Cross-country skiing was on my bucket list last winter, but I got way too busy. So this is going to be the year that I (finally) try my luck on the trails.
I love hiking, and cross-country skiing appeals to me for many of the same reasons. I like the peace and quiet, being in nature and exploring places that few people see. I also prefer to be active in a way that doesn’t particularly feel like exercise. (Counting reps makes me cranky.)
I figure can’t possibly be a worse cross-country skier than a downhill skier. (I permanently benched myself after almost running into a ski lodge in high school. Seriously.) I guess if I’m truly terrible, I can always try snowshoeing. That sounds perfect for me, since it’s basically winter hiking. And I already love hiking. If I can’t make that work, I’m seriously in trouble.
Here are nine places in North Dakota and western Minnesota that I’d love to see in the winter. These are all spots I’ve visited before (although some visits were in warmer seasons). They also boast warming houses and rentals to make things easier for newbies like me. Be sure to give me your tips and recommendations at the bottom of the post!
In Fargo, ND
Edgewood Golf Course
This north Fargo spot is a soothing spot to ski. It’s technically in the city, so the drive time is minimal for most in the Fargo-Moorhead metro. But once you’re on the groomed trails, it feels like you’re far away from it all.
For winter festivities, come out from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays through the end of February, when there are free carriage rides. Then warm up with snacks and hot cocoa in front of the fire at the Edgewood Chalet. Youth and adult ski and snowshoe rentals are available.
Near Bismarck, ND
Cross Ranch State Park
Ten miles of groomed trails are about the only polished thing in this untamed stretch of the Missouri River, 12 miles southeast of Washburn. Soak in the wildness along four marked trails that give you a glimpse of what this stretch of river looked like hundreds of years ago.
There are ski and snowshoe rentals available on site, as well as a warming house for when you need a little break. To really get the most out of the experience, book a cozy log cabin or a cool, Mongolian-style yurt and stay awhile.
Near Valley City, ND
Fort Ransom State Park
Those who think central North Dakota is entirely flat will be surprised to find this hilly, heavily-forested park nestled in the picturesque Sheyenne River Valley 34 miles south of Valley City. Take the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway from Valley City or Lisbon and then check out 6.5 miles of marked and groomed trails. There’s a warming house on site as well.
There are also two yurts available year-round in the park. They both sleep up to six. If those are booked, you can check out this yurt that my friend Jo and I loved in nearby Fort Ransom, just two miles away.
A helpful hint: Your GPS will not like this place, so try to arrive before sundown.
Near Bottineau, ND
Lake Metigoshe State Park
Lake Metigoshe State Park is as pretty as a postcard in the summer, and it’s a stunner in the winter as well. Glide through aspen forests, frozen lakes and the rolling turtle mountains on 8.5 miles of marked and groomed trails.
There’s a warming house on the premises and ski rentals available onsite. If you want to make your wintery mountain getaway complete, cozy up in a cabin or yurt.
Near Grand Forks, ND
Turtle River State Park
This park is tucked away in the woods along the Turtle River valley, just west of Grand Forks. There are 7.5 miles of marked and groomed trails to explore and a warming house for when you need a break.
There are kitchen and banquet facilities for rent if you’re bringing a group. Don’t forget to grab a sled to check out the sledding hill.
More than six miles of trails start at Lincoln Park and continue along the Red River through the heart of the city. If you don’t have skis, you can rent from Scheels Sports Store (701-780-9424) the Ski and Bike Shop (701-772-5567) and the UND Lifetime Sports Center (701-777-3981).
Then when you’re done, just take off your equipment and warm up in the shops, restaurants and galleries of Grand Forks and its sister city of East Grand Forks, Minnesota. This trail is a little outdoor getaway right in the middle of a bustling downtown district.
In Moorhead, MN
MB Johnson Park
Rugged, rural MB Johnson park in Moorhead is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Located on the north side of the city, it offers a ski trail and a snowshoe trail (both 2.3 miles long) that wind through the trees along the banks of the Red River. (All of the photos in this post were taken here.)
There’s a warming house and snowshoe and ski rentals available from 10 from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. Rental season ends February 26. Only cash and checks are accepted.
Near Pelican Rapids, MN
Maplewood State Park
Maplewood State Park’s hardwood forests and pretty hills make it a favorite hiking spot, but many people don’t know it also offers a 1 mile 1 mile Cataract Trail and the 4 mile Grass Lake loops to tempt skiers during the winter months. There are even cabins (heated, of course) available Thursdays through Sundays if you want to make a weekend of it.
The warming house is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. Ski passes are sold are the park office. No rentals are available, but the website indicates you can rent in Fergus Falls and Detroit Lakes.
Near Park Rapids, MN
Itasca State Park
For a bucket list winter experience, don’t miss Itasca State Park. Park near the East or North Entrances and explore 13 miles of groomed ski trails and additional snowshoe trails as well. The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center serves as a 24/7 warming center that also offers restrooms, a gift shop and tourist information and many lodging options are available year-round.
Check out the birds at the bird feeders and see if you can spot any bald eagles overhead. (There have been several sightings.) And don’t miss the Mississippi headwaters. The mighty river flows over snow-covered rocks 2,552 miles before ending in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a powerful sight in any season.
What about you?
What are your favorite spots to cross-country ski or snowshoe?
What should I know before I try to ski?
What are your favorite outdoor winter activities?
Which one of these spots is your favorite?
Were any of them a surprise to you?
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