The Current

Great Music Lives Here ®
Listener-Supported Music
Donate Now
News and Interviews

Ten events for getting active outdoors in Minnesota this winter

Founded in 1984, the Ely Winter Festival is now a ten-day February celebration.
Founded in 1984, the Ely Winter Festival is now a ten-day February celebration.via Ely Winter Festival on Facebook

by Lydia Moran and Jay Gabler

January 10, 2022

Part of being warm and cozy is knowing that outside there are the biting cold, whipping winds, and snow piles that accompany winter in the Upper Midwest. And hygge isn’t just about hibernating: it’s also about being active in the great outdoors and celebrating the natural world.

So rather than hunkering down until March or May, try stepping into the thick of it and letting the sun hit your face. Attempt a new way of getting around, see art, hang out (safely) with some strangers, and bundle up! Here are ten ideas for pursuing outdoor fun.

Enjoy the parks

All winter long

Communities across Minnesota have a long history of investing in parks, and today we can reap the rewards: access to beautiful outdoor spaces tailored for both planned and spontaneous activities year-round. That includes winter, so be sure to check your local parks for opportunities to ski, skijor, fish, skate, sled, snowshoe, tube, or - what the heck - just walk! (JG)

Hours and locations vary across Minneapolis, St. Paul, and elsewhere

Ice Palace Maze in Stillwater

January 14 through March 7

More than 29,000 blocks of ice were used to construct the largest ice maze in the United States, and it's right at home on the banks of the St. Croix River at Stillwater’s Zephyr Theatre. There’s an ice slide; an ice bar serving adult beverages; a larger-than-life ice queen (or two); s’mores and hot chocolate; and half a mile of winding passages to keep you on your toes. (LM)

Open Monday - Friday 2 p.m.- 10p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 12 p.m. - 10 p.m. 601 Main St. N, Stillwater. $14 children under 12, $22 adults.

Art Shanty Projects

Weekends January 15 through February 6

The sparkling surface of frozen Bde Unma (Lake Harriet) plays host to this colorful village of artist-created temporary structures and interactive experiences. After a 2021 hiatus, this year will feature shanties that can be experienced safely outdoors — rather than packed like sardines into a tiny pirate ship, for example — and more activities will focus on warmth-generation such as Thakápsičapi (Dakota for lacrosse). Climate change awareness appears to be a theme with Lady Bear returning to the ice (a roving polar bear with a message about her melting home), and Fashion Disasters serving wildfire, drought, and oil spill-inspired haute couture. And once you’re properly furious about our dying planet, head over to Reduce, Reuse, Rage to smash some ice about it. (LM)

10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Lake Harriet, Minneapolis. Free; donation suggested.

Wearable ArtCar and ArtBikes Parade

 Saturdays January 15 through February 6

Rumor has it this is the world’s only parade of walking vehicles, and it kicks off all four weekends of Art Shanty happenings at the Lake Harriet Bandshell. The annual celebration of south Minneapolis quirk began in 1995 and featured real decorated cars, bikes, and a mobile couch. This year everyone is encouraged to break out the cardboard, paper mache, sequins, etc., and take a stroll around the Art Shanty Village. (LM)

11 a.m. Lake Harriet Bandshell, Minneapolis. Free; donation suggested.

Owl Prowls

January 15 and February 12

Owls are masters of stealth, so if you’re not accustomed to seeing them that does not mean they aren’t living nearby. At the International Owl Center in southeastern Minnesota, owl lovers and novices alike can learn how to identify local owls by sight and sound. Following an indoor introduction, participants will caravan with naturalists in their vehicles to a few known owl territories and call and listen for eastern screech-owls, barred owls, and great horned owls. (LM)

4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. 126 E. Cedar St. Houston. $15. 

Full Wolf Moon Snowshoe Hike at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

January 16

Hiking at night isn’t a bad idea when the sun sets before 5 p.m. Pretend to be on another planet at this after-hours special when the moon casts its glow on the snow-covered expanse of the Arb. Snowshoe rental is available on a first-come, first-served basis. And not to worry, your journey will be lit with tea lights. Afterward, trekkers warm up with a cup of hot cocoa around the bonfire. (LM)

5 p.m. – 8 p.m. 3675 Arboretum Dr. Chaska. $5 admission for members and children under 15, $20 for non-members; snowshoe rental $7 per hour.

Ely Winter Festival

February 3-13

What began in 1984 as a celebration at the finish line of a cross-country ski race from Tower to Ely is now ten days of packed festivities, including infamous snow carvings and the Ely ArtWalk. Visitors can carve a walking stick with the Ely Folk School, compete in a beard and mustache competition, snowshoe over to Sigurd Olson’s Listening Point — the options are endless. Plus, because Northern Minnesota is mostly sheltered with forest and the air is dry in winter, it is easy to stay outside — with proper attire, of course. (LM)

Throughout Ely. General festival is free; class prices vary.

Midwinter Family Fun at Belwin Conservancy

February 5

When we spend time in nature, we are happier and healthier and more motivated to protect it. That’s the thinking behind Belwin Conservancy’s 1,500 protected acres in the St. Croix Valley, where families can join in celebrating the season with arts and ecologically-minded activities. Meet a raptor from Carpenter Nature Center, watch the stars with Minnesota Astronomical Society members, gaze at a fire while munching on s’mores, and warm up inside Belwin’s Education Center and observatory. (LM)

7 p.m. 1553 Stagecoach Trail S., Afton. $10 per car.

Luminary Loppet

February 5

What would a compilation of outdoor winter festivities be without the “most magical event of the season?” You can strap on snowshoes, dawn skis, or lace-up boots to journey a winding candlelit trail across Lake of the Isles. Over 1,000 luminaries (ice sculptures lit from the inside) will line the way including Ice Henge and Ice Cropolis. Fire dancers and live music — including local rocker Dan Israel — star in the REI Luminary Party along with food trucks, beer, and photo booths to capture your winter glow. It’s part of the Great Northern, a mega-festival of winter fun; watch for a full preview on Jan. 24 as The Current’s 89 Days of Winter series continues. (LM)

6 p.m.-10 p.m. Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis. $20-$40.

Winter Beer Dabbler

February 19

Walking around the State Fairgrounds counts as being active, right? Bring your step counter and your taste buds to Falcon Heights on Feb. 19 for the Winter Beer Dabbler. An impressive roster of breweries, cideries, wineries, and seltzeries from across the region will be sharing samples with attendees at this seasonal celebration of craft beverages. There will also be live music and food trucks: you don’t want, after all, to drink on an empty stomach. (JG)

3:00-6:30 p.m. (open at 2 p.m. for early access ticket holders) 1265 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul. $55-$75 ($20 for designated driver tickets)

Animated graphic with snow falling.
The long dark nights of Minnesota winter open our eyes to the wonders of the starry sky and the thrills of chasing the Aurora Borealis.
Marlena Myles for The Current

This feature is part of The Current’s 89 Days of Winter series, helping you enjoy the best of the season with weekly guides to events, entertainment, and recreation in the Twin Cities.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.