Skiing the Chippewa National Forest

Jan 5, 2021Skiing

By Peter Friedlieb
The Chippewa National Forest north of Grand Rapids is one of my favorite cross-country skiing destinations in Minnesota. The trails are scenic and range from fun and easy to challenging even the most adept skier. Whether you’re in the mood for an easy meander through the woods or a rigorous workout, you’ll find it there. The area around Grand Rapids has over 200km of groomed trails and I’m fortunate to live close by and be able to ski there all the time. More about skiing in the Grand Rapids area

A woman skis through a forest of pine trees

Last Christmas I skied the trails around the historic Joyce Estate in the Trout Lake Recreation Area with my daughters Rachel and Tash. Our trip started at the parking lot on Bluewater Road. The double tracks were groomed to perfection and we skied alongside each other at a pace that let us visit, interrupted only by a gentle uphill or swooping downhill. The mixed hardwood and pine forest opened occasionally to show us Moore Lake, and later, Trout Lake. After 5km we arrived at the historic Joyce Estate Lodge late in the afternoon and decided we’d best hustle back before the short December day turned to night.

Rachel felt a bit chilled, sped ahead to the car and soon disappeared into the woods. Tasha and I skied together at a relaxed pace for a few minutes when I remembered I had the car keys. I took off and caught up to Rachel 10 minutes later. When I returned to Tash, I found her flushed and excited. Shortly after I had left, she saw a deer bound across the trail about 20 feet away, followed by a large wolf in hot pursuit. A rare sight, indeed! We chatted about this wonderful, wild encounter the whole way back to the car.

Wolf tracks next to a ski in the snow

Another favorite of mine are the Suomi Hills. My friends and I like to get together and ski off the winter holiday calories each year with a 26km trek on these trails.
The Suomi Hills system is roughly shaped like a dumbbell and consists of a North and South section, connected by a 8km two-way trail. The southern loop is nice for the intermediate skier and has some longer uphill climbs with occasional turns at the bottom. From there, the connecting trail rolls nicely into the 10 km Spruce Island Lake loop of the northern trail cluster. That loop is also accessible from the North Suomi Hills parking lot. It starts with a short climb, followed by a long downhill with a 90-degree corner halfway through, plunging you down to the flats leading to Doctor Hill. It was named for the nearby lake, but as I fight my way up, I can’t help but think I may need to see my physician, because it is all herringbone and panting to the top. After the hill, this challenging loop winds through the pines with corners and exhilarating drops and will give you a great workout.

A group of skiers pose for a photo in a forest
A group of skiers pose for a photo in a forest

Editor’s Note: volunteer members of the Northern Lights Nordic Ski Club maintain the trails mentioned here. Like many ski clubs in Minnesota, they depend on you, the skier, to purchase a Great Minnesota Ski Pass to help offset the cost of grooming. Find out more about the Great Minnesota Ski Pass.

This story originally appeared in the 2016/17 winter issue of Trails.

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I’m Jan, the publisher of Minnesota Trails Magazine. I’m looking for that one trail, the next ride, a new discovery and other reasons never to sit still in Minnesota.

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