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Though popular for camping and hiking, state parks aren't just for summer recreation.

From ice fishing to snowshoeing, cross-country skiing to sledding, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is doing everything it can to get people outdoors and active this winter.

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All state parks require a vehicle pass to enter the park. Daily passes are $5, and a yearly pass is $25.

Whether you're skiing, camping or geocaching, the state parks all boast a variety of wildlife to be spotted while out and about.

Bring binoculars and be on the lookout at dawn and dusk for the best wildlife viewing, especially near the edges of forests, fields and ponds and in the treetops.

The DNR gives this tip as well: "Try reading mammal tracks in the snow. You might find tracks for white-tailed deer, red fox or coyotes. Open water along rivers provides habitat for Canada geese, trumpeter swans and bald eagles."

Trail conditions

Itasca State Park (Park Rapids) and Lake Bemidji State Park (Bemidji) are listed among the top 12 cross-country skiing destinations in Minnesota -- in state parks, anyway.

Itasca has 21 miles of groomed ski trails, but they haven't been groomed as of Monday because there is a lack of snow.

Itasca also has 32 miles of snowmobile trails that have yet to be groomed because of lack of snow as well.

Entering January in Minnesota though, that may soon change.

The trails in Lake Bemidji State Park are better. The 10 miles of ski trails are groomed and in fair condition. The three miles of snowmobile trails are, however, not groomed and listed in poor condition.

The seven miles of Maplewood State Park (Pelican Rapids) trails aren't groomed but are listed in fair condition. The 20 miles of snowmobile trails aren't groomed either, and are listed as poor condition.

The six miles of ski trails in Buffalo State Park (Glyndon) are closed. The state park has no snowmobile trails.

Glendalough State Park (Battle Lake) has 10 miles of groomed ski trails, and they are listed in good condition. The state park has no snowmobile trails.

Several of the state parks have warming houses available on the weekends, if they don't have year round facilities like Itasca does, for example.

Many state parks also offer cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals.

Candlelight events

Following is a list of events at just area state parks. A full list can be found online.

• Jan. 19: Itasca State Park -- Lantern Lit Snowshoe.

• Jan. 19: Lake Carlos State Park (Alexandria) -- Candlelight Event.

• Jan. 26: Buffalo River State Park -- Luminary Night Ski.

• Feb. 2: Buffalo River State Park -- Luminary Night Ski.

• Feb. 16: Glendalough State Park -- Candlelight Ski.

• Feb. 23: Lake Bemidji State Park -- Candlelight Ski Tour/Snowshoe Walk.

• Feb. 23: Itasca State Park -- Lantern Lit Snowshoe.

• Feb. 23: Maplewood State Park -- Candlelight, Moonlight Ski Event.

• Feb. 23: Lake Carlos State Park -- Candlelight Event.

Ice fishing

• Jan. 5: Itasca State Park -- I Can Ice Fish!

• Jan. 12: Lake Bemidji State Park -- I Can Ice Fish!

• Feb. 9: Lake Carlos State Park -- Ice Fishing Frenzy.

• Feb. 17: Lake Bemidji State Park -- Berrrmidji Kids Can Ice Fishing.

• Feb. 23: Lake Bemidji State Park -- I Can Ice Fish! 202, Using a Tip-Up.

• March 2: Itasca State Park -- I Can Ice Fish!

The I Can Fish! program through the Minnesota state parks is a way for people of all ages to learn fishing basics with no cost. Minnesota residents do not need a fishing license to participate.

Registration is required at each state park, so call ahead to individual parks to reserve a spot.

Other winter events

• There are only a very limited number of state parks in Minnesota that specifically offer skijoring, but Itasca happens to be one of them.

It has seven miles of packed trail designated for skijoring.

• Most people know about geocaching in the summer, but how about throwing an added adventure out there with some snow cover?

• And for those diehard camping fans, there is winter camping available. At different points throughout the winter, state parks will host winter tenting programs, sharing how to keep warm and prepare for pitching a tent in the snow.

No programs are scheduled at this point.

• Feb. 9: Itasca State Park -- Old Time Logging Demonstration

"Discover the history of early horse logging, an industry common to this area in the late 1800s," according to the DNR website. "Watch lumberjacks fell trees with a 2-man cross-cut saw, buck the log into sections, skid the logs with the teamster's trained horses and cross-haul logs onto a horse drawn sled.

"Members of the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers will be on hand to demonstrate these early logging methods."

The program is held outside in the woods so dress accordingly.

Visit the DNR's website at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/winter_guide/index.html to get a complete list of state parks and what activities they have to offer this winter.

Local winter trails

Becker County is filled with miles of skiing and snowmobile trails.

• Thanks to local snowmobile clubs, there are over 250 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in Becker County.

January and February are the months for snowmobile races, runs and rallies. Whether you're looking to just view some old sleds or see who can race the fastest -- maybe even participate in some of the events -- there are multiple events in the next two months.

• Becker County is also home to over 40 miles of cross-country ski trails at areas including Dunton Locks County Park, Pickeral Hills, Mountain View, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and East Frazee trails.

Not to mention those at local resorts: Maplelag Resort and Rainbow Resort groom another 54 miles of trails on their properties. They also have rentals available.

Check out the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce at www.visitdetroitlakes.com for links to events and a downloadable map of the trails in Becker County.

• The Laurentian Lakes Chapter of the North Country Trail Association hosts Winter Trails Day at Maplelag Resort on Saturday, Jan. 12.

There will be group cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and other activities.

For reservations or more information, call Ray Vlasak at (218) 573-3243 or llc@northcountrytrail.org.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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