Washington County Gets Active in Winter
Monday, December 14, 2020
Minnesotans eagerly await the winter months, with a reputation for snowy days and cold nights. But Washington County is more adequately described as a winter wonderland for residents and visitors alike to enjoy the outdoor opportunities present in the parks, frozen lakes, open fields, and rolling hills nestled between St. Paul and the St. Croix River.
One of the most notable winter destinations in Washington County is the Afton Alps ski area. Located along the St. Croix River in the southeast corner of Washington County, Afton Alps has been one of the Midwest's premier winter draws for over 50 years. With nearly 300 skiable acres, featuring 300 feet of vertical drop at the ski hill, beginners and experts alike can enjoy a day, weekend or even longer.
Cross Country Skiing & Snowshoeing
For those not looking for maximum vertical drop, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are an excellent way to experience the winter outdoors. Washington County is home to eight parks, with miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The County grooms ski trails at many parks when conditions allow, with most requiring a Washington County ski pass for anyone older than 18. A daily pass costs $6 or $30 gets an annual pass. The following parks have cross-country ski trails and either trails or open areas for snowshoeing, with trail maps below and further information at the Washington County website.
- Big Marine Park Reserve, in Marine on St. Croix, offers loops totaling three miles for cross-country skiing and skijoring, the sport of cross-country skiing while being pulled by a dog.
- Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park offers 10 total miles of trails.
- Lake Elmo Park Reserve has nearly 20 miles of trails, with five lit for night time skiing.
- Pine Point Regional Park, in May Township, offers four miles of groomed trails.
- St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park has seven miles of cross-country skiing in Hastings.
- Several parks not operated by the county have cross country skiing as well.
- Sunfish Lake Park has nine miles of groomed trails, maintained by the city of Lake Elmo.
- Afton State Park is next to Afton Alps and offers 12 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails.
Ice Skating & Hockey
Washington County has many natural lakes that generally freeze over, offering a winter location for public enjoyment. In addition, there are many public skating and hockey rinks throughout the county, with most having warming houses available throughout the day and evening.
- Cottage Grove has eight outdoor skating rinks and warming houses during the winter season.
- Woodbury has the following locations with skating rinks:
- Colby Lake Park, 9715 Valley Creek Road
- Kargel Park, 9301 Tamarack Road
- Ojibway Park, 2695 Ojibway Drive
- Shawnee Park, 6515 Scheel Drive
- HealthEast Sports Center Outdoor Rink, 4125 Radio Drive
- Oak Park Heights has a skating rink at Brekke Park, located at 5500 Omar Avenue South.
- The city of Scandia has a reservable hockey rink and an open ice skating rink.
- The St. Croix Valley Recreation Center, at 1675 Market Drive in Stillwater has an outdoor skating rink along with indoor hockey rinks.
- The Hugo Elementary School at 14895 Francesca Avenue North, is part of the White Bear Lake Community Services and Recreation.
Fat tire biking
Fat tire bikes have dramatically increased in popularity over the past few years. Fat tire bikes have oversized tires, typically 4” or 5” in width, which provides easier riding on snow than typical mountain bikes. Several of Washington County’ sparks offer dedicated trails for fat tire biking.
- Cottage Grove Ravine offers four miles of paved trails open to fat tire biking.
- The eastern trailhead for the Gateway State Trail lies in Pine Point Regional Park. While not maintained in the winter, fat tire bikers can enjoy 18 miles of paved trail to the west and miles of unpaved trail to the east. Pine Point also has a one mile unpaved loop for fat tire biking.
Several county parks offer snowmobiling space. The best source of other trails comes from the Washington County Star Trail Association, a group of ten snowmobile clubs that groom and maintain a total of 140 miles of snowmobile trails within Washington County. Trail maps can be found here.