Living in Minneapolis

Winter in Minnesota – things to do OUTSIDE!

Believe it or not, Minnesotans LOVE winter! In other places I’ve lived the attitude has been MUCH different, people thought of winter as something to get through, not something to celebrate. That change in perspective makes ALL the difference, in my opinion. I’m especially grateful for the way that winter is embraced here this year as we look for ways to stay healthy and have fun while staying safe.

Today I’ll give you a list of 10 things that Minnesotans do to have fun OUTSIDE in the winter. Many of these are free or low cost ways to enjoy the season, and they range from simple to more adventurous.

Dog Sledding

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I’ll start with the one I most want to do this winter – mushing on a dog sled! We did a training run in a buggy in Alaska once and it was fun, but I want to do the real deal! There are several outfitters in northern MN that have excursions for regular people. They range from a short run to primitive camping trip accessed by dog sled. I’m not sure that I want to camp in winter, but it’s an option. I’d much rather stay somewhere like the Gunflint Lodge in Grand Marais and let them handle the hard stuff while I enjoy the dogs and all of the other fun things they offer all year round.

Minnesota has several dogsled races if you prefer to watch! The John Beargrease Dog Sled Race is run out of Duluth at the end of January, you can head to Ely for the Wolftrack Classic in February, or check out the Gunflint Mail Run … in 2022. 2021 was nixed for our old enemy Covid.


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Ok – lets bring this down to something closer to home and easier to access for an afternoon out: Snowshoeing! When the snow gets deep this is a great way to be able to head out an enjoy nature without struggling through snow up to your thighs. The good news about snowshoeing is that you can try it for FREE! Minneapolis Parks have loaners that you can sign out of their “Adventure Hubs”- check the Minneapolis Parks web site, Theodore Wirth Park has an amazing network of trails and they rent snow shoes for $12/day, several Minnesota State Parks also rent snow shoes – for a great price – only $6/day. I advise checking their website and calling in advance just due to potential Covid related closures.


If you want more of a thrill and less of a workout, try snow tubing! Our family loves to go to Buck Hill every year and spend a couple of hours ripping downhill on a big inner tube. Buck Hill makes it easy because they have a conveyor style lift that you stand on with the tube behind you and you’re pulled to the top to start again. And at the bottom of the hill is a big bonfire that you can stand around to warm yourself and an outdoor kiosk that serves up hot cocoa. If snow if sparse they make their own, so there is never a reason not to go!

Skiing / Snowboarding

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If tubing isn’t your cup of tea, Buck hill also has down hill skiing and snowboarding. This year you have to buy all your lift passes online before you go. There are lots of options for downhill skiing and snowboarding – the other two that come to mind are Afton Alps near Afton State Park and Hyland Hills ski area. A great option at Hyland Hills if you don’t want to buy a season pass, but think you’ll ski multiple times is a 10 or 6 visit pass. They both rent skis there as well as give lessons.

Nordic or cross country skiing is also very popular! You can rent skis at some parks, like Theodore Wirth, and enjoy miles of groomed trails of varying difficulty. Hyland Hills park also has extensive groomed ski trails and ski rentals as well.

Build a bonfire & make s’mores

Don’t look at me like I’m crazy. You can do this all winter. I walk my dog at night and often see people with fire pits in their driveways, sitting out in lawn chairs around it, chatting and having a drink, and roasting marshmallows. In winter. 🙂 If you like this enough to do it often, check out Solo stoves – they are smokeless fire pits that everyone seems to love and they look really slick too. Perfect for flexing at your neighbors.

Ice fishing

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This one holds ALMOST no attraction for me, except when I think about leaving my house and spending quiet time in another location. I don’t care about the fish.

People in MN LOVE being on the ice. If you get near a body of water in the winter, chances are it will be covered with ice shanties. People leave these little houses out on the ice all winter and hang out in them and fish. And you can catch some seriously large fish here if that’s what you’re into.

If you’re not ready for a shanty – drag your gear out onto the ice in a sled – some people set up little tents or just sit out there with a line through a hole in the ice and fish.

Visit the zoo.

Photo by Diego Madrigal on

OK, this one is a plan ahead because they are temporarily closed due to governor’s orders, BUT they are normally open all year and are a great way to spend time outside looking at the animals. We have two zoos to choose from in the Twin Cities – Como Park Zoo & Conservatory in St. Paul is smaller and FREE. It’s a great zoo to go to if you don’t want to spend a whole day and deal with huge crowds, plus it’s close to home if you live in MPLS or STP.

The Minnesota Zoo is the Mac-Daddy zoo. It’s huge and you’ll have your day cut out for you. We were members for a while and one of the things that we liked was the area where you can pet the stingrays. We also loved the indoor tropical forest path, nice and warm and lots of clear panes on the animal habitats so that you could see them from a lot of angles and in little nooks.


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I can’t even begin to guess how many sled hills there are in the metro area. I make a joke that it sounds like an amusement park at the park next to my house because the minute there is snow on the ground the hill is MOBBED with kids AND adults. No one can wait for this. This year I’m extra grateful to have this easy, fun, free and SAFE choice for my kid to gather with her friends outside. They head over there just about every day, and I feel great that they get fresh air, exercise, and social time. Most parks have a sled hill in them somewhere, and the one down the street doesn’t there will be one not far away – guaranteed!

