Minnesota is a cold weather state. Winters last around four months, but for us locals they feel like they last forever. That being said, we can’t all just sit in our houses waiting for summer We have to get out and explore our beautiful state.
Below is a list of 27 of the best places to visit in Minnesota in winter. They range from small towns close to the Twin Cities to popular vacation destinations on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior.
Places to Visit in Minnesota in Winter – Twin Cities Area
The Twin Cities is home to hardy inhabitants. We not only survive our long winters, but prefer them! In addition to St. Paul and Minneapolis, there are a number of small towns and suburbs that offer a wide range of winter events and activities.
1. Saint Paul
Saint Paul is one of our favorite places to visit in the Winter, largely because of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. Downtown Saint Paul is also home to the Xcel Energy Center and the MN Wild, great restaurants, and unique parks scattered throughout downtown St. Paul.
Other highlights include the Science Museum of Minnesota, Rice Park and the Landmark Center, Ice Sculptures at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, and Hyland Lake Park Preserve and Hyland Hills Ski Area.
You can read all about the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and more in our 40 Best Winter Things to Do in Minneapolis post.
Minneapolis is a winter-lover’s dream. It is the host of a number of winter events like the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, Great Northern Festival, and the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival, the Luminary Loppet, many of which are held close to downtown Minneapolis.
It is also home to amazing parks and trails. Theodore Wirth Regional Park (Theodore Wirth Park) is home to cross country skiing, snow tubing, sledding, and more. Minnehaha Regional Park is home to Minnehaha Falls, which are spectacular in the winter.
Other highlights include the Walker Art Center, University of Minnesota, Bde Maka Ska, skiing at Buck Hill, and ice skating at Lake of the Isles.
You can read more in our 40 Best Winter Things to Do in Minneapolis post.
3. Maple Grove
Maple Grove is home to a number of unique winter activities, most of which are outdoors.
The Maple Grove Ice Castles (formerly known as the Eden Prairie Ice Castles) are a fun chance to explore castles made of ice. Central Park has a fun ice skating loop that is perfect for all ages. Finally, Elm Creek Winter Recreation Area offers downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and winter snow tubing.
Mall of America is where most Minnesotans go to escape the snow. We love staying at the Great Wolf Lodge water park and then heading over to the mall to shop, eat, and visit Nickelodeon Universe. Sea Life, Moose Mountain Adventure Golf Course, and the Crayola store are fun stops for young kids.
5. New Ulm
New Ulm is a picturesque Minnesota town. Bring your cross-country skis and hit the trails at Lakewood Hills Park or snowshoeing and sledding at German Park. Then grab a bite to eat at Lola or Kaiserhoff Restaurant.
Downtown Stillwater might be one of the cutest downtowns in Minnesota. We recommend grabbing a room at one of the many cute B&Bs, taking a stroll through downtown with its historic downtown buildings, and enjoying a nice meal at Oasis Cafe or Lolo American Kitchen.
If you are looking for more adventure, a hike over to the Stillwater Lift Bridge is a great option.
Northfield, MN is a true college town and is one of our favorite places to visit in Minnesota in Winter. The town and lift bridge will be lit up, and the town is especially festive over the holidays.
In addition to holiday festivities, they host the Wold Snow Sculpting championships, Historic Winter Ice Cream Social, and Riverside Ice rink in January.
February bring s the Fat Tire Bike Race, Frozen Bocce Ball Tournament, and Winterfest with live music.
8. Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is a unique wildlife area not far from MSP airport. The refuge is home to thousands of animals, including 300 bald eagle pairs.
There are 2,100 miles of trails and boardwalks for hiking and more ice than an ice fisherman could ever dream of. It is the perfect natural getaway for folks that live in the Twin Cities.
Waconia is a small town on the west side of the Twin Cities. It hosts Lake Waconia, which is known for great ice fishing, and is most well known for the Midwest Ride-In, the largest vintage snowmobile show in the world!
Places to Visit in Minnesota in Winter – Northern Minnesota
Northern Minnesota is one of our favorite places to visit in Minnesota in winter. The temperature often drops well below zero, and stays there for months on end. But, the rewards is a pristine wilderness with endless possibilities.
Duluth is home to a number of great hotels, restaurants, bars, and breweries. Many are concentrated in Canal Park. It also offers beautiful vistas of Lake Superior and access to the entire north shore of Minnesota.
It is one of our favorite places to stay in Minnesota in winter for a quick weekend trip.
11. Gooseberry Falls State Park
Gooseberry Falls State Park is best known for Gooseberry Falls. The falls are easily accessible from the parking lot and are stunning when they’re frozen. The park also hosts miles and miles of hiking trails, so don’t forget your snowshoes.
12. Superior Ice Caves
The Lake Superior Ice Caves technically aren’t in Minnesota, but are worth the drive if you are staying in Duluth. Visiting the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Mainland Sea Caves requires a 2 mile hike round trip on the ice of Lake Superior.
The hikes is worth it, however they are only open if Lake Superior freezes over. In past years, that has not been the case.
13. Scenic North Shore Drive (Highway 61)
Scenic North Shore Drive connects Duluth with Grand Marais and Grand Portage to the North. It is arguably the most beautiful drive in the State of Minnesota, and is often almost empty in winter.
