Now that the holidays have ended and our lives have returned to their normal routines, we begin to realize that it’s truly winter now–a Minnesota winter. It’s going to be here for a while. And while it would be so nice to hibernate all the way through, we know better than that–Minnesota is ripe with outdoor winter activities for the whole family. Whether you’re an avid skier, a thrill-seeking sledder, or a semi-graceful ice skater, these winter spots are the perfect afternoon or weekend getaway. Keep in mind: pretty much every downhill destination will offer ski, snowboard, and tube rentals, and these are separate from the lift ticket cost. If you’re already feeling the hole in your pocket, there are some free activities here too, just for you.

Buck Hill – Skiing, Snowboarding, Tubing

A popular ski location since the 1930s, Buck Hill offers 15 different runs for down-hillers of every skill range, as well as snow tubing. With the Black Diamond Restaurant offering Mexican American cuisine starting at 11am daily, 16 downhill runs, and lessons for those needing a little encouragement, Buck Hill has just about everything. Only a 30 minute drive almost due south of Minneapolis, Buck Hill is a great hassle-free mini winter getaway.

Wild Mountain – Skiing, Snowboarding, Tubing

In the opposite direction, Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls is beautifully placed along the St. Croix river. A little less than an hour’s drive will bring you to 100 acres and 26 runs of serene winter exhilaration. If you prefer to stay closer to ground as you whip down the hill, their Wild Chutes Snow Tubing is a blast–they even have a conveyor lift to bring you back up the slopes. Wild Mountain offers a great variety of coupons on lift passes and rentals, so make sure you visit their website www.wildmountain.com for deals as well as winter weather updates.

Afton Alps – Skiing, Snowboarding, Tubing

Located in Hastings, Afton Alps has been a tried and true destination for Minnesotans for over 52 years. Boasting over 300 skiable areas, 48 trails, and four terrain parks, Afton Alps has enough to entertain even the grumpiest of teenagers. The new Landing Zone, located at the base of the terrain park, includes indoor & outdoor spaces for you to warm up, grab a bite from the food truck, and do a little people watching.

Lutsen – Skiing, Snowboarding, Tubing

Lutsen is more than a downhill experience–it’s a cultural one. With local art and wares available in the nearby shops and galleries, the beautiful setting of Lake Superior, and just enough distance between you and work, your trip to Lutsen will be worth every penny. Since it’s a healthy four hour drive from Minneapolis, you might as well stay the weekend. There’s an active nightlife if you’re into that sort of thing, and enough shopping and dining to satisfy even those opposed to a downhill adventure. With a tradition of over 130 years of hospitality, there are 5+ local resorts available for lodging, not to mention the four different mountains to choose from. Some resorts include equipment rentals, so shop around a little before booking. www.lutsen.com is a great resource for planning your trip.

Green Acres – Tubing

A family-owned business since 1974, Green Acres Recreation is located in charming Lake Elmo and is a perfect spot for an afternoon of family tubing. With one main hill open all season and another that opens mid-January, the hills are groomed to not have any lanes, which makes for a fun and exhilarating downhill experience. The chalet offers concessions and an arcade if you need a warm-up. They provide all the tubes, and you are encouraged to look at their website www.greenacresrec.com to review the rules and guidelines before arriving. They offer group discounts, but make sure you call to make reservations.

Maple Grove Central Park – Ice Skating

If ice skating is more your thing, these next two local gems needs to be on your list. The 20 feet wide and 810 feet long LED-lit loop is perfect for a relaxed skate through the grounds. Skating is free, and skates are available for rent. The Phenow Pavilion has concessions, restrooms, cubbies, and even a cozy fireplace. Visit http://www.maplegrovemn.gov/ for hours of operation.

Centennial Lakes – Ice Skating

Skate across this 10-acre Edina lake made up of three ponds connected by meandering canals. The warming house offers restrooms, skate rentals, concessions, indoor & outdoor fireplaces. Skating is free, and the lake is typically open through mid-February. Visit http://edinamn.gov/ for hours of operation.

Snowshoeing? Snowshoeing!

This mode of winter transportation has its roots in American Indian history–now, it’s a serene and invigorating activity that allows you to get a little exercise while appreciating the beautiful winter scenery. There are 26 Minnesota State Parks that offer snowshoe rentals for only $6 a day, as well as designated snowshoe trails, some even offering guided tours. Under the “Recreation” tab at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/, you’ll find the snowshoeing link which offers a detailed list of the participating parks and their amenities. Three Rivers Park District also offers some great trails as well as rentals. Offering events such as Beginners Snowshoeing as well as Full Moon Snowshoeing with S’Mores, there are all kinds of fun ways to get started.

Minneapolis Sledding Hills

With so many sledding hills to choose from, these hills are scattered throughout the metro area and have one or two highlights that make them stand out. Even if you have “your” sledding hill, try something new this year! You just might discover your new favorite spot.

Theodore Wirth Park – Tired of walking up the hill over and over again? This hill has a tube tow rope! They also offer tube rentals.

Sunset Hill – Located in Valley View Park, Sunset Hill is one of the highest points of elevation in Minneapolis parks, which makes for a thrilling ride down.

Columbia Park & Golf Club – Known as one of the most intense sledding hills around, the beautiful course is transformed into a wintery haven for thrill-seekers

St. Anthony Park – Location in NE Minneapolis, this park has a beautiful view of downtown which makes the perfect backdrop for an afternoon spent outside.

Como Park – Three words: 200 ft. hills!

French Park in Plymouth – This hill offers more of a pure sledding experience: no tubes or snowboards are allowed.

Remember to dress appropriately, bring a couple of hand-warmers and a thermos of cocoa, and wear a winter sports helmet if you have one. Winter has just begun, so let’s make the most of it by getting outside and enjoying the great winter activities that this season has to offer.

By Whitney Grindberg