6 Minnesota State Parks Not to Miss This Winter

Winter does not mark the end of the hiking season here in Minnesota. It marks the change of footwear in Minnesota. Break out the boots, snowshoes, skis, and hot chocolate! It’s winter and we are loving it!

I have put together a short list of State Parks that offer a variety of accommodations for your winter excursions. Try a few activities out, what have you got to lose? It’s a long winter, don’t waste it indoors.

Know Before You Go: Skiers over the age of 16 must have a Great Minnesota Ski Pass to ski on groomed state park and state forest trails in Minnesota. You can purchase your yearly pass($25) here or a daily pass($10) can be purchased in person. Why the fee? It helps pay for the cost of grooming trails.

1. Jay Cooke State Park

For those hard core skiers our there, here you go. This park is for you, with miles and miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult you’ll be in a cross country skiers paradise. For those wanting to keep it less intense, stick closer to the trails near the visitor center. The farther out you venture, the more extreme the trails get. Located just south of Duluth, it’s easy to add in during a weekend trip to the northern city.

Things to do & see:

  • Cross Country Ski- 20 to 32 miles groomed trails depending on snow conditions
  • Snowshoe- 9 miles (keep off groomed trails)
  • Hike- Use snowshoe trails
  • Snowmobile- .87 miles
  • Swinging Bridge
  • Warming House- River Inn Interpretive Center
  • Camping/Camper Cabins
  • Views of St. Louis River
  • Winter Events

2. Wild River State Park

A short hour northeast out of the metro lies a winter wonderland of a park. This park is very well kept during the winter months with many groomed trails for different winter sports. Hold onto your pups, there are many dogs that visit this park with their people. Being that this park is closer to the city, it is a popular day trip location.

Things to do & see:

  • Cross Country Skiing- 19 miles groomed
  • Back Country Skiing- 13 miles ungroomed
  • Skate Skiing- 6 miles groomed
  • Snowshoeing- 5 miles of trails & anywhere off trail
  • Hiking- Use snowshoe trails
  • Ski & Snowshoe Rentals
  • Camping/Camper Cabin
  • Warming House- Trail Center
  • St. Croix River Views

3. Lake Maria State Park

Just an hour northwest of the metro, this park is a great option for those wanting to take a daytrip for some winter fun. Lake Maria State Park usually has winter events such as a candlelit winter hike. Unfortunately, this year events have been canceled. We are a bit bummed, but there are plenty of winter adventures to be had by daylight.

Things to do & see:

  • Cross Country Ski- 6 miles groomed trails
  • Skate Ski- 2 miles groomed trail
  • Snowshoe- any ungroomed trail
  • Hike- any ungroomed trail
  • Pond & Lake Views
  • Warming House- Trail Center (may vary due to covid)
  • Secluded Camping/Walk-in Camper Cabins

4. Itasca State Park

This is on my list! We have visited Itasca State Park during the summer months and will do many more visits in the coming years, my parents have hunting land conveniently located 40 minutes from this park. I have yet to visit in the winter and am very eager to do so. I have looked into the activities and will have a hard time choosing which to do!

Things to do & see:

  • Hike- ungroomed trails
  • Snowshoe- anywhere/ungroomed trails (rentals available)
  • Ski- 13 miles groomed trails
  • Skate Ski
  • Snowmobile: 31 Miles around perimeter, connects trails leading to nearby towns
  • Twinkle Light Trail (for night hiking)
  • Numerous Organized Events
  • Headwaters of the Mississippi River
  • Warming House- Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
  • Camping & other Lodging

5. Minneopa State Park

Minneopa State Park is just an hour and a half southeast of the Twin Cities. Not a far drive for what’s in store at this park. The trails are not as numerous as other parks. But you’ll have plenty of things to stop and see, if you arrive before dark that is. We had the pleasure of participating in a candle light hike at night. Though we were unable to see the bison in the dark, it was a near full moon and the frozen waterfalls were spectacular in the moonlight. With far fewer folks out in the dark, we were able to hear the trickle of water still flowing around the ice.

Things to do & see:

  • Hiking- 5 miles
  • Snowshoe- anywhere
  • Ski- use hiking trials (ungroomed)
  • Bison Viewing
  • Waterfall Viewing
  • Bison Drive (closed on Wednesdays)
  • Camper Cabin/Camping
  • Winter Events

6. Gooseberry

The north shore holds Gooseberry Falls, one of our family favorites. Currently our daughters all time favorite. Visiting this park during the winter months eliminates the excessive crowds at this very popular park and creates a more serene environment for exploring the beautiful area. For more on Gooseberry in the winter click here.

Things to do & see:

  • Hike- use snowshoe trails
  • Snowshoe- ungroomed trails & anywhere ungroomed
  • Cross Country Ski- 12 miles groomed
  • Snowmobile- 2 miles
  • Waterfall viewing
  • Lake Superior Shoreline
  • Warming House- Visitor Center
  • Camping

Bonus Park: Split Rock

After Visiting Gooseberry, travel up the road a few miles to check out Split Rock Lighthouse. Stop in for just a quick peak at the light house or enjoy 8 miles of fat tire biking or snowshoeing.

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