Minnesota winters are no joke, this we know. They can be cold, dreary and a little bit unforgiving.

But they're also what make this state such a spellbinding place when the snow flies.

The cold months transform our state, giving us gorgeous locales that — if you squint your eyes ever so slightly — look a little bit like the North Pole.

Epic sleigh rides? Nordic ice castles? Reindeer? Yep, we have all of that, and so much more. Here are 10 Minnesota places that might be mistaken for Santa's magical North Pole.

 

1. The North Shore

The coastline of Lake Superior is pretty much a winter wonderland during this time of year. Along the scenic routes of the North Shore you’re sure to come across reindeer (well, actually just deer), large woodlands, ice fishing, dog sledding and more North Pole-like activities.

 

2. Arrowhead region

From shooting stars to falling snow, the Arrowhead region of Minnesota is a winter attraction you can’t miss. If Santa were to reside in Minnesota, this is probably where he’d live. See our write-up on Arrowhead as part of our “State of Wonders” series.

 

3. The North Pole Express

The North Pole Express at Union Depot in St. Paul gives kids a chance to ride a real steam locomotive to the North Pole (actually, it's just a mile-ride trip roundtrip). Santa is on board, and when the snow is falling, the train truly looks like it’s rolling through the North Pole.

 

4. Apostle Islands ice caves

When the weather is cold enough, beautiful icicles form and dangle along the south shore of Lake Superior. The Apostle Islands ice caves are actually not in Minnesota, but many make the trek to witness the glorious site in Bayfield, Wis. See more photos here.

 

5. Reindeer at the Como Zoo

Real reindeer in Minnesota? You better believe it. Como Zoo officials say the reindeer are living in St. Paul because the North Pole has gotten too “Claus-trophobic” this time of year. You can even watch them live 24/7 on the zoo’s “Reindeer Cam."

 

6. Sandstone Ice Park 

  

Adventurous winter warriors love to climb these walls of ice located in Robinson Park in Sandstone, Minn., which is about half way between the Twin Cities and Duluth. The next big ice festival is Jan. 6-8. Go here for more details.

 

7. Ice Castles

Spires of ice shoot into the air, creating a frozen palace for families to explore. This chilly affair moves from Eden Prairie to Stillwater this year, opening in December or early January, depending on weather. More information on dates and tickets go here.

 

8. Minnehaha Falls

The frozen falls are Instagram heaven, with many people ignoring the "no trespassing" signs each year to climb behind the slope of the falls.

 

9. Sleigh rides on Gunflint Trail

Does it look like the North Pole? For sure. But a lot of people also compare it to Narnia. The Gunflint Trail way Up North has been home to sleigh rides for years. Go here to learn more about the Okontoe campground, and this majestic experience.

 

10. The Northern Lights

Need we say more? The view here was shot from the top of Wakemup Hill along the Arrowhead 135 Ultra Marathon, from International Falls to Tower Minnesota. For more Northern Lights, take a look at this.

 

(Photos by staff photographers Brian Peterson, David Joles, Leila Navidi, Glen Stubbe and Marlin Levison. Other images courtesy Lisa Meyers McClintick and Como Zoo and Conservatory)