When the winter months arrive, many people go into a long hibernation. But for those who would like a little adventure outside, Minnesota’s State Parks still offer some scenic winter options, such as snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
Just a half-hour drive away from downtown St. Paul, Afton State Park has all the woods, trails and solitude that you would find by driving way up north.
Kris Miller of West Lakeland is a park regular.
“I love winter,” she said. “I can’t wait for the snow to fall so I can ski and snowshoe. And I just love the change of seasons.”
Afton State Park has about seven miles of marked snowshoe trails, although you’re free to wander wherever you’d like.
“When you’re in a little deeper snow,” explained Miller, “the snowshoe allows you to stay on top of the snow and access areas of the woods that you couldn’t get if you were in hiking boots. You couldn’t walk in this without being up to your knees in snow.”
What she finds is a park that’s been transformed since the warmer months, when leaves and brush provided heavy cover.
“What I love about winter is you can see animal footprints in the snow, so you know who’s been there, like foxes, deer, sometimes wild turkeys,” she said.
The park is also about to open four new camper cabins so people can hike the trails and spend the night for $45 to $50 a day.
“It works out very well for our users here who want to have a real nice outdoor experience and want to do some camping but they don’t want to be in a tent,” said Courtland Nelson, director of Parks and Trails Division. “Maybe they’re looking for something a little bit more comfortable, particularly this time of year.”
Afton does have snowshoes for rent -- everything from traditional wooden ones for deep snow to the smaller ones that work well on trails. The rentals are so popular, Afton often runs out of shoes.
For those who really want a workout, the park offers a course in running in snowshoes. Miller enjoys it.
“Snowshoe running is a little more of a power sport,” she said, “but you still get the benefits of the endurance. It’s just a totally new challenge.”
On Feb. 6, Afton State Park will host a night-time snowshoe hike by candle light.
“It’s completely dark except for these little candles along the path,” said assistant park manager Rachel Hintzman. “And it’s just a great atmosphere and great for families to come out and explore.”
Afton State Park also has 15 miles of cross country trails. Reservations are recommended for all the rentals.