Slide Through Winter
Some people like to page through their Netflix account for 5 months and wait for the thaw, but if that’s not your thing, you may want to look into Cross Country Skiing. Cross Country Skiing has two key styles: Open Skiing, also called Skate Skiing, and Classic Groomed. Classic Groomed trails have ski slots, so the skis stay parallel. The technique is called Kick and Glide. It’s easy to get moving and know where to go, so this may be the best option for beginners. Free style is simply a flattened surface and your skis behave more like ice skates. You’ll see both styles in the Winter Olympics.
Where to Ski
As for where to ski, there are all kinds of places. Some ski hills have attached Cross Country Ski Trails. If you don’t own equipment, and would like to try the sport, this may be a solid option. Ande’s Tower Hills Ski area near Kensington MN (West of Alexandria) offers groomed and skating trails, plus has the ability to rent skis. Details HERE.
It is possible to do open skiing (Skate Skiing) on lakes but do make sure that ice conditions are favorable before considering this. Many former Rail lines have been turned into recreational ski, hiking and snowmobiles trails. The Trail Link from the Rails to Trails Conservancy allows you to enter the state, city or zip code of your destination and then find the Ski Trails nearby. The link is HERE.
In addition to the trails, county parks of the 320 that have great possibility. Several offer Cross Country Skiing including: Kensinton Runestone Park, Spruce Hill Park, the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, Kraemer Lake Wildwood County Park, and Greystone Nordic Ski Trails. We’ve offered links to sites with information when available.
Another great place to spend the winter skiing is in the State Park System. If you choose this route and you are 16 or older, you’ll need to have a Great Minnesota Ski Pass to ski on groomed trails. Sign your Ski Pass and be sure to carry it with you every time you go skiing. If you prefer, you can take a photo of both sides of your pass and carry it on your phone. The Pass is $10 per day, or $25 for the season. You can get one online HERE. These fees are used to keep the trails groomed.
There are several State Parks that have groomed trails, including three in the 320. Here are those options with a few details.
Sibley State Park
Near New London, there are lots of Cross County Skiing options in Sibley State Park. For starters there are two kinds of skiing: classic groomed and open skiing. There are a total of 12 miles of Ski trails in Sibley. 2.5 miles are open skiing trails, the remainder is classic groomed. The terrain is wooded and hilly, but trails also border lakes and wetlands. There is a visitor center/warming house available with a restroom. Know that there are other bathrooms in the park but they are rustic pit toilets. There are ski rentals nearby at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center. You will need a parking permit to enter the state park. More details are below in the final paragraph of this article.
As Ski conditions change throughout any given season, you may want to check HERE for the latest ski conditions at Sibley State Park.
Where: Sibley State Park at 800 Sibley Park Road Northeast, New London, MN 56273
Online: Sibley State Park
Lake Carlos State Park
To the north of Alexandria, you’ll find Carlos State Park. This park is an interesting destination during any season, but during the winter there are 6 Miles of trails for skiing. These trails are only groomed for Classical Cross Country Skiing. There are equipment rentals in Alexandria at The Bike Shop as you’re heading north to Carlos State Park.
Know that there are restrooms available at Lake Carlos State Park, but anything out near the trails will be rustic. There is a visitors center and warming house. One of the most interesting aspects of this park is the availability of heated Camping Cabins. You can spend the day skiing or hiking and then go back to your camping cabin to make a weekend out of it. You’ll need to contact the park for more information. Know that with any visit you’ll need a vehicle permit. More details are below.
Where: Lake Carlos State Park at 2601 County Rd 38 NE, Carlos, MN 56319
Phone: 320 852-7200
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park offers the most groomed trails in 320land; 21 Miles of trails. There are two kinds of skiing here, Classic Groomed and Skating trails. You’ll find ski rentals on-site, and a visitor center/warming house. Rentals are only $10 per day which is a great deal. Modern restrooms and a fireplace can be found in the trail center. In addition, there are rustic pit toilets throughout the park that are open all winter. There are five camping cabins available through out the winter months. View their website for more information. In addition, Kathio offers a candle light hike or ski planned for February 12th, 2022. Details are here.
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is a well developed property with plenty to see and do including a 9000 year old archeological site with interpretive center, horse trails, geocaching, and the observation tower (closed if snow is on the ground.) More details are found in a previous article at 320FUN.com. You can find that article HERE.
Where: Mille Lacs Kathio State Park at 15066 Kathio State Park Rd, Onamia, MN 56359
Phone: 320 532-3523
Do keep in mind that any state park requires that you have a vehicle pass to enter. It’s $7 for a one day pass, or if you know you’ll be visiting more than a few times, an annual pass is $35 with which you’ll gain entrance to any Minnesota State Park for an entire year. These annual passes even work in the 507, the 218, the 651 and the 612 here in Minnesota. But leaving the 320 to find something fun? Well, that’s just crazy talk.
One last thought, remember your camera as there are plenty of photo ops as you ski through the woods.