There is no shortage of fun and educational day trips for the whole family to enjoy in Minnesota. History buffs can spend many happy days visiting historic towns like Stillwater, Luverne, Hopkins, Rochester and Saint Paul. There are an assortment of destinations where you can explore unique attractions such as the Jeffers Petroglyphs, Pipestone National Monument and Soudan Underground Mine. The beautiful Minnesota landscape offers outdoor recreational facilities in several state parks]. For white-knuckle excitement you can take the whole family to enjoy the thrilling rides in Wisconsin Dells.
Once the epicenter of Minnesota logging, the saw mills at Stillwater produced a large percentage of American timber, which was hauled by the railroads and shipped all over the world. Today the town attracts large numbers of visitors who come to soak up the unique atmosphere and explore all the historic sites. The town is easy to explore on foot, starting at Stillwater’s Historic Main Street which has won several awards for its charm and tourist appeal. There is plenty of scope for outdoor pursuits like walking, hiking, biking, boating and paddling as well as golf, while great shopping, dining, spas, live theatre and art complete the picture. In addition you can enjoy a winery or brewery tour, a classis Riverboat Tour and much more.
Mankato is a popular day-trip destination located just 75 minutes from Minneapolis, where it offers a great combination of small-town charm, a thriving arts scene and excellent outdoor recreation. Visitors who enjoy walking, hiking and biking will find over 50 miles of paved trails to explore, while several rivers and lakes offer excellent conditions for canoeing, kayaking and paddle-boarding, as well as sandy beaches for children to enjoy. Art lovers can do the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour, visit the Carnegie Art Center or attend a performance of the Mankato Ballet or Mankato Symphony Orchestra. In addition, there are museums, wineries and breweries to visit, good shopping opportunities and, of course, a wide variety of restaurants and coffee shops.
Mankato, MN 56001
History lovers should definitely put the town of Hopkins on their Minnesota day-trip to-do list. Settled in the early 1850’s, before Minnesota became a state, Hopkins is bursting with historic buildings and interesting history. A good way to see many of the most interesting historic buildings is taking a self-guided walking tour along Main Street; you can download a walking tour guide from the Hopkins Historical Society website or pop into the Hopkins History Center for more information. However, Hopkins is not only rich in history but also has many other attractions including the Hopkins Center for the Arts, a large selection of antique stores and many restaurants and coffee shops.
Hopkins, MN 55305-5343
Buffalo is conveniently located just a short drive from Minneapolis, where it offers visiting city dwellers a small-town atmosphere, a beautiful lake-side location and loads of rural charm. Art lovers will find a thriving arts culture, with local artworks displayed throughout the town. Bargain hunters can have fun rummaging through the treasures in several antique stores and there is a good variety of other shopping experiences to be found in the town. Buffalo offers plenty of green spaces for biking, hiking, walking, and jogging and younger visitors can enjoy children’s playgrounds and a splash-pad. Other activities include golf and water sports in summer and ice skating, cross-country skiing, ice-fishing and more in winter.
Buffalo, MN 14201-4280
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5. Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center
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Visiting the fascinating Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center in Moorhead is a wonderful idea for a fun and educational day out in Minnesota. The Hjemkomst, (which translates as “the home-coming”) was built in Moorhead around 1974, carefully modeled on an actual Viking long boat. As you watch an informative video documentary and tour the Interpretive Center you will learn the full story of the Hjemkomst and how she made the perilous sea voyage to Norway, following in the footsteps of the Viking ancestors of Robert Asp, her American builder. The Center also features a replica of an ancient Norwegian Hopperstad Stave Church.
Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center, 202 1st Ave North, Moorhead, MN 56561, Phone: 218-299-5515
6. Itasca State Park
Itasca State Park is the oldest state park in Minnesota, protecting and showcasing an enormous area of over 32,000 acres of forests and lakes, encompassing the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi. As such, if offers visitors a wide diversity of outdoor recreational attractions including camping, hiking, biking, swimming, boating, fishing and wildlife watching. Fishing boats, canoes, kayaks and bicycles are available to rent in the park and the Visitor’s Center can supply you with trail maps and all the information you need for a great day out. In winter the park turns into a snowy wonderland where visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and a groomed snowmobile trail.
