Nice Ice! The Twin Cities’ Frozen Wonders Beckon with Beauty
If you arrive at the Ice Castles in Stillwater on a bright, sunny day, the frozen landscape glows with every shade of glacial blue and green. You’ll also probably spot several pint-sized visitors dressed in their favorite Frozen princess costumes, staring up at icicled overhangs, as delighted parents take photos and wander through nooks and passageways that look a lot like natural ice cave stalactites.
For winter adventurers, 2018 brings an unusual and beautiful convergence of frozen beauty: Ice Castles near the St. Croix River; a towering Saint Paul Winter Carnival Ice Palace built from blocks of lake ice; ice sculptures in Saint Paul’s Rice Park; and the frozen Minnehaha waterfalls near the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
The tough part may be deciding when to visit. While sunshine seems to bring out all the blues, a light snowfall adds an enchanting snow-globe atmosphere.
And nighttime? That’s for big wows as colored lights create a fantasy effect. “If you’re going on a date, go at night,” says Ice Castles founder Brent Christensen. “It’s more romantic.”
Ice Palace: A Bold Addition to the Saint Paul Skyline
Crews began work on Saint Paul’s Ice Palace just after New Year’s, cutting and harvesting 400-pound blocks of ice from Green Lake in Spicer, west of the Twin Cities. Saws were buzzing and grinding in mid-January as close to 4,000 blocks were shaped, crane-lifted and guided into place by torch-wielding crews. The 70-foot-tall building features three towers and can be found in downtown Saint Paul’s Rice Park.
Saint Paul Winter Carnival’s first Ice Palace — one of 36 — was built in 1886 to draw national attention. The biggest one? A $1.9-million, Guinness-record-breaking, 165-foot palace built in 1992 when Minnesota last hosted the Super Bowl. Minnesotans have been waiting 14 years since the last Ice Palace.
This year’s palace coincides again with a Super Bowl and a full slate of winter festivities throughout the Twin Cities, including Saint Paul’s 17-day Winter Carnival. Rice Park, near the picturesque Landmark Center, provides a hub for many Winter Carnival activities, like the annual ice sculpture contest. Chainsaws sputter and ice flies as they carve everything from dragons and winter athletes in action to ice thrones perfect for selfies.
The Ice Palace glows like sea glass during the day and brightens up with colored lighting at night. Visitors can warm their hands around steaming cups of hot chocolate from park vendors or grab a cold brew or local wine from the park’s temporary bar — made of ice, of course!
Minnehaha Falls: A Natural Winter Wonder Not to Be Missed
For a look at the natural beauty of ice, Minnehaha Falls freezes dramatically during frigid weather. The 53-foot scenic falls, which often freezes in January or February, anchors the 167-acre Minnehaha Regional Park along the Mississippi River. The historic Longfellow House offers information on visiting the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, which links lakes and parks where you can find cross-country ski trails, fat bike trails and lakeside skating rinks.
Visitors with furry companions can stop by the Minnehaha Dog Park or explore the many walking trails leading to and from the Falls. Make sure to bundle up, and don’t forget your camera!
Ice Castles: A Stunning Sight Along Stillwater’s Historic Lift Bridge
Ice Castles takes its inspiration from frozen natural ice (like waterfalls) and fantastical places (like C. S. Lewis’ Narnia) to inspire its winter creations. Crews spend at least 7,000 hours creating the castle, crafting about 10,000 starter icicles each night, fusing some of them together and building on others for an estimated 20 million pounds of water. At its peak — and without any warm weather to cause melting — the ice can tower 20 to 30 feet tall.
The company is building in a record number of locations this winter, but it’s the fifth time the Twin Cities have hosted Ice Castles.
Newer interactive features to this year’s castle include a fountain with synchronized jets and an ice slide. Weekend guests may spot costumed princesses from the movie Frozen, or even fire jugglers. It’s wise to reserve tickets online — scheduled in 30-minute blocks — to make sure the attraction isn’t at capacity. Guests are welcome to linger longer than 30 minutes, and it helps to dress warmly and wear boots with good treads.
“People in Minnesota like to go out and enjoy winter,” Christensen says. “And Stillwater’s a great location.”
The temperatures may be freezing, but a magical day at an ice castle or a romantic night at a frozen palace makes it all worth it.