Stop at any of the amazing State Parks like Gooseberry Falls, Tettegouche, or Split Rock Light House. Or just pull over to any of the scenic overlooks and enjoy endless views of Lake Superior.
Looking to hike? Check out our 60 Best Hiking Trails on Minnesota’s North Shore Guide.
14. Grand Marais
Grand Marais is one of our favorite Minnesota towns, and it is best visited in winter. We love strolling the main street and looking out over the sometimes frozen behemoth, Lake Superior.
Some of our favorite snowshoeing has been on Pincushion Mountain, just outside of town. Grand Marais is also close to many of the North Shore’s State Parks, which offer ample hiking opportunities!.
15. Lutsen Mountains
Lutsen Mountains is as close to true mountain skiing as Minnesota offers. In addition to great downhill skiing and snowboarding, the area offers wonderful restaurants, unique lodging options, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hiking, and more.
16. Gunflint Trail
The Gunflint Trail is where wilderness begins. It is the perfect place to get a feel for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness while still staying in a cabin or at a resort.
We’d recommend booking a dog sled trip. Dog sledding is a ton of fun and can be combined with other activities like ice fishing, ice skating, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
Ely is by far one of our favorite places to visit in Minnesota in winter. We visit every year during the week after Christmas. It is our way to decompress from the craziness of the holiday season.
Out favorite activities include hiking, snowshoeing, ice fishing, visiting the International Wolf Center, and strolling Ely’s cute downtown.
Looking to stay and would like to book a cabin? Check out our list of 20+ Amazing Cabin Rentals in Ely for 2024.
Places to Visit in Minnesota in Winter – Central Minnesota
Central Minnesota is home to what many Minnesotan’s call cabin country. It includes many of the state’s most popular lakes. In addition to many of the activities mentioned above, snowmobiling is very popular.
18. Brainerd Lakes Area
The Brainerd Lakes Area is a winter lover’s dream. Popular activities include ice fishing, snowmobiling, downhill skiing at Mount Ski Gull, Nordic skiing, snow tubing and fat tire biking.
The area hosts a number of annual events, including the Ice Fishing Extravaganza and Frozen Fore on Gull Lake, the Lumberjack Jaunt at the Northland Arboretum, the Winter Jubilee in nearby Nisswa, and Winter Fest in Breezy Point.
The best part? You can stay at some of Minnesota’s best water parks like Paul Bunyan Water Park, Three Bear Water Park, and the Rapid River Lodge. All have water slides and large indoor pools.
No wonder it made our list of the 35 Best Ice Fishing Lakes in Minnesota.
If you can think of a winter sport, then Bemidji has it. Ice skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling, downhill skiing, Nordic skiing, snow tubing, and fat tire biking are all popular and readily available.
Fun festivals include The Night We Light and Finlandia, the Nordic Festival of the North. The latter is the premier cross country skiing event in the country.
Walker, and Leech Lake, are home to a number of high quality resorts with all of the amenities you can think of. As you can guess, the most popular activities are outside and include ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, and snowshoeing.
Crosby is a town reborn. The locals have put in a ton of effort revitalizing the area, and it has worked. Enjoy a stay at the cozy Cuyuna cabins, hit their famous fat tire biking trails, and then top it off with an amazing dinner at Iron Range Eatery and a drink at Cuyuna Brewery.
22. Detriot Lakes
Detroit Lakes is an ice fishing hot spot. The real reason to visit is for Polar Fest, which is a 10-day winter festival celebrating everything cold.
Polar Fest has everything from ice carvings and an ice fishing derby to curling and an ice palace. Our favorite? The ice plunge challenge!
Places to Visit in Minnesota in Winter – Southeastern Minnesota
Southeastern Minnesota is known as Bluff Country. If you are looking for beautiful views of the Mississippi River, then this is your place. It is also home to a number of cute small towns with a lot to offer.
Wabasha is nestled into the bluffs around the Mississippi River. It is a cute town with many nice B&Bs and restaurants. The real draw is the Grumpy Old Men Festival in February.
There is an ice fishing tournament, beer garden, live music, curling tournament, and a flannel and frost party. What’s not to love?
Winona is a fun college town with plenty to do. If you are really adventurous, check out the Winona Ice Park and watch all of the ice climbers in action!
Then you can ski, fish, and snowshoe to your hearts content. Winona is also a winter birding hot spot due to it’s unique location on the Mississippi River.
Rochester is home to more than the Mayo Clinic. Grab a bite at Twigs Tavern & Grille, a beer at Forager Brewery, and then hit the well-groomed trails for some cross country skiing fun.
26. Red Wing
Red Wing is the perfect date weekend. Our preferred itinerary? Stay at the historic St. James Hotel and enjoy any of the wonderful restaurants downtown.
You can also hit the trails at Frontenac State Park, Ski at Welch Village Ski Resort, or watch a show at the Sheldon Theater.
Lanesboro, located in southern Minnesota, was named by Outside Magazine as one of the “20 Best Dream Towns in America.” And they weren’t wrong!
The town is full of quaint shops, fun restaurants, and unique B&Bs. There is also a great arts scene, with Lanesboro Arts and Commonweal Theater Company leading the charge.
Outdoor options include cross country skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, and so much more.