Itasca State Park, 36750 Main Park Dr, Park Rapids, MN 56470, Phone: 218-699-7251
7. Jeffers Petroglyphs
Jeffers Petroglyphs are located near Comfrey in southwest Minnesota, where you can view more than 5,000 ancient sacred rock carvings. Starting your tour at the Visitor’s Center is key to unlocking this amazing site – here you can watch a video about Native American Culture and explore some interactive exhibits before you set off to see the carvings. An interpretive guided tour is probably the best way to fully appreciate the petroglyphs but you are free to do a self-guided tour in your own time with the help of a booklet from the Visitor’s Center. There is also a self-guided prairie trail where you can see interesting grasses, flowers, birds and small animals.
Jeffers Petroglyphs, 27160 Country Rd 2, Comfrey, MN 56019, Phone: 507-628-5591
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Jordan is located just 30 miles from downtown Minneapolis, where it offers visitors a small-town atmosphere and a delightful historic downtown to explore. As you stroll past an array of antique stores and one-off boutiques you can admire at least fifteen buildings which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Other Jordan attractions include Lagoon Park, where you can spend a few hours fishing, swimming or picnicking, before heading to Jim’s Apple Farm, where you will find Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store for a sweet treat. Craft beer enthusiast can stop by Roets Brewery or the Jordan Tap Room to slake their thirst.
Jordan, MN 55352
9. Lake Superior
The beautiful North-Shore of Lake Superior is an ideal day-trip destination in Minnesota, offering miles and miles of stunning shoreline, beaches, inlets, harbors and historic places to explore. You can take it all in on a scenic drive along Highway 61 or hop aboard the historic North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth. The entire area offers a very large selection of activities for day trippers including some of the most scenic hiking and biking trails in the state. Scenic boat tours on the lake are available at Grand Portage and Silver Bay and there are dozens of places to launch a canoe or kayak. You can take a ride on the Summit Express Gondola or be more adventurous and take a canopy tour at Towering Pines.
Lake Superior, MN 55802-5816
Luverne is located in the south-western corner of Minnesota, close to the border with Iowa. A good place to start your visit would be the Rock County History Center, where you can learn about the early pioneer days in Luverne. Other interesting museums in the town include the Herried Military Museum, the must-see Brandenburg Gallery, which features hundreds of photos by world-famous photographer Jim Brandenburg. When you need some fresh air you can head to the Blue Mounds State Park to enjoy some outdoor fun – activities include fishing, hiking, canoeing and spotting the resident bison herd.
Luverne, MN 56156
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Charmingly located along the banks of the Cannon River in southern Minnesota, Northfield is hard to beat for an interesting daytrip. The town has many historic attractions which you can learn about when you visit the Northfield Historic Society and Museum and the Norwegian American Heritage Association at St. Olaf College. Art lovers will want to visit the Flaten Art Museum and the Northfield Art Guild Gallery. There are several excellent live music and theater venues and a host of great shopping and dining options. Outdoor attractions include the Cowling Arboretum which is home to acres of prairie, miles of trails and skiing in winter.
Northfield, MN 55057
12. Osceola WI
Going on a scenic railway journey through the beautiful Minnesota landscape is a brilliant idea for a weekend day trip, (particularly during fall, when the brilliantly colored foliage will take your breath away). The little town of Osceola, which lies on the Minnesota/Wisconsin
border, is the starting point for your scenic ride on the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway. Once you have purchased your tickets at the historic SOO Line Depot you can board one of the vintage coaches for your journey which will take you along the St. Croix River and over the historic Cedar Bend Draw Bridge into Minnesota. After your journey you can explore Osceola Historic District, the St. Croix Art Barn, and other Osceola attractions.
