During winters in Minnesota, it is a guarantee that you’ll come into contact with ice in one way or another. In some instances, it can be annoying. But in other ways, it can be awe inspiring. On the North Shore of Lake Superior, ice is something we marvel at. From frozen lakes to ice-covered waterfalls to the small ice sculptures that form on the shorelines of Lake Superior, we find ice to be a magical part of our winter seasons.
Ice forms on Lake Superior every single winter. Some years, like during last year’s mild winter, you can only find it on sheltered sections of the lake. The Grand Marais Harbor and the Duluth/Superior area are common spots where a glaze forms over the Great Lake. Other years, the entire lake freezes. That is rare and most recently occurred in 1996. Most commonly, ice will cover about 50-60% of Lake Superior’s surface. In 2019, when we saw the wolves on Lake Superior in front of Bluefin Bay, we were lucky to experience 95% coverage.
Lake Superior ice is notoriously fickle. No matter how cold the winter gets, the movement of the water underneath makes the ice on top unreliable (just ask the 26 ice fisherman that had to be rescued by the coast guard in Duluth last winter). Because of the risks, ice formations are best enjoyed from the shoreline. The spray from waves will often cling onto trees and bushes creating fantastic icicle sculptures. Occasionally, when the wind and waves pick up after a period of stillness, crashed ice will form along the beaches.
Below you will find a list of our top 10 recommended locations for finding ice formations.
Tettegouche State park
Split Rock Lighthouse
Grand Marais Harbor
Cross Country Ski Trails Update
It’s been an interesting winter so far in Cook County! We received plenty of snow early in the season and then went a little while without any new snow. Lately we’ve been getting a bit of snow here and there, but not the usual 2 feet snowstorms that we have gotten used to expecting in January.
Overall, the cross country ski trails are in excellent condition. The time period where we didn’t get new snow allowed for the trails to set up really nicely. The downhills can be a bit icy though so be careful! We received 3″ of new snowfall on January 24th and that has helped quite a bit. All trail systems in the area are groomed regularly. The Sugarbush Trail system, which is located nearest to the resort, is reporting phenomenal conditions. The Norpine Trail reports also indicate excellent conditions, but they are suggesting that because of the lack of snow down by the lake, the further away you can get from Lake Superior, the better.
Did you know that there are more than 400 km of cross country trails in Cook County? The trails in Grand Marais and up the Gunflint Trail are magnificent! To see conditions for all trails in Cook County, click here.
All of this information (and the photo below) is current as of January 27th. For consistently updated trail conditions reports, click here. You can also check out SkinnySki.com, which features firsthand trail reports.
**Reminder: Make sure to have a proper ski pass for whatever trail you are using. Trails in the Tofte area require the MN Ski Pass, which can be purchased at Bluefin Bay Guest Services. For maps and location information, click here or visit us the Activities Desk at Guest Services.
Ready to Give Cross-Country Skiing a Try?
Cross-country skiing is a low-impact full-body workout and a fun way to get outside and enjoy winter at its best. Not to mention, the scenery and stillness of the woods is something you can only find while out on one of the local trails along Minnesota’s North Shore.
But, what if you’ve never been cross-country skiing? Or, what if it’s been a very long time since you had skis strapped to the bottom of your feet?
Go For It. Give Cross-Country Skiing a Try!
When you’re a guest at Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts our activities guides are here to help whether you are brand new to the sport, a beginner with minimal experience, or a more advanced skier looking for new trails and challenges.
Are you a new or beginner skier? We guarantee that with a little patience and practice you will have found a new favorite winter activity! We offer complimentary guided ski trips several days a week throughout the winter season. In addition to a guided trip and transportation to and from the ski trails, we’ll outfit you with all the gear you need. Our experienced activities staff will assist you in finding the correctly sized skis, poles, and boots. The right equipment can make all the difference and will help ensure a successful ski outing.
Classic and Skate Skiing. What Are They and How are They Different?
