it would be an oversight to leave Minnesota out of my winter series, seeing as that’s the state where I learned everything I know about winter camping, snowshoeing and everything else winter. Up in the northern bits of the state, conditions get harsh. It is where arctic explorers go to train, dontcha know?! It gets super cold, very windy and quite snowy. No one is deep in the wilderness during the winter, which means complete solitude. Minnesota’s northern wild is a different place in the winter. You might even hear wolves if youre lucky!
Much like I gave a warning about exploring the wilderness in Colorado during the winter months, I am going to go ahead and give a similar warning about Minnesota. No, you don’t need crampons and an ice axe and you wont have to worry about avalanche. But do keep in mind how easy it is to get lost or totally turned around in old growth forest covered in snow. Don’t underplay how freezing it can get in a very short period of time. And remember, if you need to start an emergency fire, that can be nearly impossible in Minnesota’s very wet wild. Come prepared and tell someone what your plan is. Even for a day hike.
Due to the winter trails being much different than the three season trails, I am going to leave out exact stats, such as mileage and elevation. Most of what I am recommending fall into one of two categories; state park or part of a very large trail system. Both of which allow personalization. Whether its doing a 15 mile out and back- just a segment of a massive trail, or a 7 mile loop that you’ve crafted from three smaller loops, winter leaves a lot of wiggle room to play around with your goal for the day!
This road goes through Cook County, which is one of Minnesota’s most beautiful areas. A lot of it goes through the BWCAW and the waterfalls in this area are gorgeous. Off this road, you can access hundred of miles of trail. Much of which are quite short, making it possible to have a day of road trip with lots of little hiking excursions. THIS SITE gives a small list of some really great little hikes along the way.
This is one of those little hikes from the Gunflint. But I really like it, so I wanted to give it it’s own write up. Pincushion offers views of Lake Surperior that are brilliant. It’s “summit” is very picturesque and gives hikers a more unique view of the Great Lake than other, more common hikes. Such as the lighthouse or views from Artists Point. There are a few ways to access Pincushion, depending on how long of a day you’d like to have.
Frontenac State Park
This may be me throwing a bone to the southern part of the state, but Frontenac is super pretty and deserves some winter love. Much like the other state parks on this list, you can make a trail here that’s short or long, depending on how you connect various loops. Depending on the trails you select, this park can get very steep. A lot of the trails include stairs (in the summer) that become totally converted in the winter. So you may be bushwhacking a little bit in the winter, but isn’t that such fun?
Jay Cooke State Park
This state park offers some of what’s best about Minnesota! Waterfalls, rolling streams and rivers, and really beautiful forest. At Jay Cooke, you’ll have the most fun connecting loops to make your custom trail. Silver Creek to Bear Chase to Lost Lake to Upper Lake is my favorite chain of loops. You can toss the Spruce Trail on to make it a bit longer. The further out you go in this park, the fewer people you’ll see. Most routes will take you over the suspension bridge as well. Weeeee!
Eagle Mountain in the winter is super fun. The snow gets deep and the only tracks you’ll see will be those of cross country skis. The trails are marks well enough, but you must pay attention to where youre going, or you could easily get lost. The BWCAW doesn’t overdo it with signage. At any rate, this dense forest makes for an adventurous snowshoe and the views get very marvelous as you trek on. This is one of my favorite areas in the state, of course made more beautiful by snow.
Where is your favorite spot to snowshoe in the Midwest? I’d love to hear about these wonderful places.
Thanks for being a part of my winter series. If you learned something, excellent. If you enjoyed it, yay! I wish you nothing but the most beautiful adventures this winter.