Winter Play

  • Best of winter

    There's a reason why winter is the favorite season of many photographers — it's gorgeous.  You've seen this region's icicle-draped sea caves, volcanic Great Lakes waves and dancing northern lights on social media. Now get out there and enjoy the scenery yourselves. Snowshoe up frozen river canyons, barrel through the woods behind a team of huskies and go to bock festivals at breweries. Learn to ice fish, track wolves and look for bald eagles.

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  • Dog days of winter

    In the north woods, it's easy to fall in love with sled dogs. They're exuberant and adorable but also focused, intense and explosive — sort of like kindergartners crossed with Olympic athletes.

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  • Brainerd Lakes in winter

    In winter, the famous Brainerd Lakes freeze over, ice houses replace pontoon boats and skiers and snowmobilers ply the forests. We hiked under bright-blue skies in a frosted forest, crossing bogs and watching for wildlife. And because we had time, we finally discovered something we'd bypassed dozens of times.

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  • Relishing winter in Duluth

    When it's not cold or snowy enough in Duluth, the natives start to grumble. The breezes that earned it the nickname "Air-Conditioned City'' will chill your bones in winter, and if you don't keep moving, you'll wind up as stiff as the bronze sculptures along the lake.

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  • The coolest days of winter

    There's no use hiding from winter — it lasts too long, and eventually that living room will get old. Many of the tourist spots we love to visit in summer work hard to lure us back when it's cold, offering festivals with lots of fun in the snow, plus bonfires and chili feeds to warm us up afterward.

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  • Gooseberries on ice

    There's one spot along the North Shore at which everyone has to stop. Its five falls tumble over lumpy floes of ancient lava, filling the air with mist and tumult.  Intriguing crannies, created by jagged walls of rock and twisted cedars, turn adults into compulsive shutterbugs and bring out the Indiana Jones in children, who clamber from one precipice to another.

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  • Winter lodge adventures on a budget

    In winter, it's hard to find a lodge getaway that fits every budget. But if you'd like to try those things — and be greeted by a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies afterward — you have a friend in environmental learning centers.

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  • Walking on ice

    You can have the finest skis, snowshoes and 4-wheel drives in the world, and you're still dead in the water when trails are covered with ice.

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  • Ice caves of the Apostles

    Along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, everyone waits for a big freeze. Only when temperatures stay low for a long time will the edges of Lake Superior freeze enough for people to walk out to the mainland ice caves, whose beauty is renowned. Even when ice is sufficiently solid, wind may suddenly split it, and snow may block the access drive. So when park rangers say it’s okay to go — well, then you’d better go.

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  • How to make ice luminaries

    In winter, the best time to be out in the forest is during a candlelight ski in state parks and forests, when volunteers set out hundreds of luminaries along snow-draped trails. If you'd like to have the same effect all winter long, make some ice luminaries for your own walk. It'll impress visitors as well as put some sparkle into the long winter nights.

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  • Near escapes in Minnesota

    Before Valentine’s Day, and as winter drags on, everyone starts thinking about romantic getaways. romantic places to stay, and beyond that, who can say what romance is? camper cabins as well as luxurious inns. It’s everywhere, if you look for it.

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  • Winter in Ely

    Around Ely, beauty is stripped down to essentials. There's little but water, stone, spruce and sky in the northern Minnesota wilderness, what conservationist Sigurd Olson called "the naked grandeur." Still, it enthralls visitors from all over the world. In winter, snow, ice and silence settle over the forests and lakes, and stars plaster the inky night sky. For many, Ely's pull is even stronger then.

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  • Ice playgrounds

    In winter, ice comes with the territory. You can curse it — or you can play with it. Kids know how. Climbers and skaters know how. And photographers adore it. Having fun with ice also is a good way to cope with a winter that drags on, endlessly, into April.

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  • A Minnesota snow sampler

    For some people, Interstate 35 may as well be a pneumatic tube linking the Twin Cities to Duluth and the North Shore. But those willing to stop and get off the beaten track are rewarded. In four state parks, skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers glide along miles of trails on the St. Croix, Kettle and St. Louis rivers, once plied by lumberjacks and quarrymen.

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  • Seeking an outdoor hot tub

    In winter, there's nothing better than relaxing in a hot tub after a day outdoors. Hot tubs are a dime a dozen — inside B&Bs and hotels. But the ones outside? Much harder to find.

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  • The silly season

    If you feel like acting ridiculous this winter, any number of festivals will reward you for doing it. Where you find one weird competition, you'll likely find others. Here are some of the best.

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  • The best in snow tubing

    On a 13-lane tubing superhighway, it's easy to feel 8 years old again. When my daughter begged me to take her tubing at Elm Creek Park Reserve near Minneapolis, I wondered if I was too old to rocket down an icy hill. But a professionally run tubing hill is nothing like a neighborhood sledding hill. Each lane is groomed, graded and separated by snow berms, so you don't have to worry about careening into a tree or someone's knees.

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  • Staying warm in winter

    In this chilly region, smart men are on to Victoria's Secret. Shopping at the mall, they breeze right by the silk nighties, the gold bracelets, the dainty perfumes. Because what Victoria secretly wants for Christmas are SmartWool undies, a goose-down parka and moosehide mukluks.

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  • Near escapes in Wisconsin

    When winter seems to be lasting forever, you just want to get away. Of course, that’s not so easy to do if you’re buried in snow. Then you may have to get away a lot closer . . . maybe to the hotel around the corner. Until then, here are some great winter getaways, each with lots to do and see.

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  • Winter weekend in Monticello

    Not far west of the Twin Cities, the Mississippi River town of Monticello is known for two things. Passersby on I-94 can't fail to notice the nuclear-power reactor that marks the town. In winter, it's the power plant that attracts trumpeter swans, which think the plant's warm discharge waters are a little spa just for them. Of course, the flock of swans draws a flock of swan-watchers. One January, my husband and I were among them, standing along the shore of the river and marveling at the raucous crowd of birds, jostling for food and attention.

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  • Chasing the Beargrease

    Long before reality shows turned survival into a stunt, there was John Beargrease. With no fanfare and no road, the Ojibwe man delivered the weekly mail between Two Harbors and Grand Marais until 1899, using a dog team in winter. Using only four dogs to pull packs of up to 700 pounds, Beargrease could make the round-trip in a few days. His stamina spawned a legend. Now mushers from around the nation come to trace his path, racing each other from Duluth to the Gunflint Trail in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

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