Do you feel like mud season has trapped you inside, making you wonder what you can do today? It might seem as if your options are limited, but there are still a lot of unique opportunities for outdoor recreation in this season.
Spring in many places, especially northern places, is often a muddy time of year. (For the word nerds out there, you could even call it rasputitsa). In Minnesota’s Northwoods, mud season can last from weeks to months. It definitely can be difficult to find fun outdoor activities in these conditions, which is part of the reason of a lot of northerners choose this time to vacation in more tropical locales. However, mud season in the Northwoods does offer a few amazing activities that aren’t quite the same at any other time of year.
1) Backcountry snowshoeing
In the midst of winter, the snow in northern Minnesota is often too powdery for easy snowshoeing. Early in mud season, however, the forest is often filled with a mixture of muddy and snowy patches. As the warmer weather melts and refreezes the snow repeatedly, the top layer of snow forms an icy crust that you can typically stay on top of with snowshoes. This means that early mud season can be a great time to put on some snowshoes, waterproof boots, and gaiters and head out across the woods to places that might be difficult to access in other conditions. Personally, I love having the freedom to grab a map, pick a random spot, and walk out there. Just remember to stay off lake ice unless you know how to test it for safety first – this is a time of year when the ice can rapidly become very treacherous.
Birds are beautiful, mysterious, and almost always present if you’re looking for them. Spring is a particularly exciting time, because you can encounter birds as they migrate north again. One of my favorite parts of mud season in Minnesota involves listening for the birds to return to my backyard. If you're wondering when birds might pass through your area, you can often find migration reports and other excellent local information on the websites of National Wildlife Refuges within the migration corridor.
If you haven’t done much birding, it can be intimidating to begin identifying birds. However, if you have a smartphone or a computer, there are some applications that can really help with this. I love Audubon Birds, a free smartphone app that allows you to search by location, month, coloration, habitat, shape, and many other variables in order to help identify what you’ve seen. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also offers a lot of fun, free educational resources via their website.
3) Skate skiing
Northern Minnesota, especially the Boundary Waters, often offers perfect spring conditions for skate skiing on lake ice. Our hometown of Ely is known for being one of the best places in the country for spring skate skiing because you can ski almost anywhere by going from lake to lake. There are locals who sometimes skate ski over 50 miles in a day to Canada and back! Many people also enjoy skijoring, which adds an extra layer of fun and can increase your speed. It's a beloved and highly anticipated time of year for many people.
Before you go, please remember that spring ice conditions vary from year to year. If you aren't skilled at reading the ice for safety, we recommend stopping in town and finding an expert to advise you on current conditions for your intended route.
Mud season offers a lot of unique photo opportunities. If you look in the right places, you can take pictures of awesome ice formations as cliffs finish thawing, or document splashes of green as the first leaves and flowers begin to unfurl. Best of all, when it’s a little warmer outside you can finally take some great nature photos and not worry about your camera batteries dying in 10 minutes, as often happens in the mid-winter cold. This makes it easier to hang out and try to get some awesome wildlife shots, especially as the animals start to move around more due to the increasing availability of food.
5) Looking for animal tracks
Spring snow and freezing mud are a perfect combination of materials for clearly preserving the footsteps of animals that have passed through an area. Bring a field identification guide and see if you can find fox, coyote, wolf, lynx, deer, moose, vole, shrew, bird, squirrel, and even black bear footprints. You might be amazed at what sort of animal tracks you see, even in your backyard or in the city park. If you watch the tracks over the course of a few days, you might even be able to figure out the best time to try to see the critters and get some photographs!
6) Napping in the sun
One of my favorite parts of spring is the first day of sweatshirt weather – when it’s warm enough for me to pull out a blanket, read a book, take a nap in the muddy sunshine, and dream of summer adventures.
Saeward Schillaci is a professional writer and editor. She is the founder of Northwoods Editing, which specializes in helping businesses create quality written content. Currently, Saeward lives on an off-grid property near Isabella, MN with six other people, sixty-two sled dogs, ten chickens, two cats, and some wild star-nosed moles. In her spare time, she enjoys canoeing, climbing, creative writing, skiing, dog sledding, and playing with puppies.