Top Secret Spots for Cross-Country Skiing

What better way to take advantage of fresh snow-covered lands than a cross-country ski outing? Some of the best areas to sport skis are in wildlife refuges. Trek along one (or more) of these little-known trails amid protected habitats and rare wildlife for a truly remarkable expedition.

1. Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota
Don’t let Minnesota’s frigid temperatures keep you indoors. This refuge has an extensive network of about 100 trails that follow the Minnesota River and connect with adjacent state and municipal land. Skiers get the special opportunity to travel secluded areas that are inaccessible for most of the year, such as the Mazomoni Trail in Louisville Swamp.

See maps and more information on the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife.

2. Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan
Sugar maple, beech and yellow birch trees outline seven scenic trails in The Northern Hardwoods Cross Country Ski Area. Beginners and experts alike can enjoy more than nine miles of classic cross-country skiing through hardwood forests, marshes, and along the frozen Manistique River. Be on the lookout for white-tailed deer, bald eagles, coyotes and red fox.

See maps and more information on the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.

3. Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, New York
Nestled in the heart of Western New York, the Mohawk Ski Trail is a 7.5-mile loop of ungroomed flat land around a marsh teeming with life. The trail merges with a section of the Kanyoo Nature Trail—a canopy of mixed woods and songbirds—and Feeder Road as it circles Mohawk Pool. Don’t wait to jump on those skis; this diverse route closes March 1 for nesting season.

See maps and more information on the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

4. Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin
More than 6,000 acres of rolling prairies, rich wetlands and forests comprise this refuge tucked away in the Mississippi River flyway. Ski four miles of backcountry trails populated by wild turkey, otter and beaver. Guided cross-country ski tours are available. Bonus: If you get an itch to snowshoe, they’re free for use on site.

See maps and more information on the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.

5. Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, West Virginia

Canaan Valley is full of superlatives. It’s the highest valley east of the Rocky Mountains and has the largest freshwater wetland area in the central and southern Appalachians. With 41 miles of trails—10 of which are exclusively for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing—there’s plenty of options (and sights!). Call 304-866-3858 for a refuge trail brochure that combines a trail map with trail descriptions and levels of difficulty.

See maps and more information on the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

6. Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Maine
Maine’s coastline bursts with beauty year-round. Stretching from Kittery to Cape Elizabeth, this refuge totals 11 geographic units. Ski trails follow the upland edge of salt marsh, where vistas bring you close views of the priceless ecosystem. After your trek, soak up the amazing sights of rocky cliffs and massive beach dunes from afar.

See maps and more information on the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

7. Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, Idaho
Steep trails are usually worth the workout. Kootenai in Idaho’s Panhandle is no exception. Forest Trail is an upward one-mile path with outlooks of the Selkirk and Purcell Mountain Ranges. For avid snowshoers, the Myrtle Creek Falls Trail leads you to an observation point of the 100-foot-tall Myrtle Creek Falls, though the water flow is slower in winter. A flat auto tour route also has scenic views of wetlands for an easier journey.

See maps and more information on the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge.

8. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska
Winter provides a breathtaking backdrop in Kenai, where hoarfrost formations mingle with snow-topped spruce and majestic alpine terrain. Tackle Seven Lakes Trail, an ungroomed route over large hills in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. Additionally, six beginner to advanced groomed trails span about 19 miles. You may even glimpse moose, lynx and coyotes.

See more information on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

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Photo: Cross-country skiers at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska take a youngster along for the ride.
Photo credit: USFWS