Straddling the Mississippi River, Minnesota is one of Minnesota's famous "Twin Cities", and it's the perfect place to base yourself if you want to take some day trips around the state. Check out small towns like New Ulm and Alexandria, go canoeing in the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or learn about Minnesotan history at the Historic Forestville ghost town. If you'd rather spend the day at the beach, visit Duluth Park Point Beach, stop by Iona's Beach to hear the singing rocks, or head to one of the many lakes outside the charming town of Brainerd.


1.Red Wing

Red Wing
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The scenic town of Red Wing has long been one of the most popular day trips from Minneapolis, and once you've been here, it's not hard to understand why. The quaint downtown streets are dotted with Victorian homes, elegant lampposts, and shops with brick facades, and although it's easy to spend an afternoon simply strolling around, other attractions include the Goodhue County Historical Museum, the Red Wing Shoes Museum, and the nearby Falconer Vineyards. If you want to get some exercise, you can cycle along the scenic Cannon Valley Trail or hike up to Barn Bluff for some wonderful views of the town.

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2.Afton State Park

Afton State Park
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Occupying a 1,600-acre property on the St. Croix River, Afton State Park is an easily accessible park that offers plenty of recreational activities. The river is home to more than 100 species of fish, including large populations of bass and crappies that draw fishermen from all over the state, and there's also a sandy swimming beach. If you want to stretch your legs, you can do so on the park's 20 miles of hiking trails. The park is most popular with visitors between May and October, but if you happen to be here in the winter, the trails are wonderful for cross-country skiing as well.

6959 Peller Ave S, Hastings, MN 55033, Phone: 651-436-5391

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3.Alexandria

Alexandria
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If you want to trade the big city energy of Minneapolis for the sleepy streets of a small town, Alexandria is a wonderful choice. The charming downtown core offers plenty of antique stores, boutique shops, and local restaurants for visitors to enjoy, but if you want to get out of town for a bit, you can explore the 55-mile Central Lakes Trail. Other attractions include the Carlos Creek Winery, the Legacy of the Lakes Museum, and the Runestone Museum. The town also hosts a number of special events throughout the year, including an Apple Fest, a Grape Stomp, and an annual marching band competition.

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4.Apostle Islands

Apostle Islands
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One of the most naturally beautiful sites in Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands are a chain of 21 islands scattered across Lake Superior. Madeline Island is the only inhabited island and therefore the only one with restaurants and other amenities, but the rest of the islands offer ample opportunities for hiking, picnicking, birdwatching, and exploring lighthouses. Some of the islands can be reached by joining a cruise, but if you'd rather explore at your own pace, you can charter a boat or rent a sea kayak to explore the spectacular sea caves that dot the shore of the mainland.

415 Washington Ave, Bayfield, WI 54814

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5.Austin

Austin
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Fondly nicknamed Spamtown USA because of its long-standing connection to the famous meat product, Austin is a welcoming Midwestern city located on the Cedar River. The best-known attraction in town is the Spam museum, which tells the story of how Spam came to be and the role it has played in American culture, but the area is known for its natural beauty as well. There is an excellent network of cycling trails in the city, and the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center boasts more than 10 miles of trails. During the summer, visitors can also take a paddleboat ride across the city's East Side Lake.

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6.Bemidji

Bemidji
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Hugging the shore of the beautiful Lake Bemidji, Bemidji is the first city on the Mississippi River after it leaves its birthplace in the nearby Itasca State Park. The downtown core features attractions like a history museum, a local brewery, and an outdoor art collection, and a paved cycling trail runs along the lakeshore. The town is also famously home to an 18-foot-tall statue of the legendary logger Paul Bunyan and his sidekick Babe the Blue Ox, and after snapping a photo with the enormous duo, visitors can head over to the nearby Visitors' Center to see some lumberjack memorabilia.

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7.Brainerd

Brainerd
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Nestled in the heart of Minnesota's lake country, Brainerd is a beautiful outdoor paradise with something for visitors to enjoy no matter what the season. There are hundreds of lakes in the area, many of which are excellent for fishing, boating, and swimming, and there are plenty of opportunities for golfing, hiking, and cycling as well. Other popular attractions include the Brainerd International Raceway, the Northland Arboretum, and the Roundhouse Brewery. Visitors with kids should also consider stopping by the Safari North Wildlife Park or Paul Bunyan Land, which features amusement park rides, a replica Pioneer Village, and an animated Paul Bunyan statue.

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8.Duluth

Duluth
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Set on the westernmost tip of Lake Superior, Duluth is a charming maritime city that boasts hundreds of miles of hiking and cycling trails. Start your visit by strolling along the beautiful Lakewalk, which passes through Canal Park and offer stunning views of the city's iconic Aerial Lift Bridge, then visit the Lake Superior Railroad Museum or take a tour of the historic 1908 Glensheen mansion and its beautiful gardens. Fittingly, another of the city's biggest highlights is the Great Lakes Aquarium, which is the only aquarium in the country to have a focus on freshwater exhibits.

