This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
Winter in Minnesota
Keep your winter in Minnesota exciting by completing a bucket list of must do winter activities and experiences. Winter is more than just a cold season. When the temps drop down, turn up the fun!
Minnesota winters are characterized by cold below freezing temperatures. This is ideal for snow but during a Minnesota winter you can also experience freezing rain, ice, sleet and if temperatures are “balmy” rain. These are all possible during the winter months of November through March (but sometimes April) in Minnesota. Snow isn’t common in April but it can happen! The location of the state within the upper midwest allows the experience of four very distinct seasons with different weather patterns making it a great location for winter activities to complete in this Minnesota winter bucket list.
January is definitely the coldest month of the year so keep that in mind when planning your winter adventures in Minnesota. Average snowfall Minnesota experiences depends on the region of the state you’re in but the southeastern parts receive about 36 inches and the north shore area along Lake Superior can receive as much as 70 inches. That portion of the state is sometimes referred to as the “snow belt. I will say that living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area I can tell a difference now compared to 10-12 years ago that it still snows but it doesn’t stay like it used to. It is however, still cold and it does still snow.
How to Dress for a Minnesota Winter Activity
When doing outdoor activities in the winter in Minnesota, be sure you dress for it. Layers, layers & more layers will be your friend! There can be a wide range of temperatures experienced in Minnesota from bitter cold and negative below zero temps to not so bad and somewhat mild winter weather in the 30-40 degree Farenheit temps. It’s important to monitor the forecast to dress for an enjoyable time outdoors when doing any of the outdoor activities on your Minnesota winter bucket list.
For more details on how to pack and dress for any season in Minnesota, read more about packing for any season in Minnesota here.
Minnesota Winter Bucket List
There are many different places in Minnesota where you can cross country ski, however I am going to focus on the best places to downhill ski or snowboard for this Minnesota winter bucket list.
Afton Alps was acquired by the Vail Resorts a handful of years back. So, if you hold an epic pass you can use it to ski or snowboard within Minnesota but also at several other resorts in the mountains as well. If you’re a local Minnesotan that’s a win win to get some slope time in the area but also plan a trip to the mountains.
Afton Alps is located in Hastings, MN and it is the best place to go skiing or snowboarding around the metro area of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Lutsen Mountains are the crown jewel of skiing and snowboarding in Minnesota. It’s honestly my absolute favorite place to snowboard in the state. The nearby convenient lodging and the views out over Lake Superior are absolutely stunning! Lutsen offers many convenient ski and stay packages.
The North Shore is truly one of the best areas of Northern Minnesota. The only drawback (in my opinion) is that roads in the winter to get there north of Duluth, MN can get pretty slick and snowy. But, then bringing me to the next place if you don’t want to venture past Duluth then Spirit Mountain is perfect!
Spirit Mountain is located right as you’re coming into the town of Duluth. So, you could spend an amazing weekend in really fun Duluth, Minnesota skiing and snowboarding then hit up some breweries and check out some other fun things around town. Spirit Mountain also has really great places to stay nearby and that are ski in/ski out.
2) Sledding or SnowTubing
All throughout Minnesota there are fun places to go sledding or snow tubing. Some popular spots in the metro area include Theodore Wirth Park, Elm Creek, but many ski hills also offer snow tubing as well. (Close to the metro Minneapolis/St. Paul area Buck Hill & Hyland Hills Ski area are great options.)
One bit of advice if you’re planning on going to an establishment that does snow tubing is to check in advance as many of them do have a height requirements for the little ones. Here’s a great resource of some of the best sledding hills in Minnesota for your winter bucket list.
3) Winter Hiking or Snow Shoeing
There are many trails & state parks throughout Minnesota where you can go snowshoeing in Minnesota. Some state parks even offer convenient snow show rentals. Depending on the time of year and how cold it has been, it’s also really popular to go snow shoeing on one of the many frozen lakes. Be sure to dress appropriately and wear warm shoes with plenty of grip if you plan on hiking. Also be alert as some portions of certain trails may be icy!
There are many places to hike during the winter even outside of State Parks. But be sure to plan ahead and ensure trails are open and safe for hiking.
4) Ice Castles
Visiting the Ice Castles is a fun experience for the whole family! In 5 different locations across the United States, one of them is located in New Brighton, MN. Each location is unique and has different aspects to explore.
The best time to visit (in my opinion) is at night. The ice castle is illuminated with color changing lights that makes it a truly magical experience for everyone. There are fire rings to warm up, but be sure to dress warmly when visiting later at night. (Especially if you want to sit on the ice throne or zip down the domed ice slide.)
