10 Best Twin Cities Cross Country Skiing Destinations

Cross country skiing is an incredible way to get in shape and enjoy the outdoors in winter. Minnesota is home to seemingly endless cross country skiing trails to explore, many located right in the Twin Cities area. 

These ten Twin Cities cross country skiing destinations are great options for any skill level. Need ski rentals? No problem! Wanna take cross country ski lessons in Minneapolis or St Paul? We’ve got those too!

Text: Twin Cities Cross-Country Skiing (with Minnesota state icon) Image: Cross country skier faces away from camera shown from waist down standing in snow with the sun setting over the treeline in the distance.

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2 Types of Cross Country Skiing

One of the first questions you’ll be asked when renting or purchasing cross country skis or looking for cross country ski trails, is what type you want to do. While I won’t go into incredible detail, there are two main types of cross country skiing you should be familiar with.

With the camera low to the ground, on the left side is a pair of parallel tracks packed into the snow extending off into the distant tree line. On the right is a groomed ski trail extending in the same direction.
Single parallel tracks for classic cross country skiing next to groomed ski trails.

Classic Skiing

Using a forward and back motion, similar to walking or running, classic skiing is the best option for beginners. While you can do classic style skiing on 

Pro Tip: Cross country skiing beginners may want to look for groomed trails with parallel tracks packed into the snow. This is a bit easier, particularly if your stabilizer muscles aren’t in great shape yet.

Skate Skiing

Using a side to side motion, similar to speed skating or rollerblading, skate skiing is more advanced than classic skiing. The side to side motion allows you to get momentum by pushing into the edge of the skis. 

Cross Country Ski Rentals in the Twin Cities

If you’re not ready to invest in cross country skis just yet, rentals are a great option to consider. There are several options for cross country ski rental in Minneapolis in St Paul.

Taken from close to the ground, the lower half of a skiers body faces away from the camera towards the tree line with the sun shining through the tree limbs.
Cross country skis, boots and poles are available to rent at several stores and park offices around the Twin Cities.

Hoigaard’s

The knowledgeable staff at Hoigaard’s can help you select and size the right equipment, no matter your skill level. I personally have rented skis from Hoigaard’s and was incredibly impressed with the staff!

Rent skis, boots, and poles for a day or a week! Call to make a reservation if you want to guarantee availability. During busy periods or events like the Luminary Loppet, rentals may be fully booked well in advance. 

REI

Did you know that REI has all sorts of gear available to rent? Yep! That includes cross country skiing equipment at the REI store in Bloomington. Find out more about snow gear rental at REI!

Onsite at Park Locations

Many of the local and state parks in the Twin Cities that have cross-country skiing trails also offer rentals. For each of the Twin Cities cross country skiing trails listed below, I’ve included information on gear rentals available. 

For general information about cross country ski and gear rental at the Three Rivers Parks, visit this page

Which Twin Cities Cross-Country Ski Pass is Best?

Nearly all maintained cross country ski trails in the Twin Cities require you to purchase a pass. Passes are available online with no printing required. There are five main passes to consider for cross country skiing near the Twin Cities.

Three Rivers Park Pass

The Three Rivers Park system offers over 80 miles of cross country ski trails across 11 different parks in the Twin Cities area. Many of their parks are included in the list below.

They offer a two-tier ski pass program, the ‘all parks pass’ and the ‘natural snow parks pass’. Basically, the natural snow parks pass includes all of the parks except two that make their own snow (when conditions allow). The ‘all parks pass’ includes all 11 parks, including the two that make their own snow. So, the ‘natural snow parks pass’ is a little less expensive, but your ability to ski is limited based on natural snowfall.

For both tiers there is an option for a day pass or an annual pass.  

Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Ski Trail Passes

The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board requires their ski trail pass for access to cross country skiing at Theodore Wirth Park (see below for more on this park) as well as other locations. 

As with the Three Rivers Park pass, there is an ‘all-access’ ski pass and a ‘natural snow ski pass’. This page outlines what parks and locations are included in each pass. Basically, the ‘natural snow ski pass’ does not include the lighted and snowmaking cross country skiing trails. 

This is the most expensive ski pass option in the Twin Cities. However, the trails are managed by The Loppet Foundation whose mission supports diversifying the outdoors with year-round adventure. So, if you are looking to support their mission, the additional cost is well worth it in addition to their excellent trails and facilities.

A candle holder formed out of ice is lit and sitting on snow in the foreground. Behind the candle a number of dancers are ice skating holding blue and red lights at nighttime on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis during the Luminary Loppet annual event.
The Luminary Loppet is an annual event in Minneapolis, popular with cross country skiers.

