Extend Your Winter in Northern Minnesota

For those who know that win­ter brings about the best adven­ture, don’t let the impend­ing ris­ing tem­per­a­tures get you down. Chances are, with a cold sea­son often span­ning beyond Novem­ber thru April, there is still some win­ter left to explore in North­ern Min­neso­ta. While the Twin Cities knows how to cel­e­brate win­ter right with events like the Saint Paul Win­ter Car­ni­val and City of Lakes Lop­pet Ski Fes­ti­val, you have to head even fur­ther north to get the full essence of wilder­ness win­ter sur­round­ings. Once you hit Duluth, you can real­ly begin to extend your win­ter with adven­ture at the Sand­stone Ice Park next to the Ket­tle River.

Split Rock Lighthouse, Minnesota

North Shore of Lake Superior
Span­ning for 110 miles from Duluth to Grand Portage and cov­er­ing the entire Min­neso­ta coast of Lake Supe­ri­or, the “North Shore” of Lake Supe­ri­or is a scenic des­ti­na­tion any time of the year. The mas­sive expanse that is the largest lake in North Amer­i­ca has an extra appeal come win­ter though, includ­ing an abun­dance of sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate activ­i­ties on both sides of the scenic roadway.

Ski­ing of all types is easy to find. Down­hill rid­ers will enjoy the gon­do­la-enabled 90 dif­fer­ent runs found at Lut­sen Moun­tains. Cross-coun­try enthu­si­asts have a lot to choose from includ­ing the 65+ kilo­me­ters of the Sug­ar­bush Ski Trail near Tofte. For Fat­bike users, the North Shore has begun con­vert­ing past routes into plus-size tire friend­ly trails, includ­ing a notably scenic 8.7 miles at Split Rock Light­house State Park (which is also open to snow­shoe users).

Gun­flint Trail / Supe­ri­or Nation­al Forest
Far along the North Shore Scenic Dri­ve, just before Grand Portage and the Cana­di­an Bor­der, the har­bor town of Grand Marais marks the begin­ning of a pop­u­lar out­let into the Supe­ri­or Nation­al For­est, the Gun­flint Trail. Paved and plowed through­out the win­ter, the Gun­flint Trail stretch­es for 55 miles. It nav­i­gates through dense wood­lands and a water-pock­et­ed for­est, pro­vid­ing unpar­al­leled access to the rugged envi­ron­ment. There are no towns along the Gun­flint Trail, but plen­ty of activ­i­ty can be found via resorts, trail­heads, and campgrounds.

Through­out the long win­ter on the Gun­flint Trail, deep snow cov­ers the land­scape, adding an extra lay­er of scenic sur­round­ings and things to do. Dif­fer­ent yurts and cab­ins enable overnight trav­els along many of well-main­tained cross-coun­try ski, snow­shoe and snow­mo­bile routes. Of par­tic­u­lar note, the Cen­tral Gun­flint Ski Sys­tem, main­tained by area lodges and resorts, fea­tures near­ly 50 kilo­me­ters of pic­turesque Supe­ri­or For­est win­ter surroundings.

Snowshoe Hiking

Bound­ary Waters Canoe Recre­ation Area
Sur­round­ing the west­ern ter­mi­nus and extend­ing from the 55-mile Gun­flint Trail, the Bound­ary Waters Canoe Recre­ation Area (BWCA) is a mil­lion+ acre des­ig­nat­ed wilder­ness filled with glacial-strewn lakes, beach­es, and true essence of explo­ration. Often asso­ci­at­ed with sum­mer trips of a life­time, the BWCA is a rugged win­ter expe­ri­ence wait­ing to hap­pen. Every­thing from dog-sled­ding to ice fish­ing to long-dis­tance cross-coun­try ski routes laces the Bound­ary Waters in win­ter. Knowl­edge, plan­ning, and appro­pri­ate gear are all required for win­ter trav­el in the BWAC, so make sure to pack every­thing accordingly.

Voyageurs Nation­al Park
Shar­ing a bor­der with the Bound­ary Waters Canoe Recre­ation Area to the west, Voyageurs Nation­al Park is anoth­er water-laden haven rich with nat­ur­al resources. Accessed from the win­ter-friend­ly town of Inter­na­tion­al Falls, Voyageurs almost becomes eas­i­er to get to thanks to the win­ter con­di­tions. Ice roads begin open­ing up by Decem­ber, of which the NPS rec­om­mends dri­ving on with seat­belts off and win­dows open, and the entire area is spi­der­webbed with cross-coun­try ski, snow­shoe and snow­mo­bil­ing routes. The Rainy Lake Vis­i­tor Cen­ter will lend you a pair of snow­shoes for free to help you explore the win­try area.

Winter River Landscape

Queti­co Provin­cial Park
Haven’t exhaust­ed your win­ter fever yet? To the north of the all this Min­neso­ta action, Cana­da is primed and ready for a major­i­ty of the year with cold-weath­er activ­i­ty. Con­nect­ed to the Supe­ri­or Nation­al For­est via the Bound­ary Waters Canoe Area Wilder­ness, Queti­co Provin­cial Park pro­vides even more cross-coun­try ski trails, cab­ins, and win­ter com­mu­ni­ty. Look­ing for a rea­son to go? The Cross Queti­co Lakes Tour in March is often hailed as one of the coolest adven­tures in Canada.