In collaboration with Liz Westerhaus of This Minnesota Life
Winter in Minnesota spans about HALF of our year (a truth we still have a hard time accepting). But that doesn’t mean we have to retreat to our homes until it’s gone. Winter in the valley is a GREAT time to explore the outdoors and uncover not just the beauty of nature, but the EXCITEMENT and FUN the winter thrills in Stillwater, Minnesota have to offer! Take the time this winter to step away from the hum-drum of adult responsibilities and tap into your child-like nature and finally try those things you’ve always wanted to do. Things you maybe haven’t done since you were a kid like skiing, snowshoeing, or snow tubing. We have just the places for you to add a little more thrill to your chill and excitement back into your winter days.
The St. Croix Valley has so much to offer this time of year for every type of adventurer. But if you like your activities with a little adrenaline rush, start at Green Acres Tubing Hill! Located off Hwy 36 as you’re heading into Stillwater from Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, this lovely family-owned business has been a winter hot spot for 45 years. At Green Acres you can hear screams of joy and shrieks of laughter echo through the trees as riders fly by with arms in the air, free as can be from the boredom and monotony of day to day life.
From the easy parking close to the lodge to the slick ride down the rolling hills and tow-rope to pull back up, you hardly have to do a thing. This is the perfect outside weekend winter thrill idea for the work-weary couples or groups of friends who want to have a good time but with minimal effort. Green Acres is open for all ages and is CHEAP entertainment at only $15 for a two-hour session. Step away from your desk, disconnect from your phone and RECONNECT to the child within at Green Acres. You’ll make amazing memories all while reaping the benefits of fresh air and laughter with friends.
Downhill Skiing & Snowboarding
Maybe this is the year you FINALLY take to the slopes and learn to ski. Experience a Minnesota winter day from the gorgeous, expansive slopes of Afton Alps Ski Resort, now with 50 runs, 18 lifts, five chalets and the Midwest’s most acclaimed ski and ride school, Afton Alps is a leader in the industry. After being purchased by Vail Resorts, millions were invested to re-imagine the guest experience with state of the art snowmaking and cutting edge terrain parks on their 300 skiable acres.
Afton Alps has MORE than enough space to challenge expert skiers AND beginners alike. Accessible, affordable and a thrill, this big-time resort has a cozy, small town feel with skilled employees that work to help first-timers become life-long skiers with several offerings of daily lessons. Learn how to carve or ride with more ease and confidence or simply stand on those skis for the first time ever. You can book private lessons if you want something more intimate for you and a friend, or can be grouped with similar ability learners. Lessons are a great way to build your skills no matter your current level. And at Afton Alps safety, fun and learning is always the focus!
If you’re set on spending a day skiing, stay overnight at the Lora Hotel in the heart of downtown Stillwater and get TWO lift passes included with your stay. That’s more than $100 off your ski experience AND two Apres-ski drinks waiting for you after an amazing day on the hills. Head south on beautiful St. Croix Scenic Byway on the winding two-lane country road just 30 minutes to Afton Alps. If you’re just planning on spending a day there, renting gear is the perfect option. Just show up and get outfitted with ski’s, poles, boots, a helmet, and/or snowboard. On weekdays, they offer evening lessons, and on weekends, both morning and afternoon lessons are available. Be sure to book at least 48 hours in advance.
If you’re not interested in skiing, but would love to experience the fresh air, get an AWESOME workout via snowshoe or hiking boots at Afton State Park located just next door to Afton Alps. With over 12 miles of trails, you can buy a day park pass for $7 ($35 for the year) and take on steep but gorgeous climbs to panoramic vista views of the St. Croix River Valley. This park doesn’t disappoint with its myriad types of terrain, from single-track trails, steps, riverside cross-country ski tracks or wide-open prairies. There’s a lot of ground to cover with lots of climbing, so make sure you have a map and hydration!
If you feel like heading out of Minnesota, to our neighboring State of Wisconsin, take a scenic drive 36 minutes northwest to TrollHaugen Outdoor Recreation Area or head onward north in Minnesota from Main Street to Wild Mountain Ski and Tubing resort, about 40 minutes north. Both of these destinations also offer incredible winter thrills and are within driving distance to your hotel stay in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Final Winter Thrills: Winter Festivals
If you are visiting Stillwater from January 18-26th, Stillwater hosts WINTER FEST, a FREE festival of fun where event-goers, locals and tourists alike, are incentivized to compete in activities from a parka pub crawl to local shopping, live entertainment and even a casserole cookoff amongst the camaraderie of the greater Stillwater community. During your stay, join fellow weekend warrior “classmates” in this epic celebration of winter fun with the Fighting Stork as the campus mascot (get it? representing the Birthplace of Minnesota), you can get active in winter and meet new people all while taking in the beauty of Stillwater and immersing yourself in this incredible community. The festivities officially begin with opening ceremonies at the Frozen Flannel Bonspiel Curling Tournament on Saturday, January 18 (JUST POSTPONED TO JANUARY 25th due to weather) which offers free opportunities to learn how to curl on Lily Lake in Stillwater.
Most events will be free of charge to participate with the help of amazing sponsors. Winterfest 2020 will showcase BOTH “Shop Local” AND “Activities” punch cards redeemable for over $1000 in cash and prizes at the closing ceremonies brunch. A few events include Outdoor Frozen Yoga or Zumba, an Urban Adventure Challenge, and games, music and entertainment to enjoy from INDOORS as well, in the beautiful JX Venue in town. Check out the Winterfest website for a schedule of events.
Grab a friend or your sweetie and get INto winter this year! See how freeing and rejuvenating it is to laugh out loud as you fly down a hill on an inner tube or take a weekend to learn to ski. Discover Stillwater Minnesota’s winter charm with a stay in cozy fireplace suites. Book your winter stay and fill it with winter thrills in Stillwater Minnesota, you will be so glad you did. Heck, stay a little longer if you can with #stayanextra day deals.
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