Minnesota’s Season Opener

-Anne

Day Hiking Ambassador

Winter has finally arrived in Minnesota, bringing with it a foot of fresh powdery snow. It’s about time! I couldn’t wait to hit the trails, so I grabbed my friend Colleen, my dog Lucy, and loaded up the snowshoes for what promised to be a “mellow” hike through a restored prairie at Afton State Park. The thing about prairies in Minnesota, though, is they’re wide-open spaces and prone to bone-chilling winds. Once we arrived at the park and stepped into that wind…Brrrrr! We changed course and ran for the hills, literally.

The hilly upland hardwood forest and pine plantations rise some 300 feet above the scenic St. Croix River, keeping us safely out of the wind and into a snow-laden winter wonderland. Since Colleen’s new Tubbs haven’t yet arrived, I loaned her my Journey snowshoes while I opted for my Wilderness shoes. These snowshoes, with their crampons and heel lift, are great for the hills we now had in store for us.

It was a pretty chilly day with temps only just rising into the double digits, which meant we had the park mostly to ourselves. It also meant we had to keep up a good pace to stay warm. Lucy, my always-energetic golden retriever, needed to let out some energy and run around like crazy. I could relate. But I learned that it doesn’t work to use snowshoe poles while at the same time holding on to the leash of an enthusiastic retriever. During our first steep descent to the river bottom, I let go of the leash to save myself from tumbling head over heels as Lucy went bounding to the bottom, no doubt in pursuit of a squirrel. I thank those nifty crampons for helping me safely cling to the side of the ridge.

The fresh air and excitement of the season’s first snowshoe trek must have overridden my innate sense of direction. Somehow or other, we missed the turn for the snowshoe trail and ended up far off the beaten track. Whoops! Luckily we love a good adventure, so up we climbed through the forest to the spectacular views from the bluff tops above the river. The snow glittered with the late afternoon sun as we eventually wound our way back to the trail.

All in all, we hiked 3.5 miles of hilly terrain on a beautiful, cold wintry day. I can’t wait to see where my Tubbs snowshoes take me next!