Osceola, WI 54020
A quick cross-border drive will take you into Wisconsin, where the small town of Pepin is located on the shores of Lake Pepin. The town has several historic buildings which you can admire on a self-guided Pepin Walking Tour, and you can visit the Depot Museum and the Pepin Historical Museum which is dedicated to the famous authoress Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pepin County may be the smallest in Wisconsin, but it is renowned for its beautiful landscape which attracts many walkers, hikers and cyclists to the area. Lake Pepin offers a wonderful day out for families who enjoy boating, paddling, canoeing/kayaking and fishing and also has nice beaches for younger children to enjoy. More adventurous visitors can take on the white-water rapids of the Chippewa River.
Pepin, WI 54759
14. Pipestone National Monument
The Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota is an excellent destination for a family day trip, offering a good combination of history, heritage and nature. The monument safeguards the unique red pipestone quarry which Native Americans have mined for generations. The soft stone is considered to be sacred, and is still used to continue the tradition of pipe making. If you start your tour at the Visitor’s Center you can watch an introductory video, a cultural demonstration of pipestone crafts or join an interpretive program. There is a 45-minute nature walk – The Circle Trail – which will led you to the quarries, the Winniewissa Falls and a native tall grass prairie. Children can join a Junior Ranger program to make the day even more exciting.
Pipestone National Monument, 36 Reservation Ave, Pipestone, MN 56164, Phone: 825-546-4214
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The beautiful and vibrant city of Rochester is located in the southeastern corner of Minnesota where it offers a wide variety of activities to keep day-trippers coming back time after time. A good way to see many of the city’s highlights would be to hop aboard the Rochester City and Mayo Historical Trolley Tour. Several other scenic tours are also on offer, including a Winetrail and Microbrewery Tour. If you enjoy serene gardens and historic architecture you can visit the beautiful Mayowood Mansion and Gardens, Cascade Meadows and Assisi Heights. Rochester restaurants have built a solid reputation among foodies for offering innovative fine food at a wide variety of restaurants.
Rochester, MN 55901
16. Schell’s Brewery
If you enjoy beer you will certainly enjoy a day trip to New Ulm, southwest of Minneapolis, where Schell’s Brewery has been producing palate-pleasing German beer since 1860. The brewery is one of just a handful of breweries which managed to survive Prohibition, and has continued to be at the forefront of beer trends and crazes through the decades. Initially the brewery only made traditional German beer but these days you will find a large selection of popular varieties including IPA, Bavarian and Austrian Lagers and some innovative new additions like their Red Citrus Lager and a Grapefruit Radler. You can join a brewery tour and tasting on weekend afternoons in winter or daily from May to September.
Schell’s Brewery, 1860 Schell Rd, New Ulm, NB 56073, Phone: 507-354-5528
Nestled in the heart of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, Shakopee offers day trippers an exciting selection of family activities. If you are visiting in summer you will definitely not want to miss a few hours of fun at Valley Fair, an outdoor amusement and water park with rides and activities for all ages. Visitors who enjoy a little gamble can flirt with Lady Luck at the Mystic Lake Casino or Canterbury Park. Children will enjoy visiting The Landing, where you can step back in time to the early pioneer days on the Minnesota River. For a complete change of pace you can make your way to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum where the Three Mile Walk through beautiful gardens is a perfect ending to a busy day.
Shakopee, MN 55318
18. Soudan Underground Mine State Park
The little town of Soudan is located on the shores of Vermillion Lake in northern Minnesota, where it is home to the oldest iron-ore mine in the state. Although the mine closed in 1962, visitors to the Soudan Underground Mine State Park can walk in the footsteps of the miners as you take a trip deep into the mine for an underground tour. You will get to ride on one of the old mine trains and you may be lucky enough to be guided by one of the miners who actually worked in the Soudan Mine. There are three tours to choose from including the regular underground tour, the Science Tour and the Walking Drift Tour. Above ground the park offers plenty of interesting mine buildings to explore and some brilliant hiking/walking trails, making this an ideal destination for a family day trip.
