Glia and I joined the Minnesota State Park Hiking Club in December of 2019. This meant that our first official hiking club hikes all occurred in the winter when snow was on the trails.
We purchased our hiking club kit at William O’Brien State Park, so we were excited to complete the hiking club trail at this location. We parked near the visitor center and walked down the road to the Riverside Trail. We enjoyed a lovely hike on the snowy trail along the icy river. But when we returned to the car and started to log our hike we realized that the winter hiking club trail is not the official hiking club trail. Instead, it is a bonus trail. The official hiking club trail was groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter.
And so we began looking more closely at which state park hiking club trails are actually open to hikers in the winter. Of the 68 hiking club trails in Minnesota, 18 are closed or partially closed to hikers and dogs in the winter. And an additional five allow hikers on the hiking club trail but have several other trails that are closed to dogs.
So before you head out for a winter hike with your dog at a Minnesota State Park, make sure that you check the winter park map to ensure that your dog can still join you on the trails.
Which MN State Parks have hiking club trails that are not groomed for skiing and are therefore open to dogs year-round?
We put together the following list of State Parks that are open year-round and do NOT groom the hiking club trail for skiing to make it easier to find winter hiking trails.
Use the following chart as a guide, but I highly recommend checking the website for the park you are planning to hike at prior to driving out. You can access the winter or year round maps online. The websites also allow you to check for any seasonal updates or road closures that may affect the accessibility of the park prior to starting your drive.
Parks in red with a strike-through have a hiking club trail that is not fully open to dogs in the winter. Parks in gray with a strike-through do not have a hiking club trail at all.
Why aren’t all the hiking club trails open to hikers and dogs in the winter?
Many of Minnesota’s state parks maintain groomed skiing trails in the winter. Dogs’ paws and hikers’ boots can ruin the groomed trail tracks, making it hard for skiers to use these trails. So if a hiking club trail is repurposed for skiing in the winter, typically dogs aren’t allowed to use them. There are a few exceptions to this rule, so again, please check the rules and trail designations at the specific state park that you are interested in visiting.
Are the hiking club trails that are open to hikers and dogs maintained or groomed at all in the winter?
In general, no. Most of the open hiking club trails are unmaintained. So if the snow back is deep, consider bringing along a good pair of trusty snowshoes for your winter hiking adventure.
If you would like to hike on a groomed hiking trail, consider some of the groomed hiking trails at the following state parks.
- Afton State Park
- Blue Mounds State Park
- Douglas State Trail
- Flandrau State Park
- Fort Snelling State Park
- Glendalough State Park
- Gooseberry Falls State Park
- Grand Portage State Park
- Jay Cooke State Park
- Lake Bemidji State Park
- Myre – Big Island State Park
- St. Croix State Park
- Sibley State Park
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
- Tettegouche State Park
- William O’Brien State Park
You may notice that many of the parks on this list are also the parks that do not have year-round hiking club trails. This is likely because the same equipment that grooms cross country ski trails can be used to groom hiking trails. But while the hiking club trail may not be open to your dog, this can be a great opportunity to hike different trails in the park. And a groomed winter hiking trail is a real treat when the snow gets deep.
All-Season Hiking Club Trails
In order to make the chart at the beginning of this post, I opened up the map for each park and checked to see if the hiking club trail was groomed for skiing or if the map had a different designation for the hiking club trail. So if you want a little more detail than what the list above provides, here is my working chart that I made while looking through the park maps for all of the state parks with hiking club trails.
The park gets a yes if they have an all-season map and a no if there is a separate summer and winter map. The park gets a yes for groomed hiking trails if they are on the MN State Parks list of parks with groomed hiking trails. And finally, the park is assessed for whether or not the hiking club trail is open to hikers in the winter.
Please let me know if you see any errors.
|Park Name||All-Season Trails?||Groomed hiking trails in winter?||Hiking Club Trail open to hikers in winter?|
|Bear Head||No; (map is all season)||No; it is groomed for skiing|
|Beaver Creek Valley||Yes||Yes|
|Big Bog SRA||Yes||Yes|
|Big Stone Lake||Yes||Yes|
|Blue Mounds||Yes||Yes, but most are not||Yes|
|Cascade River||No; (map is all season)||Mostly, but does overlap some ski trails|
|Charles A. Lindbergh||Yes||Yes|
|Flandrau||No||Yes||No; it is groomed for skiing|
|Forsteville Mystery Cave||Yes||Yes|
|Fort Snelling||No||Yes||*An alternate hiking club trail is open in the winter|
|Frontenac||No||No; can only access parts of the hiking club trail|
|George Crosby Manitou||Yes||Yes|
|Glendalough||No||Yes||? – unable to find winter map online|
|Great River Bluffs||No; (map is all season)||Yes; small overlap with groomed skiin trails|
|Itasca||No||No; hiking club trail is groomed for cross-country skiing|
|Jay Cooke||No||Yes||No; hiking club trail is groomed for cross-country skiing.|
|Judge C.R. Magney||Yes||Yes|
|La Salle Lake SRA||Yes||Yes|
|Lac qui Parle||Yes||Yes|
|Lake Bemidji||No||Yes||Yes; partially multi-use, partially ungroomed boardwalk|
|Lake Carlos||No||No; hiking club trail is groomed for skiing in winter|
|Lake Maria||No||No; Hiking club trail is mostly groomed for skiing in the winter|
|Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine||Yes||Yes|
|Maplewood||No||No; trail is groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter|
|McCarthy Beach||Yes||Yes; although trail is partially multi-use|
|Mille Lacs Kathio||No||No; hiking club trail is groomed for cross country skiing|
|Minneopa State Park||Yes||Yes; ungroomed and shared with skiiers in winter|
|Minnesota Valley SRA||Yes||Yes|
|Myre-Big Island State Park||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Nerstrand Big Woods||Yes||Yes|
|Red River SRA||Yes||Yes|
|Rice Lake||Yes||Yes; trail is multi-use|
|St. Croix||No||Yes||No; hiking club trailis groomed for cross country skiing|
|Savanna Portage||No||No; hiking club trail is a snowmobile trail in the winter|
|Sibley State Park||No||Yes||No; parts are not open or groomed for skiing|
|Split Rock Creek||No||?; unable to find winter map online|
|Split Rock Lighthouse||No||Yes||Maybe; hiking club trail is a shared fat bike/snowshoe trail in winter|
|Tettegouche||No; (map is all-season)||Yes||Yes|
|Upper Sioux Agency||Yes||Yes|
|Wild River||No||No; hiking club trail is groomed for cross-country skiing|
|William O’Brien||No||Yes||Kind of; there is a winter hiking club trail that is not the same as the summer hiking club trail|