This may be an unpopular opinion, but winter is probably the best time to be in Minnesota. I could do without the terrible driving conditions and the constant penguin shuffle in attempt to cross parking lots, of course, but Minnesotans truly pull out all the stops during these cold months to make the winter not just tolerable, but dare I say, quite enjoyable.
Sprawled all across the Twin Cities, The Great Northern is comprised of event, after event; jam-packed with winter festivities that even the most cynical among us will enjoy. If you’re going to venture out of the cozy warmth of your home, here are three Great Northern winter festivals that will definitely be worth putting on pants for: The St. Paul Winter Carnival, The Luminary Loppet, and The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.
St. Paul Winter Carnival
A Minnesota tradition that goes back over 100 years, the St. Paul Winter Carnival has something for everyone — from delicious classic Minnesota hotdishes and ice palaces, to parades and a cat competition. (That cat one was new to me.) Spanning over ten days at the end of January, you can enjoy some of the classic events like the King Boreas Grand Day Parade or the Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parade with Vulcanus Rex, who, I must admit, scared me as a child. Now as an adult, he only scares me a little.
You’ll also be able to imbibe at one of the ice bars, listen to great live music with the Winter Carnival Music Series, launch yourself down the giant snow slide, find your way out of a snow maze, and play some snow golf. And if that isn’t enough, you can test your puzzle and riddle-solving skills with the ever-popular Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt. One day I’ll find that medallion.
Dates: Thursday, January 24—Sunday, February 3
The Luminary Loppet
One of the more enchanting and beautiful winter festivals in Minnesota, the Luminary Loppet is one special evening during the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival. The night of the Luminary Loppet, Lake of the Isles is set aglow with illuminated ice sculptures. Take in the breathtaking beauty of winter by walking, skiing, or snowshoeing around the lake for a one-of-a-kind experience. Stop to watch fire dancers and an ‘iceformance’ as well as pausing to explore the Ice Pyramid, the Enchanted Forest, Ice-Cropolis, Ice-Henge, and Ice-ster Island. And as you make your way around the lake you can warm up at one of the bonfires and sip on hot chocolate.
While the Luminary Loppet is one of the must-see events, don’t forget to check out the exciting ski races and other competitions that include fat tire bike races, skijoring, and dogsledding. You may also want to try your hand and participate in Captain Ken’s Kubb Tournament. No experience necessary, you can join the competition and play Kubb, a Swedish snow lawn-bowling game.
Dates: Thursday, January 31—Sunday, February 3
The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships
Minnesota and hockey are pretty synonymous. And each year the annual U.S. Pond Hockey Championships allows us all to be kids again and play hockey “the way nature intended” — outside, in the cold with crisp air and fresh ice. Whether you’re a player or a spectator, you can cheer on the teams as they compete to get their names etched into the Gold Shovel. And not to worry, you can take a few breaks to warm up in the warming houses and enjoy some brats, drinks, and other tasty dishes.
Dates: Thursday, January 24 — Sunday, January 27
Read this next: Respect the snow: This calming snowboard video shows the true beauty of winter