Those who love and live in Minnesota know the North Star State truly shines when the mercury drops. Sure, swimming and paddling the Land of 10,000 Lakes in summer and fall is great, but skating across them and experiencing public art installations built on their frozen waters is what Minnesota is really made for.
Not sure how to take in all of the state’s wintery goodness? Here are eight excellent events and adventures to get you started. Just make sure you bring the right gear — a sturdy pair of boots and a warm coat make all the difference. With a little preparation, you’ll soon be cozily enjoying everything Minnesota has to share with those who choose to embrace its signature season.
1. Take a selfie at the Art Shanty Projects.
Since 2004, January in Minneapolis means the Art Shanty Projects — a four-weekend public art event on Lake Harriet. The frozen lake is transformed into a public art fest inspired by pop-up ice fishing villages.
Local artists create interactive temporary sculptures and installations for visitors to enjoy alongside live music, yoga sessions, and other happenings. The event is free with a $10-$20 suggested donation, and in 2023 it starts on Jan. 21.
2. Warm up to winter at Ice Fest.
Ever wanted to cross-country ski surrounded by candlelight? Come January, you can do that and more at Central Minnesota’s Breezy Point during Ice Fest (Jan. 6-7, 2023). This annual winter celebration contrasts iconic offerings like bonfires and pond hockey with more unique and creative opportunities such as snow golf and an ice slide.
There’s plenty of wholesome, Midwestern goodness sprinkled in, too — think pancake breakfasts and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
3. Enjoy winter’s simple pleasures.
While the Danish word “hygge” can’t be perfectly translated, it refers to that warm, cozy, and comforting feeling that comes from enjoying life’s simple pleasures in the cold months of the year. Grand Marais’ Hygge Festival on the shores of Lake Superior celebrates all things hygge. The event (Feb. 4-14, 2023) brims with winter musts like mulled wine and vintage snowmobile rides.
If that’s not enough, February also brings Waseca’s Sleigh & Cutter Festival, a southern Minnesota joy complete with ice sculptures, horses, and a parade (Feb. 18, 2023) — fun for all ages.
4. Fish and sip in an ice bar.
But don’t expect to sit around shivering. This structure (it’s actually built with metal framing and foam insulation) is propane-heated, decked out with plenty of big-screen TVs, and offers a menu of soups, hot sandwiches, and pizza to keep you warm. You can even fish while you sip — simply drop a line through one of the trap doors in the floor. How’s that for winter multitasking?
5. Take part in the “coolest celebration on Earth.”
Designed to invigorate the body and mind while toasting the creativity that winter brings, The Great Northern is a two-week celebration (Jan. 24-Feb. 4, 2024) of all things winter spread across Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Don’t miss the skijoring (skiing while being pulled by a dog), fat-bike races, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, public art installations, curated food and drinks, and performances by local, national, and international music acts. In 2024, the fun kicks off on Jan. 24.
6. Drop a line at the Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza.
If you’ve ever wanted to try ice fishing, this is the time and the place to do it. The Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza (Jan. 28, 2023) is an annual fundraising event held each January. Proceeds benefit Confidence Learning Center and other local charities.
While there’s over $150,000 in cash and prizes to be won, the jovial event is all about fun. Founded in 1991, it draws participants from around the country and the world to the frozen waters of Hole in the Day Bay on Gull Lake.
7. Watch (or join!) the longest sled-dog race in the continental U.S.
Northern Minnesota has been home to the longest sled-dog race in the contiguous United States for the last 40+ years. The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, a 400-mile race that honors an Anishinaabe mail carrier, garners participants and thousands of spectators from across the country each January. The event is also a qualifying race for the Iditarod.
The race takes off from Billy’s Bar in Duluth and concludes in Grand Portage on the Canadian border. In 2023, the race dates are Jan. 29-31.
8. Discover an icy oasis.
When winter comes, downtown Rochester leans into ice and everything nice for a happening called Social-ICE. This will be the event’s 15th year of unique, themed ice bars (each with its own signature drink), towering ice sculptures, and DJs each night. It’s free and open to the public. Don’t miss the Social-ICE FAM JAM, a family-friendly companion event that features ice cream instead of booze and takes place before the last night of the main shindig.
It should be obvious now, but in Minnesota, hibernating during the cold months is for the bears. Don some warm gear and head outdoors to embrace the chill.