MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest


Ski or snowshoe by candlelight

On a cold winter's night, follow the twinkling lights.

If you do only one thing outdoors in winter, do it by candlelight.

Nothing is more magical than a forest full of flickering lights. I got hooked when I skied in Minnesota's Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.

A fat blue moon hung in the sky, sparkling hoarfrost made twigs as nubby as reindeer antlers and more than 400 glowing bags gave the forest a fairy-tale aura.

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Snowshoeing in Wisconsin

National forests, state parks and wildlife preserves roll out the white carpet for winter hikers.

On the week before Christmas, I figured I’d found the prettiest place in the world.

Fresh snow had fallen around Hayward, and the forest was sparkling. We made our way down the intimate lanes of the Makwa Trail on snowshoes, brushing past heavily laden balsam boughs as we scaled gentle ridges and descended into snowy glades.

Each new tableau was more beautiful than the last, and I congratulated myself on the discovery that single-track mountain-biking trails are great for snowshoeing.

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Snowshoeing in Minnesota

In the land of lakes, it's easy and fun to get off the beaten path.

There are many good reasons to go off trail, and the chance to see moose definitely is one of them.

When we were at Bear Head Lake near Ely one January, we hiked first along a lakeside ski trail that was so packed we didn't need snowshoes.

But then the ranger mentioned she'd seen moose tracks in fresh snow near the park entrance, and we decided to go moose-tracking. Strapping on our snowshoes, we plunged from the road into deep woods.

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White gold in the Porkies

In the Upper Peninsula, a wilderness park rewards those who love snow.

On the far end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park always rewards those who make the effort to get there.

When 12 of us did, steering through a blizzard in cars heaped with snowshoes and skis, our prize was even more snow — falling every day from the sky, swirling in stiff winds and piled high on the earth.

Luckily, we retain a child-like love of the white stuff. So we had ourselves a snowpalooza, gliding through snow-draped forests, making snow angels and taking countless photos of snow mushrooms, snow arches and snow slabs on Lake Superior.

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Open sesame on the sloughs

In winter, eagle-watchers and snowshoers can explore frozen Mississippi byways.

For people who love nature, winter is a time of opportunity.

When it's cold enough, you can walk onto the Mississippi River. You can see bald eagles up close. You can explore sloughs and backwaters without being eaten alive by insects.

"Most of these places, you'd almost die in a few minutes in summer," says Scott Mehus, education specialist at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. "So now is a good time to get out there and see things."

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North Shore by snowshoe

In winter, hikers find serenity and stark beauty on trails above Lake Superior.

In summer and fall, hikers by the thousands take to the hiking trails on Minnesota's North Shore.

In winter? Not so many. But those who strap on snowshoes to climb river gorges and follow the blue blazes of the Superior Hiking Trail are rewarded by stark beauty.

The brittle winter sun throws everything into high relief: Black lenticel pores seem to pop out on trunks of birch that are a brilliant white against the blue sky.

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Great places to snowshoe

In winter, the outdoors is wide open to those who walk on snow.

Everyone likes to snowshoe. It's cheap, easy and you can do it anywhere. 

In winter, snowshoes are the bridge into the wild white yonder. They allow you get off the beaten path and to places that otherwise would be hard to explore — islands, overgrown woods, bogs and marshes.

In deep snow, the first person to break trail has to expend some serious effort. If you're the fourth or fifth person on the trail, though, that's just about right. 

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Waterfalls of the Black River

On Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a series of cascades tumble down to Lake Superior.

On the western tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the Black River is only one of more than 200 rivers that feed Lake Superior.

It punches far above its weight, however, in providing waterfalls: Five of them in one short stretch draw visitors year-round.

Part of the million-acre Ottawa National Forest, the Black River is so scenic it's part of two national trails — the North Country Trail for hiking and the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway for driving.

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Snowshoeing river canyons of the North Shore

In winter, ice creates scenic new routes for hikers.

On Minnesota's North Shore, winter opens new avenues for explorers.

Miles of hiking trails already follow the gorges of rivers that flow into Lake Superior. But why hike the trails when you can hike on the river itself?

A frozen river takes you straight into the scenery — the slot canyons of the Onion, the steep red cliffs of the Devil Track, the waterfalls of the Baptism.

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Walking on water

In winter, a famous creek through Minneapolis becomes a snowshoe trail.

If you’re a paddler, you’re done for the winter. But when one door closes, another opens.

I’ve been meaning to paddle Minnehaha Creek through the heart of Minneapolis for years, but the water won't stand still — sometimes it's too high, sometimes too low.

This 22-mile creek, named for a romantic character in an 1855 hit poem, connects everything that makes Minneapolis famous: the Mississippi River, Minnehaha Falls, the Chain of Lakes, Lake Minnetonka.

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Choosing snowshoes

You can make, buy or simply try the different models at state parks and nature centers.

It’s easy to see why snowshoeing is so popular. It’s slower than skiing, but you can go wherever you want, on footwear that doesn't need to be waxed and on trails that don’t need to be groomed.

A lot of people will be getting or giving snowshoes as holiday presents. Many people automatically head for the high-tech metal shoes that are ubiquitous in sporting goods stores, but it’s worth considering other kinds.

Aluminum snowshoes are light and have crampons for scaling hills, but they don’t give wearers much loft in deep snow, and they’re kind of noisy.

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