Written by Lee Hoedl; LAKESTYLE magazine - Winter 2006 Issue
The final report is filed and the very last voicemail returned. Saturday morning is so close, you can literally smell the hot chocolate and the crackling fireplace. Now just top it off with the ideal novel you’ve put aside to read and the weekend will be complete… Well, you best add a large Caribou Coffee Mint Condition (260 calories) and a warmed raspberry scone (440 calories) to be on the safe side. And while you’re at it, it might be wise to follow that up with a few healthy breakfast choices of orange juice (110 calories), waffles (246 calories) and hash browns (372 calories). Perfect. Now it’s back to that novel you’ve put aside.
Come to think of it, it is a good idea that you’ve chosen to read that novel throughout the entire weekend, because it will take you 21 hours of reclining and reading just to burn off just those early morning calories… and it’s not even lunch time yet. But there is another option.
While the six-month season of a Minnesota winter can bring out the strongest hibernating instinct, it can also spark the flame for outdoor adventure. Whether you are a novice or seasoned master of the cross-country ski or snowshoe, there’s nothing better to burn off those 390 calories of chicken strips you’re having for lunch than to travel
To hill and back
The perennial richness of the Minnesota winter and the four centuries of evolutionary advancement in cross-country ski and snowshoe equipment and technique combine to provide a wonderful orchestration for some of the most scenic and memorable trail exploration in the upper Midwest. The final factor in prying you from that cozy chesterfield near the fireplace may very well be simply choosing which of the more than 200 trails you will journey on this weekend. To begin your shortlist of desired locations, consider this writer’s 2006 selections for Minnesota trails to explore with cross-country skis and/or snowshoes this winter season.
Two Trails Diverged In A Wood: Cross Country Skiing
Maplelag Resort (Northwest): Located in the center of 660 acres of maple forest, Maplelag Resort services approximately 45 km of track-set and 15 km of skate-ski trails. The Maplelag staff also provides optional lessons and equipment rental for a fee. After working up an appetite on the wonderfully groomed and scenic trails, treat yourself to one of Maplelag’s family style, all-you-can-eat dinners in the lodge dining room. It’s not only a wonderful locale for cross country skiing, but also an ideal location for a weekend getaway. Snowshoeing is also available.
Directions: 20 miles northeast of Detroit Lakes (visit the website for more specific driving directions). Information Contact: 218-375-4466, 800-654-7711. Website: www.maplelag.com
Voyageurs National Park (North): Should you be looking for a skiing location that will get you “away from it all,” then Voyageurs, the only national park in Minnesota, is your destination. No Minnesota ski pass is required to ski any of the 25 kilometers of groomed trails, dominated by aspens and pines. 15 of these kilometers are accessible near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. There are also marked and tracked snowshoeing trails available. The park itself is located on the border of the United States and Canada and is the home of the eastern timber wolf. Since these wolves are shy, secretive and pose virtually no threat to humans, it likely the only sighting you will have is just their tracks in the snow. For an added bonus, ski Voyageurs in mid-February and then attend International Fall’s Blast on the Border Winter Festival, complete with frozen turkey bowling, snow sculpting, smoosh races, and snowshoeing.
Directions: 11 miles east of International Falls on Highway 11. Information Contact: 3131 Highway 53, International Falls, Minnesota 56649; 218-283-9821. Website: www.nps.gov/voya
Cannon Valley Trail (South): Connecting the cities of Red Wing, Welch and Cannon Falls in southern Minnesota, the 30 kilometers of cross-country skiing along Cannon Valley trail will take you on a relaxing and leveled journey along the Cannon River terrace. Trails lead skiers through hardwood forests, prairies and along river ridges. And whether you are beginning or ending your day of adventure in Cannon Falls, treat yourself to a cup of homemade soup and ambience at the Stone Mill Coffeehouse and Eatery.