There are two main types of cross-country skiing utilizing different types of skis: classic and skate. Classic is the more traditional form of cross-country skiing and is the one that beginners usually learn first. Skate skiing is a bit more complex and utilizes the flat, wide groomed area on a trail. A v-shaped skating motion, when mastered, is a fast and exciting way to zoom around a trail system.
We provide equipment and tours for classic skiing only. Classic skiing is best done on groomed trails with two tracks – one for each ski. A forward lunging and sliding motion, combined with an alternating push off from your poles will propel you along the tracks. Our advice? Be patient! Because you will wobble, you may fall, and you will get tired. But, we are here to help you take it slow and discover the joys of cross-country skiing. Have kids? We have equipment for them too! In addition, kids are quick learners and the sooner you introduce them the sooner cross-country skiing can become a life long sport. Their favorite part is usually zooming down a hill and ‘accidentally’ falling into a pile of fresh snow.
Our guided tours take place on the local Sugarbush and Norpine trail systems. Both combine spectacular scenery with varied terrain and provide trails for beginners to experts. These are part of the more than 400 kilometers of groomed trails in Cook County. You will pretty much never run out of trails to explore!
Welcome to your new favorite winter sport!
New Activity: Cross-Country Skiing on the Norpine Trails
If you have enjoyed a winter stay with us in the past you may have joined a cross-country ski trip to the popular Sugarbush Trails. The Sugarbush Trail Association maintains 65 kilometers of ski trails through remote forest areas in the Lutsen-Tofte area. Even though we love these trails, there are 400 kilometers of cross-country ski trails to explore in Cook County! With this in mind, we wanted to offer more guided ski options in addition to the Sugarbush Trail tours.
This winter, we have added a complimentary guided trip on the Norpine Trail System. Running predominately in the Lutsen area these beautiful trails offer scenic routes through the Superior National Forest. For our resort trips, our trail choice will depend on the current conditions and size/ability of the group. One of the great things about this trail system is the opportunity to start from different trailheads and locations. We may start in an area located right off the Ski Hill Road that leads up to Lutsen Mountains. Or, we may travel farther along Highway 61 and hop on the ski system situated closer to Cascade River State Park. All trails wind through beautiful pine and hardwood forests where we’ll keep our eye out for animal tracks and spot lots of winter birds zipping among the trees. In addition, all levels of skiers are welcome and this trip is family friendly!
Did you know? We supply complimentary cross-country skis, boots, and instruction! Prefer to head out on your own? Stop by to check out equipment and pick up some maps and directions on where to go. Don’t forget to also stop by the desk to pick up a pass if you don’t already have a ‘Great Minnesota Ski Pass‘. These are inexpensive at $6/day or $20/year and help the non-profit organizations that maintain these wonderful trails.
How Much Snow On The North Shore? The Most In The State!
Do you see that pretty little purple area on the map? That’s us! At the present time, it’s showing snow depths of 30 – 36 inches. We have the snow!
If you love outdoor winter activities then the Lutsen-Tofte area is the place to be. After all, we have the most snow in the state! We often get asked how much snow we have and how the trail conditions are for winter adventures. We know it can be hard to believe we have so much snow compared to other places in Minnesota. For this reason, we’re listing some great online tools to assist you with your winter vacation planning.
Are the skinny ski trails more your thing? With some of the best cross-country skiing in the country, it’s no wonder people choose Cook County for their cross-country ski trips. The Sugarbush Trail system connects directly to the resort and has 65 kilometers of groomed skate and classic ski trails from beginner to expert. Visit the Sugarbush Trail Report to stay up to date on conditions. The Norpine Trails in the Lutsen area is another beautiful ski system not to be missed. They also have some trails opened to Fat Tire Biking! Find more information, trail maps, and trail conditions here. As a guest at the Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts, you also have the option to sign up for a complimentary guided ski trip to the Sugarbush or Norpine Trails. In addition, all ski equipment is included!
Prefer to cruise the trails on a snowmobile? Cook County has more than 400 miles to explore! You’ll find trails close to Lake Superior and trails that lead you into some of the most remote places in Minnesota. Visit the Visit Cook County website for a nice overview or check out the Cook County Snow Mobile Club – Ridge Riders website. This group is dedicated to maintaining these wonderful trails.
