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Once-in-a-lifetime ice-fishing experience

Warroad, Minnesota, is home to the “boundary waters,” a series of lakes and rivers that line the U.S.-Canada border. During the summer months the destination brings refreshingly mild temperatures, but come winter, the cold Canadian air sweeps in, freezing the lakes and rivers. These arctic temperatures create a once-in-a-lifetime ice-fishing experience that you’ll be bragging about for years to come.

Two miles northwest of town sits Warroad International Memorial Airport, which features a 5,400-foot runway and friendly staff to help with accommodations. The runway is located less than a half-mile west of Lake of the Woods, and provides incomparable views of the frozen tundra below. A pro tip as you come in on final approach is to have your sunglasses ready—the ice-covered lake can create substantial reflective surfaces.

The FBO offers self-service 100LL and Jet A fuel, tiedowns, maintenance on the field, and U.S. customs if you plan to venture to Canada. A courtesy car is available for pilots to use short term and on a first come, first served basis. Warroad does not have hangar space readily available for short-term stays, but you can check with staff members at the field prior to your arrival for any open space.

A view from above captures Warroad, Minnesota, and the Warroad River, which flows into Lake of the Woods. Photo courtesy of the Warroad Area Chamber of Commerce.The airport keeps the runways clear of snow Monday through Friday but will wait until the snow stops falling before starting removal on the weekends. Be sure to check notices to air missions and weather reports regularly during your flight planning as snow squalls can move through quickly and create treacherous conditions.

Lodges and fishing charter companies line the lakefront, offering guided tours and first-class accommodations from full cabins to single-room reservations. On my last trip, our bachelor party worked with Sportsman’s Lodge to plan our weekend fishing charter, and we were not disappointed. As sunrise breaks the horizon, dozens of snow Bombardiers launch on the frozen lake with fishing groups poised for a great day on the ice.

The heated huts, pleasant fishing guides, and warm meals take the chill off fishing in often subzero temperatures. Whether you’re a seasoned ice fisher or a first-timer, many of the lodges in the area provide the basic gear and bait. (I recommend bringing your own gear because the complimentary accessories can be well worn.) If you need to keep your aircraft weight to a minimum, ship your fishing gear and winter apparel to the lodge prior to your arrival.

Sportsman’s Lodge heated ice fishing hut sits on Lake of the Woods at the walleye capital of the world. Photo by Zach Huffman.During our trip in February, temperatures dipped to minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ice was nearly two feet thick. Have no fear, though: The bite was strong despite the polar temperatures and we reeled in more than 20 pounds of walleye. Once you arrive back on the mainland, your fishing guide will fillet and package the fresh catch for you to take.

Warroad is also known as “Hockytown USA,” a phrase that Detroit; Buffalo, New York; and St. Paul, Minnesota, all claim to have a stake in. For hockey fans, the community has produced more professional hockey players than any other in the United States. T.J. Oshie and Brock Nelson are just a few of the NHL champions and Olympians with connections to the small community. Hockey tournaments and camps take place throughout the year, and the city has two arenas that are often open to the public.

Stop by The Shed to tour a classic car collection rivaling Jay Leno’s Garage. Bob Marvin has collected about 100 classic cars and loves to share their beauty with visitors from across the country. From a Ford Model T to a modern Chevrolet Camaro and everything in between, tour guides share the unique private collection and provide visitors an experience unlike any other. There is no entry cost to see the car collection, but guides ask for donations that are given to local charities at the end of the month. The Shed is a request-only museum, so call ahead to plan your adventure.

Classic cars line the interior of The Shed, where owner Bob Marvin has about 100 cars for visitors to see. Photo by Zach Huffman.It’s not hard to find a restaurant serving fresh fish along the lakeshore, but Lake of the Woods Brewing Co. offers something different for the community, including fantastic local brews. The brewery was founded in 1898, but Prohibition closed the facility until 1927. It closed again in 1954 until local entrepreneurs resurrected the business. The brewery has since expanded to three locations, frequently offering tours and live music.

Nearby Beltrami Island State Forest offers more than 120 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Or if you’re feeling adventurous you can take a snowmobile or car across snow-covered Lake of the Woods to the Northwest Angle Inlet. The Angle Inlet is the northernmost point of the contiguous 48 states, and can only be accessed by driving through Canada or driving across the frozen lake.

If conditions are right, the trip can be capped off with a view of the northern lights and a star-studded sky above your head at night. We were fortunate enough to see the northern lights dazzle us for over two hours during our trip. The incredible view from our balcony crossed off a bucket-list-level sight before our return flight home the next morning.

Bombardiers sit on the ice in preparation for a day of fishing on Lake of the Woods. Photo courtesy of Sportsman's Lodge.

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