Cook County Blog

Make the Most of Your Winter Vacation | Visit Cook County

Posted by Visit Cook County MN on 1/24/18 3:06 PM

Cook County, Minnesota is the ultimate winter vacation destination. There’s simply no better place to embark on a winter adventure. Things are quieter up here in winter, which means it’s the perfect time to explore. You’ll feel like you have the trails to yourself. Fewer lines at your favorite restaurants, the nation’s darkest skies and the most beautiful show of northern lights make regular appearances.

You’ll find the slower pace of winter in Cook County is a welcome respite. Without the hustle and bustle of your everyday, you’ll have more time to focus on your friends, your family and yourself.

Winter visitors can expect ideal winter conditions longer than the rest of the state. The first snow is usually in early November and Lutsen Mountains offers alpine skiing and boarding with at least 40 runs guaranteed until mid-April. There are also endless snowshoe and cross country trails throughout Cook County to enjoy.

Everything You Need to Know About Our Winter Climate

We get an average of 120 inches of snow each winter. That’s no joke! That means miles upon miles of trails are always in great condition for exploration. Whether you’re on a snowmobile, skis, snowshoes or your own two feet, there are some things you should know about our climate that will ensure your winter adventure is both safe and exhilarating.

We won’t sugarcoat it, winter is cold in Cook County. That’s why so many love this area, but it does present a few challenges. While many days will see average high temperatures from 10-30 degrees Fahrenheit, we also see many days fall below zero.

Don’t let that scare you. With the proper gear, you can experience winter safely no matter the temperature. Do you want to be out in temperatures -40F in a blizzard? No, we wouldn’t recommend it. But with warm gloves, boots, snowsuits and helmets, exploring Cook County in cold weather is an adventure you’ll never forget.

Gear We Recommend

  • Warm base layers
  • Insulated outer layers
  • Quality gloves or mittens
  • Winter boots

Download the Winter Packing List

Our Favorite Outdoor Winter Adventures

There’s truly no shortage of fun things to do during winter in Cook County. If you’re interested in trying something new, our region is the perfect place to learn. Some of our favorite outdoor winter adventures are easily accessible throughout Cook County.

Cross Country Skiing

Whether you’ve been skiing since you were able to walk, or you’ve never strapped on a pair of skis, Cook County is the perfect place to embark on a cross country ski adventure. Our region is home to the nation’s largest network of cross country ski trails – and we welcome you to explore every kilometer. With over 400km at your disposal, you may be here a while!

Cross country skiing is an incredible way to burn a few calories while exploring nature and wildlife like you never have before. The near silent swishing of skis on freshly groomed powder becomes part of the greater landscape; curious birds and small mammals often come out to take a peek. You never know what little surprises may cross your path.

Skiers between the ages of 16 and 64, using non-Federal trails, must purchase a Minnesota State Ski Pass, or, if skiing on Central of Upper Gunflint Trails, a Ski Ticket. The fees help maintain trails and ensure that future maintenance will be of the highest quality. A pass may be purchased for the day, or on an annual basis.

Don’t miss the candlelit ski event during our 2nd annual Hygge festival. There’s something extra special about skiing at night under one of the nation’s darkest skies. And when you’re ready to warm up, cozy up by the fire. Take the Cook County Fireplace Tour this February and discover the joys of winter.

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding

Lutsen Mountains is the premiere downhill ski and snowboard recreation area in the Midwest. With over 1,000 feet of vertical spread across four mountains, you won’t find this kind of thrill anywhere nearby. Lutsen Mountains has 95 runs – ranging from bunny hills to double black diamonds – to keep you, or the entire family, busy all weekend long.

From the top of Moose Mountain, you’ll be treated to one of the North Shore’s most beautiful views of Lake Superior. Outside the Summit Chalet, hundreds capture photos to remember the moment forever. With thousands of acres to explore from tree and mogul runs to terrain parks and wide-open powder, it’s the best skiing you’ll experience, by far.

Lutsen has invested heavily in infrastructure over the past couple of years. You can expect industry-leading snowmaking, high-speed chairlifts and a new, state-of-the-art gondola experience. In addition, the lodging, dining and entertainment options are everything you could want from a ski resort and more.

All winter long, Papa Charlie’s curates an incredible lineup of music. We recommend checking out the Songwriter Series on Monday and Wednesday nights. View the schedule to see who’s playing when you’re up in Cook County.


Snowshoeing in Cook County is one of the most incredible ways to explore our dramatic landscape. You’ll be able to reach more remote places than you could on foot and can explore deeper into the wilderness where the ground may be covered in feet of fresh snow.

Many trails, including the Superior Hiking Trail, remain open year-round. Take the opportunity to strap on a pair of snowshoes and explore miles of trails this winter. Our favorite time to get out on the trails is early in the morning after an overnight snowfall, just as the sun rises above the horizon. The utter silence you’ll experience is indescribable – that is until the birds awaken to serenade you.

Don’t have your own snowshoes? Not to worry. Many businesses and outfitters in Cook County offer snowshoe rentals – from the traditional, wooden snowshoes to modern, lightweight metal snowshoes, you can always find what you’ll need for a snowshoe adventure the whole family will love. To get the gear you need, check out our businesses listings and outfitters.


Over 450 miles to explore. Need we say more? An incredible snowmobile getaway is a few hours drive from the Twin Cities, so what are you waiting for?

Did you know you could make the trek from Duluth to Grand Marais by snowmobile? And don’t forget the 100+ miles of pristine trails in Grand Portage. Winding through rural, north shore towns and quiet wilderness areas, the C.J.Ramstad/North State Trail will take you the whole way. Keep heading north to Grand Portage and explore 100+ miles of pristine trails. It’s an adventure you’ll never forget.

Check out our events page for sponsored rides and events tailored especially for snowmobilers. We’re excited to welcome you to Cook County, and we hope to see you here for many winters to come.

Fat Tire Biking

If you listen closely enough, you can probably hear the low humming of fat tire bikes cruising through Cook County. We can certainly tell that fat tire biking is taking the sport by storm. They’re all over, and for good reason. Riding on the snow is just plain fun. No mincing words there. Plain and simple F-U-N.

Fat tire bikes are built to tackle ice and snow with ease. From traditional mountain biking trails to riding along the shores of Lake Superior, or many inland lakes, your fat tire bike will take you where you want to go. Enjoy the freedom – and the fun – of tearing through snowbanks and sending fresh powder flying in your wake.

You can, of course, bring your own bike or rent one from one of our many outfitters. We know once you try fat tire biking, it’ll quickly become one of your favorite hobbies. As you plan your trip, bookmark our biking page for up-to-date trail conditions and winter biking maps.

The Ultimate Winter Vacation Packing Checklist

There’s a winter adventure for everyone in Cook County. Plan your trip today. We’d be happy to have you! But before you go, make sure you pack everything you need to stay safe and warm.

Download our Winter Vacation Packing Checklist for additional tips and ideas to make sure your winter adventure is the best experience it can be.

Download the Winter Packing List

Topics: Events, Grand Marais, Gunflint Trail, Winter, Grand Portage, Lutsen Tofte Schroeder