Lake County Winter Adventure Guide

Ah, winter! While some folks curl up under a blanket and hibernate during the winter, resilient Minnesotans find frolicking outdoors invigorating! Enjoying the outdoors during winter fights seasonal depression and improves your well-being. So, we say, bundle up and get moving!

When the snow falls, northern Minnesota transforms into a winter wonderland.

From snowshoeing or hiking through our scenic state parks, blazing new trails on a sled, or simply soaking in the magical beauty of new-fallen snow, Lake County makes the ultimate winter adventure destination.

Please browse our Winter Adventure Guide for winter activity recommendations and tips for a grand up-north getaway.

Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing & Winter Hiking

Deep in the Forest or Near Lake Superior

There’s something magical about losing yourself in nature. So strap on some winter boots, snowshoes, or skis, head out to the wilderness, and soon you’ll experience inner peace. Feel your stress melt away as you focus on the sound of new snow crunching beneath your feet and watch your breath rhythmically move in and out.

It’s common to see several winter bird species and wildlife. Perhaps you’ll encounter a moose, such as captured on the Erkki Harju Ski Trail.

Lake County offers endless outdoor options near the North Shore and inland within the forest. No snowshoes? Luckily, several lodging establishments and state parks provide snowshoe rentals or free use for guests.

Snowmobiling & ATVing Across Lake County

Ride From the North Shore of Lake Superior to Ely

Lake County, MN, possesses some of the best snowmobile trails in the country. Nearly 400 miles of groomed trails bring you expansive views of Lake Superior or deep within the Superior National Forest. In addition, the North Shore Trail delivers some of the most ruggedly beautiful scenery in all of Minnesota.

The North Shore State Trail extends 146 miles from Duluth to Grand Marais. The trail runs through St. Louis, Lake, and Cook counties in northeastern Minnesota, winding its way through the forests on the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior.

Lake County’sTwo Harbors Corridor Trail/Yukon Trail connects to the North Shore Trail and the Tomahawk Trail, which leads to Ely, MN.

Many sledders can find lodging that easily accommodates groups and is located right off the trails for easy access.

Dogsledding & Skijoring

dogsledding north shore and ely mn

Dog sledding and skijoring are embedded in northern Minnesota culture. If you’ve never had the experience of mushing through the snowy woods, we highly recommend you give it a try.

Plan a Mushing Excursion

Guided rides can range from one- to two-hour excursions to extreme weekend winter camping adventures. Enjoy the great outdoors with adorable dogs who love to haul! Create unforgettable memories while driving your team of dogs through the beautiful north country.

The North Shore is also home to the John Beargrease Dogsled Race, which runs from Duluth to Grand Portage. Experience northern Minnesota’s top winter attraction! The event starts Sunday,  January 30, and ends on February 2, 2022. View all event details here.

Several companies offer guided dog sled trips; go for a half-day up or make it a weekend-long excursion.

Fat Biking

fat biking in two harbors north shore mn

Fat biking has become a popular winter recreational activity in the great Northwoods! So bring your fat bike or mountain bike and hit the trails to enjoy the North Shore this winter. You may also rent a fat bike from Spokengear in Two Harbors or Red Raven Bike Shop in Beaver Bay.

Lake County and the Minnesota DNR have created winter biking routes that wind through the forest on snowy trails. The county grooms the fat bike trails to pack the snow and keep ruts at a minimum. The Lake County Demonstration Forest and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park are prominent areas to ride fat bikes.

Ice (or Icy) Fishing

Winter Fishing on Lake Superior

While every lake in Minnesota becomes solid in the winter, Lake Superior rarely freezes over, often allowing open-water fishing year-round. Many folks like to fish on shore for coho salmon, steelhead, lake trout, pink salmon, coaster brook trout, and Kamloops. However, the latter is rarer to catch since the Minnesota DNR has ceased stocking Kamloops in Lake Superior.

Where to fish Lake Superior:

  • Off the Pier in Two Harbors
  • Any public area of shoreline

Some of the best areas to fish are near river mouths and from break walls. We recommend dropping a line early or late in the day, as most catching occurs during dawn and dusk.

Inland Ice Fishing

Blessed with many inland lakes, Lake County makes an exciting ice-fishing destination. For example, the White Iron Chain of Lakes near Ely, MN, includes White Iron, Garden, Farm, South Farm (BWCAW), and Birch Lakes.  As part of the Rainy/Lake of the Woods Watershed, which encompasses 27,000 square miles and stretches from just west of Lake Superior, these pristine lakes offer fantastic ice fishing in the heart of the northern Minnesota wilderness.

Several resorts offer easy access to ice fishing and snowmobile trails—fish for crappies, bluegills, walleye, northern pike, perch, and small- and large-mouth bass.

Year-Round Resorts with Winter Recreation

Check out these inland resorts that offer winter recreation: ice fishing, nordic skiing or snowshoeing, and of course, snowmobiling!

Knotted Pine Inn & Tavern- Isabella, MN

A winter paradise awaits the snowmobiler in the Superior National Forest. Enjoy riding excitement through remote forests and over frozen lakes and rivers. The Yukon Trail, between Isabella & Two Harbors, and the Tomahawk Trail, which runs from the North Shore Trail near Crooked Lake through Isabella to Ely, are well-groomed and accessible to food, fuel, and lodging.