Directions: Approximately 25 miles south of St. Paul (visit website for more specific driving directions to each of the three main trailheads). Information Contact: 507-263-0508. Website: www.cannonvalleytrail.com
Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley State Trails (Southeast): Nestled in the corners of Fillmore and Houston Counties, this 90-plus km trail system is one of the most extensive in Minnesota. The northern two-thirds of the Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail pass through scenic Watson Creek, Root River and rich wooded areas. The final one-third of the trail is accentuated with rolling hills and reflective views of Root River. Regardless of the length of skiing, the experience will rejuvenate the soul.
Directions: 45 miles southeast of Rochester. Information Contact: DNR Trails and Waterways, 507-285-7176. Website: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails (Minnesota DNR State Trails homepage)
Afton State Park (Metro): Located southeast of St. Paul along the St. Croix River, Afton State Park easily transforms its lively summer and fall hiking trails into well groomed winter cross country skiing trails. These trails are ideal for both cross-country skiers and hikers alike as they weave their way through 28 kilometers of prairie, wooded stands and bluffs overlooking the serene St. Croix River. The beginner’s loop is 4 kilometers long, while the rest of the trails are intermediate or advanced.
Directions: Located 20 miles southeast of St. Paul - Drive 9 miles east on I-94, 7 miles south on Highway 95 and then 3 miles east on County Road 20. Information Contact: 6959 Peller Ave. South Hastings, MN 55033; 651-436-5391. Website: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/afton
Honorable Mentions: And if the above mentioned choices are just enough to whet your appetite for winter activity, explore the following honorable mentions:
Breaking Trail Through Minnesota: Snowshoeing
The use of snowshoes began over 3,000 years ago out of a basic need explore new territories and to find food in the wintertime. Into the 21st century, snowshoeing continues to be an ideal way to explore the winter wonderland of Minnesota, but also as a way to find one’s youthfulness again.
Unlike cross-country skiing, snowshoeing is permitted throughout the state parks and trails except on groomed trails or where posted. So venture out on to this writer’s 2006 selections for Minnesota trails to explore with snowshoes this winter season.
George H. Crosby-Manitou State Park (Northeast): Located just off the North Shore Drive of Highway 61, the George H. Crosby-Manitou State Park offers both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities. The park hosts 39 kilometers on which to break new trail while traveling along the peaceful Manitou River and its cascades; onward through forested areas and views of Lake Superior. As a reward for your effort, enjoy a well deserved meal at the Blue Fin Grille, overlooking Lake Superior, in nearby Tofte. Then finish off a memorable afternoon with an espresso and homemade pastry at the Coho Café & Bakery.
Directions: Located on the North Shore. Drive north on Highway 61. From Highway 61 at Illgen City, go north on MN 1 7 miles to Co. Rd. 7, then northeast 7 miles. Information Contact: Tettegouche State Park, 5702 Highway 61, Silver Bay, MN 55614; (218) 226-6365. Website: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/george_crosby_manitou.
Itasca State Park (Northwest): Home of the Mississippi headwaters, Itasca State Park is situated in the snow belt of northern Minnesota. With annual snowfalls averaging over 30 inches, this park is home to excellent snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Again, snowshoeing is permitted throughout the state parks and trails except on groomed trails or where posted, so enjoy the over 80 kilometers of trails available to you. Snowshoe rental is available – contact the Itasca State Park Visitor Center for more information on this service. And if you should find yourself a little more adventurous, visit Itasca State Park in late January and participate in Bemidji’s Polar Daze. Cap it all off with the best burger north of St. Cloud at Slim’s Bar & Grill on Anne St. in north Bemidji.
Directions: The park’s entrance to the park is 21 miles north of Park rapids on U.S. Highway 71. Information Contact: 36750 Main Park Drive, Park Rapids, Minnesota 56470; (218) 266-2100. Website: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/itasca.