Soudan Underground Mine State Park, 1379 Stuntz Bay Rd, Soudan, MN 55782, Phone: 218-300-7000
19. Saint Paul
Offering a host of great attractions, Minnesota’s capital Saint Paul is located just south of Minneapolis. You could spend an entire day visiting the city’s 104 historic sites, including the Cathedral of Saint Paul (modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome), Historic Fort Snelling, the beautiful Landmark Center and impressive Summit Avenue, which is lined with original Victorian mansions. There are excellent museums to suit every interest and age as well as a host of theatre and music venues and a wonderful zoo (Como Zoo Park and Conservatory) which offers free entrance. There are many great tours you could join including a Wabasha Street Caves Tour (delving into the city’s gangster past), a Summit Brewing Tour, a Padelford Riverboat Tour and many more.
Saint Paul, MN 55101-5175
20. Taylor Falls
Taylor Falls and the St. Croix Valley offer day trippers a long list of outdoor activities against the backdrop of some the Minnesota’s most stunning scenery. A scenic drive through the valley will introduce you to some of Taylor Falls’ most popular attractions including beautiful Interstate Park, where you can enjoy excellent hiking and learn how to rock climb. For an entirely different take on the scenery you can do some sightseeing from the deck of a Taylor Falls Scenic Boat Tour. Art lovers can take a stroll through the 43-acre Franconia Sculpture Garden, while the highlight of the day for many visitors will be a scenic railroad ride on the Osceola St. Croix River Train.
Taylor Falls, MN 55084
21. Two Harbors
Located on the North Shore of Lake Superior, Two Harbors was established back in the 1880’s, when it was a busy dock for exporting iron ore. Today, visitors can spend a lovely day in the town, admiring a number of historic sites and soaking up the quaint small-town atmosphere. There are two historic lighthouses to visit, one of which is located in the Split Rock State Park where you can also enjoy hiking, picnicking and a small Visitor’s Center Museum. Serious hikers can take on the 310-mile long Superior Hiking Trail, while less energetic walkers can take in the views from the Gooseberry Falls State Park. Other attractions include the historic Depot Museum, the 3M Dwan Museum and a variety of shops, restaurants, cafes and bakeries.
Two Harbors, MN 55616
22. White Bear Lake
Day-trippers will find a host of outdoor recreational attractions including all kinds of water sports on White Bear Lake and the Lake Links Trail for walkers, hikers and bikers. Golfers can tee-off at the White Bear Yacht Club (where you will find an excellent golf course) while families can enjoy the Tamarack Nature Center which offers hiking, wildlife and seasonal programs for kids.
Cultural attractions include the White Bear Center for the Arts, the Lakeshore Players Theater and the Hanifl Performing Arts Center. Needless to say, the town offers great shopping and dining.
White Bear Lake, MN 55038-5127
23. Wisconsin Dells
For a complete break from history, museums and hiking you can head to Wisconsin Dells for your next exciting day trip. The city lies in southern Wisconsin and is sometimes referred to as the “Water park capital of the World”, known for offering an incredible variety of theme parks where visitors of all ages can have hours and hours of fun. Many of the exciting water parks are indoors, which means your fun is not restricted to the summer months. There are adrenalin boosting rides and slides for adults and older children while younger visitors can enjoy special fun kiddies’ areas and splash pads. There are also two golf courses and many other attractions.
Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
24. Afton State Park
The Afton State Park is located along the banks of the St. Croix River in Hastings, where it provides a beautiful and rugged outdoor recreational area which is very popular among hikers and runners. The undulating landscape means that many of the trails are quite challenging and many runners come to the park to train for races. Families can have fun walking the Prairie Walk Interpretive Trail is often covered with wild flowers in spring and will lead you through several contrasting habitats. You can pick up trail maps at the Visitor’s Center. In total you will find more than 20 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails and in winter you can enjoy a 12 mile cross-country skiing trail, a sliding area and some sections suitable for snow shoeing.
Afton State Park, 6959 Peller Ave S. Hastings, MN 55033-9474, Phone: 651-436-5391
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