Photos and text by Gail Gates

Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer, we’d have frozen to death.

Mark Twain
Cross Country Skiing at Wild River State Park

Yes. We are Minnesotans. Yes, we take pride in steely cross-country skiers with eyelashes frosted in ice and frozen snot hanging from noses. The grosser, the better! Yes, we brag to our snowbird friends about surreal wind-chills and blizzard conditions.

Winter defines us.

Yes, it’s our thing.

And while winter whiteout conditions might not keep us home… pfft… the Covid-19 restrictions have in many cases. If you feel the itch to get out and about, but aren’t sure what is possible, let me toss out a few suggestions along Old Hwy. 61. 

Banning State Park

State parks are open, albeit with some restrictions. It is best to check with the individual parks to see what programs and amenities are available and plan accordingly. State Parks along Old Highway 61 include Banning, Moose Lake, and Jay Cooke. Cross Country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing are awaiting!

At Robinson Park, Sandstone, MN, the old quarry walls are flooded with water, making it a fun stop for ice climbers. Those who prefer not to shimmy up walls of ice, (me, for example), just know the views from below are fabulous. Bring a camera!

Ice House on the Lake

Speaking of cameras, as a photographer, I enjoy the “image potential” of driving along Old Highway 61 year-round. Winter, however, offers magical landscapes…red barns against fields of white. Hoar-frosted fences and trees, and dazzling sunsets that appear to be melted tangerines and honey. Winter birds, such as owls that have migrated down from Canada, are fun to find. And, of course, taking photos of family and friend outings–say, at an outdoor bonfire or while snowmobiling, make for envy-inspiring Facebook posts. 

Ice Fishing Perspective

For other activity ideas, please check our Old Highway 61 calendar.

If you need a place to warm up after a day of adventure, might I suggest the two casinos near Old Highway 61. Hinckley’s Grand Casino, and Black Bear Casino in Carlton, MN. Both websites show they are open for lodging, gaming, and some food options.

It has been a year (plus) of changes, resets, and restarts due to the Covid-19 virus. That said, there are still many opportunities along Old Highway 61 that will have you avoiding cabin fever while remaining safe and sane.

And please, feel free to send us your best “I am Minnesota Winter Hardy” photos. We love to see what makes you smile as you wander the iconic, and beloved, Old Highway 61. 

And yes, frozen snot is optional.

Winter Amble