Winter in Minneapolis and St. Paul: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Minneapolis, Minnesota in the winter
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Newcomers and visitors to the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area are told repeatedly how bad the winter is. It's true that winters can be brutal, but with the right supplies, a good attitude, and the adoption of a measure of Scandinavian hardiness, the winter can be not just tolerable, but even fun. If you are coming from somewhere warm like California or Florida, it will likely take some getting used to.

The Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area is the coldest heavily populated area in the U.S., so it's important to be prepared for a cold season visit. But if you enjoy holiday cheer, winter sports, and snuggling up with a hot beverage, then you'll fit right in with locals.

Winter Weather in Minneapolis and St. Paul

As the fall days turn into winter, temperatures begin to drop quickly and dramatically and stay that way until spring. Even the mid-day highs are below freezing and, if your visit happens to coincide with a blizzard, you likely won't even be able to go outside.

  Average High Average Low Average Snowfall 
December 27 F (minus 3 C) 15 F (minus 9 C)  9.3 days
January 24 F (minus 4 C) 9 F (minus 13 C) 8.4 days
February  30 F (minus 1) 15 F (minus 9) 6.8 days 

Newcomers to the Twin Cities know to expect freezing temperatures but are usually unprepared for the wind factor. The windchill can turn an uncomfortably cold day into an unbearably frigid one, making the outdoor temperature feel up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it actually is. Thankfully, both Minneapolis and St. Paul each have a skyway system that connects buildings in the downtown area via "sky bridges," so you can walk around many places without having to be exposed to the elements.

The Minneapolis–St. Paul area receives about 60 inches of snowfall in an average year, oftentimes falling several inches at once during a snow storm. Once the first snow falls, it doesn't melt until midway through spring, so be cautious when walking around the city to not slip on frozen blocks of ice.

What to Pack

It's crucial to pack right for your winter trip to the Twin Cities, because being underdressed means the difference between being able to go outside or staying in your heated room all day. Bring your heaviest winter coat, and if you don't have one, you'll need to get one. Pack lots of layers you can easily put on underneath, such as skin-tight thermals, multiple pairs of cold-weather socks, and sweaters.

Your cold-weather accessories should include a warm hat, heavy gloves, a scarf, and something to cover your ears. For those particularly windy days, a ski mask or other material that covers your face is ideal for full protection.

Snowboots may seem like the most obvious choice of shoe, but they're often clunky and not comfortable to walk in. Plus, Minneapolis and St. Paul are well prepared for snowy weather, so most sidewalks are quickly shoveled after a snow storm. You won't likely be walking through actual snow if you're staying in the city, so a heavy pair of normal boots should suffice.

Winter Events in Minneapolis and St. Paul

It may seem like it's too cold to do anything, but hardy Minnesotans know how to make the most of these blustery months. If you're into the idea of a winter wonderland for the holidays, then the Twin Cities is the perfect place for you.

  • Holidazzle: This seasonal festival in downtown Minneapolis features local food, art, crafts, and products with a holiday spin. Kids can get in a visit with Santa before Christmas arrives to share their wishlists at this family event. It's scheduled to run every Thursday through Sunday beginning November 26 until December 19, 2021.
  • Winter Carnival: The St. Paul Winter Carnival is truly an event that takes advantage of the season. This family-friendly month-long event includes ice fishing tournaments, brewery nights, family fun nights, and an ice sculpture village. It takes place from January 28 to February 7, 2021.
  • U.S. Pond Hockey Championships: The motto of this hockey tournament is, "the way nature intended," because all of the games are played on actual frozen ponds that are part of Lake Nokomis (right next to the Minneapolis–St. Paul Airport). The 2021 tournament is canceled, but it returns January 21–30, 2022.
  • City of Lakes Loppet: This three-day winter festival held at Theodore Wirth Regional Park includes all types of racing events such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snow biking, skijoring, and more. It's more fun than competitive, so you don't need to be an Olympian to compete. The 2021 festival takes place January 30–31 and February 6–7, although some activities have been scaled back.

Winter Travel Tips

  • Learn how to drive in the winter and prepare your car. If it isn't essential to drive in a snowstorm, don't do it. And if you are driving on an unplowed street, slow down. Also, know snow parking regulations for any city where you'll be parking your car or risk getting towed.
  • Check the weather forecast regularly. Snowstorms can be accurately predicted some days in advance, and keep a lookout for blizzard and wind chill warnings.
  • Check out cross-country skiing as some of the best trails in the country are right in the Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area. Or try downhill skiing and snowboarding at one of several hills within an hour of the metro area or at a proper ski resort, Spirit Mountain, three hours north.
  • There are many days when it's a joy to be outside. The day after a blizzard is usually sunny, calm, and clear. Bundle up and crunch through the powdery fresh snow for a fun winter excursion.
  • If you want to take the kids out sledding, there are plenty of local parks with hills that are perfect just for that. Columbia Park Golf Course in Minneapolis or Battle Creek Park in St. Paul are two of the most popular options.
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