St. Paul’s outdoor activities take the chill out of winter


The recent snow dumps in the Twin Cities might lead some people to hibernate in their toasty warm homes and not re-emerge until the spring thaw. However, to do so would mean missing out on some of the best things to see and do, especially in Saint Paul, which is bustling with so many outdoor activities to keep you moving, you’re likely to break a sweat, even in bone-chilling temperatures. Here are a few of the Capitol City’s must do-winter activities.

Cross Country Skiing

Granted it’s not the Birkebeiner, but cross country ski enthusiasts have held Saint Paul in high regard ever since 1992, when Como Park was voted “the best cross country skiing in the Twin Cities” by Twin Cities Reader. Como has both a relatively flat 1.7k course that is ideal for newbies, as well as a more challenging 5k course. Besides Como, skiers can also try Phalen Golf Course and Highland 9-hole Golf Course. The ski trails are open to all and free to use, provided you have your own equipment. At Como only, rental equipment is available for a small fee along with lessons. For more information, contact the park directly.

And Downhill, Too

In addition to cross-country, Saint Paul maintains a small downhill ski area tucked inside Como Park.  For those who have always wanted to try downhill skiing or snowboarding, but are intimidated, trying it out at a smaller, less costly ski area close to home might be just the ticket. There’s even a chalet with refreshments and rental equipment, just like the big ski places. No chairlift though. A tow rope is used to reach the lighted trails. For information on lessons, rental equipment prices, contact Como Park Ski Chalet at 651-488-9673.

Ice Climbing—now that’s unexpected

Rock climbers looking for the ultimate thrill close to home can enjoy ice climbing at one of three locations in Saint Paul. There are climbing sites at both Crosby Park and Shadow Falls and five sites in the Lilydale Brickyard. Ice climbing is not something that anyone can just go out and do. To ice climb, you will need proper gear and it’s probably a good idea to get some pointers from Vertical Endeavors before climbing. Plus, for safety reasons, the city requires ice climbers to sign a waiver and buy a $25 permit which covers the entire season from now until March 31, 2011. Contact the city’s Park Permit office at (651) 632-5111.

Grab Your Sled

Saint Paul has 14 official sliding hills that are classified according to their level of difficulty. If you’re looking for a gentle hill to take the kids, try Orchard, Margaret, Griggs, Frost Lake or Prosperity Rec Centers. Medium hills are located at Highland, Merriam Park, Como, McDonough and Arlington Park Rec Centers. Those seeking an adrenaline rush bordering a near-death experience can try the steep hills at Hillcrest, Baker, McMurray Field and Battle Creek. Of course there are also countless unofficial neighborhood sliding spots, so grab your sled and have some fun.

Lace Up Your Skates

There are 17 outdoor ice rinks in St. Paul scattered throughout the city equipped with warming houses. Many have multiple rinks to accommodate both hockey leagues and open skating. McMurray Fields has four rinks reserved exclusively for broomball. Three other rinks (Palace, North Dale and Phalen) have refrigerated rinks designed to expand the hockey season. General skate and hockey rinks are also located at Aldine, Battle Creek, Conway, Edgecumbe, Griggs, Groveland, Hayden Heights, Langford, Mattocks, Linwood, Nathan Hale, and NW Como. Contact the recreation centers directly for open skate times.

A smaller rink is located just outside the historic Landmark Center in downtown Saint Paul. Located across from the Winter Carnival ice carvings in Rice Park, Wells Fargo WinterSkate provides skaters with a magical and memorable skating experience. At the Landmark Center, as at the other skate rinks in the city, skating is free. For those in need of skates, both hockey and figure skates can be rented for only two dollars; the fee is waived if you show your Wells Fargo bank or credit card. Winter Skate is only available until February 6, 2011; skate times and a calendar are available at their website.

Take Your Kid Ice Fishing Day

You don’t need to have an ice house up north to go ice fishing. St. Paul is hosting two free ice fishing days the whole family to enjoy. The best part: all fishing equipment is provided and fishing instructors will also be on hand to teach kids and adults. The first is  on February 20, at Lake Crosby. Because this event coincides with the Minnesota DNR’s Take A Kid Ice Fishing Weekend, adults ice fishing with a child 16 or younger will not need a fishing permit. The second is March 6 at Lake Como; adults wishing to fish will need a permit. To register for either fishing date or for more information call 651-292-6508

We can’t forget King Boreas

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival, dubbed “The Coolest Celebration on Earth,” is the city’s flagship event. The carnival will run from January 27 thru February 6, 2011 with various events scattered throughout Saint Paul, showcasing many of the city’s parks. In honor of its 125th year, the carnival is hosting 125 events including ice carvings in Rice Park, snow sculptures at the State Fairgrounds and fireworks at Raspberry Island. Many events are free or have a small fee, which is typically waived with the purchase of a carnival button. For more information, visit the Winter Carnival website

No doubt there are many other winter activities happening in Saint Paul, but just by trying a few of the ones listed here, winter will be more enjoyable and will go by much faster.