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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”