Dakota County Cross Country Ski Pass

Dakota County, located just south of the Twin Cities, has three different parks that offer both classic and skate cross country skiing. The Dakota County Cross Country Ski pass is the most affordable option and the fees go directly to maintaining and grooming the cross-country ski trails. If you live on the south side of either Minneapolis or St Paul, this is a great, low-cost option. Dakota County has day or annual passes.

Washington County Cross Country Ski Pass

Washington County, located east of St Paul, has five different parks that offer both classic and skate cross country skiing. The Washington County Cross Country Ski Pass is also affordable, comparable to the Dakota County pass. 

Washington County previously accepted the Great Minnesota Ski Pass, so this is a recent change. Their ski pass can be purchased online here. Look along the left side of the reservation screen to “browse packages” or search “ski pass” to find it. 

Pro Tip: Washington County also requires a vehicle permit to enter their parks. Factor that in if you choose to purchase their cross country ski pass. The website says they offer a day or annual vehicle permit but there is only an annual option on their website. Personally, with only five parks and the combined cost of the cross country ski pass and the vehicle permit I would opt for a different pass unless I had convenient access to the east side of St Paul.

Great Minnesota Ski Pass

The Minnesota state parks, state forest and other affiliated trails require the Great Minnesota Ski Pass. Cross country skiers should have their Great Minnesota Ski Pas signed and with them every time they go skiing on one of these trails. The fees go directly towards maintaining and grooming the cross country ski trails.

The main benefit of the Great Minnesota Ski Pass is that it can be used at locations all around the state of Minnesota. This interactive map shows you all of the locations the pass can be used around the state and allows you to filter based factors such as rentals, lighted trails, and more.

Again, there is a daily and annual pass option, both available for purchase online as well as by phone and in-person. For the annual pass, a physical pass will be mailed to you but you can use an electronic temporary pass until it arrives.

Pro Tip: Stay safe and warm from head to toe while you’re outdoors in winter these winter hiking essentials!

10 Best Places for Cross Country Skiing Minneapolis & St Paul

The Twin Cities has no shortage of places to go cross country skiing, so how do you choose? These are the ten best places for cross country skiing Minneapolis and St Paul based on ease of access, variety of terrain for different skill levels, snow making capability, equipment rental, lessons and more. There’s truly something on this list for anyone!

READ MORE: You know where else has endless cross country ski trails? Here are the best free cross country ski trails in Burlington Vermont!

Rolling hills with rows of tall grass peeking out above fresh snowfall stretch out to a distant treeline. To the right is a lone tree. Sun is shining into the frame from the right.
The cross country ski trails near the Twin Cities vary in terrain including prairie, marsh, frozen lake and forest.

1 | Elm Creek Park Reserve – Maple Grove

The largest of the Three Rivers Parks, Elm Creek, is one of two that has snowmaking capabilities for its cross country ski trails. Elm Creek Park Reserve has over 11 miles of groomed trails, including 3.5 miles of lighted trails for nighttime skiing. 

Pass Required: Three Rivers Park Pass

Rentals Available: Yes

Lessons Available: Yes (read more here)

Pro Tip: A great option for beginners with gentle hills is the Northern Lights trail! In total, the trail is 11 miles but don’t worry, there are several shorter loop sections of this trail so you can customize for your needs.

2 | Theodore Wirth Park – Minneapolis

The Minneapolis skyline is visible through a break in the trees on a cross country skiing trail in Theodore Wirth Park.
Enjoy a view of the Minneapolis skyline while cross country skiing at Theodore Wirth Park.

Located just two miles west of downtown Minneapolis, Theodore Wirth Park offers 15 miles of groomed ski trails that go through forest and across lakes (after they freeze). Also, cross country skiers can access an additional five miles of trails once the Chain of Lakes freezes over, connecting the park with the Uptown area of Minneapolis. 

Theodore Wirth Park has something for all skill levels of cross country skiers, including steep hills and flat sections. If you want to improve your skills or learn the basics, try a cross country ski lesson with one of their instructors!

Pass Required: Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Ski Trail Pass

Rentals Available: Yes

Lessons Available: Yes

Pro Tip: Want to bring your dog along for an adventure? Try skijoring at Theodore Wirth Park!

3 | Baker Park Reserve – Maple Plain

A cross country ski trail extends in front of the camera and to the right surrounded by snow covered trees. In the foreground on the left is a sign with arrows pointing in different directions for the various ski trails at Baker Park Reserve near Minneapolis.
Choose from a number of different cross country ski trails for all different skills levels at Baker Park Reserve in the Twin Cities.

