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FastPlans/Fun around Ely

A skier passes Norberg Lake in Bear Head Lake State Park.

In winter, the wide open spaces around the northern Minnesota town of Ely are a playground for anyone who likes to move fast over snow.

What to do: Ski at Bear Head Lake State Park (pictured) or on the Hidden Valley trails. Snowshoe to the Hegman Lake pictographs (go free with Outward Bound Feb. 16) or on the hilly North Arm trails.

Visit the International Wolf Center. Mush a dog-sled team.

Events to catch:  Feb. 7-17, Winter Festival. Feb. 23-24, WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race.

Details: For more, see Winter in Ely.

Winter Carnival in St. Paul

Ice sculptures in St. Paul.

In Minnesota's capital, the biggest festival of the year comes in the depths of winter, started in 1886 in response to a New York City reporter's gibe that St. Paul was "the Siberia of North America.''

Winter also is a good time to visit a museum or catch a play or concert in the compact downtown.

What to do: See a show at the Ordway Center on Rice Park, the Fitzgerald Theater or the History Theatre. Visit the Science Museum of Minnesota or Minnesota History Center.

Events to catch: Through Feb. 3, Winter Carnival.

Details: For more, see Sightseeing in St. Paul.

Goofy winter fun in Minneapolis

An art sled flies down the hill.

There's a lot going on in Minneapolis this weekend, thanks to a bunch of creative folks and sporty types who make it fun to be outdoors.

Events to catch: Jan, 26, Art Sled Rally in Powderhorn Park. Jan. 26, Kite Festival on Lake Harriet with Art Shanties. Jan. 31-Feb. 3, City of Lakes Loppet.

Details: For more, see Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis.

Fun and games in Wausau

Snowshoeing in Nine Mile Forest.

This town in north-central Wisconsin is all about the outdoors in winter.

But in addition to a variety of snow sports that's among the best in the Midwest, Wausau has fine dining, lovely hotels and a popular art museum. Best of all, it's easy to reach from the big cities.

What to do: Ski downhill at Granite Peak. Ski cross-country at Nine Mile County Forest. Snowshoe at Rib Mountain State Park. Tube at Sylvan Hill Park.

Visit the free Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum. See a show at the Grand Theater.

Events to catch: Jan. 26, Winter Fest. Weekends through Feb. 24, Badger State Winter Games.

Details: For more, see Winter in Wausau.

Fun in Itasca

Skiers on the trails in Itasca State Park

In summer, tourists from all over the world make a beeline for Minnesota's Itasca State Park, where the Mississippi River starts its run for the Gulf.

But in the winter, it's very quiet . . . and very serene. It's a great time to see the park's beautiful old-growth pines under a cloak of snow.

What to do: Ski on 28 miles of trails. Snowshoe on five trails (or anywhere). Ice fish on Itasca Lake. See historical exhibits at the visitors center.

Events to catch: Jan. 12, lantern-lit skiing and snowshoeing, a concert and storytelling. Feb. 16, lantern-lit snowshoeing and a concert.

Where to stay: The rate for the Itasca Suites is reduced to $105. 

Details: For more, see Itasca in winter and The people's park.