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Despite the in-between season, outdoor activities abound in Minnesota

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A woman looks for snowy owls
Sharon Stiteler scans for snowy owls using binoculars inside of the aircraft viewing area of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

In Minnesota, it’s way too late to hop on a jet ski. Fall color viewing season has also slipped away. On the flip side, it’s too early for ice-skating or snowshoeing. 

So what’s an outdoor enthusiast to do? Sure, it’s been really cold. But most areas don’t have snow to go with the low temps to allow for winter actives. But the bitter cold might also convince some people that they’ve missed the boat on fall season activities.

But there’s still a lot you can do outside during this transition from late fall to early winter, said Rachel Hopper, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ visitor services and outreach manager.

“You can go camping. Not everyone wants to go camping in the cold. But we do offer camping in the winter through a variety of state parks throughout the state,” Hopper said.

The DNR has a list of sites available for cold-weather camping on its website.

And if you don’t like the idea of bundling up in a tent but still want a weekend in the wilderness, Hopper said you can rent a camper cabin. 

“Most of them are electric and year-round. So, if you want to be a little toastier, I would recommend checking out one of our camper cabins,” Hopper said.

Hopper adds that this time of year, campsites are less crowded and quieter, allowing you get to more in touch with nature.

Bird-watching

While many bird species have started making their trek south for the winter, many others opt to stay year round. And Hopper said this time of year is optimal for that activity.

“Again, there aren’t as many people on the hiking trails, giving visitors more of an opportunity to observe the birds. And with leaves falling off the trees, you can get a better look,” Hopper said.

If birds are your thing, Fort Snelling State Park offers winter bird feeding tips.

And as the calendar moves closer to December, annual bird counts will take place. 

Hopper notes that there will be one early next month at Itasca State Park. There’s also the Christmas bird count at Lake Carlos State Park.

Hitting the water

If you have the urge to do some canoeing or paddleboarding, but assume that the water’s dangerously cold, outdoors experts say that’s not always the case.

Adan Torres, sales operations manager at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis, said cold-weather paddling can still be done.

“Typically, with a good strong summer season, the sun has been warming up the water, and as the air temp drops, there tends to be a contrast between the air temp and the water temp,” Torres said.

So if someone were to head on the water and their kayak rolled, Torres said there would be an initial shock, but it wouldn’t be as frigid as some might think.

Still, he warns outdoor adventurists to use caution for this type of activity and to be prepared to with both the proper attire and safety plans.

Building up stamina

Torres also said going running or hiking in colder temps this fall can help your body build stamina for winter activities.

“Those kind of activities can prep you for more winter specific activities like Nordic skiing, winter-trail running, snowshoeing,” Torres said.

He also said it’s the best time to go rock climbing because you won’t be hindered by the summer heat or the winter ice.

“It’s nice, crisp, cool air. You’re working pretty hard trying to get to the top of the route you’re working on,” he said. “A lot of that stuff can transition for people that start ice-climbing, or go back into the gym in winter months and do climbing.”