About a 25 minute drive west of downtown Minneapolis, Baker Park Reserve has nine miles of cross country skiing trails that wind through meadows, wooded areas and along lakes. There are loop trails that are less than a mile that connect so you can combine them however you’d like to match your skill level.

Pro Tip: If you are using Google Maps to navigate to Baker Park Reserve, be sure to type in “Baker National Golf Course” to reach the winter trailhead where the cross country skiing is located.

Pass Required: Three Rivers Park Pass

Rentals Available: Yes

Lessons Available: No

4 | Hyland Lake Park Reserve – Bloomington

About 20 minutes south of downtown Minneapolis, Hyland Lake Park Reserve has nearly 10 miles of groomed cross country ski trails, including snow making capability. The trails take you through prairie and along a lake. If nighttime skiing is your thing, Hyland Lake Park is open til 10pm and has over five miles of lighted cross country skiing trails.

Pro Tip: For cross country skiing and rentals, be sure to go to the Visitor Center via the Recreation Area Entrance. Here’s a park map with trails to help you find the right spot!

Pass Required: Three Rivers Park Pass

Rentals Available: Yes

Lessons Available: Yes (read more here)

5 | Fort Snelling State Park – St. Paul

Me standing on a snow covered piece of land at the point where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet on Pike Island in Fort Snelling State Park in Minnesota.
Get a view of the confluence of the Mississippi River and Minnesota River while cross country skiing on Pike Island at Fort Snelling State Park.

Located on the western edge of St Paul near Minneapolis, Fort Snelling State Park offers 12 miles of groomed classic cross country ski trails along the Mississippi River. For a unique experience, visit the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers on the cross country ski trail around Pike Island. This part of the park is sacred to the native Dakota who once lived and later were imprisoned here.

The cross country ski trails in Fort Snelling State Park are mostly quite flat, so perfect for beginners!

Pro Tip: Minnesota State Parks require a vehicle pass for entry. Purchase a day pass or an annual pass online or at a kiosk located in the park. At just $35/ year the annual pass is worth it if you plan to visit the state parks regularly throughout the year.

Pass Required: Great Minnesota Ski Pass

Rentals Available: No

Lessons Available: No

Love the Minnesota State Parks? Learn about the Minnesota State Parks Passport Club!

6 | Afton State Park – Hastings

Just 30-40 minutes east of the Twin Cities, Afton State Park has 18 miles of cross country ski trails along the St. Croix River. The trails at Afton are a bit more hilly than the others on this list so it’s a great option if you’re looking for more of a challenge, though there are a few miles of flatter terrain for beginners. Fortunately, the trail map makes it easy to locate the right trail for your skill level.

Personally, I enjoy the variety of terrain and awesome viewpoints at Afton State Park all year round!

Pro Tip: Similar to Fort Snelling, entry to Afton State Park requires a vehicle permit. Purchase a day permit or an annual permit online or at a kiosk located in the park. The annual pass is a sticker that is placed on your front windshield, associated with a specific vehicle. 

Pass Required: Great Minnesota Ski Pass

Rentals Available: No

Lessons Available: No

Close of up cross country ski trail and tracks after a morning of heavy use. In the distance is a rolling hill covered in fresh snow and a distant treeline.
Cross country ski trails and tracks after a busy morning at one of the parks in the Twin Cities.

7 | Lebanon Hills Regional Park – Eagan

Only 30 minutes from the Twin Cities, Lebanon Hills Regional Park is a gem. The park has nearly 15 miles of classic and skate cross country ski trails that wind around several different lakes. The park has a good amount of rolling hills to get your heart pumping!

There is not just one entry point to Lebanon Hills, so make sure to check the park map before going to get the correct address for your intended trailhead.

Cross country ski rentals are available at the Lebanon Hills Visitor Center (860 Cliff Road, Eagan, MN). Due to COVID-19, online reservations for rentals are required and can be made up to 7 days in advance. 

Pass Required: Dakota County Cross Country Ski Pass

Rentals Available: Yes 

Lessons Available: No

8 | Battle Creek Regional Park West – St Paul

Battle Creek Regional Park has two sections – east and west. The eastern section is in Maplewood and the western section is in St Paul, both are located in Ramsey County. While both sections of the park offer classic and skate cross country ski trails, Battle Creek Regional Park West in St Paul has more trails suitable for all skill levels as well as lighted trails for nighttime skiing until 9pm. 

