Welcome to the Land of 10,000 Lakes! Minnesota is a state that has it all: beautiful lakes and rivers, mountains, plains, and forests. It’s also home to some of the friendliest people in America. If you’re considering moving here or visiting for an extended period, here are some helpful tips from local experts who know what to do with their time in this northern state.
My journey, and home, of the land of 10,000 lakes started with a deep dive into some of my favorite places in Minnesota to visit. Stepping foot into the great north, you can’t help but be captivated by its majestic landscapes, dynamic culture, and friendly people.
To help you navigate your Minnesota adventure, I’ve compiled a list of the best things to do, based on personal experience and extensive research. So, buckle up, and let’s explore the ultimate Minnesota travel guide together!
Best Things to Do in Minnesota
Tour the North Shore
Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive is a must-see for any visitor to Minnesota. The route meanders along the edge of the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior, taking in spectacular views and stopping at some of the state’s most interesting attractions.
Gooseberry Falls State Park is one of those stops, as are historic Duluth (home to many craft breweries), Grand Marais, Split Rock Lighthouse, Grand Portage State Park, and Tettegouche State Park. And if you want to get adventurous, there’s nothing like paddling through The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness – make sure you know what you’re doing. You could spend an entire week along Lake Superior’s North Shore and still not see everything.
Tour the Mississippi River on Great River Road
The Mississippi River is one of the largest in North America and flows over 2,320 miles from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. “Mississippi” comes from an Ojibwe word meaning “great river.” The river begins as a small stream at Lake Itasca but grows larger as it collects other tributaries.
One of our favorite activities is touring the Mississippi River on the Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway that follows the Mississippi River for over 2,000 miles. If you’re looking for an adventure, try paddling down the river or catch a ride on one of the many paddle-wheelers that cruise along its shores.
Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park boasts expansive lakes, rugged forests, and a rich history. This national park offers endless adventure opportunities for those seeking a genuinely captivating adventure– from kayaking and fishing to hiking and camping. Absorb the wonders of the park’s pristine landscape while exploring ancient geological formations, historic trading routes, and exceptional wildlife encounters.
Spend a Day at Mall of America
The Mall of America, located in Bloomington, Minnesota, is more than just a shopping center; it is an iconic leisure destination that attracts tourists from all around the globe. This colossal mall opened in 1992 and stands as a symbol of the affluent American consumer culture. It is one of the largest retail complexes in the United States, offering various goods and services spread across its multi-tiered expanse.
But shopping is not the only activity you can partake in. The Mall of America complex also hosts a park, the Nickelodeon Universe, offering various thrilling amusement rides and a sprawling aquarium, Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium.
The Mall of America is not only the pride of Bloomington but also a major attraction in the Twin Cities area, drawing visitors with its vast array of retail outlets, eateries, entertainment options, and welcoming, festive atmosphere. Indeed, a visit to Minnesota would be incomplete without checking out this testament to the contemporary American lifestyle.
Mystery Cave State Park
Mystery Cave State Park is one of the places to visit in Minnesota that will leave you intrigued and wanting more. Embark on a guided tour of the longest cave in Minnesota, marveling at the fascinating stalactites, stalagmites, and underground pools that make up this remarkable geological wonder. The park is also home to a historic townsite, perfect for history buffs looking to delve into Minnesota’s rich past.
Wabasha Street Caves
Return in time and unearth the shady secrets of Saint Paul’s underground caves. The Wabasha Street Caves tour will transport you to the roaring ’20s, sharing tales of gangsters and prohibition-era bootleggers who once roamed the area. This intriguing destination offers a unique experience that connects the history, geology, and social life of days gone by.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a mesmerizing wonderland stretching over a million acres in northeastern Minnesota, nestled within the Superior National Forest. This epic wilderness center is between Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park and the North Shore’s famed Highway 61, offering a dramatic network of lakes, rivers, and trails that catapult you straight into nature’s embrace. Here, you can indulge in various activities, from backpacking and fishing to cross-country skiing, depending on the season.
