If you’re looking to get the most winter out of your winter, there are few better places you can enjoy a winter vacation than in Minnesota. According to locals, the Minnesota winter is one of the state’s two seasons (the other one being roadworks), and it’s not unusual for the state to have snow on the ground from October to May.
With that in mind, it’s little wonder that Minnesotans know a thing or two about winter fun, and this frequently overlooked Midwest is home to a huge range of wonderful Minnesota winter getaways and fun activities to make the winter months fly by. Thinking of Minnesota for your next winter vacation?
Here’s a list of the best winter destinations in Minnesota to make your winter getaway one to remember!
1. Saint Paul
Where would we be without mentioning the capital city of this winter wonderland?
Forming the first half of the Twin Cities, Saint Paul MN is an utterly charming town that has the holiday postcard setting that you’d find in a Charles Dickens novel or a Norman Rockwell painting.
When the Christmas lights are out it is truly one of the most magical cities to be in. Take a walk along Summit Avenue or go ice skating in beautiful Rice Park in downtown Saint Paul to properly immerse yourself in the holiday spirit. You can even book horse-drawn sleigh rides – signing Jingle Bells is optional, but encouraged!
But it’s not all cozy vistas, this is the “State of Hockey”, so head on down to the Xcel Energy Center to watch the Minnesota Wild go wild, and while you’re at it, take in breathtaking views of the rocky bluffs framing the ice-covered Mississippi River just outside!
Foodies will love St. Paul for its range of restaurants, featuring an eclectic mixture of cuisines, including Jucy/Juicy Lucies and some fabulous ramen, but in winter, the natives tend to gravitate to their European (especially Scandinavian) roots and the cuisine reflects that.
You won’t go thirsty in St. Paul either, as it’s home to some fantastic breweries, Summit being the local favorite. Saint Paul is also home to a decent array of hotels ranging from budget stays like the Motel 6 or Quality Inn to the super swanky Saint Paul Hotel. It’s worth noting that this being a pretty wintery state at the best of times, most hotels in Minnesota have indoor pools.
Perhaps best of all, is that even at the higher end of the scale, you probably won’t be paying more than $140 a night!
The other half of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis is the more lively of the siblings and is a great winter getaway for anyone looking for more glitz, and glam city action. After dark, Minneapolis is definitely a party town, filled to the brim with incredible restaurants, bars, pubs, breweries, and nightclubs, and is the perfect place to ring in new year’s eve.
That said if you’re a culture vulture, take in a show at the classic Pantages Theatre, or visit the Walker Arts Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden next door.
The Sculpture Garden is a pretty incredible place at the best of times, but a truly special sight in winter – with a dusting of snow, the giant cherry looks like it’s sugarcoated! Outside of its world-class museums and galleries, great eateries, and hopping clubs, you can enjoy more of the town and stay warm by exploring the Skyways, the most extensive network of their kind in the world.
From indoors to the great outdoors, Minneapolis is a surprisingly pretty city, with plenty to do outside. Wonderful outdoor city vistas can be enjoyed, especially if you take walk along the snow-laden Stone Arch Bridge in downtown Minneapolis, or take a stroll around the city’s largest lake, Bde Maka Ska. For more family fun activities, you can go cross-country skiing, or even book horse-drawn sleigh rides in Minneapolis – signing Jingle Bells is optional but encouraged!
Minneapolis is the perfect destination for a Minnesota winter vacation if you’re looking for outstanding places to stay, as there is a plethora of fantastic hotels and resorts, several of them 4-stars and all of them being very reasonably priced.
For an unforgettable stay, check out the Graduate Minneapolis in Dinkytown, or the Hyatt Centric. Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Minneapolis to make the most of your visit.
See Related: Where to Stay in Minneapolis
3. Mall of America
Looking for a warm Minnesota destination? Visit The Mall and you need never go outside! Located in the town of Bloomington, just a few miles south of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the Mall of America is internationally famous as one of the largest by-area retail complexes in the United States and the largest mall in the country.
Found right next to MSP International Airport, it’s one of the most popular Minnesota attractions for tourists and local visitors all year round. It’s like a huge, physical Amazon store where you can buy just about anything, and the perfect place to get your Christmas shopping done!
There are more than 500 different stores, attractions, businesses, and booths to explore once you’re inside the greatest mall in all the land. That includes clothing, accessories, food, electronics, art, furniture, and gaming – seriously, there’s something for the whole family and much, much, MUCH more.
Not only that, it’s any child’s heaven, as there’s an indoor theme park in the form of Nickelodeon Universe, the huge LEGO store, the Sea Life Aquarium, the Crayola Experience, a movie theater, arcades, escape rooms, and even a water park for the kids to go ape.