5) Winter Camping or Hiking in a Minnesota State Park
Many Minnesota state parks are open year round for both camping and hiking. Here is a great list of Minnesota State Parks that have either plowed or packed trails for winter hiking. From this list, my favorites include Tettegouche State Park, Lake Bemidji State Park and Gooseberry Falls State Park. If you’re lucky at Tettegouche or Gooseberry you can see some epic frozen waterfalls. Depending on the weather, venturing way north on the North Shore of Minnesota to Grand Portage State Park near the Canadian border. Bring your passport along if you plan on crossing over! You can see the border control station as you pull into the parking lot of the State park.
6) St. Paul Winter Carnival
Be sure to put this on the calendar as it typically takes place the end of January through the first part of February. The St. Paul Winter Carnival is located in many different locations in St. Paul with different events. Many of the events are free and open to the public. Some of the events occur in beautiful Rice Park of St. Paul. Read more about the specific St. Paul Winter carnival events.
7) Winter Beer Dabbler
Taking place at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds, the Winter Beer Dabbler includes unlimited beer samples from Minnesota breweries and cideries as well as food trucks & music. It’s an all weather event so you may get lucky and experience a seasonably balmy Minnesota winter day to check this item off your bucket list or you may have to layer up a bit! Here are some great tips to ensure you have a great time and dress appropriately to enjoy the winter beer dabbler event.
8) Staycation and Getting Cozy by a Fire
Hiding out by getting cozy near a fire at one of many relaxing Minnesota area hotels is the perfect Minnesota winter bucket list activity! Especially after a day outside hiking, skiing or snowshoeing relaxing and warming up is a great way to wind down. Often times Minnesotans can feel cooped up at home during the winter months so changing your surroundings and relaxing at a nearby hotel is a great way to shake up your winter blues! Many hotels even have outdoor hot tubs & fire pits where you can enjoy a cocktail or two or an onsite spa. Talk about relaxation!
9) Participate in a Polar Plunge
Participating in a polar plunge is definitely not for the faint of heart! It’s exactly what it sounds like, jumping into freezing water in the middle of winter. In Minnesota, most polar plunge’s are an event to raise money and awareness for the Special Olympics. So, in addition to plunging into the chilly water and having bragging rights later you’re also benefiting a great organization.
If you’re not participating in a formal polar plunge activity (and really even if you are) it’s important to practice safety when it comes to cold water. In order to stay safe (and as warm as possible) be sure to bundle up in warm clothing (including hats and gloves). If at all possible, do not fully immerse your head under water. And once you’re done with your plunge thoroughly dry off and get into warm dry clothes as soon as you can!
Be sure to consult with your doctor prior to participating as there is increased risk for those who have heart conditions and there can be risk of developing hypothermia as well.
10) Play boot hockey, Hockey or Curl in a pick up game or league
I’m definitely partial to curling. Minnesota happens to be one of 11 regional areas in the United States representing the United States Curling Association. I grew up curling when I was in elementary school in their junior curling program and even participated in some fun tournaments (bonspiels) as I got into high school across the state of Minnesota. At that time I curled out of the Bemidji Curling Club. Curling is a really fun sport and one that many play throughout their whole lives. If you’ve never curled before, it’s definitely something you should try once! Throughout Minnesota there are many boot hockey or rec hockey leagues for children and adults alike. The best place to start is looking into your nearest community education and rec
11) Walk or snowshoe across a frozen lake or go ice fishing
If you’re not from Minnesota, but heck even if you are walking across a frozen lake is somewhat of a novelty. Be sure to practice ice safety and ensure the ice is thick enough to walk or drive on before proceeding. Follow these guidelines by the Minnesota DNR to ensure the ice is thick enough to safely support you.
Growing up in Northern Minnesota driving on the ice and ice fishing was just a part of life during the winter. (Bemidji State University actually used to use the lake as overflow parking in the winter many years ago!)
Some of the best ice fishing lakes include Upper Red Lake, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods. (Essentially repping the 218!) If you’re not from Minnesota that’s the northern part (essentially half of the state!) of Minnesota’s area code and it’s truly northern lake country where the fishing and lakes are abundant.
12) Go ice skating
Similar to sledding and tubing, there are an abundance of places throughout Minnesota where you can ice skate. Amenities and hours are definitely different and depending on what type of experience you’re looking for definitely research in advance. Some are outdoors while others are in an ice arena. A few great options are Central Park skating loop located in Maple Grove, MN or Centennial Lakes Park located in Edina, MN. Here is some additional information about outdoor ice skating rinks in Minnesota.