You can navigate the interconnected network of pristine boundary waters with a canoe, paddling over countless lakes ranging from blue mirror-like expanses to narrow waterways. True to its name, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness provides a breathtaking venue for a raw and immersive canoeing experience unlike any other state park. This extraordinary park is a blessing for outdoor enthusiasts and leaves you pining for another visit when you leave its tranquil confines.
Visit the Start of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park
Itasca State Park, located in beautiful Minnesota, is a cherished outdoor destination rich in stunning wilderness and sparkling lakes. Established in 1891, Minnesota’s oldest state park spans over 32,000 acres and includes over 100 lakes. One of its most significant points of interest and arguably its biggest attraction is that it is the headwaters of the esteemed Mississippi River. The park’s serene environment offers guests a tranquil place to relax and reconnect with nature.
For those seeking an outdoor adventure, the park has a variety of activities to partake in. One can rent a canoe or a kayak and explore the park’s waterways while marveling at the surrounding natural vistas. Visitors can also stay overnight in a cozy cabin, making it a wonderful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of urban life and a unique outdoor adventure. Whether you’re a fan of hiking, birding, or simply chilling, a visit to Itasca State Park is a requisite for any adventure lover.
Enjoy a weekend getaway in Duluth
Duluth, Minnesota, a jewel nestled on the shore of Lake Superior, offers a cornucopia of outdoor adventure in an unbelievably scenic and rugged wilderness environment. This enduring city houses a plethora of activities that cater to both residents and tourists.
From the breathtaking Boundary Waters to expansive forests along the lake’s border, adventure waits around every corner. Sprinkle in some exhilarating biking trails, a winter ski outing, or a relaxing canoe ride in the calm waters, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for thrill and fun.
Take a road trip to Duluth’s scenic hiking trails that wind around the park, or unwind at a local brewery after a long, fulfilling day of adventure.
Duluth also stands as a gateway to the iconic Superior hiking trail, boasting some of Lake Superior’s most picturesque and panoramic views. Immerse yourself in Duluth, Minnesota’s alluring intersection of the great wilderness, history, and culture; it invites an addictive blend of tranquility and adrenaline.
Hill Annex Mine State Park
Stepping into Hill Annex Mine State Park, you’ll be immersed in the fascinating history of Minnesota’s iron-mining industry. This state park features guided tours that provide a deeper understanding of the mining process, its impact on local communities, and its role in the state’s burgeoning economy. With incredible scenery as your backdrop, you’ll learn about the miners’ lives and explore the once-thriving town of Calumet.
Take a Day Trip to Stillwater, Minnesota
Stillwater, Minnesota, is a delightful vacation spot on the border of Wisconsin, nestled along the scenic route of the St. Croix River. This quaint Midwest city offers plenty of travel inspiration for visitors with its picturesque trails and serene lake views. Whether planning a day trip from the Twin Cities or booking a longer stay at a charming hotel, you will surely marvel at Stillwater’s stunning beauty.
A popular way to see the city is by embarking on a relaxing canoe ride down the St. Croix River, offering you a unique perspective of this charming spot. Take in the city’s rich history by walking (or cycling) one of the many trails around or relaxing by the lake. Visit a local brewery to taste Minnesota’s craft beer scene. Visit Stillwater for unforgettable adventurous, and peaceful experiences, exemplifying the Midwest charm.
Grand Portage National Monument
As part of your Minnesota travel guide’s historical experience, including a visit to Grand Portage National Monument, set along the picturesque shores of Lake Superior and near Grand Portage State Park, this site commemorates the fascinating history of fur trading between the Ojibwe and the North West Company. With restored buildings, interactive exhibits, and guided tours, you’ll gain valuable insight into the area’s vibrant past and impact on present-day Minnesota.
