Winter in Minnesota State Parks
Throughout the State, Get Out and Enjoy the Winter at a MN State Park
Typically Minnesota State Parks are often quieter in the winter, providing elbow room to enjoy all that these parks provide across the state. Throughout the winter, look for special events and activities to learn a new winter activity, or plan your own weekend getaway to ski, snowshoe or see spectacular winter vistas.
Winter in the Park: Places to Stay
Across Minnesota, state park camper cabins have become a popular way to enjoy state parks. Reserve a heated camper cabin in every region of the state, including Jay Cooke near the North Shore, Lake Carlos near Alexandria, Afton State Park near the Twin Cities, and many others. More than two dozen parks across the state have camper cabins, and many are available for rent year round. While the camper cabins have no plumbing, they are located near campgrounds that have full shower and restroom facilities. Most also come with outdoor charcoal grills and a fire ring.
“The cabins are a great way for visitors to enjoy camping for a longer season,” said Mark Luschen, assistant park manager at Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth, MN. “We have visitors year round. I’ve seen people camp even when it’s 30 below outside. They’re bound and determined to do it.”
For the more adventurous, many parks have winter camping sites.
“We have four backpack camp sites here that visitors enjoy even in the winter,” said Mark. “They’ll take off on cross country skis, which is how you access three of the remote sites in the winter.”
At Itasca State Park, the Douglas lodge six-plex is open all winter long. Rooms are heated, with full bathrooms, kitchenettes, porches, satellite television and internet. But you won’t want to stay indoors too long. Itasca offers a full range of winter recreation, including one of the longest snowmobile trails, snowshoeing, skiing and many other activities.
Recreation All Winter Long
While you’re there, you’ll find plenty to do in the park all winter long. Minnesota State Parks are a popular destination for cross-country skiers. Jay Cooke, Afton, Cascade River, Itasca and Wild River State Parks are among the most popular destinations for skiers. A few, like Wild River, even rent full ski equipment.
With trails groomed at least twice a week and maintained for daily use, many state parks provide a view of the winter landscape in Minnesota. It’s no surprise parks on the North Shore are among the popular winter destinations, with trails curving along frozen waterfalls and rivers, and overlooking beautiful Lake Superior scenes. Along the Mississippi River, Frontenac State Park’s scenic vistas are a beautiful site all times of the year. And in Central Minnesota, Crow Wing State Park’s picturesque "Chippewa Lookout” is a beautiful site in the winter.
You can also hit the trail by snowmobile in many state parks. Minnesota offers more than 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Itasca State Park, Maplewood State Park, Mille Lacs Kathio State Park and St. Croix State Park are among the parks with the most miles of snowmobile trails in the state. Snowmobile State Trail sticker are required, and be sure to always check trail conditions before heading out.
For those looking to ice fish, Minnesota residents can fish for free in most Minnesota State Parks year round (on bodies of water that do not require a trout stamp; check park offices for full regulations). Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, Bear Head Lake State Park and Lake Bemidji State Park are all popular ice fishing destinations.
Other popular wintertime activities include snowshoeing and sledding. Snowshoeing or winter hiking can be done anywhere in the park where there are not groomed snowmobile or ski trails. Parks including Afton, Bear Head Lake, Crow Wing, Forestville/Mystery Cave, Itasca, Jay Cooke, Lake Carols and Frontenac offer snowshoe rentals for $6/day at the park office. If you’re new to snowshoeing, watch for “Let’s Go Snowshoeing” events throughout the winter.
Finally, if you’re looking for great sledding, several parks offer dedicated sledding hills. Frontenac, Upper Sioux Agency, Lake Carlos, and Mille Lacs Kathio are among the popular destinations. Fort Ridgely State Park offers a sledding hill and inner tube rentals for a nominal fee.
If You Go:
Plan ahead and always check trail and ice conditions before heading out. Follow all regulations; do not go on ice when warnings are posted. While you’re there, be considerate of other outdoor enthusiasts; do not hike or snowshoe on dedicated ski and snowmobile trails, which can interfere with groomed tracks.
Most importantly, have fun! Winter is no time to stay cooped up indoors when there’s so much to do at Minnesota’s State Parks. Plan to head out for the day, or stay the weekend in a heated cabin - either way get out and enjoy all that winter has to offer.
Find something new℠.