Three ideas for using Minnesota state parks’ winter free day

If your New Year's resolutions include 'Get to a Minnesota state park,' Monday is a solid opportunity.

Jan. 15 is one of four days this year — one in each season — when entry to any of the state's 75 parks and recreation areas is free. (The others are April 27, June 8 and Nov. 29.)

Here are three ideas ahead of the free time:

Not much snow? No problem

While some parts of the state have had significant snowfall in recent days, there still are parks with significant brown. Parks and Trails spokesperson Sara Joy Bernhow of the Department of Natural Resources said if snowshoeing and cross-country skiing aren't options, try winter hiking. Perhaps combine a walk with birding. Many parks have free loaner packs with binoculars and guides focused on the park's species.

Explore and plan

Anne Arthur of Tofte, Minn., wrote the guidebook on visiting Minnesota's system. She said she loves all the heavily visited parks on the North Shore, while appreciating some underused public lands across the state.

Like, for example, Hayes Lake State Park near Roseau. Arthur recalled the striking change from prairie landscape into dense woodland when she arrived there as book research. "It's a little gem."

Arthur recommended getting out to explore to plant seeds for later this year.

"Take this free time in the middle of winter and see what they have and then you can make better decision for your spring and fall activites," she said.

Arthur's guidebook "Minnesota State Parks: How to Get There, What to Do, Where to Do It" published in 1996. It's in its fifth edition, printed in 2022. Her daughter Signy Sherman co-authored the newest version.

Last-minute camping bonus

The free day allows for overnight visits without the need for a vehicle permit. Manyapark campgrounds across Minnesota remain open. Most that are open have electric sites and camper cabins (if you can still nab one). A Monday perhaps isn't ideal, but consider this an excellent opportunity to winter camp.

Check out the Department of Natural Resources' ParkFinder tool to get started.