15 Best Things to Do in Minnesota

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota is actually dotted by almost 12,000 to be more precise. A haven for nature enthusiasts and art lovers alike, this state has diversified its attractions to span from historical tourism to national parks and nationally recognized theatres.

Whether you’re only stopping through the big cities or trying to get off the beaten path, there are plenty of options at your disposal.

Lets explore the best things to do in Minnesota:

1. Brainerd

BrainerdSource: flickr

Get acquainted with the gorgeous lakefronts that Minnesota has to offer, and head up to Brainerd for some lakeside fun. Breathe in the fresh air scented by the pine trees and take a walk along the lakefront or rent one of the lakeside houses for a spectacular view. You could always make it a resort getaway weekend and pamper yourself!

There are plenty of outdoor sports activities for nature enthusiasts – whether you go for a picnic at the state park, or if you are looking to spend more time there, bring your hiking shoes and hit the trails. There are plenty of shops nestled in the woodsy backdrop if you don’t want to stray far into the wild. Play a round of golf at Brainerd Golf Trail, and book yourself in for a few days at Grand View Lodge to take some time off.

2. North Shore State Parks

North Shore State ParksSource: flickr
North Shore State Parks

The best way to get to know a place is to explore the countryside, so hop in your car and head out to Minnesota’s North Shore. There are 8 state parks in the area, all of which are perfect to stop and stretch your legs, or spend a few days exploring this beautiful area and soaking in the views of Lake Superior.

Bring your camera and check out the waterfalls at Split Rock River. These are just some of the many different waterfalls, with others located at cross river and Tettegouche state park. Or, grab your hiking boots and hit the trails at Sonju Trail, or Gooseberry Falls State Park. Before you leave, pay a visit to Split Rock Lighthouse and take a photo – the vista looks like a postcard!

3. Lanesboro Small Town Charm

LanesboroSource: flickr

Cozily situated in the Bluffs of the Root River Valley, Lanesboro is a hidden Minnesota gem. With a relaxed small town charm that continues to draw visitors, this town is perfect for some rest and relaxation at any of their many accommodations – after all, it is known as the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota,.

Once you park the car, you can forget about it for your stay. Rent a bike at the River General Store and explore the trails! Stay a few days at the Cedar Valley Resort, a log sided cabin resort near the Root River Trail. Perfect for friends, families or couples, enjoy the peace and quiet of nature. Walk out to the waterfall at the edge of town, or raft down the river and enjoy the charm of the Root River Valley.

4. Grand Marais’ Art Scene

Sivertson Art GallerySource: facebook
Sivertson Art Gallery

Located in Cook County, about 110 miles northeast of Duluth, this enchanting community of just under two thousand is tucked away on a natural harbor on Lake Superior. Grand Marais is a haven for local artists inspired by the beautiful lake and surrounding nature. You can see the influence in the art galleries and local cuisine, and you can even take a few classes if you yourself also feel inspired!

Explore the art galleries and shops at Sivertson Art Gallery either as a window shopper or to complete final touches on your own home. If you’d rather create your own art, sign up for some art classes at North House Folk School; they’ll even teach you to weave baskets! Treat yourself to the catch of the day at Angry Trout Cafe after you’ve worked up an appetite!  Feed your body and soul at this quaint lakefront town.

5. The theatre scene in Minneapolis

Guthrie theaterSource: flickr
Guthrie theater

Minneapolis is second only to New York in terms of theatre seats per capita, and boasts a thriving arts scene that is worth anyone’s time. Make it a night out on the town at the Guthrie – the beautiful arts complex designed by Jean Nouvel is right on the Mississippi River!

Start with a drink or two at the Guthrie’s swanky bars. That way, you won’t have to worry about missing your show, since it’s right next door practically! Enjoy any of the classic plays performed by resident acting companies. After the show, treat yourself to an upscale dining experience at their seafood restaurant, Sea Change.

6. The Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway

New UlmSource: flickr
New Ulm

Take some time away from the cities and hit the road – this scenic drive spans over 250 miles of beautiful Minnesota countryside. It starts in Belle Plaine and has plenty of fun stops along the way. Whether you explore the quaint small town of Henderson or a larger community at Mankato, there is something for everyone!

Try the apples or an old fashioned soda fountain at Henderson, a welcoming community of 900 people. Tour the German-architecture inspired town of New Ulm and see their still-working glockenspiel. Spend a night or two in town so you can tour the nearby vineyards at Morgan Creek Vineyards, which offers tastings on the weekends! Who knew a road trip could be so glamorous?

7. The Eagles at Wabasha

WabashaSource: flickr

Wabasha is located along the Mississippi River, and is home to a population of eagles who pass their winters here. Why not take a break from city tourism and get to know more about one of the more majestic species of birds around?

Visit the National Eagle Center and get to know these creatures up close. There are hour-long feeding programs held multiple times per day. While most grounds are frozen in the winter, Wabasha is a great place to visit when all the eagles are in town during the winter, because it is located on Lake Pepin and stays ice-free usually while boasting a large amount of gizzard shad, a delicacy according to the eagles. Bring your camera to capture some shots of these graceful birds of prey.

8. Shopping at the Mall of America

The Mall of AmericaSource: flickr
The Mall of America

For those of you who need to go on a shopping spree, this mall is made for you. Check the website and make a list before you go, because there are so many options, you could send days in there! It’s also temperature controlled throughout the year at a cool 70 degrees, so you’ll be comfortable inside no matter what the season.