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9.Duluth Park Point Beach

Duluth Park Point Beach
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If you're more interested in Duluth's location on Lake Superior than in its urban attractions, you should consider spending the day at Duluth Park Point Beach instead of in the city. The park consists primarily of a 7-mile-long sandbar that provides plenty of opportunities for sunbathing and swimming, but it also offers amenities like a sand volleyball court, a handful of picnic tables and pavilions, and a boat launch visitors can use if they want to get out on the water. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer, and the park hosts an art fair at the end of every July.

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10.Ely

Ely
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Surrounded by the mountains of the Vermilion Iron Range, Ely is a historic mining town that now serves primarily as the entry point for the spectacular Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This million-acre wilderness area encompasses some of the most beautiful terrain in America, and it offers a plethora of activities to choose from, including canoeing, fishing, and wildlife watching. If you'd rather stay closer to town, you can learn about the area's wildlife at the North American Bear Center, get up close and personal with wolves at the International Wolf Center, or visit the Dorothy Molter Museum.

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11.Excelsior

Excelsior
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Conveniently located less than 20 miles away from downtown Minneapolis, Excelsior is a tiny town on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. The lake is a popular destination with fishermen, and there are two swimming beaches as well. If you'd rather stay on dry land, you can also admire the beautiful flowers at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. However, don't make the mistake of thinking the town's waterfront location means you should stay away during the winter; the colder weather brings an incredible display of ice castles, which feature ice slides, beautiful sculptures, and plenty of tunnels for visitors to explore.

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12.Grantsburg

Grantsburg
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Some people think of Grantsburg as little more than a manufacturing hub, and although this is an important part of its economy, it also happens to be surrounded by some of the most pristine wilderness in Wisconsin. The village itself is proudly one of the state's Bird Cities, and the nearby 30,000-acre Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area is a wonderful spot for birdwatching and wildlife photography. Grantsburg also a popular gateway to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which offers more than 200 miles of refreshing river water that welcomes canoers, kayakers, and tubers alike.

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13.Historic Forestville

Historic Forestville
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Originally settled in 1852, Historic Forestville is a fascinating ghost town that was abandoned by every single one of its inhabitants by 1910. The town is now a living museum designed to look exactly like it did in 1899, and it features costumed actors going about their business in the town's general store, garden, homes, and offices. A 45-minute guided tour of the site is included in the admission fee, and visitors can also browse the educational exhibits in the Visitors' Center, enjoy a picnic in the reconstructed barn, and borrow historic lawn games to play on the grounds.

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14.Hudson

Hudson
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Perched on the banks of the St. Croix River directly across from the Twin Cities, Hudson is a picturesque river town with a welcoming, leisurely atmosphere. The downtown shops sell everything from antiques to local handicrafts to artisan chocolates, and the peaceful Lakefront Park is a wonderful place to have a picnic or listen to the live music that's often played here on Sunday evenings. If you like architecture or historic homes, you should also take a tour of the unique Octagon House Museum, which can be found among the elegant Victorian homes on Third Street.

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15.Iona's Beach Scientific and Natural Area

Iona's Beach Scientific and Natural Area
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Stretching for more than 300 yards along the northern shore of Lake Superior, Iona's Beach Scientific and Natural Area is one of the largest and most unique beaches in Minnesota's Lake Country. The shore is covered in beautiful pink stones, but believe it or not, their color isn't their most surprising feature. When the waves come in, the water gently lifts the rocks and drops them back down, creating a magical song that often reminds visitors of tiny bells. The beach is only a short walk from the parking lot, and although there are no amenities here, it's a lovely place for a picnic.

3548 MN-61, Two Harbors, MN 55616, Phone: 218-753-2580

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16.Lake Pepin

Lake Pepin
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Sitting on the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, Lake Pepin is a beautiful lake created by a natural widening of the Mississippi River. The lake is surrounded by a 70-mile highway dotted with charming villages and interesting attractions, and it's possible to do the entire circuit as a day trip if you don't get too sidetracked. Some of the most popular stops include the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historical Museum, the Nelson Cheese Factory, and the National Eagle Center, but if you'd rather simply relax and do some shopping, the tiny town of Stockholm is your best bet.

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17.Mantorville

Mantorville
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Established in 1854, Mantorville is one of the oldest cities in Minnesota, and it features a quaint selection of historic buildings and attractions. The town's courthouse is the oldest one in the state still in operation, and there's also an 1865 log home that housed the original Dodge County Jail. A small historical museum can be found in the town's 1869 Episcopal church. Itineraries for self-guided walking tours of the Historic District are available at many of the local businesses, but if you're interested in learning even more about the town's history, you can join a guided ghost tour.

