Minnesota state parks are getting a bit brighter again this winter.
Starting on New Year’s Eve, state parks from Blue Mounds in southern Minnesota to Split Rock Lighthouse in the northeast will kick off special candlelight events, lighting up cross-country ski and hiking trails with lanterns.
Through March 2, more than 30 candlelight events are scheduled at state parks and trails, where visitors can walk, snowshoe or cross-country ski next to the glow of luminaria-lit trails and enjoy free hot cocoa or cider.
The popular events date back more than a decade and generate an increase in park visits, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said. For instance, candlelight events at Fort Snelling, Afton and Wild River state parks all draw more than 1,000 visitors.
It creates an “unforgettable experience, especially beneath the light from a starry sky and full moon,” said Erika Rivers, director of Minnesota state parks and trails.
While the events are free, visitors need a state park pass ($7 a day or $35 a year; go to mndnr.gov/reservations to purchase online) to get in. Snowshoes and cross-country skis can be rented or checked out at some parks. (Skiers who are 16 and older need a Great Minnesota Ski Pass, which costs $6 for a day, $20 for one season or $55 for three seasons; go to mndnr.gov/skipass to purchase a pass.)
If there’s no snow on the ground, the candlelight events will still be held, but without snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, the DNR said.
Across the border, Wisconsin state parks will continue a nearly three-decade tradition by hosting 35 candlelight events this winter at state parks, forests, recreation areas and trail properties. Many Minnesota cities, counties and local park systems also have added candlelight winter night events.
The candlelight events are just some of the many that Minnesota’s state parks host throughout the year. According to the DNR, the number of state park visitors rose 26 percent from 2003 to 2017 — outpacing the state’s population growth and reaching a record high of 10.3 million visitors in 2016.
In 2017, Gooseberry Falls surpassed Fort Snelling as the most visited state park, with Itasca third.
For information on the candlelight events, go to mndnr.gov/candlelight.