Winter joy!

Parenting, in many ways, is a bit of a surrender. 

Resistance is futile. There’s no turning back, no matter how hard it gets. But once you give in, well, that’s when the fun starts. You learn to embrace the journey, the chaos, the humor of child-rearing. 

Winter, once you’ve chosen to make Minnesota your home, is kind of the same way. It’s just too long to wait it out and stay indoors. 

Throw on some warm clothes, grab some handwarmers and get ready to breathe in some fresh, cool air and the majesty that is a Minnesota winter. Here's how:

Tube, dude

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are amazingly fun, even with kids. 

Hello, ski lifts! But the work it takes to get your gang fully outfitted and on the slopes — with skis and snowboards attached, never mind the learning curve — is an experience reserved for those who are truly determined. 

You’ll get there. 

But until then, find a tubing hill. Most are near skiing activities, so you’ll get preview of what’s available before you dive in. 

Find 11 more Minnesota tubing hills that are a bit further afield at exploreminnesota.com.

Start skiing 

When you’re ready to ski or snowboard, start with a day trip. We recommend the following three hills for families who are just getting into it. They’re all relatively close to the Twin Cities (90 minutes or less) and offer lots of easy runs for kids, but with plenty of room to grow into tougher stuff once your kids get confident. 

Pro tips: Getting outfitted takes about an hour, so head out as early in the day as possible. 

Skiing with little kids is easier when teenagers are still home sleeping, instead of shooting all over the ski hills. If you want quieter afternoon times, ski or snowboard during Minnesota Vikings games, especially during the playoffs. 

If you have a fourth-grader, sign up now to get the Minnesota Ski Areas Association’s 4th Grade Passport Program pass because it can take a few weeks for it to arrive. Pass holders have to rent their gear if they don’t have any, but they’re entitled to a minimum of two free lift tickets at every participating Minnesota ski area, which is most of them. Once you fall in love with skiing, you’ll notice something remarkable: You, oddly, won’t want winter to end.

Hit the North Shore

While all your friends are vacationing to warmer climes, don’t fall into a hate-scrolling hole. 

Instead, schedule your own local trip (sans airfare) up the North Shore, which is incredible in high winter with nature-made icicle sculptures, shifting sheets of ice and snow near the shores of Gitche Gumee and even icebreaker tug boats. 

  • Duluth: This city is always magical, and we’ve recently fallen in love with the Pier B Resort Hotel, which is family and dog friendly and includes a restaurant and bar on site. It also affords unique views of the Aerial Lift Bridge from its harborside location a few blocks from the Great Lakes Aquarium.
  • Lutsen: You don’t have to love skiing to visit this town, thanks to a consistent live-music lineup at Lutsen Mountains, including — to name a few — Yam Haus (Jan. 4); a Ski Party Music & Ski Festival (Jan. 10–11), featuring Dead Man Winter, Charlie Parr, the Cactus Blossoms, the Black-Eyed Snakes, Portal III and Humbird; and, on Feb. 8, Cloud Cult. Learn more about concert packages at lutsen.com. 
  • Grand Marais: Let’s just get this out right now: World’s Best Donuts of Grand Marais is not open in winter. And some of your other favorite seasonal haunts may be closed as well. But that doesn’t mean nothing’s going on up here in winter. Check out these cool happenings:
    • Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race: This spectator-friendly event (Jan. 10–11) starts and finishes on the Gunflint Trail and includes a 12-dog, 110-mile race and an eight-dog, 70-mile race. 
    • Hygge Festival: Throughout Cook County, take part in events (Feb. 7–16) that celebrate the art of feeling relaxed, cozy and surrounded by the warmth of family, friends, community and fire. Throughout February, you can also go on a self-guided Fireplace Tour, including historic and interesting hearths at locations all around the region.
    • Pincushion Ski Festival: Just north of Grand Marais, check out this Loppet of the north, going on Feb. 15–16. Organized by the North Superior Ski and Run Club, the event includes skiing events for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers in classical, freestyle and skijoring competitions — all open to adults and children with some fees as low as $5. If you bring your dog, you can to try skijoring — cross-country skiing while being pulled by your dog, ideally across a frozen lake. 

Our family lodging suggestion is East Bay Suites in Grand Marais, complete with in-room kitchens and located right on the lake next to a co-op and an outdoors store. 

Learn more about events and other lodging ideas at visitcookcounty.com


Sarah Jackson is the editor of Minnesota Parent.