The handy snow depths map to the right is created and updated by the Minnesota DNR and a great tool when planning your winter getaways.
Trail Reports: Two Thumbs Up!
March is here with the North Shore seeing the most snow cover in the state, longer days, and higher temps. It’s time to get outside! Here’s an update on the area trail conditions and resources for planning your late-winter getaway:
CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING: The local Sugarbush Trails have a nice packed base of 6-12 inches of snow with all groomed trails open and in good condition. With 65 kilometers of groomed trails and direct access to Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior, you’ll enjoy all the opportunities to explore and discover this beautiful area on skis.
Visit the Sugarbush Trail Association website for weekly updated trail reports and maps. As a guest, you can take advantage of complimentary cross-country ski rentals and Guided Ski Tours on the Onion River Road Loop.
Cook County has 400 kilometers of cross-country ski trails making it the largest network of trails in North America. The current overall trail base in the area ranges from 6-25 inches creating some of the greatest groomed trails we’ve had in years. Check out the Visit Cook County website to discover all the wonderful trail systems to be explored in our area.
DOWNHILL SKIING: Recent large snowfalls have made for some epic ski and snowboard days. Lutsen Mountains has a snow base of 30-60 inches on all primary runs and they’ve reported enough of a base to be open through April! With 4 mountains and 95 runs, the whole family will enjoy skiing or snowboarding at the Midwest’s only true mountain ski area experience.
We provide free shuttles to the base of the mountain and you’ll love the Ski and Stay Packages for the best deals.
HIKING & SNOWSHOEING: Winter hiking is a favorite activity here on the North Shore and trails are in great condition right now. Just after a snowfall, you can strap on a pair of snowshoes (complimentary rentals for guests) to trek through the deeper snow. Many trails that you enjoy in the summer are packed and accessible during the winter – a good pair of winter boots and ice grips are all that you need to experience a walk through the snowy woods and views of stunning winter vistas from atop a mountain. Let our activities staff show you the way on a guided hike, snowshoe or river hiking adventure! Visit our Resort Activities & Events page for details on our guided adventures.
SNOWMOBILING: Explore the Lake Superior shoreline plus inland woods and lakes on the endless miles of groomed snowmobile trails in our area. Local snowmobile clubs are reporting excellent conditions on the trails and many riders are reporting the best riding they’ve had in a long time. The Cook County Snowmobile Club has updated trail conditions and maps for the local trails. Visit the North Shore Visitor website for info on snowmobile trails all along Highway 61.
See you on the trails!
Oberg Mountain Loop
Skinny Ski Paradise!
Cook County, Minnesota has over 400 kilometers of ski trails making it home to North America’s largest ski system. We have 150 kilometers of trails in the immediate Lutsen-Tofte area making it a true cross-country skier paradise!
The Sugarbush Trail System connects directly to Bluefin Bay Resort providing access to 65 kilometers of groomed trails. From easy to expert, all levels of skiers will enjoy the experience while gliding through beautiful and remote forest service land in the Lutsen-Tofte area. Approximately ¾ of the ski trails are groomed for both classic and skate skiing. This handy guide on the Sugarbush Trail Association website details each trail section with distance, type of tracks and current conditions.
As a guest at Bluefin Bay, take advantage of our complimentary cross-country ski rental where you can check out skis, boots, and poles. During your stay, you can also sign-up for a Guided Cross-Country Ski trip with our Activities Staff. We’ll outfit you with skis, shuttle you to the ski trail access and lead you on a leisurely ski on the beautiful Onion River Road trail. This is a perfect activity for novice skiers and families. For the more experienced skiing enthusiasts stop by the recreation center for local trail maps, directions, trail advice, and take advantage of our waxing station.
For other cross-country ski trails in Cook County check out this list of trails on the Visit Cook County website. The North Shore Visitor website is another great resource for ski trails spanning the North Shore region from Two Harbors to Grand Portage. There are endless opportunities to explore this magical area on skis.