After a 220-mile drive from the Twin Cities to the North Shore, and a 1 ½-mile trek on cross-country skis into the silent, frozen woods, I arrived at the little rustic cabin, nestled along a small wilderness lake sparkling with fresh snow.
Ready to relax.
The old cabin had electric lights, a propane heater, wood stove, and no running water, TV or phone. A web of groomed ski trails loomed just outside. It was a perfect winter getaway, a place to explore the rugged North Shore woods and lakes on skis or snowshoes, or snuggle up with a good book.
A cherished family retreat? Nope.
It’s one of five rustic cabins open to the public at Tettegouche State Park — and just one of Minnesota’s many unique state park winter destinations. Whether ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, snowmobiling or winter camping in a tent or cozy cabin, the state’s 76 parks and recreation areas offer a panoply of winter adventures.
Early snow and cold have made this December the best start to the winter recreation season in years. The biggest problem: Deciding where to go. Here’s a at look at four possibilities. Don’t have gear? Some parks rent skis, some rent snowshoes, and some rent both.
The North Shore is one of the state’s most popular winter getaways, for good reason. It has everything — miles of ski and snowmobile trails, plus spectacular Lake Superior.
Besides the rustic cabins and views, Tettegouche’s 9,500 acres beckon with 15 miles of ski trails. Twelve miles of snowmobile trails bisect the park and connect to the popular C.J. Ramstad/North Shore State Trail, which runs from Duluth to Grand Marais.
And four inland lakes offer remote ice fishing experiences.
If a cabin is too urbane, you can always set up a tent in the park’s campground or walk-in sites.
“We keep a number of the sites plowed out so they can be used during the winter,’’ said Jason Peterson, assistant park manager. “And we’re one of the only places that has a heated shower building open year-round.’’
Two of the park’s more dramatic vistas, 60-foot High Falls on the Baptism River and Shovel Point on Lake Superior, are accessible by winter trails. The park rents snowshoes, which you’ll need: So far, more than 2 feet of snow has blanketed Tettegouche, including another 6 inches last weekend. A new park visitor center is expected to open later this winter.
A gem in western Minnesota, straddling the transition zone between prairie and forest, Glendalough offers a special winter experience.
The park’s Annie Battle Lake is a “heritage fishery,’’ meaning there are special regulations, including no motors, electronics or power ice augers. Not to worry, the park has hand augers to use. Bluegills and crappies are the main target.
Glendalough’s 2,700 acres include seven miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, and a sledding hill for the kids. “Some years we’ll have more folks out on the sledding hill than will be out skiing,’’ said Jeff Wiersma, park manager.
And snowshoers are welcome to explore the park. (There are no snowmobile trails.) The park rents both skis and snowshoes. When you’ve had your fill of outdoor fun, gather in the heated trail center building or retreat to one of the four little rustic camper cabins nestled in the woods.