There’s also a huge food court to explore, including several great restaurants as well as fast food. If you’re looking for places to stay nearby, there are a number of great hotels in the neighborhood, but the most convenient and arguably fanciest of the bunch is the Radisson Blu Mall of America, which is attached to this majestic mall.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Lake City, Minnesota
Duluth is an industrial port mining city and college town with rich history, located on the vast Lake Superior. It was founded by William D. Hussey in July 1883 and is one of the most important industrial cities in Minnesota.
That might not sound like much of a draw, but don’t be fooled; this awesome city is beloved by practically all Minnesotans and is one of the best winter vacation places in Minnesota for a weekend winter getaway.
Being as far north as it is, it’s no surprise that it gets very, very cold in Duluth. But, this means you have the opportunity to cozy up in one of the local cafes with a coffee, enjoy some live music with a local brew, or get lost in one of Duluth’s many museums!
Duluth has the perfect blend of natural scenery, geography, cultural attributes, unique local businesses, and parks that are all enhanced under a romantic layer of snow.
Canal Park is particularly special, and if you’re looking to really get into the Christmas spirit, pay a visit to the Bentleyville Tour of Lights.
Although it’s home to plenty of warm fun things for those who want to stay indoors, Duluth is also a very popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts in winter. When the icy waters of Lake Superior are frozen over, Duluth becomes a popular destination for ice fishing. The town also has a number of kennels that offer dog sledding for winter adventures!
As well as many great local restaurants, serving up winter warmers, Duluth has no shortage of great lodging options, and you can find a list of great hotels in and around Duluth right here!
5. Grand Marais
Grand Marais, located in Cook County, 70 miles north of Duluth, is an exceptionally gorgeous small town that feels as though it’s on the very edge of the world, found on the north shore of Lake Superior.
Grand Marais is a very popular weekend winter destination with cross-country skiers and hikers looking to explore the winter trails. It’s also the last major settlement before the Gunflint Trail, for people who want to experience true wilderness in the winter.
This tiny settlement provides unreal views of the lake as well as opportunities for ice skating, fishing, and rental for cross country skis.
You can also visit the nearby Lutsen Mountain Ski & Summer Resort for downhill skiing, as well as spectacular views of the lake. While you are in town, check out these other top things to do in Grand Marais.
Part of the magic of Grand Marais is getting there; the drive from the Twin Cities is one of the best in Minnesota and perhaps a top 20 in the entire country. You’ll get to drive for hours along the North Shore National Scenic Byway, past several iconic state parks such as Gooseberry Falls State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, and Tettegouche State Park.
Although Grand Marais is quite popular for camping getaways in Minnesota during summer, it’s not the first choice for most visitors in winter. Cozy cabins, low-cost hotels, and B&Bs are some of the best options for accommodation if you want to keep the cold at arm’s length at night.
That said, if you’re interested in camping in the cold, this is one of the best winter vacation places in Minnesota to do so! If you’re looking for more inspiration about places to stay in this magical place, check out this list of the best places to stay in Grand Marais.
See Related: Best Hotels in Minneapolis, Minnesota
6. Bluefin Bay
Also in Cook County on the coast of Lake Superior, the Bluefin Bay family resort is just as lovely both indoors and out, providing one of the most exclusive and relaxing contained resorts in Minnesota.
The resort is more popular during the peak season summer months, but if anything it is far more special and a truly unique winter vacation experience.
The resort features all the mod cons of a modern hotel, such as free Wi-Fi, TVs, and DVD players in every suite or townhouse. Condos and townhouses also feature kitchens, whirlpool baths, and breathtaking views worthy of any postcard or brochure.
Guests can enjoy the awesome heated outdoor pool and sizzling hot tub overlooking the lake, stroll the resort’s private lake walk or enjoy activities such as dog sledding, hiking or snowshoeing local trails, and cross-country skiing.
If downhill skiing is more your bag, Bluefin Bay resort offers a free daily shuttle to and from the Lutsen Mountain Ski Resort.
There’s also ample opportunity to make use of several groomed snowmobile trails throughout the nearby Sawtooth Mountains, Superior National Forest, and further along the North Shore.
For guests looking to relax, it’s not all outdoor excursions here, as there is a terrific in-house spa where you can unwind with a massage. The on-site dining options are superb.
There’s the Bluefin Grille for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with more incredible views of Lake Superior, and the Coho Café & Bakery which offers freshly baked bread, as well as soups and salads daily.
See Related: Best Resorts in Minnesota
7. Lutsen Mountains
Cook County is one of the most stunning regions of Minnesota, and that is in no small part thanks to the hauntingly beautiful Lutsen Mountains.
This small mountain range, thick with tall pines is home to the Lutsen Mountain Ski and Summer Resort, the largest of its kind among Minnesota’s neighboring states and widely considered as the best ski and snowboarding resort in Minnesota.
