Walking on water: Visiting the frozen city lakes of Minneapolis

Photo by Paul Udstrand
Lake Serpent on Lake of the Isles

It’s been a cool winter thus far, very cold. Not the coldest I’ve seen but the coldest in a while. There’s a lot of complaining going on but there are some definite advantages to this cold weather.  If you’re willing to bundle up and venture out into the latest Vortex you can find some unique winter experiences here in the cities.

We try to make something out of our winters in MN; we have dog sled races and Winter Carnivals amongst other things. A couple weeks ago the Annual Winter Loppet took place in Minneapolis. This is a three day cross country ski event that takes place in the Uptown area, around the lakes, and in Theo Wirth Park.  One of the Loppet events is a “Luminary” evening that’s quite beautiful.  The Loppet Foundation builds a track around Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun. That trail is lined with ice installations and sculptures that are lit with candles on the night of the Luminary. Participants can ski, walk, or snow shoe along the trails where bon fires, hot chocolate stations, and fire dancers await. On the night of the actual Luminary you have to pay in order to go out on the lake, but during winters like this one, the trails and sculptures survive for weeks afterwards and provide wonderful free and completely public opportunity for anyone who wants to venture out and explore one of our greatest urban assets.

The best thing about this weather is that it creates fantastic trail conditions. The cold temps and lack of fresh snow mean that the trails are very solid and compacted. It’s like walking on a sidewalk out there. That may not be ideal for cross country skiing but its great for the rest of us. You can easily walk, run, or bike all over the lakes and get a different perspective on one of our most beautiful public spaces.  I’d guess there’s about 7-10 miles of trails out there and there’s a lot to explore.

Warmer weather and or several inches of fresh snow will turn this into slush or obliterate the paths so jump out there while you can. Right now you don’t need skis or snow shoes. 

I’d like to thank my trusty canine companions Ole the Lab and Liffey the Border Collie for adding a little something to my photos. You can look at more photos from our expedition on my Paul’s Photography Facebook Page.

Photo by Paul Udstrand
The channel leading from Lake of the Isles to Cedar Lake
Photo by Paul Udstrand
Cedar Lake is the wildest of the lakes. There are a lot of woods surrounding it that you (and your dogs) can explore.
Photo by Paul Udstrand
The view of “Ice Henge” on the way from Cedar Lake to Lake of the Isles.
Photo by Paul Udstrand
The ice sculptures in the “Enchanted Forest” on Lake of the Isles have survived thus far because of the cold temps.
Photo by Paul Udstrand
The ice Pyramid on Lake of the Isles with downtown Minneapolis in the background.
Photo by Paul Udstrand
The approach to Lake Calhoun from the lagoon between Calhoun and lake of the Isles.
Photo by Paul Udstrand
In the lagoon again returning to Lake of the Isles from Calhoun. You can see the pyramid.

This post was written by Paul Udstrand and originally published on Thoughtful Bastards.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Colin Gardner-Springer on 02/12/2014 - 10:22 am.

    Walking on ski trails?

    Beautiful pictures, but shouldn’t walkers (and their pooches) stay off the ski trails? After all skiers are paying (through their trail passes) to keep those trails nicely groomed (and they continue to be groomed even after the Loppet).

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/12/2014 - 08:21 pm.

      Enough room I think

      I think if walkers and snow shoer’s stay off to the side they won’t damage the trail. And the trails are very compacted right now so you don’t leave deep tracks.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/12/2014 - 04:56 pm.


    I think when the snow is this hard and compacted walking on it doesn’t cause any problems for skiers or damage the trails. You raise a good point though, one can stay off to the side where there are no ski tracks. I noticed today that trail is a little less solid so walkers would leave slightly deeper tracks out in the middle where the skate style skiers go. And of course it goes without saying that one shouldn’t walk in or disturb the traditional ski tracks. Thanks for reminding us that we need to apply some consideration and not ruin things for others.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/12/2014 - 05:25 pm.

    And the dogs….

    I forgot to mention, obviously you need to keep your dogs out of peoples way as well. You can’t see me in the photos but I’m carrying leashes in case I need them and you have to anticipate problems not wait till they happen. If you have a dog that has to greet everyone they see you should leash them when a skier gets in range. It goes without saying that aggressive dogs have to be controlled. My lab Ole barked at the first skier he saw years ago but then decided ignore them. My Border Collie Liffey has always ignored skiers unless they stop to pet her. Some skiers have their own dogs in tow on a leash. At a distance we’re fine but I have to leash my dogs within a certain range or they’ll go over and greet the skier’s dog. A skier with a leashed dog can get tangled up pretty quickly if that dog starts running around or stops to react to another dog.

    I don’t see any possible damage my dogs are doing to the trail, I do pick up any doo doo they happen to drop out there and should we all.

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