Embrace Dark Minnesota Nights: Candle light events in Minnesota

Experience Minnesota State Parks in a whole new light, or lack there of. Hike, snowshoe and ski at these evening winter adventures to give you a chance to see a different side of the wilderness.

Updated for the 2023 winter season

There is something truly enchanting about experiencing a wintery woods in the darkness. So many in the Midwest complain of the long, cold, dark winters. Then, there are those who embrace the darkness to see the glow of the snow under the moonlight. It brings out a different kind of beauty that is only witnessed by those willing to seek it.

I have compiled a list of events that take place around Minnesota to give you the opportunity to seek the beauty. Get out and enjoy a few before the winter melts away.

Illuminated Events

Twinkle Light Trail- Lake Itasca State Park- November 24th- March 15th (snow conditions vary). This event is not run on just one day of the season. The 3/4 mile trail near the Bear Paw Campground is lit for 3 months. This whimsical trail is available for hikers, snowshoers and skiers but the trail is not groomed for skis. The electric twinkle lights are illuminated from sundown to 10pm for your viewing and adventure.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7), Ski pass, if over 16 years old and skiing (Daily $10, yearly $25)

Candle Light Events

Northern Minnesota

Itasca State Park- January 21st 5-7:30pm & February 18th 5:30-8pm While Itasca has it’s Twinkle Light Trail all season long, it also holds a lantern light event for snowshoers and skiers on a 3.5 mile round trip trail. At the visitors center, limited snowshoes and skis are available on a first come first serve basis. This is a bring your own supplies style event. This includes brining your own snowshoes/skies, snacks, hot cocoa, s’more supplies, hotdogs and roasting sticks. A fire will be available for warming up and roasting dogs & mallows.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Mille Lacs Kathio State Park- February 4th 6pm-9:30pm The candle light trail will be between the Trail Center and the Interpretive Center. The trail is available to snowshoers, skiers and hikers. Trails will be packed but not groomed, ski conditions vary. Snowshoe and ski rentals are available on a first come, first serve basis at $6 per snowshoe pair and $10 per ski set. There will be a fire to warm you up after your wintery hike.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7), Ski pass, if over 16 years old and skiing (Daily $10, yearly $25)

Lake Bemidji State Park- January 28th 6pm-8pm & February 11th 6pm-9pm Lake Bemidji State park will have 3 miles lit by candles for Cross Country Skiers. This is a cross country ski event on groomed trails, so a pass and skis are a must.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7), Ski pass, if over 16 years old and skiing (daily $10, yearly $25)

Gooseberry Falls- February 18th 6pm-8:30pm Candles light the way along trails for skiing, hiking, and snowshoeing in Minnesota’s most popular state park. The trail begins at the visitors center with marshmallows and a fire at the Lady Slipper Amphitheater. After the hike there is hot cocoa and cookies back at the visitor’s center.

Central Minnesota

Afton State Park- February 4th 5-8pm A 3 mile loop hike lit by candlelight awaits at Afton State Park, just half an hour east of the Twin Cities. It is recommended to bring along ice cleats for boots. Dogs are welcome on leash, yay! Fire warming stations are placed at the beginning/end of the hike and at a halfway point.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Frontenac State Park- February 4th 6pm-8-pm Snowshoeing, skiing, or hiking at this candlelit trail event will have you in awe at this beautiful park. Campfires will greet you at either end of this trail along with a warming shelter equipped with a woodstove. Snowshoe rentals are available for $6 on a first come, first serve basis.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7), Ski pass, if over 16 years old and skiing (daily $10, yearly $25)

Wild River State Park- February 11th 6pm-9pm For more miles of hiking, skiing or snowshoeing visit this park that’s an hour north of the Twin Cities. Five illuminated miles will be available for adventures and an oversized bonfire to warm up by. Skis and snowshoes are available for rent at the Trails Center and can be reserved ahead of time (651-257-0685).

