The winter of 2015-16 is on track to be another disappointing season for snow-lovers, especially on the North Dakota side of the Red River, where opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling are limited, at best. Conditions are better — somewhat, at least — across northwest and northern Minnesota, but it’s a safe bet to say many people would like more snow on the east side of the Red River, as well.
Still, as we hit the midpoint of winter, there are plenty of options for getting outdoors and making the best of the season. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.
Winter camping might conjure up images of freezing in a snowbank or huddling in a tent with frost-encrusted walls, but winter camping doesn’t have to be an ordeal.
Several state parks in Minnesota and North Dakota offer heated camper cabins or yurts that make for comfortable winter getaways. A yurt — at least in the traditional sense — is a round shelter that originally was used by nomads in central Asia.
In northwest Minnesota, Big Bog State Recreation Area near Waskish offers five year-round camper cabins, and Lake Bemidji State Park has four year-round cabins. The cabins at Big Bog sleep five to six people and have propane heat, while the Lake Bemidji State Park cabins have propane heat. Two of the Lake Bemidji cabins sleep six, and two sleep five. All of the cabins are primitive, with no running water, but vault toilets are nearby. (It’s “camping,” after all, so you shouldn’t be pampered too much.)
Several other state parks across Minnesota also offer year-round camper cabins. For more info, go to mndnr.gov and click the state parks link on the left side of the page.
In North Dakota, Cross Ranch State Park along the Missouri River north of Bismarck offers two year-round cabins, one with a wood-burning parlor stove and cook stove and one with electric heat and a wood-burning parlor stove. Three yurts, meanwhile, are located in the campground and available year-round with electric heat or wood heat. Lake Metigoshe State Park near Bottineau, N.D., has one primitive cabin and three fully modern family cabins available year-round, along with propane-heated yurts. Info: parkrec.nd.gov.
This winter’s mediocre snow conditions aren’t a big detriment to the area’s downhill skiing resorts, where snowmaking equipment is used to offset the lean periods.
Buena Vista Ski Area north of Bemidji offers skiing, snowboarding and tubing runs and is open Fridays through Sundays — and Mondays on long weekends — through the end of March. See the website for hours. Detroit Mountain near Detroit Lakes, Minn., is open for skiing from 3 to 9 p.m. Mondays, noon to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. The tubing hill is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays.
Frostfire Ski Area near Walhalla, N.D., is a popular winter destination for ski and snowboard enthusiasts from across the region, including southern Manitoba, and offers downhill skiing, tubing and a terrain park. The ski area is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays and Feb. 15 for Presidents Day in the U.S. and Louis Riel Day in Canada.
For more information on the three ski areas, check out bvskiarea.com, detroitmountain.com and frostfireskiarea.com.
Candlelight ski or snowshoe
Here’s a wintertime event that has become a popular offering at state parks across Minnesota. As part of these evening offerings, trails are lit with candles, lanterns and other luminaries. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has scheduled 35 candlelight events across the state this winter.
In northwest Minnesota, Lake Bemidji State Park is offering a candlelight ski tour from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday. A similar event is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at Zippel Bay State Park on Lake of the Woods north of Williams, Minn. That same day, Itasca State Park is offering a lantern-lit and candlelight snowshoe and ski hike from 5:30 to 8 p.m., and Old Mill State Park in Marshall County is holding a candlelight ski from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 27.
For a full listing of candlelight ski events and additional info, go to mndnr.gov and click the events link on the left-hand side of the page.
Fish a derby
If ice fishing’s your game — and if you have a competitive streak — several ice fishing derbies, some with big prize money, are on tap over the next couple of weeks.
Here are the ones we know about starting next weekend.
Saturday, the 13th annual Ice Buster Daze Fishing Derby and Radar Run is scheduled at various locations in Crookston. It all starts with a breakfast and free will offering from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Eagles Club. The ice fishing portion of the event will be from 1 to 4 p.m. on the Red Lake River at Central Park. Snowmobile enthusiasts can check out or participate in the radar run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Red Lake River. The entry fee for the fishing contest is $20 per hole, while the radar run costs $20 for two runs; both fees include a stuffed pork chop dinner from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Eagles Club. A variety of fishing and raffle prizes will be awarded during the event. More information is available on the Ceason’s Bait and Tackle Facebook page, by calling Brian at (218) 281-7762, Ceason’s Bait and Tackle at (218) 281-6665 or Bobby at (218) 281-3132.
Also on Saturday, the resurrected Frosty Bobber ice fishing contest and winter carnival makes its return to the Red River below Cabela’s in East Grand Forks for the first time since 2005. The fishing derby runs from noon to 3 p.m., and there’s a $30 entry fee until the start of the event. Other activities on tap include cardboard sled races, sleigh rides, cocoa and s’more stations. More information is available on the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals website at ggfyp.com.
Then, on Feb. 20, the annual Springsteel Resort and Warroad Area Chamber of Commerce Fishing Derby is set for noon to 3 p.m. at Springsteel Resort on Lake of the Woods north of Warroad, Minn. In addition to a full menu of raffle prizes–including the grand prize of a Grey Wolf wheeled fish house–cash will be awarded for the four largest walleyes, northern pike and perch, along with $200 for the largest burbot. Tickets cost $20, and more information is available at visitwarroad.com.