Sibley State Park (South): Teeming with wildlife and steeped in oak, red cedar and ash, Sibley State Park provides 29 kilometers of trail for snowshoeing and 16 kilometers for cross-country skiing enthusiasts. Framed by Games, Norway, Middle and Andrew Lake, the park allows you a scenic view of oak savannas, farmland, and prairie knolls. Take the challenge and finish off your trekking with a climb of Mount Tom, one of several high points in a 50-mile radius.
Directions: From St. Cloud, take State Hwy 23 to New London, then State Hwy 9 west to US Hwy 71. Go one mile south on 71 to park entrance. Information Contact: 800 Sibley Park Road NE, New London, Minnesota 56273-9664; (320) 354-2055. Website: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/sibley.
Honorable Mentions: Again, should the above choices only begin to satisfy your adventurous spirit, consider the following honorable mentions:
Bundle Up: Attire and Access
Selecting your clothing attire is just as important as selecting your specific trail and skiing/shoeing equipment. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing rank as some of the most aerobic activities that one can participate in, so be sure to consider the following suggestions:
Be prepared to get quite warm while out trekking and also be prepared
to cool off quickly when you stop for a break. A system of layering
is the best way to deal with the temperature fluctuations of activity
and rest out on the trail system. A combination of wool and wicking
material is one of the most effective ways to conserve your body heat
and ward off any Minnesota chill.
Should you find yourself venturing out with skis strapped to your boots, it is important to know that all cross-country skiers on public ski trails who are aged 16 and above must have a Minnesota Ski Pass. You must sign your ski pass and carry it with you when skiing. This particular ski pass fee helps support Minnesota's cross-country ski trail system.
You can purchase licenses by phone: 1-888-665-4236 (1-MN-LICENse). Call any time of day or night, seven days a week. This toll-free call provides immediate licensing by way of a license identification number, which will be issued at the time of the call. The license identification number is valid until you receive an actual license in the mail. All purchases must be made by credit card. There is $3.50 convenience fee per transaction.
You will be able to purchase a daily pass in person at all parks except Carley, Crosby Manitou, Monson, or Schoolcraft state parks.
The ski pass rates for 2005 were as follows: $5 for a daily ski pass; $15 for a one-season ski pass; $40 for a three-season ski pass. Visit the Minnesota DNR homepage for updated pricing for the 2006-07 seasons.
And regardless of whether you are venturing out with snowshoes or skis, remember that all vehicles entering the state parks must display a valid Minnesota State Park vehicle permit. Permits can be purchased in person at any state park or at the DNR headquarters in St. Paul (500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul). Permits can also be purchased by phone by calling (651) 296-6157 (Twin Cities metro area) or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367). 2006 Daily ($7) and annual permits ($25) are available at the state parks. Again, visit the Minnesota DNR homepage for updated pricing and information.
Braving the Cold: Winter Tips and Recommendations
Finally, regardless of where your skis or shoes may take you in the land of 10,000 lakes, it is imperative that you prepare for all circumstances during the winter months. Before you set out to explore nature’s beauty, consider these general tips and recommendations:
Before you start out to ski or shoe, check the local weather service
as conditions can change abruptly.
As well, please consider these winter survival tips, following your outdoor adventure, should you find yourself trapped in your vehicle during a blizzard/whiteout:
Pull off the highway (if necessary), turn on your hazard lights and
hang a bright distress flag or ribbon from your radio antenna or driver’s
Do not leave your car engine running (due to the threat of carbon monoxide),
but run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm.
When the engine is running, open an upwind window slightly (the side
away from the wind or blowing snow) for ventilation to prevent carbon
monoxide buildup. Should you find yourself in low visibility, tie the
nylon cord (listed above) to your car’s door handle or steering
column as a lifeline, and then use it while periodically clearing snow
from the car’s tailpipe as needed. Visibility can be as little
as 12 inches and individuals have been unable to find their car when
they’ve only been a few feet away.
Destination and preparation are beneficial to any enjoyable and successful winter journey, so be sure to pack your gear, your car and your excitement and hit the trails! For as the popular commercial touts:
Copyright 2006, Lee Hoedl, email@example.com