Exploring Douglas County's great white outdoors
Douglas County offers many ways to fire up those with a love for the outdoors during the frozen months
ALEXANDRIA — Searching for ways to stay fired up during the frigid months?
Opportunities await just minutes away. From downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding to ice angling, skating, snowshoeing and snowmobiling, there's no shortage of ways to stay active outdoors in Douglas County.
According to minnesotalakes.net, there are up to 34 prime fishing lakes in the county for winter anglers to drop their lines in.
Chris Smith, a fisheries expert with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, says the DNR manages 31 local lakes and keep them stocked with walleye.
Smith said most anglers are more likely to catch panfish — crappies, bluegills, perch.
"If they use a little bit bigger tackle and live bait, you can possibly catch pike," said Smith. "They can get a bit aggressive."
For those who do not own fishing gear but are looking to try their hand at a big catch during the winter months, the Outdoor Gear Library located in the Community Education office at Woodland Elementary offers an inexpensive "Ice Fishing Package." Fishing rods, an ice shelter, hand ice auger, portable heater (propane not included), a lantern and lures. Everything you need to get your winter fishing experience on the way.
Ice skating is a popular Minnesota winter activity, and Douglas County offers plenty of rinks to break out those skates, whether it is for figure skating, hockey, or just a way to stretch your legs.
Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center offers visitors a chance to skate off the shores of Lake Darling or on its ice skating pond by the resort's townhomes. Skate rentals are available at the resort.
If Mother Nature co-operates, Noonan Park should have their boards up and rinks smoothed by this weekend. The warming house will not be open because of COVID.
Alexandria city crews work on skating rink at Noonan Park
Lake Brophy Park has its rink flooded, frozen and ready for skaters.
Hockey and figure skates are available for rent through Cowing Robards.
Snowboarding and downhill/cross-country skiing
Cross-country skiers can find several trails located at various parks across Douglas County.
The outdoor Library offers cross-country ski rentals.
According to a post on the Douglas County Parks MN Facebook page, skiing trails are groomed and ready at Rune Stone Park, Spruce Hill Park, Lake Brophy Park and Chippewa Park.
Lake Carlos State Park also has a variety of trails available.
"Visitors should expect to experience an awesome setting to get outdoors in even if the weather isn’t the greatest. The wooded trails provide ways to avoid the wind even on the coldest of days. A packed snowshoe trail in the Tamarac Bog, six miles of groomed classic ski trail and nine miles of groomed snowmobile trail are some of the main draws in winter," said Ben Eckhoff, area naturalist with the Minnesota DNR, in an email. "The skiers are required to have a ski pass, and by paying for that ski pass, the money goes to grooming trails."
Eckhoff also notes that once ski trails are groomed, which they are now, there are no other activities allowed on those trails except skiing.
"When people come out and hike, walk their dogs and so on down these trails, it destroys the groomed track for the skiers," Eckhoff remarked. "Winter is a great time to get out and see the park, explore and go places you may not get to during the summer. Maybe it is bugs, the heat, or even that the trail doesn’t exist in the summer. No matter how you shake it, winter is a fun time to be in the park."
Andes Tower Hills offers cross-country skiers over 10 miles of trails through 800 acres of wooded scenery and plenty of fun for downhill adventures, according to Tom Anderson, general manager at Andes.
There are over a dozen slopes for downhill skiers and snowboarders to cruise, ranging from beginner to expert-level experience. And the terrain park is great for those looking to launch off snow-packed jumps or slide-down boxes and rails.
"It is kind of like having a skatepark but with snow," said Anderson.
A snowboard competition is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 23, at the terrain park. Registration begins the day of, and there is no max on the number of people that can register. The event is open to ages 8 to 58.
A downhill ski race, open to ages 8 to 16, will take place on Saturday, Feb. 5.
Those interested in learning to ski or snowboard can sign up for one on one "three-time learn to ski" programs for skiers and snowboarders.
"You can sign up for a specific day and time with an instructor for three weeks in a row," said Anderson. "By the time they are into their third week, students have usually progressed quite rapidly. You meet with an instructor for an hour, one day a week."
According to Douglas Area Trails Association website, for a fast and fun time outdoors, the Douglas Area Trails Association offers 368 miles of snowmobile trails in west-central Minnesota’s Hardwood Hills and River Prairie landscapes.
"With the abundance of lakes throughout Douglas County, the DATA Trails offer a combination of open flatland to heavily wooded, hilly riding opportunities," the website notes. "Snowmobilers often comment about the spectacular views and abundant wildlife they encounter while riding. Every community in Douglas County is connected by trail, so you are never far from food, gas, services, or accommodations."
Snowshoeing is an excellent way to say fit and active in the winter and is available at Rune Stone Park, Spruce Hill Park and Lake Carlos State Park.
Snowshoes can be rented from Lake Carlos State Park and the Outdoor Library.
Douglas County offers plenty of locations to do some downhill sledding, something easy to do with the children.
Sledding hills are packed and maintained at Andes Tower Hills, Rune Stone Park, Lake Brophy Park, and Chippewa Park.