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18.New Ulm

New Ulm
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With its inviting blend of German heritage and Midwestern charm, New Ulm is a unique little city that makes a perfect day trip destination. The most iconic sight in the city is the Hermann Heights Monument, more commonly known as Hermann the German, a 102-foot statue with an observation platform at the base. Other attractions include the Morgan Creek Vineyards, the Harkin Store history museum, and the German-style Schell’s Brewery. If you're a music fan, you'll also likely want to visit the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, where you can see photos and memorabilia of famous musicians like Bob Dylan, Prince, and Judy Garland.

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19.Owatonna

Owatonna
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Named after the Sioux word for "straight", referring to its location on the Straight River, Owatonna is the county seat of Steele County. The biggest attractions include the gorgeous National Farmers Bank building, the Cabela’s department store, and a unique Orphanage Museum that housed more than 100,000 children between 1886 to 1945. If you're interested in the area's natural attractions, you can visit the Mineral Springs Park, the North Straight River Parkway, or the Kaplan's Woods Parkway as well. Every August, the city also hosts the Steele County Free Fair, which attracts hundreds of vendors from all over the state.

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20.Pipestone National Monument and Park

Pipestone National Monument and Park
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The Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains have been using red pipestone to craft sacred ceremonial pipes for thousands of years, and the Pipestone National Monument and Park was established in 1937 to protect one of the area's most significant red pipestone quarries. A three-quarter-mile loop trail allows visitors to take a self-guided tour of the quarries, and it also passes by a beautiful waterfall and several historical markers. The Visitors' Center is full of exhibits about the site's historical and cultural importance, and during the summer, it often hosts live pipemaking demonstrations featuring local craftworkers.

36 Reservation Ave, Pipestone, MN 56164, Phone: 507-825-5464

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21.Quarry Park & Nature Preserve

Quarry Park & Nature Preserve
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Encompassing over 680 acres, the Quarry Park & Nature Preserve is a picturesque park that provides plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Its most popular features include its rock climbing walls, its scenic picnic areas, and its two quarries, which are perfect for trout fishing and for cooling off during the warm summer months. Experienced scuba divers are welcome to explore the quarries as well. There is also an excellent trail system that welcomes hikers and mountain bikers alike, and during the winter, the trails can also be used for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat tire biking.

1802 Co Rd 137, Waite Park, MN 56387, Phone: 320-255-6172

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22.Ramsey Park

Ramsey Park
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Found in the town of Redwood Falls, Ramsey Park is sometimes called the "Little Yellowstone of Minnesota" thanks to its ruggedly picturesque scenery. The centerpiece of the park is the gorgeous Ramsey Falls, which can be reached via a short walking path from the main parking lot, but visitors can also enjoy the park's four miles of hiking trails, the excellent trout fishing in the Redwood Waterfall, and the many picturesque lookouts and picnic areas. Families with kids will also want to visit the Ramsey Park Zoo, which is home to buffalo, prairie dogs, and more.

County Road 31 Redwood Falls, Minnesota 56283, Phone: 507-616-7444

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23.Stillwater

Stillwater
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Widely recognized as one of the most picturesque towns in the country, Stillwater is the proud birthplace of Minnesota. Much of the town's charm comes from its spectacular location on the St. Croix River, and taking a paddleboat cruise down the river is one of the most popular activities in the summer. However, there are plenty of other things to do as well no matter what the time of year, whether that be exploring one of the local wineries or breweries , marveling at the colorful fall foliage, or enjoying a delicious meal on one of the town's many restaurant patios.

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24.Taylors Falls

Taylors Falls
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With a population of less than 1000 people, Taylors Falls seems at first like a quintessential small Minnesota town, but it boasts a surprising number of interesting tourist attractions. For one thing, the town is the gateway to the nearby Interstate State Park, which boasts some of the world's largest glacial potholes. It's possible to explore the park on your own, but it's often recommended to join a guided tour. Aside from the potholes, you can also bring your kids to the Wild Mountain Waterpark, take the historical Osceola Saint Croix River Train, or visit the Franconia Sculpture Garden

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25.Two Harbors

Two Harbors
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Made up of two historic villages that were reincorporated as one in 1907, Two Harbors is now the largest town on the northern shore of Lake Superior. Shipping iron ore has long been an important part of the town's economy, and visitors can learn about this aspect of the area's history by touring the historic tugboat Edna G., which is moored in Agate Bay. The Depot Museum is another great place to learn about the town's history, but if you're looking for something different, you can hike the Superior Hiking Trail, visit the Castle Danger Brewery, or stop by the Two Harbors Lighthouse.

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25 Best Weekend Getaways and Day Trips from Minneapolis, MN