This romantic spot is also a favorite winter getaway for Valentine’s Day, weddings, and honeymooning couples! If you’re looking for more exclusive or rustic winter getaways in Minnesota, there are other great lodging options if you’re looking for cabin getaways in Minnesota, such as this little nameless gem.
The Lutsen township and the area around these gorgeous Mountains are great for visitors looking to hike, show shoe, snowmobile, or cross country ski along the region’s many groomed trails.
It’s also one of the best Minnesota winter destinations to observe the local non-hibernating wildlife contend with mother nature at its coldest.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Cottage Grove, Minnesota
8. Polar Fest at Detroit Lakes
For lovers of the cold and all things winter sports, Detroit Lakes is the perfect place for Minnesota winter activities.
Detroit Lakes is a small town ideal for those embarking on any winter travels in Minnesota, but for 10 days every February, it plays host to the state’s premier celebration of winter; Polar Fest! Polar Fest is an awesome event that has been running almost every year since 1996.
Among the brilliant winter activities and spectacles to enjoy at this wonderful winter festival are delicious traditional Minnesotan cuisine and tipples, fireworks displays, skating, curling, snowmobiling, ice carvings, an ice fishing derby, and a beautifully lit ice palace, to name but a few.
The festival is perhaps most famous for the fearsome polar plunge event, and thick-skinned, hard-hearted lunati-er, I mean challengers from all over the world come to test their mettle by taking a dip into the icy waters of the namesake Detroit Lake!
The key to warming yourself up after this freezing bath? Roll around in the snow! Brrrrr!
The mascot for this family fun freezing festival is none other than Polar Pete, a Canadian polar bear, who according to local legend didn’t feel that his favorite season was properly appreciated in the Arctic Circle, and so wended his way down south to Detroit Lakes, MN, where he found people who loved the winter as much as he did.
And so the celebrations began, but Polar Pete soon realized that there was too much fun to be had for such a short winter.
So he made his home in Detroit Lakes, just so he could enjoy the festival every year. If you decide to take part, you’ll see him every February, encouraging visitors to live by his motto; “Get outside and find your fun!”
If freezing your butt off on the ice isn’t your jam (and yes, that is an event at the festival), the cute lakeside city of Detroit Lakes is well worth the visit during winter, especially if you’re able to snag some accommodation on the shore, so you can enjoy the spectacle without catching a chill!
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Hibbing, Minnesota
Detroit Lakes too big for your small town getaway? Grand Marais filled with too much hustle, bustle and noise? Lutsen lacking in the romance department?
Well, let’s turn that dial all the way back and find you some peace, quiet and dreamy vistas in the heart of real small-town America; Welcome to Lanesboro, named by Outside Magazine as one of the “20 Best Dream Towns in America”. They ain’t wrong!
Lanesboro, Minnesota is a beautiful village characterized by its Victorian era homes, that could have been sourced straight out of an old Western movie, as well as friendly, welcoming locals.
This stunning corner of Minnesota was originally inhabited by the Dakota and Ojibwa tribes, before the Lanesboro area was settled by European settlers in the mid 19th Century.
This romantic little village, nestled in the middle of “Bluff Country”, intersected by the beautiful Root River Valley is located about an hour south of the Twin Cities in Fillmore County, making it a great destination for escapes on a cold Minnesota winter weekend or Valentine’s Day retreat.
If you’re looking for something in the swanky hotel department, your options are somewhat limited, but that’s not what Lanesboro is about! True to its welcoming form, there are a ton of fantastic B&Bs, inns, cabins, and house rentals in Lanesboro.
In fact, Lanesboro is frequently referred to as “the Bed and Breakfast capital of Minnesota”. If cozy cabins and warm inns where the staff will treat you like family in this Bluff Country village, check out this list we’ve compiled here!
While out and about Lanesboro, you should definitely make time to admire the serene beauty of the Root River Valley, and hike or cross country ski the groomed trail there that is popular with cyclists in summer. The peace you’ll find there with snow falling all around you is pure bliss.
Lanesboro is also home to a surprisingly diverse art scene in the form of Lanesboro Arts and the Commonweal Theatre Company. Lanesboro Arts is an arts organization that displays frequently rotating exhibits in its galleries around town, predominately featuring the works of local artists.
The Commonweal Theatre Company is a fantastic small troupe of local professional actors who typically run 5 shows a year, April through December – for such a small theatre company, that’s no small feat.
There are several fine eateries in Lanesboro, mostly serving superb local fare, but for a real treat, head over to Another Time Ice Cream, or Lanesboro Pastry Shoppe.
If your thirst gets the better of you, you’re in luck; Lanesboro is home to the fantastic Sylvan Brewing.
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