In wintertime, Minnesota’s iconic spots take on a shimmering beauty, from the ski slopes at Lutsen in the northeast to the prairielands of Pipestone National Monument in the southwest. There is rarely reason to head out to the snow-covered sights beyond a desire to ski, ice fish or simply relish the white wonders. There is now. Participate in a scavenger hunt called “Checkpoint MN,” featuring 10 locations marked by signs around the state, and you could receive prizes from snow bikes to getaway packages. The event runs through Feb. 7.
To earn points that you can use to claim a prize, just take a picture of yourself at one of the checkpoint signs and upload it at the designated website, www.checkpointmn.com. You can also shop for prizes there based on the number of points you’ve earned.
Grand prize packages that include a fat bike, a down-filled jacket and sleeping bag, and gift cards for sports gear were enticement enough for Susan Todzy of Rochester and Dana Colestock of St. Paul. The friends carpooled to become the first to photograph themselves at the 10 checkpoints in 27 hours. The duo logged 1,100 miles, skipped sleep and drove through the night in Todzy’s four-wheel-drive car in their quest.
Todzy and Colestock hit a roadblock, so to speak, in the early hours of the morning in Roseville, where the checkpoint sign at the Guidant John Rose Oval was behind a locked gate. Police officers, whom they summoned from a station conveniently located across the street, discouraged them from climbing over the fence for their photo op. The two agreed, and headed to Pipestone, deciding to make the Roseville ice rink their last stop.
Todzy, the mastermind behind the women’s mad dash, learned about the scavenger hunt at the Midwest Mountaineering’s Outdoor Adventure Expo in November; Explore Minnesota Tourism launched the event and its website on Dec. 10.
“We never intended this to be a race,” said Alyssa Ebel, spokesman for Explore Minnesota Tourism, which is running the event in conjunction with Minneapolis-based Monopoint Media. “We want to encourage people to explore some of these iconic destinations. A lot of folks in the state don’t even know where some of these winter adventures are.”
That was the case with Colestock, an adventure lover. “My favorite location was in Sandstone, where they had these ice climbing areas,” she said of the Sandstone Ice Park, within Robison Park, near Sandstone. “It was beautiful, and I had no idea it was there. Grand Portage, too. I’d never been. It was great getting up that far north and seeing its extra beauty. We both walked away thinking there are places we want to visit again.”
Todzy said the two had a great time in their pursuit of the grand prize. “We got to see all sorts of wildlife: red fox, white-tailed deer and bunnies,” she said. “Most important, we got to see some awesome locations I otherwise had not been to and we got to meet some great Minnesotans along the way.”
By now, four grand prize packages have been claimed by the first four people to visit all 10 sights. A fifth grand prize remains; its winner will be chosen at random from all participants, not just those who have put the miles on their cars to visit all checkpoints. Participants get entered in the drawing when they visit a checkpoint; the more checkpoints, the more times a name is entered to win. A water-repellent down jacket, a fat bike and a GPS tracker are the goodies that make up that final grand prize — just the gear to enhance winter adventures.
To learn more about the hunt, including the 10 locations, to register to participate and to see photos of those who have already made it to the signs, go to checkpointmn.com.
Here is a quick snapshot of the checkpoints — roughly listed from north to south — which were chosen to represent a range of locations and wintertime recreation in the state.
At Grand Portage National Monument, on the northern tip of the Arrowhead, a restored fur trading fort and an Ojibwe village depict the area’s history (www.nps.gov/grpo).
Lutsen Mountains Ski Area
From the four mountain peaks at Lutsen, along the North Shore, skiers get panoramic views of wintry Lake Superior. The area has 95 runs (www.lutsen.com).
Paul Bunyan Statue
Paul Bunyan and his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox, welcome visitors to Bemidji and have been a Minnesota photo op since the statues were constructed in 1937 (www.visitbemidji.com).
Lake Mille Lacs
Ice houses dot the white expanse of this 200-square-mile lake, a classic fishing spot year-round. The checkpoint is at Nitti’s Hunters Point Resort on Mille Lacs’ eastern shore, outside of Isle (www.hunters pointresort.com).
Sandstone Ice Park
Bring your ice pick — or just your fascination — to this park, where frozen waterfalls line old quarry walls along the Kettle River. This is part of Robison Park, near Sandstone (go to www.sandstone.govoffice.com and search for “ice park”).
Roseville Oval Ice Rink
Can’t get to Sochi? You can still feel the wind of speed skaters zooming past at the Guidant John Rose MN Oval in Roseville. Its 110,000 square feet of refrigerated ice includes a 400-meter skating track and an infield ice area used for hockey and the sport of bandy (go to www.cityofroseville.com and search for “Guidant John Rose”).
Midtown Greenway Bike Path
The paved trail cutting through Minneapolis was named “Best Bike Path in America” by USA Today this year. The checkpoint is near the Lyndale Avenue overpass (www.midtowngreenway.org).
Hyland Lake Reserve
Hit the popular cross-country ski trails at this Bloomington park, part of the Three Rivers Park District, and you might forget you are in the metro area. Deer appear at dusk and trees hug the trails. The fireplace warms skiers in the visitor center, where there is also a ski rental desk (www.threeriversparks.org/parks/hyland-lake-park.aspx).
Red Wing’s Colvill Park
Eagles flock to this area to feed because the waters of the Mississippi remain open, even in the winter (www.red-wing.org).
Plains tribes have historically quarried for the special soft reddish stone found at Pipestone National Monument, a gem of a spot on the outskirts of Pipestone. A walking path leads through prairie and past quarries where Indians still extract the stone, which is used to make trinkets as well as peace pipes (www.nps.gov/pipe).