25 winter activities for toddlers

It’s tempting to hibernate during a frigid Minnesota winter, but your tots have just as much energy to burn now as ever.

Making the most of the season, however, requires a bit of creative thinking — not to mention a lot of winter wear. 

I was reminded of this recently when I helped my young daughters run their very own hot cocoa stand. (Yes, you can take the charm of a summertime lemonade stand and winterize it! It’s cozier and allows for fun toppings.)

Our enterprise didn’t last long, but our neighbors showed mercy and tipped generously. 

Read the full story — including the scoop on our awesome cocoa stand (as pictured) from a Minnesota-based Etsy shop Opa And Oma’s of Elk River — at mnparent.com/charmed

Now, without further ado, here are 25 ways for little ones to have big fun this winter, including some indoor options. 

Set up a hot cocoa stand. Grab a thermos, fill a jar with marshmallows and give your tot a shot at early entrepreneurship. Hello, mittens and marshmallows!

Go sledding. Not sure where to find the best free hills in your hood? Sign up at Nextdoor.com, get the app and pose any question. You’ll get the inside scoop — and meet more neighbors.

Investigate animal tracks after a fresh snowfall. See tinyurl.com/tracks-mn for a printable DNR guide to common Minnesota animal tracks. 

Book a carriage ride. The Hitching Company of Minneapolis offers old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriage rides through scenic Minneapolis. Their Mississippi River Carriage Tour runs 30 minutes (a reasonable length for toddlers) for $60.


Check out Wells Fargo WinterSkate. Events are held at Loring Park in Minneapolis and Landmark Plaza in St. Paul through early February, weather permitting.

Explore a place of worship. Has your toddler experienced the enormous and historic Cathedral of St. Paul? It’s free to visit and open to the public daily until 6 p.m. See website for service times. 

Bake together! Crush leftover candy canes to make Minnesota Parent’s homemade peppermint bark.


a snowman and make snow angels 

Put on a puppet show.   

Check out the trumpeter swans in Monticello. This city’s Swan Park — 45 miles northwest of Minneapolis — is home to 2,000 trumpeters December through March, with daily feedings at 10:30 a.m. See monticellocci.com/pages/swans for details. 

Hang out at your local library. Take in a free story time. You can even get a library card for your little one. The Hennepin County Library system, for one, has no age restrictions on library cards (though parents are still responsible for borrowed materials). 

Surprise your mail carrier with a warm-up drink or fresh-baked treat

Contribute a book to a Little Free Library or build and register your own at littlefreelibrary.org

Experience a touch of the tropics. Check out the Como Zoo & Conservatory’s two-story Tropical Encounters exhibit in St. Paul. And every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon, check out Lil’ Explorer activities for ages 1 to 3, free through April in the zoo visitor center. Also, check out the Minnesota Zoo’s Tropical Beach Party, expanded this year to include two large sandbox areas, Feb. 18–March 12 in Apple Valley. 

Shovel for the neighbors.

Crayola: Tour the Mall of America’s new Crayola Experience, including Toddler Town. Open daily, admission costs $15.99 online. Visitors typically stay three to four hours. MOA also offers free Toddler Tuesday activities every week.


Visit a nature center. Dodge Nature Center’s West St. Paul location is hosting a Snow Forts and Otter Slides Playdate (Jan. 20) and a Frosty Fun Festival (Jan. 28) with sledding, snowshoeing and ice bowling. Find a list of local nature centers at mnparent.com/nature.


Attend a winter balloon launch. The 28th-annual Hudson Hot Air Affair balloon festival is Feb. 3–5 and includes multiple balloon-launch events and many other family-friendly festivities on the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. See hudsonhotairaffair.com.   


Visit an old-fashioned candy store such as Candyland in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis or Stillwater, offering house-popped Chicago Mix popcorn and sweets galore. 

Declare a pajama day. This may be impossible to pull off in June, so seize winter’s coziness and stay in your flannels all day long and enjoy movies, puzzles, popcorn, Play-Doh and blanket forts. 

Head to an indoor water park. Visit a water park such as the Shoreview Community Center’s tropical-themed park, which includes the Shipwreck Beach kiddie area. On site is also the massive Tropical Adventure Indoor Playground, which includes a play area for ages 3 and younger.


Attend the St. Paul Winter CarnivalGet a tour of ice sculptures (Jan. 26 to Feb. 5).


Taketrain ride! On Saturdays, the Minnesota Transportation Museum offers 15-minute train rides for free with admission at its Jackson Street Roundhouse museum in St. Paul. Saturday museum admission is $12 for ages 16 and older, $10 for ages 5 to 15, $5 per toddler (ages 2 to 4), free for ages 1 and younger. Tots & Trains programming is offered from 10 a.m. to noon on select Wednesdays (no train rides). See website for a schedule of activities. 

Pizza night! Make your own — with toddler-approved toppings. Or just order in!


Ride the double-decker Venetian carousel in Maplewood MallIt features spinning teacups, gondolas and two dozen hand-painted horses.