Lake Minnetonka is a summer paradise. People come from all over the metro to fish, boat, attend festivals, enjoy lakeside patio bars or just take a walk. Winter, on the other hand, is long, cold and dark. People retreat inside and try to stay warm, venturing out only when absolutely necessary.
But you needn’t retreat when you’ve got the beauty of the lake area’s trails. Local trails that draw bikers and walkers on a sunny summer day are just as versatile in the wintry weather. Charlie Larson, a Minnetonka resident, is an avid outdoorsman who knows how to utilize our beloved trails. He’s an experienced cross country skier who has skied for years on trails not just in the area, but around the entire state.
“We live in a beautiful area,” Larson says. “The rolling trails, the woods and the grooming on some of these trails is just fantastic.”
But, if you’re not already a winter activities aficionado, how do you know where to start? Let our experts guide you.
Snowshoeing is a classic winter pastime. With little equipment necessary and the ability to go off-trail, it offers more options for exploring.
Both Baker Park Reserve in Maple Plain and Carver Park Reserve in Victoria can be used for snowshoeing, but some of the best areas are parks that aren’t groomed. Lake Minnetonka Park has no trail designated for skiing or other activities, but this makes it a perfect area to snowshoe. There’s plenty of space to explore, without having to worry about skiers or being stuck on a specific track or trail.
According to Three Rivers Park District recreation supervisor Alex McKinney, one of the best places to snowshoe in the area is Gale Woods Farm. The wide-open space allows for plenty of freedom and you can make your way to Whale Tale Lake (for ice fishing, if you choose).
Being trapped inside can be just as bad for your pooch as it is for you—if not worse. Your furry friend is bouncing off the walls, and you’re stuck wondering what to do with her.
Skijoring is a winter sport gaining popularity for that very reason. Both Larson and McKinney have recently taken up the cold-weather activity. Each is an experienced cross-country skier who was looking for a way to get their dogs involved in the action. When they heard about skijoring, they each thought it was a great way to keep their pups happy and engaged during the chillier season.
To skijor, all that’s needed is a set of skis, a harness and a dog. One end of the harness attaches to the skier, the other to your dog. The dog runs ahead, pulling you on the skis.
“It’s a great way to get out in the winter and be active with your dog,” McKinney says. “It creates a connection with owner and dog.”
The most popular skijoring trail in the area is at Baker. The park features lengthy multi-purpose trails, which can be used for almost any activity and are perfect for skijoring. Larson spends many weekends skiing or skijoring at Baker, and says he sees people out skijoring nearly every time.
Cross Country Skiing
Baker or Carver are Larson’s favorite lake-area spots to start when picking up cross country skiing. Not only are the trails well-groomed, but both parks also have abundant ski routes that can be tailored for beginner and experienced skiers. Larson also enjoys them for their privacy—on many occasions, he can ski through the parks without seeing another person.
Ann Schinas, a recreation specialist for Three Rivers Park District, organizes public ski lessons for the parks, and agrees that the lake area has some beautiful options for communing with nature.
“Baker has lots of big oaks and maple trees,” says Schinas, “so even though the leaves are gone, you are just in these dense woods, which is beautiful. Then they’ll open up and you’ll see the big ponds. If you are out there and don’t come across wildlife, it’s an odd day.”
While Baker has a wide range of trails, including some long, flat stretches perfect for beginners, its bigger hills are what makes it stand out. For those with less experience who are looking for a safe, easy entrance point into cross country skiing, Carver Park is the place to be.
“Carver Park is a fabulous place for beginners particularly,” Schinas says. “It has a number of wonderful beginner trails that have very small hills and nothing too daunting.”
Over the course of the winter, the Three Rivers Park District has more than 100 public ski lessons across the metro area. Most of these classes are for beginners—people who have never been on skis in their life—but they also have classes for intermediate and advanced skiers. These public classes are on weekends and done in groups, but private lessons are also available.
Private lessons are available for individuals and groups with up to 10 skiers. Lessons start at $65 for a 90-minute session.
Avid mountain bikers don’t like taking time off in the winter. For this reason, they’ve turned to fat-tire bikes for fat biking. Originally created for biking on sand or other soft surfaces, the bikes have migrated north to areas covered with snow. Mountain bikers have taken to the bikes for continuing their sport into the winter. In fact, many bike shops will rent the special bikes so anyone can test the sport.
“Fat biking is the most up-and-coming sport we’re seeing right now,” McKinney says.
There aren’t many trails in the area specifically designated for fat biking, but Baker Park is another good option with its multiuse trails.