15 Best Day Trips from Minneapolis

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Built along the banks of the upper section of the Mississippi, Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota and has all the big city attractions you need to keep yourself entertained, well-fed and intrigued on your visit.

A quintessential modern metropolis, it is full of beautiful parks and cultural attractions, such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art, The American Swedish Institute, and more.

However, the wider state of Minnesota is bursting with quaint townships offering thriving, fascinating communities that are perfect to visit for a day or to use as a base to explore the rivers, lakes and trails the state is famous for.

Let’s have a look at the best day trips from Minneapolis:

1. Taylors Falls

St Croix River,Taylors Falls MinnesotaSource: Scruggelgreen / shutterstock
St Croix River,Taylors Falls Minnesota

Surrounded by pristine mountain scenery, you’ll find the area of Taylor Falls less than an hour away from town.

The area is famous for its outdoor activities in both winter and summer.

Wild Mountain provides excellent skiing opportunities during the cold winter months, with people flocking to its slopes to enjoy the snow.

Summer, on the other hand, has people making the journey to Interstate Park, a vast expanse of forest, lakes, rivers and mountains that are perfect to explore over the course of a day.

Highlights here include the St Croix River Dalles hike and the gorgeously serene Lake O’ the Dalles.

2. Red Wing

Red Wing, MinnesotaSource: Robert H Ellis / shutterstock
Red Wing

The impossibly charming city of Red Wing is also located within an hour’s drive from Minneapolis.

It is an incredible day trip to take if you want a variety of activities to keep you busy during your visit, from hiking to exploring museums.

The city is home to Red Wing Shoes, one of the nation’s most iconic shoe companies.

With an entire museum dedicated to it, you can plot the course of the enterprise’s history and even sneak a peek at the world’s biggest boot.

Hikers will want to head straight for Barn Bluff, the best viewpoint in town offering unbeatable views of the Mississippi River and the fascinating array of traffic that drifts past, including everything from paddlewheelers to barges.

3. New Ulm

New Ulm, MinnesotaSource: Dougtone / Flickr
New Ulm

A quiet city full of hidden gems, New Ulm is named after its German counterpart, Ulm, which also served as the inspiration for much of the culture that can be found here.

Strolling through the beautiful, historic district on a summer’s afternoon, don’t be surprised to see people sitting outdoors enjoying German beer, listening to the toll of Glockenspiel chimes ringing from Bavarian-style clock towers.

If you’re interested in sampling some of the local brews, head over to the reputable August Schell Brewery, or for a different kind of day trip, pay a visit to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, which commemorates some of the country’s greats like Prince and Bob Dylan.

4. Stillwater

Stillwater, MinnesotaSource: Jeff Lueders / shutterstock

A mere half an hour away from Minneapolis, the town of Stillwater is ideal for day trippers who are pressed for time or want to squeeze another destination into their schedule.

Popular with families due to the adorable Teddy Bear Park, a long-time favourite playground, Stillwater is a great place to take the kids.

Other places of interest include the Stillwater Lift Bridge, linking Wisconsin and Minnesota since 1931.

5. Owatonna

OwatonnaSource: delius98 / Flickr

Conveniently located about one hour from Minneapolis, the settlement of Owatonna is a gateway into the past and a fascinatingly preserved example of its small-town beginnings.

Its an excellent day trip for those interested in seeing how people of generations past might have lived.

A seasonal favourite with families and travellers alike is the Village of Yesteryear attraction, open between May and September and exhibiting 15 buildings ranging from the city hall to a general store.

Step back in time as you wander from building to building, or, if you want to experience a more modern attraction, drop by the Reptile Amphibian Discovery Zoo to learn about the fascinating animals.

6. Bemidji

Bemidji, MinnesotaSource: Edgar Lee Espe / shutterstock

The artsy town of Bemidji is one of those excellent day trip locations that has something that appeals to everyone.

From family-oriented attractions like the Headwaters Science Center, which features natural history and live animal exhibits, to culturally iconic sights like the statues of Babe the Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan.

In fact, the local arts scene has been immortalised in Bemidji by the Sculpture Walk, promoting local and visiting artists and their work since1999.

7. Brainerd

Brainerd, MinnesotaSource: Dan Thornberg / shutterstock

If you’re a racing fan, you’ll want to visit Brainerd in August, when drag–racing enthusiasts descend on the city for the Lucas Oil NHA Nationals, taking place on the Brainerd International Railway.

Expect to see big names competing, such as Tony Schumacher, and get ready for a four-day motoring spectacle.

For those who’d prefer to get in touch with nature, a visit to Lake Mil Lacs is well worth the time.

The destination is an undisputed paradise for fishers, swimmers, and general nature lovers, and at the height of a Minnesota summer it is an absolute pleasure to visit.

