In Cook County, ice skating is just one of many winter adventures to be had. From chasing wild ice through the wilderness to skating on a maintained rink, Cook County offers many ways to get on the ice. 

Here are a few of the maintained ice rinks in Cook County

(Note, due to Covid-19 some rinks may have restrictions for the 20/21 winter season)

  1. Birch Grove Community Center in Tofte.
  2. Community Center in Grand Marais.
  3. Gunflint Lodge on Gunflint Lake in Grand Marais.
  4. Caribou Highlands Lodge at Lutsen Mountains.
  5. Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior in Tofte.
  6. Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior in Lutsen (Guests only).
  7. Bearskin Lodge on the Gunflint Trail in Grand Marais (Guests only).

Wild Ice

There is nothing more spectacular than wild ice. But it is exactly that, “wild.” It can be glorious, wicked, dangerous and magical all at the same time and safety is not guaranteed. Inland lake wild ice occurs typically in the months of November or December when the temperatures are cold but without active snowfall. Even more rare is Lake Superior wild ice which can form in bays along the big lake anytime between January and March, usually only after several days of calm sub-zero in a row. Because of its size, Lake Superior rarely freezes over on the North Shore, but when it does, it’s the clearest ice around. 

Always have an ice safety plan

Before embarking on any ice adventure, know the risks and have a safety plan. Ice thickness frequently changes on a lake, one area may have 4” and the next bay only 1”. Never assume that it’s safe because wild ice is never 100% safe.

Here are a few tips to consider before any on ice adventure.

  1. Measure the depth. The MN DNR recommends only venturing out on clear ice that is 4” or more thick. Again, don’t trust that because others have been ok so you don’t need to check.  Confirm for yourself.
  2. Be prepared with safety gear. Ice picks, throw rope, PFD and a change of clothes in a dry bag are strongly recommended. Always think “when” not “if” you fall in. Be sure to have a safety plan in place before you head out.
  3. Don’t skate alone. Have a partner and let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings. Listen to the ice, if it starts crackling underfoot, head to shore immediately. Stay close to shore and avoid areas where it meets moving water.
  5. Be ready to rescue yourself. Our community is blessed with dedicated and selfless volunteer first responders who will risk everything to save someone in danger. However, that is only if you can call for help. Cell service is spotty in the wilderness and you could be miles away from the nearest phone. Avoid unnecessary risks so you don’t put a volunteer in danger.
  6. Get to know the lake. Every lake is different, some have spring or streams that can drastically affect ice safety. Review a map of the lake and take note of areas where a river or stream meets it, you will want to avoid those areas. If you are staying at a local resort, ask for tips about the lake you are on. Also, remember that if you are on a Boundary Waters lake it is required that you fill out a day use permit. If you inadvertently entered, you can also retroactively fill one out by stopping by either the Tofte or Grand Marais Forest Service Offices. 

What to expect on a wild ice adventure

Variable Ice conditions

The condition of wild ice is very different from that you would find on a maintained ice rink. There is no Zamboni smoothing the ice, so expect to find bumps and blemishes on the surface. The best ice is clear black ice that forms only when conditions are just right such as cold nights with no wind or snow. 

Conditions change quickly, on a large lake it is possible to have 2” of ice one day and the next for it to all be gone, all it takes is a strong sustained wind. The moisture in the air will also affect the surface of the ice, it can make it more slick, sticky, or rough. Wild ice is alive and evolving like most wild creatures.  

Listen to the lake sing. 

One of the most intoxicating parts of wild lake ice is listening to it form. On cold days, you can hear the sound of the ice adjusting through the windows of a lakeside cabin. When the temperature starts to drop, take a walk down to the lake and sit quietly, you will not be disappointed!

Endless opportunities.

Traveling on the ice allows you to move more quickly than you would typically by canoe. Some conditions will only allow you to skate in one bay, others will allow for miles of skating and even portaging between lakes for the ultimate wilderness exploration. Remember to grab your map and fill out a permit (if entering the Boundary Waters). Whatever the conditions allow, you are guaranteed to have an experience that will last you a lifetime.

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