Across Minnesota, people will soon be retrieving skis from storage, applying wax, checking the bindings — if they haven’t already.

There are giants of the slopes and trails: Lutsen Mountains has 95 downhill runs and Giants Ridge has 35; both destinations also offer Nordic trails. On the Gunflint Trail, where cross-country skiing is legendary, groomed trails already await. Beyond the big-name resorts, options can be found around the state. Here are some lesser-known gems.

The Vasaloppet Nordic Center in Mora, Minn., has 15 kilometers of groomed trails; 5 km are lighted for night skiing. In the center’s charming red building, skiers can warm up in saunas and prep skis in a wax room.

Afton State Park, near Hastings, has 19 km of groomed cross-country ski trails on bluffs above the St. Croix River Valley. Other activities include sledding and snowshoeing.

Near Biwabik’s Giants Ridge, the nearby Laurentian Winter Recreation Trails, with both groomed and ungroomed options, make for a rugged backwoods Nordic experience. The trails loop through Superior National Forest.

Other options include the classic Maplelag Resort, near Detroit Lakes, where cookies and warm drinks are available all day in the main lodge. The Root River Trail in southeastern Minnesota is known for biking, but turns into a long ribbon of bucolic Nordic trail as soon as snow permits.

Downhill skiers who head to Duluth’s Spirit Mountain might also want to check out Chester Bowl, in the city’s Chester Park. Mount Itasca in Coleraine has already been making snow for its cross-country and downhill runs. More options include Coffee Mill in Wabasha, Mount Kato in Mankato, Detroit Mountain in Detroit Lakes and, nearer the Twin Cities, Afton Alps and Welch Village.

All these options (and there are more) prove that Minnesotans know how to relish winter.


Contact Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at; follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.