Pat Arndt started getting outside in her childhood days when her dad took their family of eight camping. She continues to spread that love of the outdoors in her work as DNR communications and outreach manager for state parks and trails.
Lately, promotions have ramped up for winter events. Arndt said, “Because winter is almost a quarter of our year—sometimes it’s even longer than that . . . we feel like we want to get people outdoors.” With plenty of winter activities and events, Minnesota state parks are a great place to go.
Groomed ski trails, snowshoe rental, skijoring paths, ice fishing and a number of winter naturalist programs are all part of state park offerings. But Arndt says their “signature” programs are the more than thirty Candlelight Events scheduled across Minnesota. These typically occur on Saturday evenings with a hike, snowshoe, or ski down luminary-lit paths. Visitors can just sit, warm up, and drink hot cocoa around the provided fire, so Arndt called these “multigenerational events,” great for grandparents to attend with their kids and grandchildren.
Winter overnight accommodations include sixty-plus basic camper cabins with table, beds, porch, and an outdoor fire ring. Most have heat and electricity and rent for $50 a night. Even comfier are various guest houses or the more affordable suites at Itasca, complete with indoor plumbing, hot shower, kitchen and TV. Winter suite guests pay a reduced off-season price of $99. “Those are great for families,” commented Arndt. All can be reserved up to a year in advance, with greater availability Sunday through Thursday nights.
For families planning a winter getaway, Arndt suggests several “combo” trips.
Trip 1: Attend a candlelight event and rent a cabin or guesthouse. “Actually staying overnight in a park in the winter—I think there’s something that’s kind of adventurous and cool and different about that,” said Arndt.
Trip 2: Rent a cabin and go snowshoeing (a pair rents for $6 a day at various parks). “If you can walk, you can snowshoe, and kids seem to just love snowshoeing,” she explained. Arndt recommends bringing a fun game or indoor activity for after dark, or even taking a short nighttime snowshoe walk—no fear of getting lost with the big tracks.
Trip 3: Rent a cabin and go geocaching. Borrow free GPS units and learn to geocache at one of the demo state parks.
Trip 4: Rent an Itasca suite for a weekend combined with a winter naturalist event.
These are a handful of fun winter getaway options. To inspire others to get outdoors, state parks gift cards are another good idea. More info about permits, reservations and winter park activities can be found at mndnr.gov.