News release: Top tips for fun winter outings to state parks and trails

December 14, 2023

Winter recreation options are abundant in Minnesota state parks, recreation areas and trails

Many Minnesotans visit state parks and hit the trails in summer, but winter outdoor activities are just as fun. To help people plan winter visits to state parks, recreation areas and trails, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shares its top tips to have fun this winter, along with some resources for planning a winter adventure.

While there is little to no snow cover across much of the state right now, it’s a good time to plan snow-based activities for later this winter, or to enjoy activities that don’t require snow such as winter hiking, ice fishing or naturalist programs.

“We know Minnesotans love being outdoors, and winter offers a whole new way to play outside,” said Ann Pierce, the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division director. “However, we also know cost and information can be barriers for Minnesotans to get outdoors and enjoy nature. We’re working to alleviate this for folks by providing no cost or low-cost activities and providing easy trip planning resources.”

Check out free entrance options

A state parks vehicle permit is required. However, the DNR offers several free visit options to help expand access to Minnesota’s top-notch state parks and recreation areas, including the library pass program and fee-free days. There are more than 100 libraries across Minnesota that offer seven-day state park permits to check out at no cost. A list of participating libraries is on the library program webpage. There are also four free park days offered each year, one for each season. The first free day in 2024 will be Monday, Jan. 15. Find all 2024 free days on the free park day webpage.

State trails do not require a permit and are free to use for popular winter activities like hiking, snowshoeing and fat tire biking. However, groomed cross country ski trails require a ski pass and groomed snowmobile trails require a state trail sticker.

Start making plans to enjoy some of these great winter activities:

Go snowshoeing or winter hiking

Exploring a state park or recreation area on snowshoes is not only great exercise, but also a way to see areas of parks that aren’t accessible in summer. When the ground is frozen and snow-covered, it’s safe to wander off trail without the risk of trampling sensitive plants or spreading invasive species. Many state parks offer snowshoe rentals for $6 per day. Details are available on the DNR snowshoeing webpage.

No snow? Enjoy winter hiking until snow arrives.

Participate in a naturalist program

Events and programs are scheduled at state parks throughout the winter season, offering a wide range of activities from escape rooms to interpretive hikes to outdoor skill building to education about park wildlife. Programs are open to all ages, unless noted otherwise. Most programs are free. See the Parks and Trails events calendar for program listings.

Attend a candlelight event

Candlelight events are free, family-friendly events. They offer short, easy trails lit with lanterns or luminaries. Visitors can stop by anytime during the event and enjoy the trail at their own pace. Visit the DNR candlelight event webpage for dates and locations.

Try ice fishing

Minnesota residents can fish without a fishing license in many Minnesota state parks, including ice fishing. If new to the sport, check out one of the state park ice fishing programs to get tips for a successful fishing trip. Programs are listed on the state parks ice fishing webpage.

Go cross country skiing

There are 27 state parks with groomed ski trails, and additional groomed trails are available in some state forests and state trails. If someone plans to ski on groomed trails and is age 16 or older, they’ll need a Great Minnesota Ski Pass, which costs $10 per day, $25 per year, or $70 for a three-year pass. Find trails and ski pass information at the DNR cross country ski webpage.

Stay in a camper cabin or a yurt

Enjoy a cozy winter stay in a camper cabin or yurt at a state park or recreation area. All camper cabins available in winter have heat and electricity, and yurts have woodstoves to keep visitors comfy and warm. Make a reservation on the state park reservation website.

Hit the snowmobile trails

Minnesota offers more than 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails. Visit the DNR snowmobiling webpage to find an interactive trail map, check trail conditions, and get snowmobile registration information.

Become a Junior Ranger

State park visitors are invited to pick up a free Junior Ranger book, or print one at home from the Junior Ranger website. Activities in this booklet are designed for ages six to 10, but anyone is welcome to participate. Complete the activities and earn a free Junior Ranger badge.

Planning and safety tips

Being prepared is key to making a trip to a state park or trail successful and fun.

  • Visit the state parks and trails winter guide for more information about visiting parks and trails in winter.
  • Be aware of alerts that might impact park visits by checking park websites before leaving home.
  • The DNR recommends buying a vehicle permit before arriving at the park using the state parks permit webpage or the Yodel app. Permits can also be purchased in person when park offices are open; hours can be found on park websites.
  • Check the weather forecast before heading out, and dress appropriately for the conditions. The DNR has a guide to dressing for Minnesota winters.
  • Always check ice depth before going on frozen water and remember that ice is never 100% safe. A life jacket and ice picks are essential safety gear to wear on the ice. Read the DNR ice safety website for information.

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