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Experience the Magic of the Minnesota Winter Carnival

For more than a century, the Minnesota Winter Carnival has impressed locals and travelers alike with bright colors, gleaming ice sculptures, exhilarating competitions, and legendary characters.

The annual festival, hosted in St. Paul, Minnesota, marks a magical time of year only those who’ve attended the carnival can explain.

If you’re thinking about attending the St. Paul Winter Carnival, this guide is for you. We’ll tell you all about the history of the Minnesota Winter Carnival and its characters, which events you won’t want to miss, and the best places to stay near the festival.

Keep reading to learn all about how you can experience the magic of the Minnesota Winter Carnival!

minnesota winter carnival

The Story Behind the Minnesota Winter Carnival in St. Paul

The first Minnesota Winter Carnival took place in 1886 when a group of business owners decided to create a winter festival that would showcase the beauty of Minnesota winters after East Coast newspaper reporters claimed Minnesota was unfit for human habitation.

This makes it the oldest present-day winter festival in the United States (predating The Tournament of Roses in California by two years). The carnival continues bringing family-friendly events to the Twin Cities metro area each year, and Minnesotans are thrilled to show off their community pride.

The Royal Family

The Royal Family is a huge part of the Minnesota Winter Carnival and includes King Boreas and Queen of the Snows. The characters were adapted from Montreal’s Ice King and Queen Aurora.

According to Legend, the mischievous Vulcan and his Krewe were created from the Germanic tradition of energy and disruption, which springtime brings in the final days of winter.

Today, King Boreas and the Queen of the Snows rule the carnival along with 21 members of the Royal Family. The family includes Boreas’s four brothers, Titan, Euros, Zephyrus, and Notos, plus their four princesses. Other characters include the Prime Minister and ten Royal Guards.

Volunteers dress up as the Royal Family and Vulcan Krewe, making over 400 appearances throughout the year to attend other festivals and events throughout the Twin Cities

The Winter Carnival Legend

The Winter Carnival Legend was penned by a newspaper columnist in 1937 and has been updated and revised several times since.

In summary, King Boreas, or the King of Winds, gave his brothers a permanent assignment to one direction of the wind during their travels. The brothers traveled until they came across a winter paradise known as Minnesota.

The brothers were enchanted by the beauty surrounding the place. Boreas decided to make St. Paul the capital of all his domains and declared the city the place of the carnival.

“So be it!” Boreas famously shouted, “There will be a Carnival in old Saint Paul!” The king then selected a Prime Minister to organize the event, and a winter carnival occurred in St. Paul for ten glorious days.

minnesota winter carnival

Popular Events

These are must-experience events at the Minnesota Winter Carnival. For a full calendar of events, visit the Minnesota Winter Carnival Events Page.

Light the Park – The Carnival Kickoff

The Minnesota Winter Carnival kicks off with the Light the Park event, starting at 5:30 p.m. at Rice Park in Downtown St. Paul. A stunning Laser Light Show starts at 6 p.m.

Community members, the Royal Family, and the Vulcans will light the park to signal the beginning of the carnival. Bring your own glow stick or light-up item to participate. The first 200 people who arrive at the park will receive a glow wand.

The Royal Family announces the kickoff of the Minnesota Winter Carnival, and ice carvers will carve beautiful ice sculptures during the event. Enjoy beverages, food, and music as the carnival begins!

King Boreas Grande Day Parade

The first Saturday of the Minnesota Winter Carnival features the King Boreas Grande Parade, which is a daytime procession down West 7th Street. Dozens of bands, floats, and the newly crowned King Boreas and his Royal Family will cruise down the street.

Businesses, government agencies, and community groups are all invited to participate.

St. Paul Winter Carnival Fire & Ice Run

The annual St. Paul Winter Carnival Fire & Ice Run takes place on the first Sunday of the festival. Runners and walkers have the option to participate in the NoK (pay to not run or walk–just to enjoy the Vulcan’s Snow Park) or the 5K, 10K, 15K, or 20K. There is also a Kid’s Run.

All proceeds from this event benefit the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation, a proud producer of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. 

Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parade

The Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parade takes place on the last day of the Minnesota Winter Carnival. Vucanus Rex lights up the streets of downtown during the parade, marking the Vulcans’ march to overthrow King Boreas and bring summer back to St. Paul.

Businesses, governmental agencies, and community groups are welcome to participate. Immediately following the parade, Vulcanus Rex will overthrow Boreas. Fireworks follow at Rice Park.

Vulcan Victory Dance

Enjoy a night of live entertainment and dancing. The Vulcan Victory Dance is the hottest event at the Minnesota Winter Carnival. It takes place at the Intercontinental – St. Paul Riverfront Hotel on the last day of the festival. This is a ticket-only event. 

minnesota winter carnival

Kids & Family Day

The family-centric Kids and Family Day takes place on the last day of the carnival, and several locations have fun events going on.

Landmark Center

Cultural entertainers, local businesses, activities, and fun giveaways will be available at Landmark Center from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Warming House

Bingo, board games, trivia, and more will take place in the Warming House. The Warming House not only provides a cozy escape from the outdoors, but it also offers alcoholic beverages, soda, hot chocolate, and coffee. Guests can also purchase Minnesota Winter Carnival merchandise.

Berners in the Park

The carnival’s adorable furry friends from the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of the Greater Twin Cities join festival goers at Rice Park. Attendees will be able to watch these snow-loving pups enjoy St. Paul’s wonderful winter outdoors.


Feeling competitive or enjoy watching competitions? Check out these renowned Minnesota Winter Carnival competitions.

Puzzle Competition

The Minnesota Winter Carnival Puzzle Content is presented by PuzzletTwist and Priority Courier Experts at Landmark Center in Downtown St. Paul. If you’re a master at puzzles, this contest is for you.

The competition is split into five divisions over four time slots with four people per team. Teams are asked to put together a puzzle manufactured by PuzzleTwist®. There is also a family with children division, so you can get your little ones involved in the competition, too!

Ice Fishing Tournament

The Ice Fishing Tournament lasts the entire month of January and wraps up the day after the Minnesota Winter Carnival ends.

Ice & Snow Sculpting

The most well-known Minnesota Winter Carnival competition is the Ice & Snow Sculpting contest. Visitors are invited to visit Vulcan Snow Park to watch sculptors work on their ice masterpieces during the opening festival weekend.

Finished sculptures remain on display for the duration of the Winter Carnival and are lit after dark for a unique viewing opportunity.

Three types of sculptures are on display: exhibition sculptures, Minnesota State Snow Sculpting Competition entries, and Amateur Snow Sculpting Contest entries. Judging occurs on the Sunday of opening weekend. 

Minnesota Winter Carnival

Best Hotels

These are some of the best hotels to stay at during the Minnesota Winter Carnival in St. Paul. Many of them may offer discounts during the festival, so be sure to ask about available deals.

  • St. Paul Hotel: The St. Paul Hotel is the official partner of the Minnesota Winter Carnival.
  • InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront: This hotel is the location of the Vulcan Victory Dance.
  • SpringHill Suites by Marriott St. Paul Downtown: This hotel has a 5-star TripAdvisor rating and is located in Downtown St. Paul near all the fun festival events.
  • Drury Plaza Hotel: This hotel is only one mile from Rice Park and has a 4.5-star TripAdvisor rating.
  • Radisson Blu: This hotel is conveniently connected to the Mall of America, a short 15-mile drive from the festival. Visit the festival, then warm up walking around the mall.
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Minneapolis: Located in downtown Minneapolis, this 4.5-star hotel is just 10 miles from the festival.
  • Loews Hotel: Named the top hotel in the state of Minnesota by US News & World Report and MSN, this Minneapolis hotel is just 10 miles from the festival events.

Wrapping up the Magic of the Minnesota Winter Carnival

The magical Minnesota Winter Carnival is a one-of-a-kind experience that you’ll never forget. If anything’s for sure, Minnesotans were able to prove that the state is anything but inhabitable, and the locals know how to put on a winter festival.

Looking for more to do during Minnesota’s chilly winters? Check out our Minnesota winter section.