Snowshoeing on hiking trails is a super workout and one of the best ways to enjoy winter.
We’ll cover a few specific trails in Minnesota in this post. But you can apply the idea to anywhere that has great snow and great hikes.
Chances are your favorite summer trail in the north or in the mountains will also be a great snowshoe trail!
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Off-Trail or On-Trail? Depends How Much Snow!
Here in Minnesota there’s a big difference in snow cover across the state. Depending on the winter, we may or may not have enough to snowshoe on in many parts of the state. But there’s one area we always know will have snow: up in the Arrowhead.
(Take a look at this average snowfall map from the DNR to see what I mean)
When we’re up there, if we try to snowshoe off-trail we’re in up to our knees or deeper, even with snowshoes on. It’s so much work! So on-trail is best in deep snow.
An exception to that are some of the frozen lakes. The wind often keeps the snow from accumulating too deep, so off-trail on the lakes has worked fine for us. If it’s windy, though, think twice—wind you won’t feel in the woods is wind you’ll feel full-force out on an open lake!
But if you’re snow that’s just a foot deep or less, off-trail is just fine.
Advantages of Snowshoeing Hiking Trails in the Winter
Yes, it’s cold. But there are lots of advantages to snowshoeing the summer trails:
- NO BUGS! I don’t know about where you live, but in Minnesota we have a lot of them. It’s glorious being in the woods amidst all the beauty without those nasty little biting creatures!
- HARDLY ANY PEOPLE. On trails with dozens or scores of visitors during the summer and fall, we might see a couple, or at most a handful of folks during the winter. (Although enough to keep the trails open—which is nice!)
- ANIMAL TRACKS. This is one of my favorite things—to see all the animal tracks in the woods criss-crossing trails. We’re all sharing the same space!
- SERENITY & QUIET. There are a few cold-weather birds that stick around, but many of the song birds have left for the winter. Less traffic, fewer people and lots of quiet in the winter. Sometimes even the waterfalls are frozen.
- CLEAR VIEWS THROUGH THE WOODS. With no leaves on the trees there’s plenty to see.
- WINTRY BEAUTY. Winter has its own kind of beauty, especially after a recent snowfall. If you live in the south and have never been in a winter wooded landscape, you need to be in one once in your life! It truly is a wonderland.
Does It Matter What Kind of Snowshoes to Use?
As snowshoeing gains popularity, you’ll find more parks and retailers are renting snowshoes. But if you like hiking and like snow, you’ll love snowshoeing! It’s worth investing in your own pair. You’ll be much more free to go wherever you like, whenever you like.
Read Snowshoeing: How to Get Started for more details on buying snowshoes.
A Few Popular Minnesota Trails
Some of my favorite hiking trails have also become favorite snowshoe trails:
Oberg Mountain Loop (North Shore)
The trail loop at Oberg Mountain is famous for its spectacular fall colors in late September and early October. But hiking here is beautiful any season of the year—including winter!
Not just the beauty of the woods and Sawtooth Mountains, but also the many great views of Lake Superior.
Honeymoon Bluff Trail (Gunflint Trail)
This short but very steep trail can be a challenge in the winter because of ice build-up on top of the steps. That’s when crampons will be a life saver, and poles will be a big help!
Like Oberg, this hike is always beautiful no matter the season. Winter brings its own flavor—it almost seems like a different place.
Caribou Rock Trail (Gunflint Trail)
Another short trail to a scenic overlook, with ups and downs that’ll make use of your crampons and poles. I found, surprisingly, that I enjoyed this trail more in the winter than in the summer! Not sure why, but I did.
This one continues on into the Boundary Waters if you’re up for a longer and more challenging day. It’s a 7-mile trek to Stairway Portage and back, one of the most popular day canoe trips in the Boundary Waters. You’ll need a BWCA one-day entrance permit for this.
(For that matter, one could snowshoe across the lakes to get to Stairway, too, which might be very pleasant on a calm day—and significantly shorter than taking the trail.)
Bunker Hills Regional Park (Twin Cities metro)
Snowshoeing in central Minnesota is where it’s fun to get off-trail. The snow isn’t nearly as deep and you can access wetlands (of which there are many) that aren’t hikeable in the summer.
We made it to Bunker, our favorite local regional park, and made our way wherever we felt like going. We even saw five deer in the middle of the day because we were off the beaten track.
One Note about Snow Conditions
Even though temps in the 30s may be more pleasant overall for getting out on the trails, packable snow is terrible for snowshoeing!
Last winter we had the issue of the warming snow packing into ice balls in our crampons, making it almost impossible to keep walking without constantly pausing to scrape them off.
If the forecast is for 30s and up, get out early before the sun has a chance to warm up the snow! You’ll have better, drier snow conditions if the temps are colder.
I hope this has inspired you to get out there and snowshoe! If you don’t live in a northern climate, think about heading north in the winter—you just might like it!
(NOTE: The ladies in these photos are my daughter Jamie, my daughter-in-law Cheyenne, and friends Marissa and Sarah—they all love snowshoeing!)
You’ll also enjoy:
- Snowshoeing: How to Get Started
- Outdoor Winter Gear to Keep You Moving
- Outdoor Winter Activities: Heading North in the Winter
Sharon is the founder and administrator of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other blog, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails and other marketing tools for clients.