A winter wonderland

As the region enters the cold and snowy months, area state parks offer plenty of activities for outdoors enthusiasts

Pictured is the sledding hill at Upper Sioux Agency State Park. This hill is ranked 8th in the state for best sliding, according to park personnel and the park’s Facebook page. Below:

Even when the snow is flying, it doesn’t keep Minnesotans from enjoying outdoor recreation. Fortunately for area residents, state parks still offer plenty of things to do once it’s time to take the coats and mittens out of the closet. Marshall Independent staff writers rounded up some of the activities and things to see at area state parks this winter.

Camden State Park

There were a good number of people hiking the trails of Camden State Park instead of the aisles of stores on Black Friday. Part of the attraction was probably the free admission day observed at state parks across Minnesota on Nov. 25, but Camden State Park manager Bill Dinesen said it’s not unusual to see winter visitors at the park.

“It’s still pretty busy,” Dinesen said. The winter season brings new sights to see at the park. “Everything takes on a different look when the leaves are off the trees.” It’s a good time to see wildlife like birds, deer and turkeys, he said, because the bare trees and snow make them more visible.

When weather conditions are right, Camden State Park also offers snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling for park visitors. The park rents snowshoes for $6 a day.

“We have a couple different kinds. There are the traditional wooden snowshoes, that tend to be longer, down to the newer versions,” which are more compact and made of metal, Dinesen said. Visitors may use snowshoes anywhere in the park, except for areas being used for skiing or snowmobiling.

While the trails are not groomed, Dinesen said Camden Park offers about 7.5 miles of trail for snowmobiling, and five miles of trail for skiing.

“The trails are marked, either for snowmobiling or cross-country skiing,” Dinesen said. The shelter in the park’s group campground can also be used as a warming house in winter.

Camden has also been the site of some special events in winters past. Dinesen said the Friends of Camden State Park usually hold a moonlight ski or hike event, where trails are marked by luminaries. There aren’t details set for a moonlight event yet this winter, he said, but past events have been held in January or February.

The camp sites at Camden are closed for the winter, but Dinesen said there are a couple of spots kept open at the lower campground. Amenities like running water and showers aren’t available during the winter season, however.

“We prefer folks to call ahead,” if they’re interested in winter camping, Dinesen said.

More park information is available by calling 507-865-4530.

Lake Shetek State Park

While Lake Shetek State Park is most popular for water recreation and camping in the summer, the state park does offer a variety of outdoor activities for people to take part in throughout the winter. Visitors can ice fish on Lake Shetek, which is the largest lake in southwestern Minnesota.

There are also five miles of groomed snowmobile trails that wind through the woodlands and prairies within the park. The trail enters the park in a couple different locations and connects to the wider Murray County Trail System.

“Snowmobiling can be really popular when the snow is good,” said Roseann Schauer, assistant park manager at Lake Shetek State Park. “We have five miles of groomed snowmobile trails throughout the park. The trails are groomed by the local snowmobile club.”

Schauer noted that the park also has four camper cabins that are available for rent all year round.

“They have heat and electricity and actually, you can access the snowmobile trail right from those cabins,” she said. “It’s close to where you need to be.”

To make camper cabin reservations, call 866-857-2757.

“On these clear winter nights, the stars are amazing,” Schauer said. “You can paint a cool picture in your mind, just sitting outside. You can’t ask for anything better.”

Along with the heat and electricity, cabins have sleeping accommodations, tables and benches, with fire rings and picnic tables outside.

“Campfires are allowed,” Schauer said. “Campers can use Crock-Pots or whatever indoors — just nothing with an open flame. So even if the weather isn’t perfect, you’ll be nice and warm. You can hunker down and relax.”

New this winter are two snowshoe trails, one of which is two miles long.

“I have a specific snow trail — two of them, actually — marked out,” Schauer said. “They both start at the picnic parking lot. The first loop is only about three-fourths of a mile and goes along the Lakeshore Trail, all the way to the Boat Landing Trail. Then you take the Loon Island Hiking Trail and it goes back to the parking lot.”

While the snowshoe trails are available, visitors can basically snowshoe hike anywhere in the park, with the exception of the snowmobile trail. The park also rents out snowshoes.

“We have had snowshoes for rent for a few years,” Schauer said. “We have them for children and adults. The snowshoes rent for $6 a day. So you can come and spend the whole day for just that one price. It’s so cheap and it’s good exercise.”

Schauer said she’s hoping that there is more winter attendance than in the past.

“The snowshoes haven’t been used a lot, but we’re hoping that by putting in an actual trail, people will be more likely to try it,” she said. “With the trails, people don’t feel like they’re heading out into the unknown. It’s much easier to find their way around.”

While there aren’t any specific trails, Schauer said people do use the park to cross country ski as well.

“We don’t have any groomed trailed, but I’ve seen people break their own trails,” Schauer said. “Skiers can go anywhere except the snowmobile trail. Just like snowshoeing, skiing doesn’t mix too well with snowmobiling.”

Park hours are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Park personnel are typically present Wednesday through Sunday. They’re often in different areas of the park on Mondays and Tuesdays. Questions can be directed to: 507-763-3256.

Upper Sioux Agency State Park

Most people realize that Upper Sioux Agency State Park near Granite Falls is a great place to visit in the summer, with its many trails, horse and regular campgrounds, wildlife and prairie grasses and flowers, but they may not know about the winter activities.

Even though the interpretive center is closed from Sept. 30 to April 1, the gates open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday throughout the winter as well.

Park visitors who like to slide down a snow-covered hill will find a thrill at the Upper Sioux Agency Park. This hill is ranked 8th in the state for best sliding, according to park personnel and the park’s Facebook page.

The sliding hill is located on the immediate left of the entrance to the park. It boasts a fast slide and even has a snow barrier fence on the far end to keep sliders from entering the woods should they get that far.

There are many trails for snowmobilers, snowshoers, hikers and cross-county skiers. Bring your own gear and equipment and enjoy the parks many natural sights along the trails which are marked.

Park personnel said there are 19 miles of hiking trails, 16 miles of snowmobiling and 16 miles of horseback riding trails. They also noted that the trails are ungroomed in the winter, except for possibly the snowmobile trails.

Other visitor favorites include river fishing, the Minnesota River overlook and the Historic Upper Sioux Agency site. No fishing license is required for fishing from the park shore or off park wharfs.

Rates for park reservations are minimal, and free if made the same day as the visit. Reservations can be made online or by calling toll-free at 866-857-2757 (TTY 952-936-4008).

The park is closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day and is also closed to overnight camping in the winter.