Beginner’s guide to snowshoeing in Northeast Minnesota

Love it or not, winter in Minnesota is unavoidable. It’s not uncommon to get a dusting of snow in mid-October. And there have been Minnesota winters that held on well into April. So the way I see it, you might as well bundle up and embrace it. And one of the best ways to do that is by snowshoeing in northeast Minnesota.

Snowshoeing in Minnesota is one of the best outdoor winter activities. It’s easy to learn. There’s a low cost of entry. It’s something just about everyone can do. And it’s a great workout.

Family snowshoeing
Family snowshoeing, photo by Lane Erickson/Dreamstime

Here’s everything you need to know to start snowshoeing in the Quetico-Superior region.

Why snowshoeing?

Most winter sports have a hefty price tag to get started. Fat bikes, cross-country and downhill skis, and fish houses can set you back thousands of dollars. Snowshoeing, on the other hand, is something you could try for as little as $6 at a Minnesota State Park.

Snowshoeing is also easy to learn for kids and adults. After you get used to an unusually large footprint, you’ll sail through the piney trails with ease. Snowshoeing is something you could learn in as little as one afternoon.

Winter sunset on Bear Head Lake, photo by Holly Scherer

Where to go?

Northeast Minnesota is one of the best places to go snowshoeing. Most winters see an abundance of snow. And with dramatic landscapes full of lakes, waterfalls, and tree-lined ridges, you’re sure to be awestruck by Mother Nature’s abundant beauty. You will never get bored with the hundreds of miles of trails that are waiting to be explored. Add to that all the frozen lakes and waterways, and you’ll never want to return home.

While the North Shore of Lake Superior gets most of the attention year-round, the best snow conditions are usually found inland from the big lake. The State Parks and trails around Ely and the Gunflint Trail are both wonderful places to start.

Frozen Falls at Grand Portage State Park, photo by Holly Scherer

When to go?

I’ve enjoyed great snow conditions from December to February. While there are often wonderful snowfalls in November and March, it can be a bit spotty. These shoulder months are a bit warmer, with the coldest months in the middle of winter.

How to try it out?

Snow conditions via MN DNR

As I mentioned, you can rent snowshoes at a Minnesota State Park – Bear Head Lake, Cascade River, Grand Portage, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Tettegouche State Park all offer snowshoe rentals. You can also rent snowshoes at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center in Voyageurs National Park. Call ahead to verify availability and park office hours.

Snowshoe rentals are also available through many outfitters in Northeast Minnesota. You’ll be impressed by the results if you type “outfitter snowshoe rental Minnesota” into your favorite search engine. For even better results, add the name of your location to your search query. Oftentimes these outfitters can offer expert advice and tips for their area. Again, calling ahead during the winter months is always a pro move.

Safety tips

photo by Holly Scherer

Frozen lakes and rivers can be fun to explore in the middle of Minnesota winters. But always take the advice of the Minnesota DNR while snowshoeing. “There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice.” If you plan to snowshoe across a frozen lake, you can refresh your ice safety knowledge here.

Another way to ensure that you enjoy a safe day out on the trails is by dressing in layers. I pack a variety of base, mid, and outer layers each time I head up north to go snowshoeing during Minnesota winters. I always follow the rule that it’s better to have to shed a layer than to not have enough.

Finally, snowshoeing is more physically challenging than hiking. Think of what it feels like to walk on a sandy beach versus and hard-packed trail. Limit your miles when you’re first starting out and add on when you feel more comfortable.

Some of my best winter memories are snowshoeing in Northeast Minnesota. Follow these tips to experience spectacular beauty and joy-filled fun for yourself. I guarantee it will have you looking forward to the next Minnesota winter.

Holly Scherer is a Minnesota-based writer, photographer, outdoorswoman, and guide. She’s most at home in the great outdoors; camping, hiking, paddling, cycling, and gardening. When she’s not on an adventure, she and her husband live in the Twin Cities where they’re fond of saying, “home is where we store our outdoor gear.”

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