Ice Skating

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Another freebie for the most part! Almost every park sets up an outdoor skating area in the winter. They flood the field, set up boards for a hockey “arena”, and then leave lots of extra space around it for free skating. Parks in Minneapolis have warming houses where you can .. warm up! and change into and out of your skates. Lots of families donate skates that they have outgrown and the warming house has a wide selection of skates to borrow if you don’t have your own. You can also borrow hockey sticks and pucks if you have a pick-up game and I see adults out on the ice at night playing hockey all the time. Side note that Minneapolis has an ENORMOUS pond hockey tournament every (normal) year. It’s held on Lake Nokomis in south Minneapolis. They set up nearly 30 rinks on the lake!

Winter Festival

If you are more of an extrovert than me and like hanging around a lot of people and maybe you miss that this year – good news! The St. Paul Winter Carnival happens at the end of January /beginning of February. As of now it is still on!

They are featuring a craft brew passport to try some of our great local beers, there is a drive through ice and snow sculpture park, ice fishing and softball tournaments (yes, in the snow!), fun run, art show and more.

That’s about it for now – I’ll be posting some indoor ideas soon!

Neighborhood Tours

St. Louis Park, MN – a winter tour

Theodore Wirth Park has TWELVE sledding hills + tubing + bike & ski trails… it’s fun to be outside in winter!

I made a video on Saint Louis Park – stop by my YouTube Channel!

When I make neighborhood tour videos for my YouTube channel they always seem to get the most interest, and I stopped doing them when the snow and cold came around. Today I woke up and wondered why I was being such a wimp. I realized I didn’t want to shine a bad light on MN, and people hold so tightly to their convictions about the terrors of snow and cold – in fact a Washington Post reporter that moved to far NW MN from DC and wrote a book and an article about how happy he was and how much he actually enjoyed winter, was fairly viciously attacked in the comments when it posted on line.

So, I guess I was traumatized. undefined

And then I said to myself – NO! I will not let the haters get me down – I will stand in solidarity with Christopher Ingraham and defend winter!

So here goes nothing! Don’t hurt me.

I took myself on a little driving tour of the first ring suburb of St. Louis Park. It sits directly west of the city and abuts the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis on one side and the City of Edina to the south. It is more affordable than the two of them, but because of the proximity to the city and the relatively more affordable prices, it has become a really hot area and things do not stay on the market for very long. The housing stock is pretty typical of SW Minneapolis in general – lots of 1950’s cape style bungalows, gradually giving way to 1960’s and 1970’s ramblers & split levels. I’m adding info about the home prices and the current market to the video….

It would be easy to picture the Brady Bunch living in SLP. I would not say that there is a lot of “historic charm”, but people have done some nice things with the ramblers (for the rest of the world – this is the MN term for a ranch style home). Lots are larger. There are sidewalks – and to me that is worth noting. I like walking without being hit by a car.

I admit to not spending an incredible amount of time in SLP other than driving through or shopping, so this was an enlightening trip for me as well. I was pretty pleased by some of what I found.

The Saint Louis Park rec center is not what I expected AT ALL! I thought it was a gym. It’s actually a park with an outdoor pool and water slides, and THREE full size ice rinks – 2 inside and a gorgeous outdoor rink as well. It’s a hockey paradise. Men with beards and big bags of equipment were pouring in for the open hockey that was happening.

SLP sits right on the the Cedar Lake Trail (temporarily closed because of light rail construction) and that connects to the Midtown Greenway and a whole network of other bike trails throughout the city and the suburbs.

At the “West End” you can find shops, restaurants (I tried “Lucky Cricket” Chinese restaurant and Tiki Bar today – Andrew Zimmern’s place. I was alone so I didn’t order a lot, but loved what I had – ShuMai burger). The insane Costco is over there, so if you’re feeling very Zen and can deal, or alternatively, if you’re feeling aggressive and want your anger to blend in, stop by! It’s mostly the parking lot that can change normally kind people into homicidal maniacs. Side note – there are 8 in the metro area, so if you go to the one in SLP consider yourself warned. There are other (more peaceful) choices. Just sayin’.


SLP has a very nice nature center on the far NW side of the city – I’ll come back in summer. The visitor’s center is being rebuilt and there are trails around a lake there. It’s called Westwood Nature Center and it reminds me a lot of the little oasis in Richfield – the Woodlake Nature Center.

Other outdoor activities… Theodore Wirth Park – an amazing and HUGE park with snow tubing! Groomed x-ctry ski trails! Biking trails – yes, even in winter! 12 sledding hills there alone! Snow boarding!

11 of the neighborhood parks have some sledding, night time lights, ice skating and a few have warming houses. I love this aspect of MN- it’s easy to be outside having fun year round.

Disc golf in winter at Brookview Golf Course! CURLING! I mean – that seems like a very Minnesota thing to do. Don’t ask me what it is.

Indoor – head to Punch Bowl Social for food and bowling. Or take the kids to Roller Garden – it’s old school fun.

That’s all I have for today and it’s way more than I thought I would have when I started out this morning. St. Louis Park surprised me. You may like it too!

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