MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — What started thousands of years ago as a mode of transportation has evolved into something that lets us enjoy the outdoors, even in winter. Snowshoeing makes hiking through the snow simple. So we went looking for the best place to do it in Minnesota, and ended up in Collegeville for a visit at St. John’s Abbey Arboretum.

The winter woods of St John’s Abbey Arboretum in Collegeville are peaceful and almost hauntingly quiet.

“Part of the beauty [is] you have very few sounds, and that’s really one of the more nicer things,” Saint John’s University outdoor director Thomas Kroll said.

But where the story lies is in the silence.

“If you sit a little while, you start picking up the sound of a nuthatch crawling down the tree or a woodpecker calling in the distance,” Kroll said.

St John’s Abbey Arboretum is the place you voted as the best for snowshoeing in Minnesota.

Before modern transportation, snowshoeing was the way to get around in winter. Nowadays, it’s more recreational — a chance to find a break in the chaos.

“People always say the woods is an escape, and it is,” College of Saint Benedict student Erin Stout said. “There’s just no other way to describe it. It’s quiet.”

We didn’t have the best snowshoeing conditions during our visit, but if you ask Stout or Saint John’s University student Jonathan Ericson what the object of snowshoeing is, they’ll tell you.

“It’s tranquil. It’s a break,” Stout said. “When you’re snowshoeing you hear like this pattern of walking and you just kind of get in that rhythm, and then your thoughts kind of come out and you just kind of reflect on the day.”

Ericson says the surroundings of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s is a major factor for students when they’re choosing a school

“People come out here for all sorts of activities, and you don’t have to have like an objective in mind. You’ll going to see something beautiful every time you come out here,” Ericson said.

The St. John’s monks have cared for these 2,500 acres since 1856. And while it is private property, they have made it available for all to enjoy, in the spirit of nature and community.

“It’s also kind of a place for spiritual renewal that is so quiet, so peaceful and has this kind of really natural feeling,” Kroll said. “It just gives everybody a chance to just take a deep breath and relax. That’s all I do, anyways.”

Snowshoes can take you places you can’t normally go, and they help you see things you wouldn’t normally see.

“At times I’ve been here and all of the sudden a barred owl just kind of comes down at you, and you hear that feather actually moves as it goes my. That’s kind of amazing,” Kroll said.

And then there’s the story the snow tells.

“Little less than an inch we had last night kind of erases all the history that was there. And now today we get to start over again with a kind of history since about midnight last night,” Kroll said. “So the tracks you see of the deer going this way or that way.”

So if you’re looking for a nice hike or a contemplative walk in the woods, visit St. John’s Abbey Arboretum.

The College of St. Benedict and Saint John’s University won a national title in November for being the “Most Outdoorsy College in America.” It is private land, but all are welcome. Snowshoe rental is available to students for free, but not the public — so make sure to bring your own.

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