Once you have your list down, explore the biggest mall in the US! The Mall of America boasts more than 500 restaurants, several restaurants, an indoor amusement park and even a butterfly garden! Conveniently located 10 miles outside of Minneapolis, stop in the next time you find yourself in the area.

9. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Boundary Waters Canoe Area WildernessSource: flickr
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

For those dedicated outdoors enthusiasts, this wilderness area at the northeast tip of Minnesota is a must-see. You can trek through this natural paradise solo, or do a guided trip organized by outfitters in small towns like Lofte and Crane Lake.

Grab a canoe and paddle from lake to lake – pack light though, since you’ve got to carry all of it with you. Be sure to leave room for a camera since you’ll be crossing many picturesque vistas not visited frequently. Be on the lookout for moose, bears, and bald eagles who call this rural area home.

10. The Outlaw Spirit in Northfield

Northfield Historical Society MuseumSource: truewestmagazine
Northfield Historical Society Museum

Minnesota seems a long ways away from the Wild West, but Jesse James made it all the way up to Northfield in an attempt to rob the First National Bank. Most of his gang was killed in a gunfight, with only Jesse and his brother narrowly escaping. The town now celebrates this event in an annual celebration of the Defeat of Jesse James Days.

Stop by in September to join in the festivities and visit the restored bank offices and the Northfield Historical Society Museum. Or see the bank raid reenactment and arts and crafts shows, before relaxing at the Hideaway Coffeehouse  and Wine Bar, a Wild West-themed bar and cafe.

11. The Mystery Cave State Park in Forestville

Mystery Cave State ParkSource: exploreminnesota
Mystery Cave State Park

Forestville shares part of the Mystery Cave State Park and was bought by a farmer in 1900 who saw the struggling town’s true potential. Located 120 miles from Saint Paul, the town has been resurrected as a thriving pioneer town with interpreters waiting to welcome you to this town, while also boasting access to one of the prettiest caves in the nation.

After you have brushed up on your pioneer history, take a visit out to the Mystery Caves that border the town. It is Minnesota’s longest cave and filled with gorgeous stalactites and stalagmites. Snap some pictures of the underground pools and wander the mazes of interconnected tunnels.

12. Mill City Museum

Mill City MuseumSource: flickr
Mill City Museum

Sometimes it is good to get back to the basics and remember the important things in life. The Washburn A. Mill was the largest mill in the world, and what remains of it is located in Minneapolis. Check out the historical period experience at the Mill City Museum to experience how the old-school equipment was used.

Take a elevator ride stamped with the famous Gold Medal logo at the Mill Ruins Park up to the Museum to see where enough flour was ground in one day to make more than 12 million loaves of bread! Take the tour that goes to each floor in an old freight elevator and enjoy the ride back in time.

13. Winona, the Island City

Alexander Historical MansionSource: expedia
Alexander Historical Mansion

About 120 miles south of Minneapolis is the city of Winona. It is located on a sandbar in the Mississippi River and is a beautiful mixture of art and nature. Make some time to appreciate marine art at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, and snap some photos of the river views over at Garvin Heights Overlook and Park.

Try the cuisine too – there are delicious tacos at the Boathouse, or the frittatas at the local bed and breakfast, the Alexander Historical Mansion. Take a step back in time here in the bed and breakfast filled with Victorian Antiques. Enjoy this cultural experience while surrounded by nature in the Island City.

14. Navigate Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National ParkSource: flickr
Voyageurs National Park

This park is over 200,000 acres big, and completely inaccessible by car – there are no roads once you reach this park located on the Canadian border. Not for those prone to seasickness, Voyageurs National Park is only navigable by boats! Take a retreat back into nature, and get ready to head out on the water.

Paddle island to island or take a guided walleye fishing tour. You can take a houseboat and keep your eyes out for moose-sightings, or stay at a resort at the lake town of International Falls. Whether you want to rough it on your own or in comfort, enjoy the sunsets and different lakes such as Rainy Lake and enjoy what nature has to offer at Voyageurs National Park.

15. Minnesota State Capitol

Minnesota State CapitolSource: flickr
Minnesota State Capitol

You can’t visit any state without seeing its state capitol. Take a self-guided or cell phone tour of the grounds if you have the time. You won’t be sorry – the state capitol was built in 1905 by the same architect who designed the U.S. Supreme Court and is a stunning example of architecture.

It is currently undergoing a massive restoration slated to be finished in 2017. Indoor access is limited for now, but touring the grounds is still rewarding. Check out the quadriga, the golden horses on the exterior of the building. They were designed by Daniel French, who also designed the Lincoln Memorial, and are covered in gold leaf. See the impressive compound for yourself, it is well-worth the trip to Lansing to see this National Historic Landmark!

15 Best Things to Do in Minnesota:

  • Brainerd
  • North Shore State Parks
  • Lanesboro Small Town Charm
  • Grand Marais’ Art Scene
  • The theatre scene in Minneapolis
  • The Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway
  • The Eagles at Wabasha
  • Shopping at the Mall of America
  • Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
  • The Outlaw Spirit in Northfield
  • The Mystery Cave State Park in Forestville
  • Mill City Museum
  • Winona, the Island City
  • Navigate Voyageurs National Park
  • Minnesota State Capitol