Snowshoeing: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Photo by Tina Shaw

Photo by Tina Shaw

One of the best ways to explore the beauty and serenity of the woods is to take to them by snowshoe. We’ve gathered up some of the best areas with beautiful woods, wildlife and scenery to explore.

The Crosslake Community Center rents snowshoes for $5 for two hours. Snowshoes can be rented anytime during community center hours, and sizes for all ages are available. A snowshoe path of about 1.6 miles has been marked, travelling through the woods behind the community center and along the shores of Cranberry Lake. The path has both hilly and flat terrain, meandering through varied woods and a swamp. While the community center is considered to be in town, the area behind the building where the snowshoe trails meander is quiet, calm and feels remote.

A map of 1.4 miles of snowshoe trails (as well as 5.8 miles of cross-country ski trails) is posted online here. Snowshoers are welcome to go anywhere on the community center property, though, so long as they stay off the groomed ski trails (snowshoes can damage the tracks for skiers).  The community center is located on Daggett Pine Road in Crosslake, off County Road 66. 

Bring your snowshoes to the Veteran’s Walking Trail, in Pequot Lakes, to see the rejuvenation of a forest that burned in 1958. Interpretive panels are located along the trails, and a 500-foot wetland walk is also part of the fun. Seeing the wetlands in winter provides a whole new perspective on the area.

The wetland walkway leads to an island with a bench on an overlook. The overlook is said to have been used by Native Americans as well as explorers like Zebulon Pike. Another trail crosses over Hay Creek to a larger north loop. The Veteran’s Walking Trail is located on County Road 16 about 2.5 miles east of  the intersection of County Road 16 and Highway 371. Watch for signs on County Road 16.

One hundred and ten acres await exploration at the Uppgaard Wildlife Management Area in Ideal Corners. Paths lead through the woods, popular for birdwatching (you may even be lucky enough to hear or spot a resident owl).

The area has a short loop around one pond, or a longer loop around two ponds. It’s home to a wide variety of wildlife hiding in the glistening snow. Bridges cross small streams, and benches are placed at scenic overlooks. Originally the area was managed to attract and maintain wildlife, so your chances of meeting a one of our non-human residents in that area are high!

Chiarella Forest Management Area also offers exploring opportunities. The 77-acre tract was donated by the Chiarella family, and 12,800 Norway pine, along with 500 wildlife-attracting shrubs, were planted there in 1992. The forest is filled with hiking trails that pass through rows of towering pines, meadows and diverse forested areas.

Chiarella is located on County Road 11, 3.5 miles west of the intersection of County Road 11 and County Road 3. Watch for signs.

More adventurous snowshoers can make their way out to the Rollie Johnson Natural and Recreational Area on the middle of Whitefish Lake. The area consists of three islands, with Big Island offering the best opportunities for snowshoeing. The forest at Big Island is special in that it’s an old-growth maple-basswood forest that, as far as we know, has never been logged. The trees inhabiting the island are, in some cases, 150 years old. Many trees are labeled, though some signs may be snow-covered. The cove on the northeast side of the island is the best starting point. There you’ll find brochures (next to the island’s sign) showing walking trails and areas that are off-limits for preservation. The brochures also discuss some of the plants you'll find on the island, though they may be more difficult to identify in the winter. Either way, the area is peaceful and the forest there is enchanting. Explore the area gently, and if you ride out to the island, please don’t take motorized vehicles on the land of the islands. Be sure to check ice conditions at local resorts and bait shops before you head out on the ice.

The Paul Bunyan State Trail is another great option. Though it's primarily used by snowmobilers, the trail is multi-use (though you should be aware of snowmobiles on the trail). The trail was created as part of the rails to trails program and built over a former railroad track, which means that it's fairly flat. While much of the trail follows along Hwy. 371, it does dip off into the woods, along lakes, and splits east at Nisswa, passing through Merrifield before entering Brainerd.

Snowshoeing requires little gear and is a great way to see the woods and experience the solitude and frosty beauty of nature in the winter. All of these locations offer great scenery and exploring opportunities. You can find more walking trails (which are equally as enjoyable in the winter) on the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway website. Your winter wonderland awaits. 

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