Our Favorite Winter Adventures for Families
From wintery outdoor experiences to cozy indoor events, let us help you build family memories this winter eason.
Whether learning to skate, cheering for extreme winter sports or attending seasonal festivals, the Twin Cities metro area doesn’t let winter or wind-chill dampen outdoor fun. It helps to have dozens of lakes, two major river valleys, some of the top park systems in the nation, and a local culture that embraces invigorating fun on crisp winter days.
If you’re looking for a family adventure this winter, you won’t want to pass up these kid-friendly activities on a visit to Minneapolis-Saint Paul:
1. Hit the Slopes
Three Rivers Park District offers lessons in downhill skiing or snowboarding at Maple Grove’s Elm Creek Winter Recreation Area and Bloomington’s Hyland Hills Ski Area. Both have tubing runs, as well. For bigger challenges, head to Burnsville’s Buck Hill where Olympian skier Lindsey Vonn once trained, or Afton Alps where 48 trails carve through 300 acres overlooking the St. Croix River Valley at Hastings. Buck Hill and Afton Alps offer family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebrations, too, capped off with fireworks above the slopes.
2. Light Up the Lake
Cross-country ski races stack the schedule for Minneapolis’s legendary Loppet Ski Festival, January 27-28 and February 3-4. But spectators can also watch fat-tire bike racing, snowshoeing, dogsled races, a kubb tournament and skijoring (a single dog pulling a skier). The most magical event? On February 3, visitors can experience a luminary spectacle that ripples a festive glow across the frozen lake.
If ice fishing is your thing, just like the movie Grumpy Old Men, get out to Waconia for some ice fishing in a fish house!
3. Bundle Up for Festival Fun
Saint Paul Winter Carnival, the nation’s oldest winter festival, kicks off January 25 and runs for 17 days, until February 10. Signature events include a Grand Day Parade with marching bands and floats (January 27), a torchlight evening parade (February 10) and an ongoing giant snow slide. The Minnesota State Fairgrounds feature additional family activities, and at Rice Park, in the heart of downtown Saint Paul, you can also enjoy ice sculpting, live music, an ice bar and mulled wine. This year also marks the second ever Great Northern Festival, combining Saint Paul Winter Carnival, and Twin Cities Loppet Ski Festival.
4. Lace Up Your Skates
Enjoy a free lesson and skate rental during the seasonal Wells Fargo WinterSkate at Saint Paul’s Rice Park and Minneapolis’s Loring Park. Other ice skating options include: the pretty ponds of Edina’s Centennial Lakes Park; Maple Grove’s Central Park Ice Skating Loop; and Roseville’s Guidant John Rose MN Oval, North America’s largest outdoor refrigerated skating facility, ringed by 300 illuminated trees for the holidays.
5. Explore a Winter Wonderland
Winter brings its own kind of beauty, from lacy patterns in the ice to the eerie sounds of freezing rivers. Fort Snelling State Park, which hugs a lake and the Minnesota River as it meets the Mississippi, offers wintery activities like ice fishing clinics and luminary-lit snowshoe walks. As spring nears, you can even go maple syrup-ing! Other go-to hiking spots include the Mississippi River Regional Trail with trailheads near Simon’s Ravine in South Saint Paul, Swing Bridge Trailhead in Inver Grove Heights and Lower Spring Lake Trailhead by Spring Lake Park. Also make sure to visit Theodore Wirth Regional Park for a host of winter activities, including ice fishing, sledding and more. Or take a stroll over the historic Stone Arch Bridge, made from local granite and limestone.
6. Keep an Eye to the Sky
Looking for a short hike and maybe a little bird watching? Head to Minneapolis’s Minnehaha Regional Park to see the frozen waterfalls and winter fowl in flight. Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, another gem tucked into an urban area, offers guided birding expeditions that help families spot swans, geese, eagles and wintering songbirds that gather in the trees and along the water near Bloomington’s Bass Ponds or Shakopee’s Wilkie Unit trailheads. Don’t forget your cameras! For even more holiday-themed nature, head to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum for live holiday music, tree lighting events and more.
7. Visit an Ice Castle
Fans of Disney’s Frozen can wander happily through otherworldly, icicle-laden caverns created by Ice Castles in Stillwater. Builders use water and freezing temperatures to create the glacier-blue world by day and light it up at night. Great for wide-eyed youngsters and adults alike! Don’t want to brave the cold? Head to Rosedale’s Winter Castle for shopping, dining and Santa visits!
8. Tap Into Your Wild Side
Amble through Saint Paul’s Como Zoo, home to a polar bear, Arctic fox, reindeer, wolves and gorillas, while weaving through indoor and outdoor exhibits. It’s attached to the popular Conservatory, filled with palm trees, spice bushes and seasonal flowers. Apple Valley’s 485-acre Minnesota Zoo takes visitors on outdoor trails past snow monkeys and bison, through an aquarium with penguins and monk seals, and a multi-level tropical habitat with exotic birds, gibbons, tree kangaroos and nocturnal creatures.
9. Visit Illuminate South Loop
Illuminate South Loop will electrify the area around Mall of America from February 1-3. Local artists have created dozens of new projects to share with the community, many of which have an interactive element. A scoreboard displayed on the façade of the HealthPartners building connects to a game on the ground and Duck, Duck, What? invites participants to vote for their preferred title of the children’s game “Duck, Duck Grey Duck/Goose.” Attendees can also warm up with drinks, food and bonfires, all set up in Bloomington Central Park.
It may be cold outside, but with all of these great family activities, there’s no excuse to stay indoors this winter. So grab your coat and scarf, bundle up the family and head out to your next memory-making adventure!