Washington County offers several destinations for both cross country skiing and snowshoeing in its regional and state parks. Some of them are the best in the Twin Cities area.
A daily or annual Minnesota Ski Pass is required to use any of the groomed ski trails, as well as a vehicle entrance fee for the parks. (NOTE: Washington County regional parks’ annual permit are good for Anoka and Carver county parks, too.)
A daily or annual vehicle permit is also needed for the state parks, which, of course, allow entrance into all Minnesota’s state parks.
Equipment rental info isn’t on the Washington County Park website, so we’ll assume rentals aren’t available. The exception might be the Nordic Center at Lake Elmo.
Afton State Park (Hastings)
Afton grooms 12 miles of cross country ski trails. Most of them are best for intermediate and advanced skiers, but there’s a 2.5-mile beginner’s loop, too. The terrain is mostly hilly, and both wooded and through open prairie. There are some great views of the St. Croix River. No ski rental equipment is available.
Snowshoers aren’t allowed on the groomed ski trails, but no worries—there are another 12 miles of trails for snowshoeing and winter hiking. Snowshoe equipment is available for rent at the Park Contact Station.
Here’s the Afton winter trails map.
Big Marine Park Reserve (Marine on St. Croix)
1.5 miles of cross country ski trails are maintained in Big Marine, great for a quick jaunt or for beginners. Snowshoers and winter hikers aren’t allowed on the ski trails. No rental is available. Here’s the Big Marine winter map.
Brown’s Creek State Trail (Grant to Stillwater)
6-mile Brown’s Creek trail isn’t groomed for winter use, but snowshoers and winter hikers are welcome to use it. There’s an especially beautiful 1-mile segment along the St. Croix River on the east end. There’s no fee and no rental equipment available. Here’s the map.
Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park (Cottage Grove)
Cottage Grove Ravine has 8 kilometers of groomed cross country ski trails —from beginning to advanced. Here’s the winter map. It’s nice that it’s topographical, so we get an idea of the terrain. Lots of hills here! (“ravine” in the name is a clue, I guess)
There are also winter hiking trails on the map, so we’re going to assume snowshoers are allowed on those trails, too.
Lake Elmo Park Reserve (Lake Elmo)
Another great Washington County ski destination, Lake Elmo has 12 miles of groomed trails of various difficulty. There are several different routes you can choose from, and 6 of those miles are lighted for night skiing.
Snowshoers aren’t allowed on the ski trails, but there’s a 2.5-mile multi-use loop for snowshoeing and winter hiking.
Here’s the Lake Elmo winter map.
Pine Point Regional Park (Stillwater)
Pine Point has both groomed cross country ski trails and ungroomed multi-use trails for winter use. The 4 miles of groomed trails are for skiers only. There’s another 4 miles of multi-use trails open to snowshoers, winter hikers and horses. Here’s the Pine Point winter map.
Sunfish Lake Park (Lake Elmo)
Sunfish Lake Park is what Lake Elmo calls their “crown jewel” of a park. The city maintains 9 miles of ski trails for both classic and skate skiing. Nothing in the information indicates you need a ski pass.
St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park (Hastings)
St. Croix Bluffs sits next to, as its name implies, the St. Croix River. There are over 6 miles of groomed cross country ski trails, from easy to difficult. Only skiers are allowed on the trails, and there are no separate trails for snowshoeing here. Here’s the winter map.
William O’Brien State Park (Marine on St. Croix)
O’Brien has great, if challenging, cross country skiing. There are both easy loops and more advanced loops in the 12 miles of groomed trails. The scenic terrain covers woods, rolling prairie and frozen wetlands. No ski rentals available.
Snowshoeing is also an option at O’Brien. While you can’t snowshoe on the ski trails, there are designated trails for winter hiking you can use. No fee required to use the trails.
Here’s William O’Brien’s winter map.
Want a free cross country ski lesson?
Head to the Nordic Center at Lake Elmo Park Reserve on Monday nights during the ski season. Your lesson is free, but you need to register ahead of time (and you’re limited to one free lesson). Click here for details.