Snowshoe Country Lodge – Isabella, MN

Winter in Snowshoe Country offers many opportunities for fun and adventure. Explore our many trails by snowshoe or cross-country skis, request to view a slideshow seminar on local wildlife, and
experience a traditional backwoods wood-fired sauna.

Crooked Lake Resort – Finland, MN

Pack up your skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles and enjoy the hundreds of miles of groomed trails and unplowed forestry roads at Crooked Lake Resort. The Superior National Forest surrounds Crooked Lake with seven miles of shoreline consisting of 250 acres.

Serenity Lodge – Finland, MN

This four-season lodge accommodates a variety of recreational activities. A path through the cedar forest leads to a secluded bay on Ninemile Lake, where clear waters contain Walleye, Bluegill, and Northern Pike. The property offers easy access to hiking, cross-country skiing, ATV, and snowmobile trails just down the road from George Crosby Manitou State Park. After a busy day of activity, unwind by watching the sunset from the dock or making s’mores around the outdoor fire pit.

Maple Grove Bait Store & Lodging – Finland, MN

This family-owned resort is your winter recreation base camp offering lodging, bait/tackle, a sporting goods store, propane refill, firewood, ice, and DNR Licensing.

Wildhurst Lodge – Finland, MN

Discover the North Country at Wildhurst Lodge. Explore the wilderness on ATVs, snowmobiles, snowshoes, or on foot. Return to the warmth of a cozy fire in the lodge when you’re through. The adventure is endless, with direct access to the ATV/snowmobile trails.

With miles of unplowed service and logging roads, we offer some of the best snowmobiling in the region. Leave directly from Wildhurst, taking the Moose Run trail to the North Shore Trail or Moose Walk trail. More than 1,000 miles of groomed trail stretch from Finland to Grand Portage, Ely, and Duluth.

White Iron Beach Resort – Ely, MN

Surrounded by the Superior National Forest and offering easy access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and outstanding fishing, White Iron Beach Resort is the ideal setting for an unforgettable Minnesota getaway!

Silver Rapids Lodge – Ely, MN

Silver Rapids Lodge has plenty to offer if you’re a winter enthusiast. Located right off the Tomahawk snowmobile trail linked to miles of trails, SRL invites you and your snowmobile crew to stay in one of their cabins. Sledders can ride all day and relax in their restaurant and lounge area in the evening. Just outside your cabin, enjoy ice fishing Northwoods style! Cross-country ski over miles of private trails. You may also rent a pair of our snowshoes and create your route.

Timber Trail Lodge

The Tomahawk Trail runs directly through its wilderness resort! Just step out of your cabin, and you’re right there. Try cross-country skiing near Timber Trail Lodge; ski trail maps are available. Snowmobile rentals are also available. Book a guided ice fishing trip with the Ely Fishing Guide Company or a dogsled trip with Chilly Dogs and get a discount on your lodging.

Snowbank Lodge & Outfitters

Situated at the very edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), Snowbank Lodge & Outfitters offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore this winter wilderness wonderland. Icefish on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for lake trout, walleye, northern pike, and eelpout from a heated ice house. Snowbank Lodge offers easy access to a plowed ice road, free of charge for guests. For the ice fishing angler who desires a more rugged, off-the-beaten-path location on Snowbank Lake, trek to the BWCAW side of the lake on foot, skis, or snowshoes.

Garden Lake Resort

Garden Lake Resort offers excellent opportunities for the winter enthusiast: Enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and the ever-popular dog sledding. Go wolf howling and view the Northern lights from a frozen lake. Why not sit in a chair by the electric fireplace and enjoy a good book while looking over a frozen white wilderness lake for those who want to relax?

The Retreats on White Iron Lake

Experience a family resort nestled in the calm bay of White Iron Lake. Choose from 11 deluxe, two- to four-bedroom, smoke-free lakeside or lake-view cabins under towering old-growth cedars and pines. The Retreats has everything for a memorable resort vacation in the North Woods.

Ice Skating

Outside Rinks in Lake County

Lace up those skates! Lake County offers two outdoor ice skating rinks: The Two Harbors Outdoor Rink, located behind the Lake County Arena, and The Silver Bay public outdoor rink, located on the right side of the Rukavina arena. Visitors can park in the driveway and walk down the rink. Both rinks offer indoor dressing rooms.

Winter Camping

BWCA & State Parks

Photo Credit: Molly Solberg

Winter camping adventures can feel exhilarating for brave souls who love to immerse themselves in nature, no matter the climate. However, there’s no more significant challenge than winter camping in the pristine BWCA Wilderness. Unique tents for winter camping allow wood-burning stoves inside, which reduce condensation.

Rewards for the Brave Adventurist

According to the U.S. Forest Service, “Visitors who experience the wilderness during the winter have a very different experience than those who visit during the summer. You are less likely to run into other visitors and can experience a sense of solitude and self-reliance in a way few other places allow. Therefore, winter wilderness travel requires a high degree of preparation, planning, skill, and self-reliance.”

Where to Winter Camp in Lake County

Other than the BWCA, many folks camp in the Superior National Forest or Lake County’s state parks. The park permits campers to stay outside designated campsites during winter. Split Rock Lighthouse, Tettegouche, Gooseberry Falls, and George Manitou State Parks allow winter camping.

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