Snow cover in northeast and southwest Minnesota means snowshoers can enjoy the sport
Snowshoeing is the perfect way to beat cabin fever, bringing people outside for fresh air and providing a connection with nature that is beneficial for physical and mental health. Snow came late to Minnesota this year, and although there are still areas of the state with little snow cover, there are also many locations in northern and southwest Minnesota with enough snow for snowshoeing, and there are many opportunities to participate in snowshoeing on state lands managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Exploring on snowshoes is not only great exercise, it is a way to see areas of parks, forests and other lands that aren’t accessible in summer. When the ground is snow-covered, it’s safe to wander off trail without the risk of trampling sensitive plants or spreading invasive species through picking up seeds of invasive plants on footwear.
The recreation compass tool is an easy way to find locations for snowshoeing. All types of DNR-managed lands listed below are included on the Recreation Compass map.
Here are places to enjoy snowshoeing on state lands this winter:
State parks, recreation areas and trails
Snowshoeing is allowed at all state parks, recreation areas and trails. Visitors can snowshoe anywhere except trails that are specifically groomed for another activity, such as cross-country skiing or snowmobiling.
Many state parks offer snowshoe rentals for $6 per day. Details are available on the DNR’s state parks snowshoeing webpage.
Some parks and trails locations offer snowshoeing programs such as guided snowshoe walks and wildlife watching. Participants in these programs are provided with a set of snowshoes if they don’t have their own. To ensure there are enough snowshoes for all participants, many of the programs require advance registration. Most programs are free; more details are available on the DNR’s parks and trails event calendar.
For those who are new to the activity, six locations offer snowshoeing programs specifically geared toward beginners: Afton, Fort Snelling, Itasca and Mille Lacs Kathio state parks, Big Bog State Recreation Area, and the Gateway State Trail.
No permit is needed for state trails, but a vehicle permit is required for state parks and recreation areas. The DNR recommends purchasing a permit in advance using the DNR permits webpage. Permits can also be purchased at park offices during open hours, which can be found on park webpages.
Scientific and natural areas
Minnesota has 168 scientific and natural areas, and snowshoeing is allowed at all of them. Visitors will need to bring their own snowshoes, and keep in mind that most SNAs do not have maintained trails. Some roads in SNAs are plowed, but parking areas are not plowed in winter. There is no pass or permit needed to visit an SNA.
SNAs recommended for snowshoeing include Bonanza Prairie, Grey Cloud Dunes, Lutsen, Mille Lacs Moraine, Purvis Lake-Ober Foundation, Sand Lake Peatland, St. Croix Savanna and Wild Indigo.
Minnesota’s 60 state forests are also great places for snowshoeing. Like in state parks, snowshoers should avoid snowshoeing on trails groomed specifically for other activities like cross-country skiing or snowmobiling. No permit or pass is needed to snowshoe in state forests.
Those who want to snowshoe in state forests will need to bring their own snowshoes and should be aware that state forests are open to hunting and trapping during the appropriate seasons. Some small game hunting seasons opened on Jan. 1, and wearing blaze orange or pink is a good safety precaution.
Wildlife management areas
The DNR manages more than 1,500 wildlife management areas. Snowshoeing is allowed at all WMAs, and no pass or permit is needed.
People will need to bring their own snowshoes, and keep in mind that they may be sharing the land with hunters and trappers. Some small game hunting seasons are open and it’s a good idea to wear blaze orange or pink even if not hunting. People bringing dogs to a WMA should be aware that there are trapping seasons during the winter.
Being prepared is important for a safe and fun snowshoeing outing.
- To learn about snowshoeing, check out the Minnesota Outdoor Skills and Stewardship webinar on snowshoeing and cross country skiing basics.
- Know before going. Visit the temporary closures webpage for links to information on state forest roads, wildlife management areas, state parks and state recreation areas.
- Check the weather forecast before heading out, and dress appropriately for the conditions. The DNR offers 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.
- Snowshoeing can make people thirsty, even in cold temperatures. Bring water, as drinking water faucets are typically turned off in the winter at locations with drinking water.