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Hills, trails, ice roads and more: winter outdoor recreation opportunities

  • 3 min to read

Even though January can get chilly in Borderland, it is important to get outside and appreciate the great winter recreation opportunities right outside our front doors.

There is a multitude of outdoor activities available for locals to try – many at no cost. This list highlights a number of popular winter recreational activities available in the area – within and outside Voyageurs National Park – you’ll be sure to find a way to fill your January, February - unfortunately maybe March - afternoons with frosty fun.

Be sure to check online for updated opening dates and trail conditions. The availability of activities will vary due to weather.

Skating:

Many Minnesotans will have memories of pushing a chair around a frozen pond when first learning not to wobble on blades. Luckily there are many ways to enjoy this classic Minnesota pastime within Borderland.

Voyageurs National Park:

Have you ever wished you could ice skate in a national park? As of 2017, you can: a free to the public ice rink is available at Sphunge Island on Lake Kabetogama. The sledding hill is free for public use, but no equipment is available.

Elsewhere in Borderland:

  • Ranier Ice Rink (free admission)
  • Open Ice at Kerry Park

Skates are available to rent for free at the Ranier Rink or can be rented locally at The Sports Shop.

Snowshoeing:

A wonderful way to take your love of hiking into another season. It is a good source of exercise and a great way to get out and explore the natural landscape.

Voyageurs National Park:

Below are the trails groomed for snowshoeing:

  • Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail
  • Blind Ash Bay Trail
  • Oberholtzer Trail
  • Sullivan Bay Trail
  • Rainy Lake Recreation Trail

Snowshoes can be rented free of charge at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center during open hours.

Cross-country skiing:

A wonderful way to get outside in the winter with miles and miles of trails right outside your door.

Voyageurs National Park:

  • Echo Bay Ski Trail
  • Rainy Lake Recreation Trail
  • Black Bay Ski Trail
  • Tilson Connector Trail
  • KabAsh Trail

Elsewhere in Borderland:

  • Tilson Creek Ski Trail
  • Manka Ski Trails
  • Gheen Hill Trails (near Orr)

Skis and poles can be rented free of charge at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center during open hours. A Minnesota Ski Pass is generally required on most trails.

Ice Roads:

A fairly unique way to experience the lake – entirely from the comfort of your car.

Voyageurs National Park:

  • Rainy Lake Ice Road
  • Rainy Lake Dryweed Loop
  • Kabetogama Lake Ice Road
  • Kabetogama Lake Ice Road West and East Spur Roads

Elsewhere in Borderland

  • Rainy Lake Marine Ice Road ($5 ice access free)

Ice Fishing:

Get hooked on ice fishing this winter. What could be better than fishing in the summer? Fishing in a warm ice house, surrounded by crockpots of hot food and good friends.

Voyageurs National Park

Anglers can set up anywhere, as long as icehouses are placed at least 50 feet from the center of snowmobile trails and the ice road. Fishing license and ice house registration required.

Sledding:

A classic winter activity for children of all ages – and adults who aren’t afraid of hitting their tailbone on the ice too hard.

Voyageurs National Park

  • Sphunge Island Hill at Kabetogama Lake. The hill is available to the public for free, no equipment available on site.

Elsewhere in Borderland

  • Ranier sledding hill, free to the public

Nature photography/wildlife spotting

Winter is the best time to see wolves, and the northern lights, take advantage and hit the trails to capture some memorable images.

Voyageurs National Park

Animal tracks are easier to spot in the snow, and animals stand out against snowy backgrounds in photos. Bundle up and try to spot some animals along a snowshoe trail.

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling is a fastpaced and exciting way to experience winter in Borderland. There are many trails within Voyageurs, around Borderland, and throughout the state.

Voyageurs National Park

  • International Falls to Kettle Falls (Purple Trail)
  • Rainy Lake/Black Bay to Kabetogama Lake to Ash River (Green Trail)
  • Ash River to Crane Lake (Green Trail)
  • Chain of Lakes (Dashed Black Trail)
  • Ash River to Kettle Falls (Yellow Trail)
  • East Namakan Lake to Sand Point Lake (Blue Trail)
  • Rudder Bay (Orange Trail)
  • Elsewhere in Borderland
  • Blue Ox Trail
  • Arrowhead Trail
  • Hagerman Trail
  • Slatinski Trail
  • Caldwell Brook Trail

As of 2019, snowmobiles can be rented locally from Boyum Performance.

Winter safety tips from Voyageurs National Park:

  • The color orange on stakes means danger.
  • The shape of a diamond on a sign or two trail sticks crossed like an "X" denotes danger.
  • Thin Ice signs are no joke; do not go past. The area of thin ice may be just a short distance ahead, and not apparent or visible.
  • Crossing a pressure ridge should only be done after personally evaluating if it is safe to do so (even if marked as a place to cross) because conditions can change and large pockets of open water can form near the ridge.
  • Lowered body temperatures affect a person’s dexterity, judgment, and vision. Dress appropriately in layers that can be adjusted to changing conditions.
  • Be aware that wind chill can reduce the apparent temperature significantly, and driving a snowmobile fast creates your own windchill.
  • Please remember the snowmobile speed limit within the park is 45 miles per hour on frozen lake surfaces and 25 miles per hour on all overland portages. Speed limit signs are posted at trailheads and overland portages.
  • Reports of hazards are not always immediate and hazard signs may not yet be posted. Travel no faster than you can observe, evaluate, and react to unsafe conditions.
  • Avoid slush and open water by staying on marked trails.
  • Check weekly trail reports for general information.
  • There is no fuel at Kettle Falls over the winter; plan accordingly.

Snowshoe and cross-country ski loans are available for the 2019-2020 winter season at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. Check the visitor center's winter hours to plan your visit. For more information and the newest safety updates from Voyageurs National Park visit https://www.nps.gov/voya/planyourvisit/winter-ice-and-trail-conditions.htm

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