If you are looking for a memorable way to ring in the new year -- whether it's family-friendly fun or a chance to toast with grownups -- Dakota County offers some unique options close to home.
Lebanon Hills creates a candlelit winter woodland on New Year's Eve, an annual event that began seven years ago. "It's been one of our hallmark events ever since," said Park Operations Coordinator Katie Pata.
Luminarias light two miles of hiking and snowshoeing trails and a skating rink, and the hill behind the visitors' center will be lit for nighttime sledding. If conditions permit (which looks likely, Pata said), employees will groom and light up a half-mile ice-skating loop on the lake.
Visitors can warm up and make s'mores at bonfires, a magician will entertain crowds in a heated tent, and food trucks R.A. MacSammy's and Cajun 2 Geaux will serve custom-made mac and cheese and classic Louisiana fare such as gumbo and jambalaya.
Inside the visitors' center, kids can listen to storyteller Roy Edward Power and see creatures such as snakes, turtles, chinchillas and salamanders up close with Dakota Wild Animals.
During the kid-friendly countdown at 7:59, a ball blazing with 500 LED lights will drop, and after a singing of "Auld Lang Syne," said Pata, it generally "kind of turns into a mini dance party for a little bit."
The event runs 5 to 8 p.m. at the Lebanon Hills Visitor Center in Eagan. Parking is free, and a free shuttle runs from a satellite parking lot at the nearby Woodcrest Church. Snowshoe rental is available. Bring your own sleds and ice skates.
Admission is $10 at the door or $8 in advance (register through Dec. 30). Children 5 and under get in free. Register online at www.dakotacounty.us/parks or call 952-891-7000.
Fort Snelling State Park celebrates with a candlelight walk from 3 to 8 p.m. Luminarias will light three miles of trail on Pike Island, a route named the best urban hike in Minneapolis in 2011 by City Pages.
"When you are out on that island, you would never know you were in the cities," said visitor center employee Cheryl Zumwalt. "It's absolutely beautiful."
Visitors can warm up by one of the campfires with apple cider or hot cocoa, watch a demonstration on making luminarias and take part in a "story walk." The countdown begins at 7:59.
To find the festivities, take the Post Road exit off Hwy. 5 and follow the signs for the visitor center. For more information, call 612-725-2389 or 612-725-2724.
Buck Hill in Burnsville once again hosts its annual bash, complete with tarot card readings, live music, and entertainment such as clowns, jugglers and magicians. The lifts keep running until midnight, and they usher in the new year with a huge fireworks display when the clock strikes 12.
"It's become a tradition for a lot of people," said Jessica Stone, Buck Hill's marketing director. "We live in Minnesota. Why not embrace it?"
Stone said people are welcome to come and enjoy the free festivities, even if they aren't skiing. For more information, call 952-435-7174.
For those looking to stay indoors, the Burnsville Performing Arts Center features two-time Emmy-winning comic Louie Anderson at 7:30 and 10 p.m. VIP tickets include admission and a meet-and-greet with Anderson. The 7:30 p.m. show was all but sold out by midweek, but some seats remained for the late show. Ticket prices range from $40 to $111.
Seattle comic Kermet Apio puts on two shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the GrandStay Hotel in Apple Valley. The second show features a midnight champagne toast, music and dancing. Tickets are $20 for the 7 p.m. show and $25 for the 9:30 show and are available at www.hahatickets.com. Call 651-528-8454 for more information.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.