Also on Feb. 20, a youth ice fishing tournament is scheduled for 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Devils Lake out of Woodland Resort on Creel Bay as part of the 16th annual ShiverFest, which includes “a hodge-podge of events,” including kite flying, curling on the lake, sleigh rides, a pond hockey tournament and a nontraditional curling bonspiel. Entry fee for the youth ice fishing tournament is $10, and prizes will be awarded in Chamber Dollars for the eight largest northern pike, walleye and perch. Tickets are available at the Devils Lake Chamber of Commerce office and the Devils Lake Fire Station. For more information, call (701) 662-3913.
Try something new
Interested in learning more about fishing catfish on the Red River? How about predator calling, learning to cross-country ski or birdwatching?
All are options on tap through community education programs in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
First up is Predator Calling, a class Grand Forks calling expert Leo Marchel will teach from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 122 of East Grand Forks Senior High, 1420 Fourth Ave. N.W. The class will cover such essentials as methods, location and equipment for calling fox and coyotes, and no experience or materials are required. The one-session class costs $5, and more information is available by calling East Grand Forks Community Education at (218) 773-3494 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More snow might be necessary before this course happens, but beginner cross-country ski lessons are scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Valley Golf Course in East Grand Forks. Instruction will be provided by staff from the Ski and Bike Shop, which also offers equipment rental for $12 a day for those who don’t have their own. Course fee is $18/person for the one-session class. Info: (218) 773-3494 or email@example.com.
For anglers with open water on their minds, Grand Forks catfish guide Brad Durick will offer a couple of catfish sessions at Grand Forks Community High School, 500 Stanford Road. It all starts at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 with Intro to Catfishing, which, as the name suggests, will see Durick covering the basics for learning to catch the brutes that swim in the Red River. Then, at 7 p.m. Feb. 23, Durick will present a course on Advance Catfishing Techniques that will include a question-and-answer session. Course fee for each of the one-session classes is $15, and more information is available by calling Grand Forks Adult Community Education at (701) 795-2777.
Down the road, Dave Lambeth, the dean of Grand Forks birding, will present a four-week course on “Enjoying Birds.” The course begins April 5 at Grand Forks Community High School, 500 Stanford Road, and will continue from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays for the next four weeks. Lambeth, who has an extensive photo collection, will use photos and video clips to teach course participants about the various types of birds that can be found in the area. The course also will include info on photography and useful Internet resources. Course fee is $25, and more information is available at (701) 795-2777.
Take a hike
The upside — which is hard to find if you’re a snow-lover — to this winter’s lack of snow is the easy hiking for those who like to get out in the woods, tromp around and see what there is to see. And there are plenty of options for doing so, including the Grand Forks Greenway or any one of several state parks in the region. Beware this winter’s relentless freeze-and-melt pattern could mean slippery conditions, so a pair of ice cleats would be a good idea if you’re walking on trails.
Look for sheds
Hardcore shed-antler collectors — and there are a bunch of them out there — won’t like this suggestion (it’s too crowded already, they’ll say), but the lack of snow this winter offers ideal conditions for finding the antlers buck deer drop every winter. Good starting points include areas where deer congregate and well-traveled trails. Hunting for shed antlers can be like trying to find a needle in a very large haystack, but the effort can pay off in the form of some very respectable antlers. And if nothing else, it’s an excuse to get outside.
Go for the green
Massive Lake Winnipeg, about a 4½-hour drive north of Grand Forks, has become one of the most popular ice fishing destinations on the planet in recent years for good reason. The lake’s walleyes — known as “greenbacks” for the iridescent bluish-green color that’s unique to Lake Winnipeg fish — are the biggest the region has to offer. Walleyes exceeding 10 pounds — while no guarantee — are caught on a regular basis. Late winter offers some of the best opportunities for tangling with the greenbacks on “Big Windy” as the fish begin to stage near the mouth of the Red River. First-timers, though, should know that amenities such as plowed ice roads and rental shacks are limited, and snowmobiles or ATVs with tracks are the safest and most reliable options for getting around. There are a handful of guides who might have openings, including Donavan Pearase of Blackwater Cats Guiding Services (blackwatercats.com) and Jason Hamilton of Jason Hamilton Outdoors (jasonhamiltonoutdoors.com).
If you’re looking for a fishing excursion closer to home with high odds of success, tip-up fishing for northern pike offers an excellent way to spend a winter’s day on the ice. North Dakota has an abundance of lakes loaded with northern pike, not the least of which is Devils Lake, and with four holes allowed for ice fishing in the state, a group of anglers can put out quite a spread of lines to up their odds of success. It’s as simple as dunking a smelt or herring below a tip-up rig, setting the flag that holds the line in place and waiting for the flag to fly, which signals a strike. The season closes at the end of the month in Minnesota inland waters, but pike fishing on Lake of the Woods — where two lines are allowed in winter — is open year-round, and the big lake is one of the best in the Upper Midwest for trophy pike.
Watch the birds
Here’s an activity that can be enjoyed just about anywhere, whether it’s in the backyard or one of the many state parks or national wildlife refuges in the region. Grab a pair of binoculars, a good bird book (or one of the many phone apps that are available these days) and head outside to see what there is to see. Take the time to look, and chances are you’ll be richly rewarded.