The 7 Best Places to Cross Country Ski in the Twin Cities

Mackenzie Havey
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Come December, pulling the skinny skis out of storage is an annual tradition for many winter-loving Minnesotans. It isn’t just Scandinavian heritage that makes cross country skiing so popular in the state, but also the infrastructure. Indeed, Minnesota touts more kilometers of ski trails than a trip from St. Paul to Los Angeles.

While greater Minnesota has some of the most scenic ski trails in the state, there are plenty of amazing options right in the Metro area. This makes it easy to put in a quick ski after work or log a few kilometers on a busy weekend. Whether you’re training for a big event or simply looking to get out and active in our beautiful winter wonderland, there’s something for every level of skier.

When the snow falls, here are a few of our favorite places to cross country ski in the Twin Cities, including both skate and classic options.

1. Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Bloomington

Hyland Lake Park Reserve features snowmaking to allow skiing when the natural stuff isn't around.
Hyland Lake Park Reserve features snowmaking to allow skiing when the natural stuff isn't around. Mackenzie Havey

Part of the Three Rivers Park district, Hyland Lake Park Reserve offers 9.5 miles of groomed ski trails. During winters with lower-than-average snowfall, they also tout a snowmaking operation to get a portion of the trails open even when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating. With waning daylight hours, they also have 6 miles of lighted ski trails when they are fully open. If you don’t have your own equipment, rentals are available at the main chalet for a nominal fee.

2. Theodore Wirth Park, Minneapolis

Theodore Wirth Park features 15 miles of beautiful groomed trails.
Theodore Wirth Park features 15 miles of beautiful groomed trails. Jason Havey

Who wouldn’t want to ski in the shadow of downtown Minneapolis? Theodore Wirth Park features 15 miles of beautiful groomed ski trails within the park once everything freezes over, and an additional five miles of trails are accessible on the Chain of Lakes. This means you can ski from Golden Valley to Uptown without leaving the trail. These trails vary from hilly, to gently rolling, to flat and fast. They even have a trail you can bring your dog along for skijoring. In addition to having rental equipment available, Theodore Wirth is also home of the Loppet Foundation, which puts on events and clinics all year round.

3. Elm Creek Park Reserve,  Maple Grove

Elm Creek Park Reserve grooms its trails for both skate and classical skiing.
Elm Creek Park Reserve grooms its trails for both skate and classical skiing. Mackenzie Havey

Touting 4,900 acres, Elm Creek is the largest of all the Three Rivers Parks. It may then come as no surprise that this impressive park in the northwest metro also offers some of the best ski trails in the area. With a total of 11.4 miles of groomed trails, Elm Creek is a mecca of sorts for local Nordic buffs. What’s more, they offer a 1.6-mile snowmaking loop, as well as over 3.5 miles of lighted trails. Ski rentals, food, and beverages are available on site.

4. Fort Snelling State Park, St. Paul

Right in the heart of the city, Fort Snelling State Park opens up 12 miles of groomed ski trails after enough snow falls each winter. For a great view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, check out the Pike Island loop. If you’re looking for hill training, the trail down into the park can’t be beat.

5. Battle Creek Regional Park West, St. Paul

Battle Creek Regional Park West offers 4 kilometers of lighted trails.
Battle Creek Regional Park West offers 4 kilometers of lighted trails. Mackenzie Havey

Part of the 25 miles of ski trails marked and groomed by Ramsey County Parks and Recreation, Battle Creek Regional Park West offers one of the premier skiing facilities in the area. The park has a 1-kilometer easy trail perfect for beginners, 1.75-kilometers of moderate difficulty, and 7-kilometers of more advanced trails. They also provide 4 kilometers of lighted trails from dusk until 9 p.m. every night.

6. Baker Park Reserve, Maple Plain

Baker Park Reserve is groomed on a daily basis.
Baker Park Reserve is groomed on a daily basis. Mackenzie Havey

Groomed on a daily basis, Baker Park Reserve has 9.1 miles of trails take skiers through the woods and meadows of this gorgeous park. Thanks to a couple monster hills, you can get in a great workout here. With six different trails that vary in distance from less than a mile to 1.4 miles, you can mix and match to keep things interesting. Part of the Three Rivers system, Baker has ski rentals, snacks, and beverages available in its lodge.

7. Afton State Park, Hastings

Afton State Park features a whopping 18-miles of ski trails, with about 2.5-miles of beginner-level trail and the rest somewhat more advanced. The rugged landscape overlooking the St. Croix River offers scenery second to none. They also have many miles of snowshoe trails, as well as a sledding hill for the kids.

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