If you could enjoy just one cross-country skiing opportunity in each of Minnesota’s state parks every weekend, it would take you almost two years to complete those visits! With over 470 miles of designated ski trails, plus another 54 skate & ski routes, X-C skiers, from novice to Olympians can enjoy Minnesota’s fabulous parklands throughout winter. Nearly 100 miles of those state park trails are within an hour’s drive of the Twin Cities.
The Parks Division and the Trails Division of Minnesota’s DNR has merged, creating a joining of programs that are available all winter long throughout the parks and recreation areas on Minnesota. Add the nearly 4 million acres from Minnesota’s 58 state forests – each managed by a nearby state park staff – and the programs and amenities offered multiple off the charts.
One of the most popular cross-country skiing events is the Candlelight program in 22 of the state parks. Free cross-country skiing and snowshoeing introduce winter adventurers to nighttime snow treks through 30 programs presented between December and February each winter. In addition, there are 36 events focusing on snowshoeing. Ten wildlife programs introduce participants to tracks, birds and other winter-active critters within the parks. Besides programs, usually the entire park grounds are open for breaking your own trails.
You will need a park permit ($5 daily/$25 annual) to enter the park, but otherwise these special events are free and open to all ages. A Minnesota DNR ski pass is required for all skiers 16 years of age and older for use of the designated groomed trails or the Grant-in-Aid state trails. That fee is $5 for a daily pass, $15 for the season and $40 for a three-year pass. This pass permits use of 20 specially designated trails within the Metro area including parks, golf courses, etc. and 100 trails outside the Metro Area.
The DNR offers different grooming levels of trails within their network. Nearly 200 miles of Premier ski trails are groomed twice weekly or within 24 hours of a new snowfall. There is a warming house on site and conditions are updated and posted daily (mnstateparks.info). Those parks are Lake Bemidji, Cascade River, Itasca, Tettegouche, Gooseberry Falls, Jay Cooke, Mille Lacs – Kathio, Wild River, Sibley, Wm. O’Brien, Lake Maria, and Afton.
All state parks are open all winter long. Some may not provide services, and others may have closed gates, but there is non-motorized access to the campgrounds. 25 state parks also have year-round, basic cabins. They are a “step up from camping”, says Pat Arndt, NR Section Manager for the DNR, “but that’s all they are intended to be.” These units rent for $45-$55/night. Full service cabins are also available at some parks.
Check the web for details (snow reports/depth/grooming/programs, etc,) mn.stateparks.info or mndnr.gov/skiing.