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My Favorite Places for Winter Photography in Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin

On January 7th, I gave a lecture on winter photography at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Near the end of the lecture, I presented a couple of lists of places that I like to go. I thought I would also share those here so that others can enjoy and take advantage of these locations.

Why share? I know of many photographers who don't like to share locations thinking of them as "their secret." There are just as many photographers who willingly share locations realizing that the location is just one part of taking a great photo. I have always seen myself as being in the second group. Plus, I enjoy seeing how others interpret the same locations. It is amazing the difference from one photographer to another. The only time I won't share a location is if it involves an animal that could be adversely affected by having a lot of activity, or if the habitat could be easily damaged.

Locations in the Twin Cities Metro Area

One of the great things about the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul is the access to parks and woodland areas. This means that I typically do not have to travel far if I want to have a quick outing and still be able to get in a full day of work. Here is a list of places I like to photograph. There are certainly many other locations, but these are my favorites.

  • Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge - There are multiple units along the Minnesota River that starts up by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport and ends down in Carver, MN. The main visitor's center is in Bloomington by the airport. I like the refuge for both landscape and bird photography. You may also get lucky and see coyotes, deer, beavers, and raccoons.

  • Richardson Nature Center - Located in Bloomington, MN. There are several small lakes which are good for water fowl, plus several nice landscape opportunities. During the winter, you can strap on snowshoes and explore the park. This is also a good spot for to capture the sunset.

  • Woodlake Nature Center - located in Richfield MN. This is a nice little oasis not too far from downtown Minneapolis. This is always a good location for waterfowl. Recently, I have also seen a lot of muskrat activity. The floating bridge is my favorite part of the park.

  • Coon Rapids Dam - located in the northern part of the Twin Cities in Coon Rapids. The presence of the dam means that the water is open. Open water means eagles. This area is not as good as some of the spots further down the Mississippi River, but it still provides plenty of opportunity.

  • Veteran's Park (a.k.a. the duck pond) - located in Shakopee, MN. There is a small area of open water at the western edge of the park. This area has 100's of ducks, geese, and trumpeter swans. People feed the birds, so it is easy to get really close. This is a great spot to go if you do not have a long lens, and want to photograph birds.

  • Fort Snelling State Park - located near the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. This is a great sport for photographing deer. Due to people illegally feeding the deer, they do not have a fear of people. This is also a good place for spotting owls.

Locations outside the Twin Cities Metro Area

If you are looking to go a little further afield, there are 100's of great places to go. Here are some of my regular spots.

  • Cascade River State Park - located up by Grand Marais MN on the north shore of Lake Superior. This is my favorite state park. In the winter you can get some really nice frozen waterfall shots.

  • Swan Park - located in Monticello, MN. As the name implies, this is the place to go to see trumpeter swans. There are 1000's of swans that come to this small park next to a house where they are fed daily. The woman who lived in the house is credited with restoring the trumpeter swan population in Minnesota. She has since passed away, but her husband continues to feed the swans. There is a donation box at the park, and you can also donate through the city's website to support the feeding.

  • Colvill Park - located in Red Wing MN. This park is a good location for bald eagles. The river is open due to the power plant. The secret to this location is that you need a long stretch of cold weather so that the upstream areas of the river are frozen over. When conditions are right there can be 50 - 100 eagles hanging out near the park.

  • Hudson Wisconsin. Towards the north end of town, there is an area along the St. Croix River that has open water. This is a good spot for trumpeter swans. There are typically 30 - 50, and you can be relatively close.

  • Brainard Area Lakes - located near Brainard MN. This is an area popular for ice fishing. Several outfitters have created mini ice fishing villages with access roads. The ice fishing houses are brightly colored and make for great subject matter.

  • Willow Falls State Park - Hudson WI - This is a good place for frozen waterfalls. The trail to the falls tends to be very icy, so traction devices are recommended.

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