Winter in Minnesota often feels like it lasts half the year. From mid-October through mid-April, snow is always a possibility. Long after the magic of the season's first snowflakes has worn off - and after the holiday cheer has faded into frigid despair, when summer feels like a distant dream - the cold drags on ... And on ... And on ...
If you can't afford to get away to some tropical paradise (or even if you can), why not make the most of the season by checking some things off your bucket list? Bring along some friends (or your sweetheart) while you're at it. No matter how low the temperatures plummet, you're sure to find warmth in their company.
Where: Loring Park (Minneapolis)
Get into the holiday spirit with this charming outdoor celebration. Once a roving parade of lights brightening up downtown in the weeks before Christmas, the Holidazzle has since taken up permanent residence in Loring Park, expanding to a full-fledged winter village. Here you can visit Santa and his sleigh, find some unique gifts for your family and friends at the vendor shops, get some delicious eats (and drinks) and watch the fireworks. It's a dazzling sight against the backdrop of the snowy cityscape.
Hike to the frozen High Falls at Pigeon River
Where: Grand Portage
Straddling the Canadian border, this 120-foot waterfall is the highest (and arguably most spectacular) in Minnesota. And it's just as stunning in the winter. Take a short hike through the snowy woods to see the frozen falls.
Watch the surfers brave the frigid waves of Lake Superior
Wait, there's actually a surfing culture in the Midwest? In the winter? Yes, and it's as mind-blowing (and bone-chilling) as it sounds.
Every winter, a handful of hardy souls break out their boards and their wetsuits and head out to the unsalted sea. It's a rare day when the surf near Duluth breaks just right. Some even drive up from the Twin Cities just to catch a good wave.
Sure, they emerge with icicles hanging from their beards and nostrils. But at least there are no sharks to worry about.
Christmas City Express
Take a train ride to the North Pole. Well, it sure feels like the North Pole this time of year in Duluth. After hopping aboard the festively adorned train car, you'll chug along to the historic downtown Depot, home of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. There, you'll find carolers, a reading of the Christmas City Express story and, of course, Jolly Old Saint Nicholas himself.
Lace up and hit the ice at Wells Fargo WinterSkate
Where: Downtown Saint Paul
Every winter, the plaza outside the historic Landmark Center floods with ice for a seasonal open-skate experience. The only outdoor skating rink in downtown St. Paul, it has a stunning backdrop - and, best of all, it's free!
Take a stroll through the Bentleyville Tour of Lights
Chances are, if you've lived through at least one holiday season in Minnesota, you've heard of Bentleville. It's the largest walk-through holiday light display in the nation. Sprawled along the shore of Lake Superior in Duluth's Bayfront Park, it's the perfect place for a romantic nighttime stroll with your s/o. Warm your hands at one of the many campfire stations, and grab some cookies and hot cocoa to keep your tummy warm, too.
While you're in town, pop up to Enger Tower on the ridge overlooking the city for some spectular views.
Hitch up for a sled-dog ride in the north woods
Ever dreamed of speeding through the snow-covered woods on a dogsled, Iron-Will style? Head a few hours north to make your dream come true. At Chilly Sled Dogs in Ely, you can choose from a 1-hour, 2-hour or full day trip through a winter wonderland - and make some canine friends while you're at it. Mush!
Go winter camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Where: Northern Minnesota
Camping isn't just for warm weather. Why deal with crowds and waitlists to get a BWCA permit during prime summer season when you can just go in the winter instead? With the right gear, you can stay warm while enjoying a magical snowy setting. The silence at night is unearthly - and if you're lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the northern lights shimmering above a frozen lake.
Not sure you can rough it in a tent when it's in the single digits? Try a yurt instead. This Grand Marais-based outfitter offers nightly yurt rentals for an experience that's a bit more "glampy."
Hit the slopes at Lutsen Mountains
Where: Lutsen (North Shore)
The closest thing you'll find to mountains in the Midwest, Lutsen is the perfect winter weekend getaway. Here you'll find bunny hills, black diamonds, and everything in between - not to mention stunning views of Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountains. With 95 runs spanning four mountains, it's the biggest ski resort in Minnesota.
