10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota

By: Rachel Ingram

December 15, 2015

Minnesota may be dubbed the “˜Land of 10,000 Lakes’, but when temperatures drop and waters freeze, the state transforms into a thrill-seeker’s winter wonderland. A frozen metropolis with plenty of adventure opportunities, Minnesota is one of America’s greatest winter sports destinations, especially given its lengthy winters. Fly into Minneapolis and discover the snow-covered delights of the Twin Cities, before exploring the wider state, where beautiful landscapes and action-packed activities await. From cross-country skiing and ice climbing, to dog sledding and ice fishing, the wastes of Minnesota are perfect for adrenaline-fuelled adventures. Whether you want to dust off your skis or try a new sport – skijoring and snow kiting are two particularly intriguing new fads – these are the best winter sports in Minnesota.


Dog sledding

10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
Dog sledding is a popular winter activity in Ely © Explore Minnesota

Taking a leaf out of its Canadian neighbour’s book, Minnesota has become a hub for Alaskan-style dog sledding. If you’re an animal lover, the only way to traverse the state’s snowy parks is on a sled pulled by huskies. Ely is one of the best sledding locations and day trips are offered by a number of companies, such as Chilly Dog Sled Trips and White Wolf Dog Sled Trips. Make a holiday out of the experience by booking the world’s only dedicated dog sled package at Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, and enjoy action-packed days with your canine friends before settling down for the night in a deluxe lakeshore lodge.



10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
Try out skijoring at Theodore Wirth Park © Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Similar to dog sledding but arguably more adventurous, skijoring involves being dragged across the snow by dogs while wearing skis. The sensation is like that of water skiing, except you’re pulled from your waist by bungee lines rather than by holding a bar. Unlike traditional skiing, there are usually no poles to provide balance so it’s quite a challenge, and as your fate lies in the hands of your furry companions being confident with animals is a bonus. Adding fire to the fashionable sport, Itasca State Park has built a 3.5km dedicated skijoring trail. Just remember to yell “˜trail’ when passing another skijorer to avoid a surprise collision.


Pond hockey

10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
The US Pond Hockey Championships © US Pond Hockey

Pond hockey is one of the most popular winter sports in Minnesota. A picturesque take on traditional ice hockey, this sport is practiced as nature intended – on frozen lakes. Besides location, there are a few key differences between the sports. Firstly, pond hockey rinks are smaller than in ice hockey. There are also no solid barriers to contact flying pucks and there’s often no particular goalie, so it can get a little crazy. Minnesota is a centre for the sport and every January the state hosts the US Pond Hockey Championships at Lake Nokomis. Amateurs can practice on public lakes such as Lake Minnetonka, Lake Bemidji, Pelican Lake and Green Lake.


Ice fishing

10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
Ice fishing offers a fun day out during winter © Explore Minnesota

Ice fishing is just like regular fishing, except in freezing temperatures. Each winter from early December through to March, hoards of fishing fanatics pitch up at Minnesota’s many lakes laden with beers, barbecues, and pick-axes to hack a hole in the ice and wait patiently for their prey to bite. Depending on how clear the ice is, you may not be able to see the catch you’re reeling in until it breaches the surface, which only adds to the thrill. Popular spots include Lake Mille Lacs, Thompon Lake, Beaver Lake and Wolfe Lake. Note that a fishing license must be purchased.


Cross-country skiing

10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
You can even ski within sight of the city at Theodore Wirth Park © Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Minnesota is home to 14 snow-covered hills that attract thousands of ski and snowboarding enthusiasts every year. While mountain elevation doesn’t compare to Europe, having a multitude of vastly different ski resorts within a short drive makes it an action-packed stateside alternative. At 1,700 feet, the highest summit is Lutsen Mountain – which is also the largest ski resort in Mid America – with 90 runs over four peaks covering an area of more than 1,000 acres. Another hotspot is Giants Ridge ski resort, which features a mix of downhill runs, cross country trails and a snowboarding park.



10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
Snowmobiling is great for adrenaline junkies © Mille Lacs Area Tourism/RedHouseMedia

With a staggering 22,000 miles of dedicated trails across the state, snowmobiling is one of Minnesota’s best-loved adrenaline sports. Its popularity is, in part, down to the beauty of the region. Trails run through sparking white snowy parks and thick evergreen forests, passing vast frozen lakes and cosy nature lodges where enthusiasts can warm up and exchange stories. Rocketing down trails on a motorised sled also makes for a thrilling rush, whether you feel the need for speed or not.


Ice climbing

10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
Climb the dramatic frozen waterfalls in Sandstone’s Robinson Park © Explore Minnesota

When the lakes freeze over, so do the waterfalls. Columns of water frozen in motion as they cascade over cliff edges is a beautiful sight to behold and provides an even more exciting climbing opportunity. Two hours north of Minneapolis in Sandstone’s Robinson Park, adventurous climbers can find a wide array of “˜icefalls’ to commandeer. The park also hosts the Sandstone Ice festival, where beginners can sign up for clinics and pros can rent equipment and tackle the ice wall head on.



10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
Snow kiting has become increasingly popular in Minnesota © Mille Lacs Area Tourism/RedHouseMedia

One of the latest fads to appear in the long list of winter sports in Minnesota is snowkiting. The sport is, essentially, kite surfing on snow instead of water. Strong winds are essential as snowkiters need to harness the power of the wind to propel themselves across the surface or into the sky – if the wind is right, snowkiters can travel hundreds of feet. Snowkiting can be practiced on any wide plain of snow or frozen lake. If you’re not sure where to start, Dynamik Kiteboarding offers lessons on Lake Minnetonka, White Bear Lake, Lake Waconia and Lake Calhoun.


Fat biking

10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
Try your hand at fat biking in Minnesota © Aaron Hautala

If you’re a keen cyclist, don’t worry – just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean your season is over. Minnesotan bike enthusiasts have found a clever way to adapt to changing seasons by swapping thin road tires to extra-large low-pressure tires that can be used on snow. Due to the width of the tires, the sport has become known as “˜fat biking’ and a number of state parks have created special fat bike trails. In the north, Cuyana County State Recreation Area has 20 miles of premier groomed fat bike dedicated trails, while in the south, Douglas State Park has 13 miles of non-motorised trails that are perfect for the sport.


Ice skating

10 of the best winter sports in Minnesota
Take to the ice at the Depot in Minneapolis © The Depot

If you’re staying in Minneapolis, a trip isn’t complete without visiting the city’s famous ice rink, The Depot. Open until early March, the rink is a great family-friendly day out and offers free-skate and instructed lesson options. Once you’ve perfected your skills, there are many frozen lakes across the state where you can take skating to the next level.


Header image: Tubing at Theodore Wirth Park © Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board


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Have you tried any of these winter sports in Minnesota? Which was your favourite? Let us know in the comments section below.


Written by Rachel Ingram


Rachel Ingram

A globetrotter by heart and a journalist by trade, Rachel has lived across the globe, from the UAE to New Zealand. From her current base in London, she works as an editor and freelance writer specialising in travel and luxury lifestyle. When she’s not writing, Rachel can be found holiday planning, consuming her weight in Asian cuisine and trying out the latest cocktail bars – all for work, of course.

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