12 Great Twin Cities Parks for Cross-Country Skiing

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cross country skiing minnesota

Experience Winter by Cross Country Skiing

Cross country skiing is one of the best ways to get outside and enjoy winter in Minnesota. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced skier, it’s a great workout and a fun way to enjoy the outdoors. Last year I even tried cross country skiing with my 100 lbs Newfoundland, Ole. He was so excited to join me, he ended up knocking me over a few times. I’m looking forward to trying again this year because he’s settled down a little and will be a better listener. We’ve been very lucky in Minnesota these past few weeks and have already received a solid amount of snow. The ground is well covered for cross country skiing, so bundle up and get out there!

Where to Rent Equipment

Many parks offer their own rentals through a visitor center. Those types of rentals tend to be for single day use only. You can also look into renting equipment at places like Hoigaards and REI. I purchased my cross country skis from Amazon a few years back because I knew in the long run it would be the cheaper option for me.

What You Need to Know About Park Passes

Most groomed and maintained trails require a pass, and they typically offer a single day or annual pass. Passes are available for purchase online and you are not required to print anything. The Three Rivers Park Pass includes 11 parks and over 80 miles of cross country ski trails. The Great Minnesota Ski Pass includes state parks, forests and a few other affiliated trails. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board requires a ski trail pass for the very popular Theodore Wirth Park. Sometimes counties or parks require their own pass, like the Dakota County Cross Country Ski Pass.  For the most current information, be sure to check the website of the park you’re going to before heading out.

Pro tip: In the past I have found a few golf courses that allow cross country skiers to use their grounds for free, but I always call first to make sure it’s allowed.

Shop some of my favorite winter items

Merrell Boots
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12 Great Parks Around the Twin Cities

Lebanon Hills Regional Park – Eagan
  • Lebanon Hills is one of my favorite Twin Cities parks. It’s huge with tall beautiful trees and sparkling lakes. Parking is free and it’s easy to get away from the crowds and find quiet. Lebanon Hills has nearly 15 miles of trails that dip into the trees and wrap around the lakes. There are several parking lots, so make sure you coordinate where you’re meeting friends. Also, you can rent skis at the visitor center which is at 860 Cliff Road, Eagan. Check out my blog post on hiking at Lebanon Hills.
  • Pass Required: Dakota County Cross Country Ski Pass
  • Rentals Available: Yes
Hyland Lake Park Reserve – Bloomington
  • At the Hyland Park Reserve you’ll find nearly 10 miles of groomed cross country ski trails. I love this park and have been here many times to hike in warmer weather. The trails wind through prairies, heavily wooded sections and around small lakes. They also offer five miles of lit trails for nighttime skiing.
  • Pass Required: Three Rivers Park Pass
  • Rentals Available: Yes
Elm Creek Park Reserve – Maple Grove
  • Elm Creek Park Reserve has more than 11 miles of groomed trails. 3.5 miles are lit for nighttime skiing.
  • Pass: Three Rivers Park Pass
  • Rentals Available: Yes 
Baker Park Reserve – Maple Plain
  • Baker Park Reserve has nine miles of trails that cut through meadows, trees and lakes. The trails wind around and connect to each other so you can determine the distance you’re willing to go.
  • Pass required: Three Rivers Park Pass
  • Rentals Available: Yes
Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve – Savage
  • Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve offers 9 miles of groomed trails. This park is for the more advanced skier as there are steep hills and challenging trails.
  • Pass Required: Three Rivers Park Pass
  • Rentals Available: No
Fort Snelling State Park – St. Paul
  • Fort Snelling is just a few miles west of downtown St. Paul. This great park offers 12 miles of groomed trails that run along the Mississippi River. For a beautiful view, ski around Pike Island, where you’ll see the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Read my post on Pike Island here. It’s especially stunning with fall colors in October.
  • Pass Required: Great Minnesota Ski Pass
  • Rentals Available: No
Theodore Wirth Park – Minneapolis
  • The Theodore Wirth Park is just two miles from downtown Minneapolis. With over 15 miles of groomed trails you can ski through forests and across frozen lakes. This is a great spot for skiers of all levels because this park has steep hills as well as flat trails.
  • Pass: Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Ski Trail Pass
  • Rentals Available: Yes
Lake Harriet – Minneapolis
  • There are trails that run around sections Lake Harriet. I prefer to ski on the frozen lake because it’s super wide and open and I can take my dog without worrying about passing other people too closely. He loves to say hello and greet others, and if I’m on skis I can’t control him as well.
  • Pass: No, parking is free and it’s free to ski on and around the lake.
  • Rentals: No
Afton State Park – Hastings
  • Afton State Park offers 18 miles of cross country ski trails along the St. Croix River, as well as a great mountain for downhill skiing!
  • Pass Required: Great Minnesota Ski Pass
  • Rentals Available: No
Como Park Ski Center/Golf Course – St. Paul
  • The Como Golf Course offers groomed trails for cross country skiers of all levels. Certain sections of the trail are lit as well.
  • Pass Required: No
  • Rentals Available: Yes
Tamarack Nature Center – White Bear Township
  • Tamarack Nature Center offers three miles of cross country ski trails through prairie, marshland and trees.
  • Pass Required: Great Minnesota Ski Pass
  • Rentals Available: No
Bunker Hills Regional Park – Coon Rapids
  • Bunker Hills Regional Park offers over 12 miles of slightly hilly terrain trail loops.
  • Pass Required: State of Minnesota cross-country ski trail pass
  • Rentals Available: Yes

Cross Country Skiing is for Beginners and Experts

Whether you’re new to cross country skier, or you have years of experience, it’s one of the easiest ways to get outside. It can be a great workout or a leisurely stroll through park. With a huge variety of trails in the Twin Cities, you can choose what experience you want! For more winter ideas, check out my blog post on the best heated patios in the Twin Cities and 37 COVID safe outdoor winter activitiesAnd if you’re looking for warm, winter outdoor gear and clothing, I recommend checking out Merrell for boots and REI for warm coats, hats, and gloves. I also love my super warm Rumpl blanket. Happy adventuring!


  • Karen

    I always loved XC skiing in Minnesota because the snow was so good. Squeaky cold. This is a great list of places to go skiing. It’s so useful to have a list of where to go.

  • Josy A

    Goodness you have soooo many possible places to go XC skiing! I love how happy you look to be out on skis – it reeeeally makes me want to give this a go!

    We did our first downhill skiing in Whistler last week – I think it is less effort just zooming down the slopes without having to walk back up the hills. Do you like that kind of skiing too?

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