Pro Tip: Parking for Battle Creek Regional Park West can be found at 75 Winthrop Street S in St Paul.  Parking for Battle Creek Regional Park East can be found at 2300 Lower Afton Road in Maplewood.

Pass Required: Great Minnesota Ski Pass

Rentals Available: No

Lessons Available: No

9 | Tamarack Nature Center – White Bear Township

Also part of the Ramsey County system, Tamarack Nature Center has three miles of classic (no skate) cross country ski trails. Enjoy gliding through prairie, woods and marshland as well as two different lakes. 

Both cross country ski rentals and lessons are available at Tamarack Nature Center. 

Pass Required: Great Minnesota Ski Pass

Rentals Available: No

Lessons Available: Yes

10 | Lake Elmo Park Reserve – Lake Elmo

About 45 minutes from the Twin Cities, Lake Elmo Park Reserve features more than ten miles of classic and skate cross country ski trails. The terrain is a mix of rolling hills, some steep climbs, and flat loop sections that wind around several different lakes. Five miles are lit for nighttime skiing. The steep sections of the trails are well marked on the Lake Elmo Park Reserve winter trail map.

Pro Tip: In addition to the cross country ski pass, vehicles are required to have a permit posted to enter this park (or any Washington County parks). See the “types of passes” section above for more info. 

Cross country ski equipment is available to rent through the Nordic Rocks Ski Rentals in the park visitor center.

Pass Required: Washington County Cross Country Ski Pass

Rentals Available: Yes

Lessons Available: No

A cross country skier heads into a snow covered forest for skate style skiing.

Best Twin Cities Cross Country Skiing Spots

Whether you’re new to cross country skiing or just looking for new trails to go cross country skiing Minneapolis and St Paul, there’s endless places to explore this winter.

Looking for winter gear to keep you safe and warm from head to toe? Check out my winter hiking gear guide and winter hiking in Norway packing list for ideas!

For more Minnesota travel inspiration, visit my Minnesota travel page.

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Text: Twin Cities Cross-Country Skiing (with Minnesota state icon) Image: Cross country skier faces away from camera shown from waist down standing in snow with the sun setting over the treeline in the distance.

13 thoughts on “10 Best Twin Cities Cross Country Skiing Destinations

  1. Pingback: 12 mistakes to avoid for newbie skiers - A walk and a lark

  2. Ashlee Fechino says:

    I have heard Minnesota is the best place in the U.S. to cross country ski! We love to XC ski. Since moving to Tulsa, I miss is so much. Fun post.

    • This Big Wild World says:

      Sounds like you’ll have to make a trip up to Minnesota sometime in the winter to enjoy some of our trails! 🙂 Thanks, Ashlee!

  3. Krista says:

    I used to go cross country skiing all the time when I was younger but haven’t done it recently. You’ve made me want to get into the swing of it again though!

  4. Tara says:

    You are fortunate to have so many great ski trails nearby, plus rentals! I’m jealous! We have one local spot here with groomed trails, but they are not super beginner-friendly. I guess I need to plan a winter trip to Minnesota!

    • This Big Wild World says:

      You definitely need to plan a winter trip to Minnesota! We have something for any skill level. The hardest part is deciding where to go!

  5. Kristen says:

    This article is fantastic and so thorough. I’m so excited that we’ve had so much snow already. I will be taking advantage of that for the next few months.

  6. Josy A says:

    Ooh nice! I didn’t know about the two different styles of cross country skiing (we still didn’t try it – I was keen to this year, but Marc thinks we should wait until next season with all the covid-19 madness…) I need to learn, then visit you in winter with a Great Minnesota Ski Pass!!

    The Skate Skiing sounds like how we get uphill on normal skis, but the classic version might be better when I finally give this a go. Do you also use skins to climb up hills/mountains? That looks sooo fun too!

    • This Big Wild World says:

      Please take a lesson so you can come frolic on the xc ski trails in the Twin Cities!! Classic skiing is a great option when you’re new to the sport. The tracks help keep you skis parallel so you can focus on the motion, not alignment. Once you get that down, the skate skiing is easier to manage. It’s common to use skis to climb up hills or steep inclines here, though we don’t have the same kind of mountains you have!

  7. Karen says:

    This is such a thorough article on what’s available to cross country skiers in the Twin Cities. So helpful. I really miss XC skiing in Minnesota. That squeaky cold snow is hard to find out here in New England.

    • This Big Wild World says:

      Ah, yes, you know the squeaky snow! We get plenty of it here in Minnesota. This state really does have seemingly endless opportunities for cross country skiing. So many trails to explore!

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