A Newcomer’s Guide to 9 Winter Activities in Minneapolis Parks (and 1 a Little Farther Afield)
December 12, 2019 by Madeleine Koski
From the window at my desk in the Longfellow House, I have a front row seat to the annual spectacle of a colorful autumn landscape transforming into a stark white snow cover that undoubtedly is settling in for the long haul. For me, it’s a tough reality to stomach on a 5-degree day like yesterday, but the excitement, activity, and beauty that comes with winter in Minnesota is enough to overpower (almost) all sense of gloominess.
As I embark on my first full Minneapolis winter season, I’m realizing the unique opportunities we have here that many other climates can’t offer. With help from my colleagues and friends, I’ve gathered 10 winter activities that will keep you moving, creating, and saying “so long” to cabin fever!
#1. Biking and walking trails
Minneapolis parks are open year-round, and for good reason! Parks offer a whole new landscape in the winter, with snow-covered hills and icicles that catch the sparkling sunlight. While more preparation is required for a park outing in the winter months, there are countless walking and biking trails for a peaceful stroll with your friends, or a wintery grand-rounds cycle. Keep up with tail and parkway information from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
#2. Cross-country skiing
There are more than 20 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails that twist and turn throughout Minneapolis parks, managed by the Loppet Foundation. The trails vary from wide open stretches that offer stunning views of Downtown Minneapolis, to more private, wooded trails that lead to scenic lake overlooks.
Parks with cross-country ski trails:
Theodore Wirth Regional Park
Hiawatha Golf Course
Columbia Golf Course
Chain of Lakes
You will need to purchase a ski pass for all groomed trails within the parks. You can buy daily or seasonal passes online or at any of the Loppet’s winter locations (found at the links below).
Here’s more info on the Loppet Foundation – including trails and up to date conditions.
Here’s more from MPRB on ski passes for the season, as well as rental options.
#3. Carl W. Kroening Interpretive Center
If nature, animals, ecosystems, the outdoors or anything along those lines interests you, the Kroening Interpretive Center is a must visit. They offer exciting nature play groups and exhibits for young kids, as well as full day programs for kids ages 6-12 during breaks and release days. Discover nature and explore the resources at the Kroening Interpretive Center.
#4. Ice skating
Is there anything more peaceful than the feeling of gliding on ice, cool breeze hitting your nose, bundled up on a silent winter night? (Maybe watching someone who knows what they’re doing and not falling over every five minutes). But, if you’re like me in that sense, there is ample opportunity to get out there this winter and practice. Minneapolis Parks maintains outdoor ice rinks at 24 neighborhood parks, and three lakes! Nearly all locations provide warming shelters and free loaner skates available on a first come, first served basis. Many also offer rinks for other recreational uses such as hockey and broomball.
#5. Winter Photography
The winter months offer a new, picturesque landscape throughout Minneapolis. There are countless places to find beauty within the parks, but a few photo worthy spots include:
Minnehaha Falls (be sure to stay only on marked trails here, the ice can be extremely dangerous!)
The Chain of Lakes
Boom Island Park
Here’s a great link that showcases some of Minnesota’s wintery wonders that you can look to capture in your next photoshoot!
This is a great activity for all ages, and one that doesn’t require a big learning curve. Snowshoes strap right onto your boots and make walking through heavy snow infinitely easier. You can take the family out on an exploration through the wooded trails of Theodore Wirth Park, join a naturalist-led trek, or opt to discover your own path!
Here’s more info about snowshoeing. https://www.minneapolisparks.org/activities__events/winter_activities/snowshoeing/
#7. Sledding and tubing
A tale as old as time! Sledding is a classic winter activity that can be just as fun on a baking pan in your backyard as it is on a full-fledged sledding hill with inflatable tubes that take you flying downhill. But just in case you want the latter, check out the sledding and tubing hills that will be ready for action in Minneapolis parks this winter!
#8. Art in(side) the Parks
Looking for something a little bit warmer and more creative? The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board offers art classes at various recreation centers throughout the winter months. Classes for all ages and skill levels await you! This is a wonderful opportunity to embrace a new talent, or even meet a new group of friends. Learn more and register for art classes here
#9. Minneapolis Parks December Holiday Events
There are dozens of fun, family-friendly holiday inspired events happening all over Minneapolis parks this December, from gingerbread house making to Winter Solstice celebrations. Check them all out here.
BONUS: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Bloomington Education and Visitor Center
Although not in Minneapolis, the stretch of natural landscape that surrounds the Minnesota River just south of us is definitely worth mentioning in this post. The refuge is part of a corridor of land and water that extends nearly 70 miles along the river. This is a wonderful destination to escape the urban hustle and bustle. Offering a scenic respite that is home to a wide range of animals, as well as countless nature-based, winter activities to explore. Check out the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.