8. Alexandria

Alexandria, MinnesotaSource: Denise Gerdes / shutterstock

A town rich in both history and leisure activities, Alexandria is around two hours away from Minneapolis, making it a viable overnight stay, but is also more than worthwhile visiting for the day.

History buffs will be pleasantly entertained, with attractions like the Runestone Museum boasting priceless Viking exhibits and an extensive Native American selection of artefacts.

For those looking for something a little more leisurely, pay a visit to the Carlos Creek Winery and soak in its breathtakingly beautiful scenery while enjoying everything from tours to live music and of course, world-class wines.

9. Excelsior

ExcelsiorSource: McGhiever / Wikimedia

The small town known as Excelsior can be found on the shores of Lake Minnetonka and is a waterfront haven full of bistros and boutiques, particularly around the attractive Water Street.

Enjoy some retail therapy here and then head over to the Commons, without a doubt the best public space on the lake, where you can enjoy a swim at the beach or a ball game.

If you’re looking to work up more of a sweat, you can tackle the bicycle route known as Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail.

The best thing is, all this is only half an hour away from Minneapolis, meaning you can spend the entire day at this coastal getaway with little to no travel time.

10. Red Cedar State Trail

Red Cedar State TrailSource: aarongunnar / Flickr
Red Cedar State Trail

One of the best preserved crushed-limestone trails in the whole of Wisconsin, starting in Menomonie and continuing along 14-and-a-half gorgeous miles of scenic, forested countryside.

Only one hour away from Minneapolis, the Red Cedar State Trail follows the route of the Red Cedar River that eventually runs into the Chippewa River, which you can also cycle next to, or if you want to mix things up you can paddle down by kayak.

These beautiful trails are the perfect city escape and a great way to get active while soaking up some stunning scenery.

11. Lake Pepin

Lake PepinSource: John Brueske / shutterstock
Lake Pepin

Discover the intriguing combination of a popular foodie haven nestled amongst the picturesque scenery of Lake Pepin, famed for its beauty and recently gaining a reputation for its food offerings.

From tea rooms to sandwich restaurants and pastry shops, there’s something to suit every taste around the shores of Lake Pepin.

If you’ve got an abundance of time on your hands, jump aboard the Pearl of the Lake paddle wheeler that will ferry you from Lake City to other towns, meaning you can enjoy unbeatable views from the water and have the freedom to visit more than one lakeside destination.

12. Mantorville

MantorvilleSource: Mulad / Flickr

The endearing town of Mantorville has been a hotbed of theatre activity since 1973, when people flocked to the tiny village on the banks of the Zumbro River just over an hour away from Minneapolis.

A historic stagecoach stop, Mantorville is rich in pioneer history and has retained much of its small-town charm, making it a popular destination for families and travellers looking to soak up some of the quaint ambience.

Don’t miss out on a visit to dining hotspot the Hubbell House, open since 1857 and serving classic local eats.

13. Hudson

Hudson, WisconsinSource: 123dieinafire (talk) / Wikimedia

The river town of Hudson is one of Wisconsin’s most popular spots to visit in the summer, when crowds of people arrive to stroll along the water’s edge and enjoy the many activities the area offers.

There is some serious retail therapy available downtown, including world class antique spots and rare art at the famous Seasons.

From here, it’s a short walk to Lakefront Park which comes complete with a beach and playground, where you can also catch bands playing live music on Thursday evenings.

14. Grantsburg

Grantsburg, WisconsinSource: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Flickr

Close to the St. Croix River, found in the north of Wisconsin, you’ll find the wetlands of Grantsburg that are positively teeming with bush and prairie wildlife like otters, fowl, sand hill cranes and many, many more.

The vast expanse of marsh and wetlands can be traversed on a 24-mile self-guided driving tour, on which visitors can explore at their own pace and catch glimpses of the fascinating fauna.

Hiking trails and canoe rentals are also in abundance, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy some physical activity if the mood strikes.

15. Jeffers Petroglyphs

Jeffers PetroglyphsSource: Denise Gerdes / shutterstock
Jeffers Petroglyphs

Take a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Minneapolis to discover one of the most intriguing day trips in the area.

These huge slabs of flat rock hidden amongst the vast expanses of native prairie lands are filled with Native American carvings that depict various scenes from their people’s history and are truly a sight to behold.

If you’re feeling adventurous, take the opportunity to learn more about the rich culture with a course in Native American survival skills.

15 Best Day Trips from Minneapolis:

  • Taylors Falls
  • Red Wing
  • New Ulm
  • Stillwater
  • Owatonna
  • Bemidji
  • Brainerd
  • Alexandria
  • Excelsior
  • Red Cedar State Trail
  • Lake Pepin
  • Mantorville
  • Hudson
  • Grantsburg
  • Jeffers Petroglyphs