Snow cover of about 12 inches must be on the ground to allow for trail packing

By statute, the opening date for Minnesota’s snowmobile trails is Dec. 1 but most of the state’s trails need more snow before they can be groomed for use, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Several conditions must be met before trails are groomed and safe:

The ground must be frozen. Where trails cross wetlands, 15 inches of ice is needed to support the weight of the trail groomers.

Adequate snow cover of about 12 inches must be on the ground to allow for trail packing and grooming.

Trails must be cleared of fallen trees, signs put in place and gates opened. Snowmobile club volunteers and DNR staff are currently working on these tasks.

“It’s a big job for local volunteers and DNR staff to get the trail system up and running each year, especially with varying weather conditions,” said Wade Miller, state trails and snowmobile program consultant. “We work together to get trails ready to ride as soon as we can so Minnesotans can enjoy a long riding season.”

Ice on most lakes is not currently safe for snowmobile travel. The DNR recommends a minimum of 5 to 7 inches of new, clear ice for snowmobiles. More information about ice safety, including general ice thickness guidelines and how to check ice thickness, is available on the DNR website (mndnr.gov/IceSafety).

While snowmobilers await the arrival of groomed trails, now is a good time for riders to make sure their registrations are current and snowmobiles are in good operating order, review safety training, and check local trail maps for route changes or new trails.

Registrations for new snowmobiles must be purchased in person at any deputy registrar office or at the DNR License Bureau in St. Paul. Registration renewals and out-of-state trail stickers may be handled in person, or online at mndnr.gov/licenses/snowmobile.

The DNR urges riders to use caution and follow rules throughout the winter season. Early season trails may have trees or debris across them, unfrozen swamps and flowages, rocks or ruts, or standing crops and closed gates. Also, road ditches can have obstacles such as culverts, signposts, and rocks. Snowmobile riders should stay on the trail and ride only where they have permission. Snowmobile trespass is a perennial issue that puts riders’ safety at risk and makes private landowners less likely to allow trails across their properties. Civil penalties for trespass have doubled this year to $250 for a first offense up to $1,000 for third and subsequent offenses and riders may also have to pay restitution for any damage they cause to public or private property.

For more information, including snow depth and groomed trail conditions, visit mndnr.gov/snowmobiling or contact the DNR Information Center by emailing info.dnr@state.mn.us or by calling 888-646-6367 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.