In Collaboration with Liz Westerhause of This Minnesota Life
Cleaning up after the chaos of Christmas is a welcome reprieve, greeting the New Year with a fresh start and pine-needle free floors. But the packing up of ornaments and the laborious drag of the tree to the curb seems to take with it all the joy and excitement of the holidays. Leaving many anxiously wondering how they’re going to fill and enjoy the dark, gloomy days of the next few months of winter without the distraction of holiday festivities.
Yes, the icy roads and the negative-temp wind chills are irritating and can be enough to cause even the heartiest born-and-raised Midwesterner to hole up away in their home, counting the days until Spring flowers bloom. But the experience of mid-winter in Minnesota can also showcase some of the most brilliant morning frosts, the brightest sunshine, most glorious bluebird skies making for some of the BEST days to explore the landscapes of this gorgeous state.
Lean IN to this season and learn to make the most of it and ENJOY a Minnesota winter! Use this time of year as an INVITATION to take a break from your well-worn routine to Discover Stillwater and explore the nearby nature!
A quick jaunt East of the Twin Cities Minneapolis/St. Paul you’ll find yourself in this sweet, little river town. The boutiques, art galleries, quaint antique stores, cozy bars and award-winning restaurants that line the downtown streets are plentiful. But the OUTDOOR venue, the trails and scenic landscapes are top notch! Getting outdoors and into nature is one of the simplest, most affordable and truly one of the greatest gifts you could give yourself or a loved one in the New Year and there’s no better place than the St. Croix Valley to TRULY experience the beauty, peacefulness and solitude that winter offers from an outdoor perspective. The scenes will not only revive the senses but rejuvenate the soul.
Toss your bags in a cozy suite at Lora on the South end of town, Hotel Crosby at the North end, or in something more private at one of our many bed and breakfasts and rental homes you can stay in downtown.
Bring your cross country skis or for those who’ve always wanted to explore the woods by ski, stop at 45 Degrees on Main Street to rent cross country ski’s, boots and poles on your way out of town for just $25 a day, $55 for three days. Head north down scenic HWY 95 for a gorgeous 20-minute drive. A gently winding two-lane road escorts you to the expansive William O’Brien State Park (just $7 a day or $35 for an annual pass to get in.) You could spend an ENTIRE day exploring the serene landscapes of these woods by ski or foot. William O’Brien grooms their trails for Nordic skiing, with both a skate deck AND classic tracks!
But if skiing’s not your jam or you don’t want to have to work too hard, the lower section, the riverside trail at William O’Brien is accessible by snowshoe or hiking boots. Once you park by the Visitor’s Center, set out for the unplowed road you passed on the way in and an easy downhill walk will take you to a totally flat, 1.6 mile loop through towering pines along a quiet river bed. It’s the perfect recharge your mind and body need after a busy holiday season, to enjoy some quiet and fresh air.
Head south out of town to spend a peaceful sunrise snowshoeing at Lake Elmo Park Reserve! (Also $7 a day, $30 for an annual.) Explore the gentle rolling hills, woods and prairies of this awesome county park. Lake Elmo is ALSO groomed for both types of Nordic skiing with designated snowshoeing areas and a gorgeous Nordic Lodge and fireplace to warm you up. This is also the ONLY local county park to offer LIT trails until 10pm! After a day of shopping and dining, end the evening experiencing the trails by moonlight. The lights alongside the Lake Elmo trails make it easy to navigate and allow you to take in the night sounds and scenes in the calm of an evening snow.
If you’re craving the peace and tranquility of nature but don’t want to venture too far out of town, take a quick 4-mile drive from your downtown Stillwater hotel to Pine Point Park and the Gateway Trail.
Pine Point is a peaceful spot where you can walk amongst pine forests, alongside lakes and watch the snow falling from the trees. It has five miles of multi-use trails that intersect the main trail with a large parking lot off Norell Avenue. The main trail is wide open and ungroomed, great for snowshoeing and hiking. They also groom for both skate and classic skiing here. (Refer to a map of the park before setting out so you know where you can explore.) Don’t forget about the trails North of the parking lot (just watch for cars and cross over Norell.) There is an easy and short loop over there as well.
If your stay is short but you want to get in a quick outdoor workout or capture panoramic views with your phone or camera, take to the newly-renovated (and always shoveled,) main street stairs just outside the Lora Hotel and make your way to the top. It’s an awesome workout no matter what your pace and worth a stop for the view.
From Main Street you can also head towards the St. Croix river and hop on the Brown’s Creek Trail, which ventures North along the river on a paved, tree-lined path or South towards the new St. Croix Crossing bridge where more sweeping views of the river valley will meet you. Either direction at any pace is sure to rejuvenate and inspire. The newly-designed “Loop Trail” is nearly connected, (final section due to be finished this Spring,) which you can take from the old Lift Bridge on the Minnesota side, south to the new bridge and across, along the river bluffs on the Wisconsin side, back to the historic Lift Bridge.
There’s SO much to see in Stillwater, Minnesota this time of year, winter is one of the GREATEST times to visit! Parking is ample (and FREE until April 30), the woods serene, and the downtown dining, nightlife and shopping still vibrant for after your outdoor adventures. With short drives to the local parks in either direction or gear for exploring, it’s all here for you! Diro Outdoors has awesome outdoor packages that include snowshoes, maps, snacks, water and headlamps for the nighttime adventurers and can be delivered right to your hotel or B&B! Also, if you fall in love with the abundant outdoor amenities and want to head back in the Spring or Summer, you can trade in your day park pass and get $7 off a year-round permit!