Sure, North Dakota is cold in winter. But for fans of winter sports like cross-country skiing, sledding, hockey, and even curling, winter is the best time of year. Birdwatchers know Grand Forks as one of the top spots to see snowy owls when they venture south from the Arctic tundra. Pilots can enjoy touring the University of North Dakota (UND), one of the premier collegiate aviation complexes in the world, as well as the Cirrus Aircraft plant. This college town offers good times for everyone, even kids: How about a hotel with a fun indoor water park?
When flying near Grand Forks, be aware of the UND aviation program’s heavy training traffic, from helicopters and small Cessnas to King Airs. Contact Grand Forks Approach when flying within 40 miles of the airport. The FBO can arrange car rentals, and they’ll be happy to start the car up when you’re 15 minutes out, so it will be warm and waiting for you rampside.
Call 218/788-3939 in advance to arrange a complimentary one-hour tour of the Grand Forks Cirrus Aircraft facility. You’ll watch the fabrication of airplane wings and fuselages. The facility manufactures a variety of parts for Cirrus piston airplanes and the Vision Jet, and then ships them to the corporate office in Duluth, Minnesota, for final assembly.
Life in Grand Forks revolves around UND, which also boasts one of the most successful Division I hockey programs in the nation. So, get into the spirit by joining 11,000 screaming fans as they cheer on the Fighting Hawks hockey team. It’s an exceptionally modern arena with comfortable green leather seats, a gigantic overhead television screen, and concessions on every level. Speaking of sports, you may have seen that other great Canadian ice sport, curling, on television during the Winter Olympic Games. See it in person for free inside a heated clubhouse as you watch Grand Forks Curling Club members play. The game features moments of calm focus that alternate with coordinated frenzy, along with lots of strategy and boisterous camaraderie.
Now that you’ve watched the locals having fun and discovered the weather won’t kill you, it’s time to get outside. The Red River flows north and divides Grand Forks, North Dakota, from East Grand Forks, Minnesota. The river is prone to spring flooding, so a 2,200-acre Greenway was created along the riverbanks. Over a dozen parks have paved trails, groomed for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter, and decorated with lights during the holidays. A dog park, ice skating rink, and popular sledding hill (lit at night, bring your own sled) are at Lincoln Drive Park. Pick up complimentary ice skates, snowshoes, or ski equipment at the Warming House, 120 Euclid Ave., Monday through Friday, 3:30 to 8:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 8:30 p.m., weather permitting. Warm-weather activities include golf, hiking, biking, fishing, disc golf, and camping; ski and bike rentals are also available.
The area is a hotspot for birders, who flock here in winter to see snowy owls, snow buntings, rough-legged hawks, and redpolls. Springtime migration brings bald eagles and a variety of shorebirds to the Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge, in addition to the resident sharp-tailed grouse. Pick up binoculars or other sporting gear at the 60,000-square-foot Cabela’s, across the river in East Grand Forks, or just look at the exceptional mounted specimens.
Plenty of lodging is available, but the Canad Inns Destination Centre offers fun themed rooms plus Splasher’s of the South Seas, a 40,000-square-foot water park and arcade. Do as the UND students do and nosh at the ever-popular Rhombus Guys Pizza. For fine dining, choose Sky’s and its Cloud 9 Lounge. At lunch, head to Dakota Harvest for homemade artisan breads and hearty soups. Cold weather is no reason to fly past Grand Forks. Bundle up and enjoy miles of ski trails, aviation-themed tours, and raucous sports in this friendly college town.
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