Fresh powder means something exciting up north: it’s sled time. As the first snowflakes touch the ground and start to accumulate, snowmobile covers are lifted, and fuel or gear runs eat up entire afternoons. After you’ve tuned up your sled, checked for fuel, and cleared away the dust, you’ll be anxious to hit the trails. When it’s time to dig out your snow pants, puffy winter coat, and thermal undergarments, we’ve got some tips to keep you safe, informed, and excited about hitting the trails.
Excited to get out and ride? With so many trails to choose from, the hardest part of your trip might be choosing which trail to ride first. Here is a map to help you plan your route.
Remember to have fun and be safe!
Let’s set the mood:
You’re on vacation at Rainy Lake with your family or loved ones, and the dinner table has just been cleared. The sun set an hour ago and the fire has kept everyone warm since the night chill set in. The stars twinkle and the moon seems to be hiding just on the edge of the horizon. Everyone sits back in their seats, drifting in and out of the inevitable sleep that is around the corner.
The story teller in the family continues to brag about the fish she caught in the lake earlier that afternoon and how just when she had it within reach and lifted her rod, the line snapped and the record-breaking fish sank back down into the green-blue water and twisted away, never to be seen again. She continues to talk about the murky water and points to the window before gasping and exclaiming, “It was just like that – green and blue water that swallowed up my fish!” Everyone races to the window and looks up to the skies, ablaze with colors and light. It’s the aurora borealis like you’ve never seen it before.
What Causes the Aurora Borealis?
Aurora borealis, or more commonly known as the Northern Lights, look like bright flowing ribbons in the sky. When electrically charged particles from the sun collide in the earth’s atmosphere, they create photons which display as ribbons of light across the night sky. While they can be seen year-round, the winter months bring prolonged darkness (especially farther north) and give everyone more time to catch a glimpse of their beauty at night.
What You Seek, You Might Find
Cooler winter months often bring silver-grey clouds, allowing for fewer chances to see the clear night sky. But with less light pollution from surrounding cities, your chances of spotting the Northern Lights on a clear night are increased. It’s all about timing.
How to Plan for the Northern Lights
Step 1: If the forecast calls for a clear night with little to no cloud coverage, you’re halfway there. September through March is prime time for Northern Lights viewing but weather doesn’t always allow it. So check the local weather app and proceed to step 2, if the sky is in the clear.
Step 2: Check any of the following apps for viewing predictions. Many factors beyond weather influence your chance at seeing the Northern Lights, including geomagnetic activity, location of the moon, and your exact location. To help you navigate your plan of action, there are apps that predict Northern Light activity and tell you when and where to go for your best chance at seeing the phenomenon. Here are a few popular apps available for iOS and Android:
Need help planning your trip up north? We can help you find accommodations and activities to fill your day with before you settle in and wait for the sky to set ablaze.
What few leaves are left in the northern tree canopy continue to splinter and tumble to the ground in early November. Fewer and fewer footsteps crush the vibrant colors and the ground starts to freeze, night after night. The pine and evergreen trees seem to stand a little taller and prouder, as their time to shine is around the corner. It’s cooler up here, but no less busy for the wildlife and sky.
With summer months being, by far, the busiest time of the year for travelers, backpackers, and sightseers in this neck of the woods, critters large and small continue to feverishly prepare for the coldest months ahead. For the sturdier stock of visitors, it may be colder, but there’s an abundance of activities to do and nature to see in one of the darkest months of the year. It just might take a little more preparation to be sure you’ve packed the right gear to stay safe and mapped out the trail appropriately for the season.
The Waiting Game
In the early morning, frost and thin ice coat the ground and forest. It glistens and sparkles before thawing in the mid-day sun. But it foreshadows what’s to come: a season of snow and ice. As the month goes on, travel becomes a little more dangerous and a little trickier.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR), ice needs to be at least 4” thick to travel across by foot. With some remote islands accessible only by boat, it’s all about the waiting game. Too far to travel by foot? You’ll need to wait even longer. MN DNR states very clearly that traveling by snowmobile or ATV on ice should only ever happen when the ice is at least 5” thick.
For the fishing fanatics, ice fishing is one of the best ways to pass the time when the days are short and evenings long. Don’t have gear? No problem. Various resorts offer fishing rod and ice house rentals, or can refer you to a guide. Once you’re on the lake, your present company and the sound of the wind and ice keep you company until the big one bites. Drop a line for walleye, crappie and northern pike, and sit back and enjoy the quiet and solitude on Rainy Lake.
Ever been on a popular ski trail and felt a little overwhelmed with the fast pace and the busyness of it all? You’re not alone. If you need a vacation from your vacation, try Voyageur National Park and take on the fresh powder by hitting the trail.
Snowshoeing isn’t just a past-time for many who live here; it’s a means to get from point A to point B when the snow is thick and the ice roads aren’t open yet. But for many, it’s an escape from the hustle and bustle of the engine-roaring roads. They strap in and head out in search of the familiar sound of the trees breathing deeply, the tracks from wildlife that remind you that you’re not alone, and the clean air that you’ll only get in the forest. You can borrow snowshoes at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.
Are you sold yet? Before you pack up the car and head to Rainy Lake Recreation Trail, it’s important to check the trail conditions. If you’re in the clear, make sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, a map, a compass, a flashlight with backup batteries, and a satellite phone (if you’re going off the trail this could come in handy in any emergency). The sun sets earlier and earlier, so each day becomes a little shorter than the one before. Don’t get caught in the dark with no way to see the path in front of you.
The Other Kind of Trail
Not all trails are meant to be traveled by foot. After a long day of snowshoeing, your legs might need some rest. With a complex trail system, you can travel practically anywhere by snowmobile within Voyageurs National Park in the winter. Head back to your favorite fishing spot or explore new areas of the park.
Worried about trail marking and conditions? Don’t be. There are clear markers for the trails in this region and they are well maintained. To check conditions in the park before you hit the trail, visit the National Park Service page for the most up-to-date report.
Similar to when you make plans to snowshoe, pack the essentials and be prepared for the frigid temps at night after the sun goes down. If you’re an early riser, head out on the trail and find a place to park, turn off the engine and look up to the skies to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis. Less city light means more starlight which makes for near perfect conditions to look upward and revel in the beauty of the northern sky.
Now that we have you dreaming and longing for the solitude of the north, let us help you plan your next visit. Whether you’re in need of a writer’s retreat or an outdoor adventure, this place will give you exactly what you are looking for, you just need to ask.