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. 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. 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 students and 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. Numerous 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 magnet for wintertime birders, who "flock" here in winter in hopes of seeing a snowy owl or snow bunting. The owls nest in summer on Canadian Arctic tundra, but often migrate into the U.S. for winter. Springtime migration brings bald eagles and a variety of shorebirds to the Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Hunters and fishermen will not want to miss Cabela’s, across the river in East Grand Forks, to buy the latest gear or just look at the exceptional mounted specimens.
Plenty of lodging is available, but the Canad Inns Destination Centre offers several rooms decorated in a variety of themes like Ancient Rome, the Titanic, or a game room for kids, plus Splasher’s of the South Seas, a lavish 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, where you'll have views of downtown if you sit by the window. Sky’s serves hand-cut steaks, and you can count on wild-caught Alaskan salmon and sea bass when available, along with weekly Chef’s specialties. So join in the spirit of the Fighting Hawks and point your plane to Grand Forks this winter!
Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!