While you're there, don't miss the breathtaking gondola ride to Moose Mountain. The Summit Chalet at the top boasts some of the most spectacular views in the state.
Join the festivities at the City of Lakes Loppet
Where: Minneapolis/Golden Valley
You might be mourning the fact that there's no Crashed Ice in Saint Paul this year, but at least the Loppet is still on! This annual event taps into our state's Nordic heritage with four days of cross-country skiing events. Sure, it might not be as thrilling as watching daredevils skate down a steep ice-covered breakneck speed, but it's still worth watching! Especially the skijoring - a cross between dog-sledding (with a single dog) and cross-country skiing. Plus, there's live music, luminaries, vendors, beer and more -all at the Loppet Foundation's new headquarters in Theodore Wirth Park.
Get a drink at the world's only ice-fishing bar
Where: Pelican Rapids
Ice houses run the gamut from popup shacks with cardboard-thin walls to miniature bunkhouses with satellite TVs to...well, an entire bar. At Hillbillies Ice Hole Bar on Lake Lida, you can drop a line while staying warm. The bar is literally situated atop a frozen lake. Since it's only open for a few weeks every year - in the dead of winter, when the ice is thickest - you can drive right out in your vehicle (or snowmobile). This unique dive was featured on CNN's Great Big Story.
If you're feeling especially brave, or want to impress your girlfriend, go for the bar's most infamous drink - the minnow shot. Yes, it involves gulping down a wiggling live minnow.
Watch an iceboating regatta
Where: Lake Minnetonka, Lake Pepin, Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) and White Bear Lake are your best bets
From its Nordic roots more than 400 years ago, iceboating has gradually made its way westward. Now it's fairly common in places like Nova Scotia and Wisconsin. In Minnesota, however, it's still rare enough to make you look twice when you catch a glimpse of what looks like a cross between a windsurfing sail and kayak with long parallel blades speeding across a frozen lake.
The sport itself is a bit more intense than, say, sailing on a warm lake in the summer. For starters, iceboaters routinely fly across the ice at more than 60 mph (and some types of craft can easily achieve more than 100 mph!). To sail safely, weather and ice conditions must be near-perfect. And iceboaters must have a keen understanding of how to harness the wind.
Intrigued? The Minnesota Ice Sailing Association is one of the few organizations in our state devoted to the sport. You can also check out the Minnesota Iceboaters Facebook group for information on upcoming events.
Do the Polar Plunge
Where: Multiple locations across Minnesota
Every winter, thousands of people across the state jump into the near-freezing water to raise money for Special Olympics Minnesota. It's a chance to do some good while gaining undisputed bragging rights. Check out the website for dates and locations. And don't forget to wear a costume!
Try your hand at curling
Where: Various clubs around the Twin Cities, Duluth and Greater Minnesota
I'd be remiss to cover winter in Minnesota without mentioning curling. Our state is arguably the nation's mecca for this niche sport. In the 2018 Olympics, nine of Team USA's 12 members hailed from Minnesota (including all five of the gold-winning men's team).
The sport is more than just a curiosity; for many, it's a passion. So why not give it a shot? (Er, a throw.)
Head to Saint Paul for the Winter Carnival
Where: Downtown Saint Paul and Minnesota State Fairgrounds
If you can't escape winter in Minnesota, why not embrace it? That's what this weeklong celebration is all about. The carnival centers on the legend of Boreas, the "King of the Winds" who first discovered the winter wonderland of Saint Paul and here established his realm.
Take your pick from dozens of events and activities - both indoor and outdoor: daylight and torchlight parades, a snowy fun run, a puzzle contest, orchid show, dance party, and city-wide medallion hunt. While the main event takes place downtown, you can also head to the Snow Park at the State Fairgrounds, where you'll find a giant slide, snow sculpting contest, barstool ski races and more
The Winter Carnival holds a hallowed place in the city's history, going back more than 132 years. There's a rich lore surrounding it, with new royalty crowned each year.