If ever a sport epitomized the saying, “Life is about the journey, not the destination,” it would have to be snowmobiling. While some people certainly hit the trail intending only to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, when many others squeeze the throttle their only plans are to feel their sled sail over the snow, breathe in crisp, clean air, and take in the majesty of a winter’s day.
Snowmobilers have seemingly limitless opportunity in Minnesota, where more than 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails crisscross the state and afford riders the opportunity to see places that would be difficult or impossible to reach without frozen ground and a layer of white.
Thanks to Minnesota’s unmatched snowmobile trail system, which primarily is maintained by volunteers from local snowmobile clubs, snowmobilers can gain a new perspective and appreciation for the beauty of Minnesota’s winter wonderland.
Stunning views and long rides
The Highway 61 corridor between Duluth and Grand Marais, which skirts Lake Superior, is among the state’s most popular drives. Snowmobilers, too, can make that journey, thanks to the 146-mile North Shore State Trail, which traverses the wooded ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior. Trail spurs afford snowmobilers the opportunity to stop for food or gas, but the main trail runs primarily through the wilderness.
The Arrowhead State Trail, which runs between Tower and International Falls and covers 135 miles, affords snowmobilers an especially unique opportunity because it travels through areas that during the rest of the year are generally impassible due to standing water.
Snowmobilers who want to cover a lot of ground through the heart of Minnesota can try the Paul Bunyan State Trail, which connects Crow Wing State Park near Brainerd with Lake Bemidji State Park near Bemidji. Minneapolis-St. Paul-area snowmobilers can try the Luce Line State Trail or the Minnesota Valley State Trail, while those in the state’s southeastern corner can hop on the Great River Ridge State Trail, which provides riders with stunning views of the river valley.
Since snowmobile trails in so many areas of the state take riders where they couldn’t get with a vehicle or boat, they have the opportunity, so to speak, to travel right though the heart of the living room of wildlife. Riders in the northern part of the state have the opportunity to see species such as bears, deer, lynx, moose and wolves, while those in southern areas shouldn’t be surprised to see deer and birds such as eagles and hawks.
It’s important to note that snowmobile riders never should bother wildlife or attempt to chase them.
Fishing and riding
Though some people consider ice fishing a solitary, sit-in-one-spot pursuit, it doesn’t have to be. That’s especially true when ice anglers have snowmobiles at their disposal. Even on the state’s largest and most popular ice-fishing lakes—Lake of the Woods near Baudette on the state’s border with Canada, Leech Lake near Walker, Mille Lacs near Garrison, Lake Minnetonka in the Twin Cities, Upper Red Lake near Waskish, Lake Vermilion near Tower, and Lake Winnibigoshish near Deer River, to name a few—ice fishermen can cover a lot of water by riding their sleds atop the ice.
Of course, anyone who rides on frozen lakes should be sure to follow the Minnesota DNR’s recommendations for staying safe atop the ice. Notably, there should be at least five inches of ice before snowmobilers travel across it.
Safety training and regulations
By law, anyone who operates a snowmobile in Minnesota—and who was born after Dec. 31, 1976—must complete a safety-training course. See the DNR snowmobile safety training webpage for more information.
When they purchase a three-year registration, snowmobilers can access any of the state’s 22,000 miles of state and grant-in-aid snowmobile trails. See the DNR snowmobile regulations webpage for more details.