Best Trails for Cross-Country Skiing

By: Three Rivers Staff

January 17, 2020

Category: Recreation

Feeling the crisp air on your face as you glide on skis through a quiet forest or open prairie is something special. Cross-country skiing is one of the best ways to enjoy winter in Minnesota. This aerobic activity keeps you warm and allows you to explore your favorite parks in a new way. 

In Three Rivers, we have over 80 miles of cross-country ski trails in 11 parks. From short, flat trails that cut through dense maple forests to challenging climbs up steep hills with lake views, you can find your place no matter your experience level. Don't have your own skis? No problem. Rentals are available at many parks, and you can buy your day pass or annual pass online. 

Read on to see our staff picks for best cross-country ski trails in Three Rivers, then get outside and try them for yourself!

Beginner Trails

Three Rivers offers beginner trails at nearly every park that has ski trails. If you've never tried skiing before or need a refresher, sign up for a classic or skate-ski lesson with an expert before you hit the trails. The following are some of our favorite beginner trails. 

Sugar Bush Trail and Sky Trail, Carver Park Reserve

A cross-country ski trail cuts through a dense maple forest.
The Sugar Bush Trail cuts through a maple forest in Carver Park Reserve.
  • Length: 1.2K and 1K 
  • Difficulty: Least difficult
  • Access: From the trailhead building
  • Rentals available: Yes

"The Sugar Bush and Sky Trails at Carver are beautifully wooded and short for the beginner or novice skier."

— Tyler Thompson, Recreation Specialist

Evergreen Trail, Baker Park Reserve

A cross-country ski trail cuts through the woods.
  • Length: 1.9K
  • Difficulty: Least difficult
  • Access: From the chalet
  • Rentals available: Yes

"For a quiet nature experience, the Evergreen Trail is great."

— Anne Jaeger, Outdoor Recreation Supervisor

Northern Lights Trail, Elm Creek Park Reserve

  • Length: 2.2K loop with options to go farther
  • Difficulty: Least difficult with one steep hill.
  • Access: East of the chalet from the Valley Trail
  • Rentals available: Yes

"The Northern Lights loop is well protected in the woods and has some easy downhills and uphills."

— Karl Huemiller, Volunteer and Donor Relations Supervisor

Intermediate Trails

Ready to take your skiing to the next level? Here are some great trails to try once you feel comfortable on your skis. 

Lake Trail, Hyland Lake Park Reserve

A cross-country ski trail on a sunny day.
  • Length: 3.3K
  • Difficulty: More Difficult
  • Access: From the visitor center
  • Rentals available: Yes

"I really like the Lake Trail at Hyland. It is a sweet beginner/intermediate trail through the woods with beautiful views of the icy lake. It is a lighted trail, so seeing the visitor center at night from the far side of the lake shining like a starry beacon in the distance is beautiful."

— Ann Schinas, Recreation Program Coordinator

Island Trail, Baker Park Reserve

A cross-country ski trail cuts through trees and grassland on a sunny day.
  • Length: 1.9K
  • Difficulty: More Difficult
  • Access: From the chalet via the Evergreen Trail
  • Rentals available: Yes

"The Island Trail is great for quiet time in nature."

— Anne Jaeger, Outdoor Recreation Supervisor

Advanced Trails

Looking for breathtaking hills and adrenaline-pumping descents? Check out the following trails or any trail marked with a singe or double black diamond. 

Razor Back Trail, Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve

  • Length: 5.4K
  • Difficulty: Most difficult
  • Access: From winter trailhead via Knob and Kettle trails
  • Rentals available: No

"For pure daring, Razor Back Trail is my pick. This trail is extremely challenging and not for the faint of heart. It has many headwalls and tricky descents where your ski handling needs to be spot-on. It is some of the most challenging cross-country skiing I’ve found close to home. This trail reminds me a little bit of cross-country skiing the Wasatch range in Utah, minus the 6,000-feet elevation!"

