Winter Fun At A Minnesota State Park

Start The Season Early With A New Year’s Candlelight Walk

By Deborah Locke

We all know the way candlelight softens an indoor winter evening with a soft glow that warms and illuminates. That indoor glow moves outside in the winter months during candlelight walks held at state parks throughout Minnesota. Hundreds of luminaries will line miles of trail edges, casting a beautiful light while bringing a little mystery and intrigue to your walk.

Let the winter of 2017-18 be the first winter of your new candlelight walk tradition: bundle up the family members (including the dog) and drive to the park at sundown. In the metro area, you may wish to take part in the New Year’s Eve candlelight walk at Fort Snelling State Park from 4 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 31. The trails will be lit, and warming stations along the trail will include a bonfire as well as a chance to toast a marshmallow, your first toasting to a new year.

If you like the idea of luminaries enough to create your own, the “Ice Luminaries 101” demonstration will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Dec. 23, 2017 at Fort Snelling State Park. No registration is needed. If you are attending the park for the first time, know that the Visitor Center is about two miles from the park entrance on Highway 5. Plan for an addition 10-minute drive along the river and through the park. For more information, call the Visitor Center at 612-725-2724.

Or maybe you’ve always wanted to try snowshoeing by the light of the moon. Join others from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 1, 2018 at Afton State Park near Hastings for the annual First Night Hike. You can borrow snowshoes from the park office; they are available for both children and adults. Program space is limited, though, so call ahead to register at 651-231-6989.

If you would prefer an afternoon to learn how to use snowshoes, check out the “Let’s Snowshoe” event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2018 at William O’Brien State Park. You can borrow or rent the equipment from the park’s Visitor Center and receive instruction on the basic fundamentals of snowshoeing. You can use the park’s older wooden snowshoes for free or rent newer ones for $6. Keep in mind that a base of six inches of snow is needed to snowshoe; if enough snow is not on the ground then, the program will be cancelled. For more information, call 651-433-0500.

If snowshoeing turns out to be a hit with your family, there are lots of other Minnesota state parks you can explore, many of which rent snowshoes. Some of the parks have groomed snowshoe trails – Flandreau, Fort Snelling, Glendalough, Grand Portage, Itasca, Maplewood, Sibley and Wild River, but you don’t have to stay on the trails. You can snowshoe anywhere in the parks except on trails groomed for skiing or snowmobiling.

Want to go faster? Bring your snowmobile for a brisk run down a Minnesota state trail. Minnesota’s trail network includes more than 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, with more than 21,000 miles maintained by local snowmobile club volunteers. For maps and more information, go to

Maybe sightseeing or photography are hobbies. Parks offer an abundance of photo opportunities, be it lacy tree branches against a bright blue sky or an owl perched on a branch overhead or a frozen waterfall.

Winter offers new ways to play outside. Maybe you’ve never ice fished, or maybe you have always wanted to try cross-country skiing. . Learn more about these and other activities at Winter Trails Day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan 20, 2018 at Fort Snelling State Park. Hosts including the National Park Service, REI, the DNR and the U.S. Forest Service will be on hand to teach and demonstrate winter recreational and sport activities.