Cross-Country Skiing: Beyond Your Back Yard

Minnesota’s cross-country ski trails offer more miles of skiing than a trek from St. Paul to Los Angeles. It adds up to an unbeatable variety of cross country skiing experiences. Whether you’re a pro or just getting started, Minnesota has a breathtakingly beautiful trail with you in mind.

Minnesota is blessed with a variety of scenery and a wide selection of getaways for skiers from the classic north woods lodge to a cozy bed and breakfast inn to a rustic backwoods  for adventure lovers. A getaway can focus exclusively on cross-country skiing, or can blend in downhill skiing, dog sledding, exploring antique shops and galleries, and even taking in big-city attractions.

Gunflint Trail and the North Shore

A long snow season, incredible north woods scenery, and meticulously cared-for trails make the Gunflint Trail a premier ski destination. Lodges, cabins and yurts along the Gunflint Trail cater to cross-country skiers and offer dog sledding, snowshoeing, sleigh rides and ice skating.

There are over 200 km. of ski trails winding through the forests along the Gunflint Trail, including 75 km. of skate-ski trails. State-of-the-art grooming equipment keeps trails in peak condition even when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.

Through the Guest of All program available Mondays through Thursdays, 11 Gunflint Trail resorts offer their guests shuttle service and consolidated billing for activities and meals at all participating lodges.

There are numerous trails along the North Shore of Lake Superior as well, with some level trails right along the shoreline, and more challenging trails through the wooded hills that border the lakefront. From Two Harbors to Grand Marais, dozens of resorts, motels and bed-and-breakfast inns provide skiers access to nearby trails.

The North Shore Ski Trail is a network of 196 km. of groomed trails through the Superior National Forest, and customized lodge-to-lodge ski packages are available from businesses along the trail.

Plus downhill skiing. Some skiers enjoy both downhill and Nordic skiing, and some groups look for destinations that will make both kinds of skiers happy. Three major downhill ski areas in northeastern Minnesota offer some of the best downhill skiing in the Midwest, in addition to a network of well-groomed cross-counry ski trails.

Lutsen Mountains, well known for its terrific downhill runs, also features 30 km. of both track-set and skate-ski trails, some with spectacular views of Lake Superior. Giants Ridge Recreation Area near Biwabik was developed as a training center for champion cross-country skiers, and has an expanse of 60 km. of groomed trails over its hills, providing both trackset and skate-ski trails for recreational as well as professional skiers.

In Duluth, the Spirit Mountain Ski Area has 22 km. of trackset and skate-ski trails in the hills above the city. After skiing, there is an array of restaurants, shops and museums to check out in Duluth.

Ely. A highlight of a trip to this north woods town any time of the year is a visit to the International Wolf Center, with exhibits on the history and habitat of wolves and a resident wolf pack, and even the chance to learn to howl like a wolf! Wolves have been successfully reintroduced to these forests, but the chances are slight of actually spotting one of these shy creatures while you’re on the trail.

Along the western border of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), Ely offers a near-wilderness skiing experience. There are several ungroomed, rustic trails tracked only by other skiers, some leading into the BWCA. The Jasper Hills Trail, Bear Head Lake State Park, and Hidden Valley Recreation Area all offer groomed trails through through the deep forests around Ely.

A few resorts with lakeside cabins cater to skiers, and in town there are motels and a resort lodge with an indoor pool.


Another north woods town further to the west also offers a cluster of scenic ski trails. Lake Bemidji State Park has easygoing trails plus snowshoe rentals, while the Movil Maze challenges thrill-seekers with steep hills. The Buena Vista Ski Area, site of the Minnesota Finlandia ski race each February, has downhill ski slopes and chairlifts as well as groomed cross-country trails. Three-Island Park is another good ski area north of town. Both traditional and skate-skiers will find a good selection of trails in the Bemidji area.

There are numerous motels in this vacation city, and three resorts with cabins welcome cross-country skiers in the woods nearby.

Brainerd Lakes

The Brainerd Lakes area, including Breezy Point, Crosslake and Nisswa, has long been a prime vacation destination in the summer, and now is making its mark as the place to go for winter fun as well. Numerous full-service resorts, complete with indoor pools, on-site restaurants and lounges with entertainment, offer their guests the chance to dabble in a variety of winter sports, including skating, ice fishing, dog sled rides, snowmobiling, downhill skiing at Ski Gull, and even snow golf.

Cross-country skiers will enjoy the easygoing Pine Beach, West Gull Lake and Paul Bunyan Arboretum trails or the challenging trails at the French Rapids Ski Area maintained by the local ski club. Some resorts have ski rentals, making it easy for beginners to try out cross-country skiing.

luff Country

The southeast corner of Minnesota offers a different kind of ski getaway–staying at historic inns and bed-and-breakfasts in the villages tucked into the wooded bluffs of this rolling countryside. They’re easy, scenic skiing on the mostly level Root River Trail (a popular bike trail in the no-snow seasons), which passes through the villages of Rushford, Whalen and Lanesboro, with a new trail spur leading to Preston and Harmony. Those who enjoy more hills on their trails can take in scenic Forestville State Park.

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