Don't Be a Sissy, #OptOutside! Activities at Voyageurs National Park this Winter

The lack of consistency in weather can only mean one thing in Minnesota: Winter is here. Some people have a certain distaste for the winter months. We get it - it's cold, it's dark, and everyone from out of town is making Fargo references. It can be grueling to say the least. And now that the holidays are over, all we really have to look forward to is Spring. Or so you thought.

Minnesotans are a hardy folk, and even if the weather does bother us from time to time, we really don't like being questioned for living in the arctic tundra. So if you're having trouble coming up with fun outdoor activities you can enjoy in freezing temps, you've come to the right place.

Here are some of the best ways to experience Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park this winter.


Photo by Abdiel Nieves

Voyageurs National Park's Winter Event Series

Voyageurs National Park Association is sponsoring Voyageurs National Park's Winter Event Series to help you embrace the cold, play, and learn.


Did you know Voyageurs National Park has an official sledding hill? To get there, take the Kab-Ash Ice Road from the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center and take a left onto the Sphunge Island Loop. NPS staff place picnic tables and a fire ring by the parking lot, so come out and stay a while. Always check the park's website for current ice and trails conditions to see if the sledding hill is open.

BONUS:The sledding hill consists of a small hill for younger children and a larger hill for older children and adults (kids at heart).

Skis at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center

Snowshoeing & Cross-Country Skiing

Snowshoeing and skiing offer many possibilities for solitude and enjoying majestic winter landscapes. And falling down is an excellent opportunity to say "Uff da." Win-win. Click here to see what trails at the park are open to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.

BONUS: The Rainy Lake Visitor Center has snowshoes and skis you can use for free! This is the only visitor center open through the winter. Hours: 10 am - 4:30 pm Wednesday through Sunday until mid-May.

EXTRA BONUS: Join Voyageurs National Park on January 20 for a family friendly moon-lit snowshoe hike at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center as part of International Falls' Icebox Days festivities. Snowshoes will be provided, but you should bring your own headlamp.

EXTRA EXTRA BONUS: Are you ready to craft your own? Jim DeVries, Senior Naturalist from the Laurentian Environmental Center, is leading a workshop where you will lace your very own set of snowshoes! We are accepting registration on a first-come, first-served basis until January 13.

Winter on the Oberholtzer Trail

Look for Animal Tracks

Snow is a really awesome way to observe and learn about animal behaviors because tracks are so much easier to see! Go out with a bingo card, or just make a "want to find" list, and start searching!

BONUS: The park has some pretty fun winter programs that you might want to check out if you're interested in learning about winter wildlife at Voyageurs. Head to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center for one of the Winter Event Series talks on wildlife in and around Voyageurs National Park, including a children's fun day and discussions about wolves and moose decline in northeastern Minnesota.

Keep a Daily Record of the Temperature and Snow Depth

Yes, it might be old-fashioned, but it gets you interacting with the landscape at a time when you probably kind of resent that is happening outside of your blanket cocoon.

BONUS: Add a few sentences of personal reflection or notable moments once in awhile, you'll enjoy looking back at it.

Investigate Snowflakes

Photo by Abdiel Nieves

Here's what you need: 1. A snowy day, 2. something black to use as a backdrop, 3. a magnifying glass, and 4. a sense of wonder.

We've been told that every snowflake is unique, but have you ever looked for yourself? I got the opportunity to do this in kindergarten - we each got a piece of black paper and a magnifying glass and went about our merry ways catching snowflakes and looking at them. That's literally all we did, was look. It was awesome.

BONUS: When you go back inside, try to replicate what you saw by making paper cutouts to decorate your home!

Ditch the Car

The park maintains oodles of snowmobile trails for just this - over 110 miles! But be safe, and please remember that ice roads aren't intended for snowmobiles. You can also enjoy cross country skiing, snowshoeing (as mentioned above), or plain old hiking!

BONUS: If you're looking for some hiking tips, join Park Ranger Eric Grunwald at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center on March 26 where he will lead a discussion about some of the best places of hike in Voyageurs and throughout Minnesota. He will also talk about the proper gear to carry with you, whether you're planning a short afternoon hike or a multi-night backpacking trip.

Photo by Amanda Durnin

Or don't!

One of the most unique features of Voyageurs are the ice roads that are maintained by park employees Rainy and Kabetogama during the winter, allowing you to see more of the park than you can from your car in the summer.

Always check the winter ice and trails conditions report to see if the ice roads are open. You can access the Rainy Lake Ice Road from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center boat launch, and the Kabetogama Lake Ice Road from the boat launches of the Ash River and Kabetogama Lake Visitor Centers. Routes depend on conditions so be prepared for changes or closures (especially when heavy snow, slush, or thin ice exists) and remember that traveling beyond plowed areas is unsafe. The speed limit on these roads is 30 mph, and only vehicles of less than 7,000 lbs gross vehicle weight are permitted on the roads.

Explore the Park's Gateway Communities

International Falls has some awesome family-friendly events that you should definitely attend if you live in the area, including Ice Box Days and the Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run 5K and 10K. You can also join us on January 27 to welcome Voyageurs National Park's new Superintendent Bob DeGross. Please RSVP for this informal event at the Ranier Comunity Hall.

Ice Fishing

Ghostly winter quiet, rugged piney shorelines, and outstanding angling make Voyageurs National Park an ice angler’s dream. Place icehouses at least 50-feet from the center of snowmobile trails and the ice road. Check ice conditions before going out. Fishing license and ice house registration is required.

Winter Camping

Read more about this in our next post (coming soon)!

group of snowshoers

No matter what you choose to do on these winter days, take some advice from our good friend Garrison Keillor, and "Don't Be a Sissy." It could always be colder.