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7), Ski pass, if over 16 years old and skiing (daily $10, yearly $25)

Nerstand Big Woods State Park- January 28th 5:30pm-8:30pm Visit this little park about an hour south of the Twin Cities for a 3.5 mile hike, ski, or snowshoe by candle light. There will be a fire and snacks for warm up chilled hikers after they hit the trail. For more on our experience in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park follow the link.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Sibley State Park- January 21st 5pm-7pm A short .7 mile loop trail lit by lanterns can be hiked at this western MN state park. Warm up by the fire at the amphitheater, bring your own snacks and hot cocoa.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Fort Ridgley State Park- February 4th 5pm-8pm Bonfires and a candle lit trail will make for a magical wintery evening in the woods. The trail begins at the Parks Chalet and winds its way into the forest and prairie. The trail is set for snowshoers and hikers.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Lac Qui Parle State Park- February 4th 6:30pm-8pm This truly unique hiking event is unlike the other candle light hikes due to it’s use of ice in it’s luminary element. The illuminated ice leads down a 1 mile packed snow trail to a warming shelter where hot cocoa and s’mores are waiting to be enjoyed.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Southern Minnesota

Rice Lake State Park- February 4th 5pm-8pm This little park outside of Owatonna goes all out for it’s candle light event with bonfires, hot cocoa and treats. Snowshoe, ski, or hike the 1.5 mile trail or make it shorter with turn off points. A great little nighttime adventure with a shorter trail, perfect for kiddos.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Blue Mounds State Park- February 4th 6pm-8pm Blue Mounds offers a 3 mile hike in it’s beautiful southwest Minnesota park, near Luverne. Be sure to warm up after the hike in the picnic shelter with hot cocoa or settle in by the campfire.

Passes- Day Pass to enter Park ($7)

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park- February 11th 5:30pm-8:30pm A truly unique night time adventure at this southern MN park in Preston. Not only is the 1 mile trail lit by candles but there will be snowshoes available for free and telescopes for viewing the stars and planets. Warm up with hot cocoa and cookies by the fire after your hike.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Myre-Big Island State Park- February 16th 6pm-9pm Snowshoeing and hiking event at a very southern MN state park by candle light. The illuminated trail begins at the Picnic Grounds where a fire will be blazing to warm up hikers with warm beverages available.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Minneopa State Park- February 11th 5pm-8pm Gather at the Minneopa Campground to set out on a winter hike or snowshoe following the candles lighting the trail. The loop will take hikers along the Minneopa creek and gorge. This park is split into two locations. After the hike, a quick drive to the other side of the park bring hikers to the short trail leading Minneopas frozen water fall. For more on Minneopa, follow the link.

Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)

Items to bring along

Beverages: Nothing warms the family up after a chilly walk in the woods like a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Here is a tip; bring a thermos of hot water and hot cocoa packets for your travel mugs (no ceramic mugs, the contrasting temps with shatter them). Thermoses are hard to wash hot cocoa out of, mugs are easier to clean up. If hot chocolate isn’t your speed bring along some tea bags or a tightly sealed thermos of coffee or cider. You’ll be happy you have it at the end of your snow adventure.

S’mores Supplies: Many of the State Park events have a roaring fire ablaze at the end of the trail, this makes for a great opportunity for some s’more making. Not all parks have s’more supplies to accompany their toasty fires, doesn’t hurt to bring your own (don’t forget the roasting stick).

Headlamp: Though the trails are well lit with candles at these events, it’s not a bad idea to bring along a headlamp just in case. We’ve used headlamps for retying boots and fastening snowshoe/ski straps. It’s nice to have a backup light for emergencies.

Warm Gear: Dress for the weather! As night falls the temperature drops. The thermometer might read a different temperature by the end of your hike. Winter boots are a must, don’t try this in summer hiking shoes. Winter hiking boots and summer hiking boots are two very different kinds of footwear. Dressing for the weather should be second nature to most Minnesotans, but I still feel it necessary to mention.

Winter Sport Gear: Bringing your own skis and snowshoes will give you better odds of completing the activity that you have your heart set on. The only other determining factor would be snow conditions. Sometimes mother nature doesn’t always deliver the snow quantity or quality that we are hoping for. When we did our snowshoe hike at Minneopa State Park last year, we ended up leaving the snowshoes in the car, the conditions were better for boot hiking.

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