Public & Frozen: Winter Lakes

Temporary “Land” Open for Adventure.

This past year was a big win for nature! According to the New York Post, 6 in 10 Americans said the pandemic made their hearts grow 3 sizes when pertaining to the outdoors. But now, with shortened days and cold temperatures, it’s not as easy to get out there.

So how do adventurers cope and keep recreation on their Top 5 list?

Here in the north country, we recommend a Frozen Lake Hike to get off the beaten path. Grab your handy-dandy All-Outdoors Atlas Field Guide and pack a small backpack for a gratifying day trip close to home.

Gear 2 People + Dog

  • Under Armour Base Layer (3.0.)
  • Tall winter boots (snowshoes optional.)
  • Layers for warmth.

Hiking a Frozen Lake

Nick walks on the perimeter of the frozen lake. Trees along the shore line and reeds in our path.

This sort of trip will NOT come with a pamphlet or marked trail (hooray!) so you are going to have to be ready for some independent decision making!

In our modern, managed world, it’s easy to get caught up in playing it safe. But in the interests of being your distant encouraging mentor on this, I want you to remember a few things…

  1. January in this state (MN) people are driving pickup trucks pulling ice shanties as big as small cabins out onto lakes. Meaning, ice on most lakes will support a person walking. Stay away from moving water and man-made structures and you will be safe!
  2. If the access has a DNR sign that says public, that means the water is open to you whether it’s frozen or liquid. You don’t need a permit or to pay a fee.
  3. The reason people aren’t lined up to do this kind of trip is because of the fear associated with points 1 and 2. This is to your benefit.

Picking the Right Lake

The key to the perfect hike is picking a small, marshy lake. While perusing your Field Guide, look particularly for duck hunting lakes near you. The hunters are long gone and the shallow water will keep the fisherman away. If utilizing Google Maps, look for a small lake that appears to be surrounded by trees. The vegetation will protect you from the elements as you circle the shore or wander to the middle.

I’d also like to point out that after watching way too many movies that have a scene where the ice cracks and the character falls in… hiking a shallow lake eases my anxiety! That being said, no matter what frozen water body you find yourself on, make sure you are aware of ice conditions.

Getting the Full Experience

Annie stands in front of a broken down old barn.

Most of the sights on this trip will be along the shore. If the lake is remote enough, the cattails along the edge will provide the most diversity. Keep an eye out for deer and birds who will often bed down in these protected areas. Another wildlife habitat can be the woods or native grasses around the perimeter, but if you aren’t sure if the land is public, it might be best to stay on the ice.

Also, while the shore will provide most of the habitat and sights, don’t discount the middle of the lake. There is something surreal and thrilling about standing in the middle of a frozen expanse of nothingness. And if you are comfortable enough waiting until twilight, the stars and moon overhead of a perfectly flat, seemingly endless wasteland can give you plenty of fodder for awe and reflection.

Luna runs towards the camera from far in the distance.

Packing the Right Gear

Nick often says we can do anything with the right clothing, it ties back to our motto: Load Up and Go. Since it’s easier to take layers off than it is to put them on, hikers might as well bundle before adventuring and ditch clothing on the way.

I won’t go into depth on gear recommendations, instead, I will note that the snowfall on the lake might be deep. It’s doable in a pair of winter boots and coveralls, but this is where a pair of snowshoes might come in handy. 

An Off-Leash Hike

Nick walks through snow with Luna onto a frozen lake.

Similar to our fall post, Low Water River Hike, a frozen lake gives your dog a chance to explore off-leash. Since we were the only car parked at the access, Luna had freedom the second she jumped from the car.

A lot of Minnesotans like to put their dogs in booties for winter hikes; since Luna spends much of her time outside on the farm, her feet have adapted to withstand the cold. We prefer the tactic of letting her be and when she quits ranging away from us we call it a day. That being said, 99 times out of 100 we are cold before she is.

The Winter Trap

2020 brought more than half of Americans outdoors, don’t let that number drop for fear of the weather. Let’s commit to being disciples of nature in 2021 and see if we can get even more people to appreciate the beauty outside, whether it’s snowy or not.

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This post was written by Annie Schmitz, January, 2021.

Annie standing at the Lincoln Waterfowl Production area during a gravel bike ride.

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