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Minnesota DNR says stay off the ice, for now

Ice thickness can vary greatly and change rapidly, even on small lakes and ponds.

thin ice photo
As northern Minnesota lakes begin to freeze over, the Minnesota DNR is asking anglers not to venture onto the ice until they are sure it's safe across the entire body of water they plan to walk on. Contributed / Minnesota DNR

Mark Nov. 21 as the day I saw my first Facebook post and photo this season of someone ice fishing. He claimed to have 2-3 inches of ice on a small lake 20 miles north of Duluth. He said the fish weren't biting.

While some shallower, smaller lakes are frozen over thanks to the recent cold snap, there are few reports of ice thick enough for safe travel across an entire lake. And the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is practically begging people to stay off the ice for now until more cold days and nights build ice thick enough for safe travel.

The minimum recommended ice thickness for walking is 4 inches, with 5-7 inches for a small ATV or snowmobile, 10-12 inches for a car or small pickup truck; and 12-15 inches for a larger truck. The DNR says to double those numbers if ice is white instead of clear or if there is snow on the ice.

Hypothermia and drowning are a real danger, and anyone who goes out now threatens not only themselves, but also the lives of anyone who has to come to the rescue, if a rescue is even possible. Last winter, three people died after falling through ice in Minnesota, with 40 thin-ice deaths over the past 11 years.

DNR officials also remind parents to remind their kids to stay away from that first ice over the Thanksgiving holiday and in coming days. They say that even if ice looks safe around shore, ice thickness this time of year is highly variable and subject to the whims of the weather. Where ice hasn’t formed — or where it freezes at night and opens during the day — the water temperature is so low that an unexpected fall in can be deadly.


“There’s nothing worse than when a time of year that should be festive turns tragic,” said Lt. Adam Block, boating law administrator for the DNR Enforcement Division.

No ice can ever be considered “safe ice,” but following these guidelines can help minimize the risk:

  • Always wear a life jacket or float coat on the ice (except when in a vehicle).

  • Carry ice picks, rope, an ice chisel and tape measure and check ice every 150 feet.

  • Check ice thickness at regular intervals; conditions can change quickly.

  • Bring a cellphone or personal locator beacon.

  • Don’t go out alone; let someone know about trip plans and expected return time.

  • Before heading out, inquire about conditions and known hazards with local experts.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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