Where to stay in Minnesota
Finding a place to stay in Minnesota is as easy as finding your way around the Twin Cities. Most hotels are in Minneapolis, but there are still plenty of options for those who want to stay outside town. These are the best places to stay in Minnesota:
- The Westin Edina Galleria
- Loews Minneapolis Hotel
- Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis
- The Hewing Hotel
- The Ivy Hotel Minneapolis
- Canal Park Lodge, Duluth
- The Saint Paul Hotel, Saint Paul
- The Lutsen Resort, Lutsen
- Lost Lake Lodge, Nisswa
- Lora, Stillwater
How to Get Around in Minnesota
If you want to save money and be environmentally friendly at the same time, consider riding the light rail system! It’s affordable and convenient for commuting into downtown Minneapolis or St Paul during rush hour traffic times when parking can be difficult (and expensive).
There are also several bus routes throughout Minnesota, so if you’re looking for something more direct than light rail, there is no shortage of options here.
While public transport is available in major cities like Minneapolis and Saint Paul, renting a car is the most convenient way to explore all corners of Minnesota. Check out RentalCars.com for the best deals on rental vehicles, ensuring a seamless journey through the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Travel Tips for Visiting Minnesota
Exploring Minnesota’s diverse landscapes and cities is a unique adventure. To make the most of your visit, consider these tailor-made travel tips, guaranteed to enhance your Minnesota experience. Don’t forget to ensure peace of mind by covering unforeseen events with comprehensive travel insurance, available at VisitorsCoverage.com.
Fly into Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport
When you’re traveling from out of state or even the country, it’s best to fly into Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (MSP). This airport has flights from almost every major city in North America, so you can easily get here from wherever you live.
Embrace the Great Outdoors
Minnesota offers endless opportunities for outdoor exploration in its vast wilderness, from state parks to scenic byways. Visiting Minnesota means venturing into the great outdoors and immersing yourself in nature’s splendor – a mix of lakes, forests, and wildlife.
Discover pristine lakes on a canoe, take a leisurely hike through lush trails, or indulge in birdwatching within untouched natural habitats. In the winter, take on cross-country skiing, hit the snowmobile trails, and try snowshoeing (there’s plenty of snow here in the wintertime).
If you’re a stargazer like me, watch the calendar in the winter for the Northern Lights. Minnesota offers one of the best opportunities to spot the Northern Lights in the United States.
Minnesota has some of the best state parks in the country, and while the Twin Cities are great, the incredible natural beauty of this state is where it’s at.
Explore Charming Small Towns
Avoid the busy atmosphere of larger cities and discover the true essence of Minnesota in its charming small towns. Encouraging a slower pace of life, these picturesque communities are home to local boutiques, art galleries, and friendly residents. Visit lively events and quirky festivals, or enjoy a warm coffee at a cozy café. Several incredible small towns are located along the lakes: big, Lake Superior, and small.
Take on the Local Delicacies
Nothing compares to a Minnesota culinary experience, where lip-smacking cuisine ranges from hearty, Midwestern dishes to innovative exotic plates. Within the cities or small towns, your taste buds will adore the distinct blend of traditional meals and diverse flavors inspired by New American, Nordic, and Hmong influences—sample signature dishes like hotdish, wild rice soup, and the juicy Jucy Lucy.
Discover Minnesota’s Rich History
Dig deeper into Minnesota’s layered history by visiting heritage sites, landmarks, and museums that showcase its notable past. Wander through the streets of Saint Paul, exploring the story of the fur trade at Grand Portage National Monument, or visit the historic Hill Annex Mine State Park to understand the importance of the iron-mining industry in the region.
Unwind by the Water
A visit to Minnesota wouldn’t be complete without spending some time by one of its many lakes. The state provides countless opportunities for relaxation, exhilaration, and picturesque views along its remarkable waterfronts. Bask in the sun at popular swimming spots, take a leisurely boat ride, or read a book on a serene, sandy shoreline. In the winter, test your bravery by going ice fishing.