— Laurel Sundberg, Interpretive Naturalist at Lowry Nature Center

Boulder Ridge Trail, Hyland Lake Park Reserve

Three cross-country skiers go down a steep hill through the woods.
  • Length: 0.9K
  • Difficulty: Extremely difficult
  • Access: From the visitor center via Frog Town and Scenic Foothills trails
  • Rentals available: Yes

"For a heart pounding climb and challenging decent, try Boulder Ridge. It’s not for the faint of heart!"

— Luke Skinner, Associate Superintendent

Creek Trail, Elm Creek Park Reserve

  • Length: 2.6K
  • Difficulty: Most difficult 
  • Access: From the chalet, Valley Trail to Lake Trail to Creek Trail
  • Rentals available: Yes

"The Creek Trail offers challenging terrain and the option for a longer ski around the park for intermediate or advanced skiers."

— Tyler Thompson, Recreation Specialist

King Trail, Carver Park Reserve

  • Length: 3.7K
  • Difficulty: Most difficult
  • Access: From the trailhead building via the Sugar Bush Trail.
  • Rentals available: Yes

"The King Trail has really fun hills and great scenery. The creek crossing at the bottom of the steep hill at the start of the loop is beautiful on the coldest of days when the flowing creek is open and gurgling through its snowy banks. The sunset views from the top of the hill overlooking Lundsten Lake are spectacular. These two features — flowing water and a high exposed hill — mean the trail is often closed because the wind has blown the snow off the hill or the trail is underwater. So, when it’s open and groomed, don’t miss it."

— Tim Reese, Gale Woods Farm Supervisor

Best Routes for a Long Ski

A long ski can be energizing and invigorating. It can take you on varied terrain and past ever-changing scenery, meaning you'll never get bored! Try our recommendations below or make your own route.

Baker Park Reserve

A sign displays trail directions at a fork in a cross-country ski trails.
  • Length: Approximately 8.5K 
  • Route: Island to Timber to Hill to Prairie
  • Difficulty: More difficult to most difficult
  • Access: From the chalet
  • Rentals available: Yes

"One of my favorite routes to ski is to work my way out to the Island Trail — which is a little roller coaster with quick ups and downs — then work my way around Timber Trail to Hill Trail, and finish with Prairie Trail. Make sure you bring some water as this route is around 8-9K in length."

— Luke Skinner, Associate Superintendent

Elm Creek Park Reserve

  • Length: Approximately 8.9K
  • Route: Valley to Lake to Eagle to Creek to Northern Lights
  • Difficulty: More to most difficult
  • Access: From the chalet
  • Rentals available: Yes

"My favorite long ski is the natural snow outer loop at Elm Creek. I ski a combination of Lake, Eagle and Creek trails. You leave behind the busy downhill, tubing and cross-country ski area and follow meandering trails along Elm Creek. It’s perfect for classic skiing, too! With challenging hills and not too many headwalls, you find your rhythm striding. The north end of the trails have woods, creeks, long climbs and descents, and lots of chances to spot wildlife."

— Laurel Sundberg, Interpretive Naturalist, Lowry Nature Center 

French Regional Park

A skier cross-country skis down a snowy trail with a woods on the left and grassland on the right.
Skiing the Meadow Trail at French Regional Regional Park.
  • Length: Approximately 5.2K
  • Route: Lakeview to Meadow to Challenge Hill to Skyline to Lakeview
  • Difficulty: More difficult to most difficult
  • Access: From the visitor center
  • Rentals: Yes

"For its size, French Regional Park provides excellent groomed and lighted trails. Nestled in the city of Plymouth, this trail system offers 16.5K of ski trails, of which 4K are lighted. My favorite loop to ski is around the Meadow Trail, up Challenge Hill and finishing with Skyline Tail."

— Luke Skinner, Associate Superintendent

About the Author

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