stick its monumental thumb out of the ice. (It’s on the cover of our Jan/Feb issue, out now.) 

*Safety first. Some years, Lake Superior isn’t even 50% frozen over.

Winter To-Do List: Red Rider Resort
Red Rider Resort

Photo by Wander the Map

Plan an Outdoor Retreat to Cuyuna

Once home to iron mining, the central Minnesota community of Crosby is now a year-round global destination for cyclists looking to push themselves. Made up of about 30 miles of fat-biking-appropriate trails, the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area really got going in 2011, and now the rest of the experience—from lodging to restaurants—has shaped around it. On February 8, the annual 45NRTH Whiteout fat bike singletrack races take over the trails.

Sticking around? The newly opened Red Rider Resort on Manual Mine Lake, featuring three (of eight total) cabins on stilts, provides a rugged, comfortable place to sleep between snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and bonfires. 

Other lodging options nearby include True North Basecamp’s modern cabins, the urban northwood comfort of Crosby Lofts, or three seven-person yurts on Yawkey Mine Lake. Sustenance is available at Iron Range Eatery, North Country Cafe, Rafferty’s Pizza, Louie’s Bucket of Bones, and Mixed Company. Upscale cheese, charcuterie, spirits, and Rave Creamworks ice cream await at Victual. Add growlers of Cuyuna Brewing Company craft beer, and fuel up while getting gear or repairs at Red Raven Bike Cafe or Cycle Path & Paddle.

Winter To-Do List: Timbersled snowmobiles

Courtesy of Timbersled

Ride a snow bike

For more ways to bike in the winter than just fat biking, there’s the motorized, sleeker-than-a-snowmobile Timbersled (owned by Minnesota-based Polaris). Imagine your favorite motorcross-style motorcycle with the tires swapped out for snow treads. There are seven Minnesota Timbersled dealers, including Tousley Motorsports in White Bear Lake.

Winter To-Do List: Biking in Duluth
Biking in Duluth

Photo by Hansi Johnson

Find unique terrain

Minnesota has no shortage of fat-tire biking options. But keep an eye out for odd adventures. Onto the shores of Park Point Beach in Duluth, the mighty Lake Superior recently heaved giant ice chunks into mounds. Turns out, they’re great for riding. Local bikers Chelsea Strate and Frank Lundeen rolled through in March, on the day before the Coast Guard came in to, literally, break it up.

Winter To-Do List: Polar Plunge
Polar Plunge

Photo by Lynn Cronquist

Take a polar plunge

Between January and March, there are 29 official polar plunges throughout Minnesota, for a jolt of humanity from a pool of barely unfrozen water. Diving in has the added benefit of supporting the Special Olympics Minnesota.

Winter To-Do List: Lake Mille Lacs
Lake Mille Lacs

Photo by Aaron Hautala

Go ice fishing

We asked local outdoors-lifestyle blogger Jenny Anderson, of Girl of 10,000 Lakes, for her favorite spots to ice fish. Here are her top three:

Lake Mille Lacs, central Minnesota 

“It’s so darn close to the Twin Cities. You can make a day trip out of it. We are able to leave our ice house out there for days and just stay there.” 

Gunflint Trail, northeastern Minnesota 

“You can fish for lake trout in the winter. It’s a lot more fun than doing it in the summer. You don’t have to do the hard work; you have to just be patient.” 

Lake of the Woods, northwestern Minnesota

“I experienced it for the first time last year. If you see it from above, which [I did with my drone], it looks like a shanty town, just a lake filled with tiny houses all over the place.”

Winter To-Do List: Snowmobiling legend Levi LaVallee
Snowmobiling champ Levi LaVallee

Photo by Ryan Taylor

Live like Levi LaVallee

The Longville-based snowmobiling legend names his winter faves:

Fave event: “Stayed tuned for the 2020 Tri 5 schedule. We have plans to make it bigger and better.”

Top destinations: “The North Shore is fun—loads of snow and awesome trails. But nothing beats riding the trails across the lakes to your favorite restaurant and back home again in Longville.”

Crucial winter gear: 

Polaris Lock & Ride FT2 Passenger Seat: “A second seat for your snowmobile.”

FXR Heated Recon Glove 20: “This heated glove lasts five hours with rechargeable battery.”

Ideal winter meal:“At home, after riding: grilled cheese and tomato soup.”

Looking for fun indoor activities to do this winter? Click here. And don’t miss these 46 Minnesota events celebrating everything winter.

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