On The Okee Dokee Brothers’ Grammy Award-nominated “Winterland” album, the Minneapolis-based folk duo affectionately croon about winter, singing, “Don’t you know the bitter cold makes the bittersweet.”
That is especially true when you have young children and dogs in tow. While getting the family suited up and ready for outdoor activities during a Minnesota winter can take a herculean effort — and that’s before you even set foot outside — the memories made are enough to warm you on the most frigid days.
There are plenty of things you can do to help your family not just endure winters here in the frozen north, but embrace and enjoy them. With the right attitude, gear and activities you can get out for an adventure in the woods or just a stroll around the neighborhood. Not only will this help your children develop fortitude as they learn to flourish in winter, you may just find yourself discovering a newfound affinity for the subzero season.
Gear for kids
Must-have: Stroller with sturdy tires and a cover for warmth
What to consider: The Thule Chariot Cross offers a great all-terrain option with a zip-down cover and cross-country ski attachment. If you’re looking to modify an existing stroller, check out the Manito weather shields on Amazon.
Must-have: Bunting bag/foot muff and stroller heat
What to consider: Thule, 7AM Enfant and L.L.Bean all have products that are akin to in-stroller sleeping bags. For additional warmth, stick a Warmies Plush heatable toy in the bunting, and hand warmers in mittens or a hand muff.
Must-have: Car seat cover
What to consider: If you’re strapping a car seat into a stroller, 7AM Enfant makes a number of insulated covers, cocoons and wraps that are compatible with a five-point harness (the webbing portion of the car seat) to keep babies warm and snug.
Must-have: Stroller pogies or hand muffs to keep parents’ hands warm
What to consider: 7AM Enfant and Baby Jogger make water-repellent, insulated hand muffs that attach directly to a stroller handlebar. This makes it easy to tend to babies and young children without needing to constantly keep track of your gloves.
Must-have: Kid carrier
What to consider: Many parents prefer a framed pack, like the Deuter Kid Comfort Hiking Pack, for toting little ones around when winter terrain isn’t amenable to stroller travel. Soft carriers, like those made by Ergobaby, BabyBjörn, and Tula, are great options if the framed packs feel too cumbersome. You can also easily bring along this type of carrier if you have a little one who insists on walking but will inevitably need a lift before your adventure is complete.
Gear for dogs
Must-have: Dog coat
What to consider: Minneapolis-based Stunt Puppy’s Puff Doggy is the premium canine coat. Ruffwear also has several jackets designed for cold weather. Dogs with thick, dense coats may not need the extra insulation, but many breeds (like Welly, our Vizsla), will be more comfortable with an additional layer. A coat is especially necessary if the dog is going to be standing around while the kiddos play.
Must-have: Paw protection
What to consider: Musher’s Secret is a food-grade wax that forms a breathable barrier when applied to your dog’s paws, which works great for snowy conditions. In the city, protecting paws from road salt and de-icing chemicals is a good idea. Pawz makes disposable, reusable rubber dog booties, and Ruffwear has several more heavy-duty options.
What to consider: If you’re going to be out before or after dark, check out Stunt Puppy’s Go Dog Glo reflective harness. Ruffwear has a combined harness and jacket in the Overcoat Fuse Harness, as well as the Omnijore Harness and Towline for skijoring.
Ski at Theodore Wirth Park: Rent skis at The Trailhead for the entire family. Pull the little ones in the ski stroller or carry them in the hiking backpack. If Fido joins you, check out the trails designated for skijoring. (loppet.org, minneapolisparks.org)
Snowshoe the parks: Rent snowshoes at parks in the Three Rivers Parks District (Hennepin County) and head out into the woods with baby on your back or in the ski stroller. For pup-friendly trails, try Fort Snelling State Park in St Paul. (threeriversparks.org, dnr.state.mn.us)
Hike and play with friends: Free Forest School of the Twin Cities plays host to free group outings for young children and their parents (pups will have to stay home for this one). There are weekly meetups throughout the metros, including Richardson Nature Center in Richfield, Theodore Wirth and Coldwater Spring park among others. (freeforestschool.org)
Sled the hills: For groomed tubing slopes, check out Buck Hill in Burnsville or Elm Creek Winter Recreation Area in Maple Grove. On the first Friday of every month, Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan hosts s’mores and sledding events. If you want to bring your four-legged friend along, dogs are welcome at most neighborhood sledding hills. (buckhill.com, threeriversparks.org, minneapolisparks.org)
Fly a kite: Winter is a great time to take the kids to a local park to try flying a kite. Don’t miss the kid and dog-friendly Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival Jan. 25. (minneapolisparks.org)
Light up the night: Illuminate the dark days at one of the many candlelit events around the metro. While the Luminary Loppet is the foremost excursion of the season, Afton State Park, Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Lebanon Hills, and Willow River State Park in Hudson, Wis., all host events. (loppet.org, dnr.state.mn.us, co.dakota.mn.us)
Glide into winter: Minneapolis Parks groom 24 different skating rinks around town. All outdoor rinks have a warming house and free loaner skates, first-come, first-served. (minneapolisparks.org)
Try something new: For an introduction to activities like ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, winter camping and more, check out Winter Trails Day on Saturday at Fort Snelling State Park, or the free Winter Extravaganzas at the Loppet Trailhead on Sunday and Feb. 9. (loppet.org, dnr.state.mn.us)
Always have snacks: Special treats give kids something to anticipate. You’ll get extra points for having hot chocolate. For kids who like to snack in the stroller, get a hand muff so they can take their hands in and out while eating.
Bring entertainment: Music and podcasts help keep children occupied when they are along for the ride. For entry into the world of kid-friendly podcasts, try Molly of Denali and Classical Kids Storytime.
Check the weather beforehand: Nothing kills enthusiasm for outdoor excursions like dangerous weather conditions. While you need not fear Old Man Winter, there are occasionally days when you’d be better served staying indoors.
Speak positively about winter: We know that attitude impacts experience. Rather than focusing on the discomforts of winter, try to emphasize the exciting and beautiful aspects of this frigid time of year when you’re talking about the weather to kids.
Embrace the chaos: Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” No matter how Instagram-worthy a family appears out romping in the snow, know that all families deal with toddler meltdowns, diaper blowouts, and cold fingers and toes. As every parent knows, things rarely go according to plan when young children are involved. Having a sense of humor is key to keep everyone’s spirits up.
Mackenzie Havey is a freelance writer and author. She lives in Minneapolis.