COVID-19 might be keeping us out of bars, restaurants, concerts, shops, and all of the other fun places we once took for granted, but there’s one activity the pandemic can’t take away: enjoying the great outdoors.
If I ever needed a reason to enjoy the snow, the pandemic certainly gives me one. It’s tough being confined to my apartment, with the biggest commute being from my bed, to the shower, to my home office. During the warmer months, it was easy to get outside to go hiking, take my dog for walks, or enjoy socially distanced picnics. But in the winter, outside is typically the last place I want to be. But thanks to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, there are several recommendations for ways to enjoy the outdoors—even in the snow. So grab your parka, mask, and snow boots, and get outside!
“Don’t let the cold days of winter keep you from getting a good dose of nature. A growing number of research shows that spending time outdoors is good for your physical and mental health. While experiencing the stress of a pandemic, this is more important than ever,” says Verónica Jaralambides, marketing consultant of the division of parks and trails for the DNR.
Jaralambides says Minnesota has a variety of parks and trails that are available for nature lovers all year long. She says all that’s needed is a pair of warm winter boots, or snowshoes to tread through deeper snow.
“Every winter, you can find a number of groomed trails for cross-country skiing—make sure you get your ski pass early to be ready to enjoy sliding on some fresh snow. Check the Minnesota DNR website at mndnr.gov before your visit for the most up-to-date information on groomed trails and services available, Jaralambides says. “If you do not own the equipment, there are many options for rentals through outfitters.”
Many trails are plowed and make great destinations to bike or walk. And with fat biking on the rise, there’s a number of locations to try it out this winter. “A world-class mountain biking destination, Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, is a good place to practice fat biking, along with state forest roads where biking is allowed,” Jaralambides says. “The snowmobile trail system is another great way to get outdoors. There are about 22,000 miles of opportunity between the state trail system and the Grant-In-Aid system!”
To enjoy Minnesota’s wonderful parks and other recreation areas, a vehicle permit is needed. A year-round pass is $35, which permits access to all seventy-five state parks and recreation areas. A day pass is $7.
“Fort Snelling State Park and the Luce Line and Gateway State Trails are all within the Twin Cities
metro area. While in the heart of the cities, Fort Snelling State Park is teeming with wildlife, Jaralambides says. “Take a quiet walk up to the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, look and listen for birds and deer. These areas close to home (at least for many of us) present good opportunities for getting away any day or evening after work.”
If you’re looking for an activity further North, Jaralambides says there are plenty of trails to explore up and down the North Shore.
“Since the pandemic started, we have adjusted our operations to keep staff and visitors safe and
help stop the spread of the virus,” she says. “Buy your vehicle permit in advance to minimize person-to-person contact. Record your confirmation number and place it on your car’s dashboard. If you’ll be skiing on groomed trails, buy your ski pass in advance, too. Buildings and warming shelters may not be open, so dress appropriately for the weather, and bring extra supplies with you. Continue to follow all COVID-19-related guidance. Pay attention to signs, stay home if you feel sick, and practice social distancing—even outdoors.”
And, as always in an infamous Minnesota winter, remember to wear warm clothing; avoid cotton; bring water, food, a flashlight, and emergency blanket; and tell someone else where you’ll be ahead of time, especially since electronics can die or not have service out on the trails.
Now, let’s all go get some fresh air, shall we?