When the words "Alberta Clipper" and "Polar Vortex" are ringing in my ears and Minnesota sunlight has faded like a cheap sport coat, I scramble for opportunities to get out of the house. And nothing can boost my spirits faster than a brisk walk in a climate-controlled 70 degrees with an occasional babbling brook, scenic vista or intriguing specialty store.

Follow me from Duluth to Rochester, from the Twin Cities to Fargo, and let's see if we can't morph the mall walk from ordinary to extraordinary.

Duluth Skywalk adventure

The Duluth Skywalk offers 3.5 miles of comfortable and well-marked corridors, much of it nestled along the harbor. Some of the sections can be nondescript office building connectors, so you'll want to grab a map and chart out your itinerary. Here is one of my favorites.

Start at the Radisson Hotel on W. Superior Street and look for the signs for the Skywalk. Inside, you'll pass a tranquil indoor waterfall and then follow directional placards toward the Holiday Center, a hub connecting five of the Skywalk arteries. I bumped my walking time to 30 minutes by continuing on to the Tech Village and then doubling back. From the Holiday Center, head south on the yellow route to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC).

Right next door to the DECC is the surprising Great Lakes Aquarium. In almost every direction, there are soothing sounds of running water and exhibits brimming with foliage. The aquarium is billed as focusing on freshwater species, but there is much more than that. Expecting a series of displays with fish behind glass, instead I was entertained by otters and ducks in bubbling streams, snakes and predatory birds. And then there were interesting exhibits of electric eels, stingrays and a rainbow of tropical fish amid the freshwater displays.

By the time I finished touring the aquarium, my winter doldrums were long gone. I put an exclamation point on my walk back at the Radisson, finding its 16th-floor rotating JJ Astor Restaurant and Lounge. What a perfect spot for stunning views of the harbor, the city and a celebratory drink.

Bask in the sun: Mall of America

MOA offers four walking levels and you can log over a mile per lap by sticking to the outer walls. When it's frigid outside, getting splashed by the Nickelodeon Universe Log Chute (which is temporarily closed) or basking under the eight acres of skylights can be just what the doctor ordered.

There has been quite a turnover of new stores during the pandemic. So I like to do a lap on each of the lower three levels to discover what's new and interesting. If there is one area that raises MOA above the rest, it has to be the scope of excellent dining opportunities. I love finishing a walk with a top-rated burger at Wahlburgers or Shake Shack. On the other hand, there are 20 full-service restaurants within the MOA walls.

You can't go wrong capping your walk with a Minnesota fix of walleye and wild rice soup at Twin City Grill or happy hour, and people-watching at Cantina Laredo. One caution: Your menu choices may necessitate additional laps.

Rochester shopping bonanza

Rochester's trainless underground "subway" and overhead skyway system has been a temperature-controlled refuge for visitors since the Roaring Twenties. The major benefit is that Mayo Clinic patients can stay in hotels throughout downtown and never have to go outside. The system does not offer the straight-line walking routes of Duluth, but with some map savvy, you can get in your 30-minute hike and experience top shopping and restaurants along the way.

I chose to access the system from the Mayo Civic Center parking ramp, which is offering free parking on weeknights and weekends. I found the skyway and veered west, about eight minutes to the Grand Shops of Kahler & Marriott. There are an astounding 17 women's and six men's apparel stores in the area. Toss in bookstores, pharmacies and convenience shops and it would be easy to live for months in this artificial city. That would be a "Survivor" location I could thrive in.

But I stay on task, descend to the subway level and head north toward Mayo Clinic's Methodist Campus. There I maneuver west toward Graham Parking Ramp and Brentwood Inn and Suites. On my return trip to the Civic Center, I have options galore. There is excellent Italian food at Victoria's Ristorante & Wine Bar, or tasty lobster mac and rotisserie chicken at Chester's Kitchen & Bar. Both are close to the Galleria at University Square — or I can finally relent and begin my shopping spree at the Grand Shops.

Other mall walk options

Apache Mall, Rochester: I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Apache, a traditional mall-walking favorite for decades. You can log in more than three-quarters of a mile per lap.

West Acres Mall, Fargo: The largest mall in North Dakota. Along your 0.82-mile walk, you will be able to view the largest regional collection of art in the state.

Crossroads Center, St. Cloud: 2.3 trips around this mall equal one mile.