best day trips from minneapolis

17 Best Day Trips from Minneapolis in 2021

Minneapolis, one-half of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, is the perfect place to begin your venture out into the Midwest to explore more of what this beautiful state has to offer. 

Minnesota boasts over 10,000 lakes, a plethora of national and state parks, and beaches, waterfalls, and hiking trails as far as the eye can see. The state is full of interesting day trip ideas when you need a quick break from the city.

From stunning views, quirky pit stops, and attractions for the young and young-hearted, here are 17 of the best day trips from Minneapolis you should take this year.

1. Great Wolf Lodge

indoor waterpark in Great Wolf Lodge
Source: Great Wolf Lodge

You don’t have to go far out of the city to have fun with the whole family. Great Wolf Lodge in Bloomington features a massive indoor water park where fun awaits in and out of the water. 

Splash around the water parks pools, tubes, rides, and slides before hitting dry land for the rock climbing wall, ropes course, arcade, and bowling alley. Embark on magical adventures around the Lodge at MagiQuest, or pan for gems at Oliver’s Mining Co. A Build-A-Bear Workshop rounds out this incredible space. 

Book your next family vacation at our Minnesota lodge now. Water park passes, unlimited Wi-Fi, and a variety of kids’ activities will be included in your stay.

Stay for lunch, dinner, ice cream, and cocktails at one of their eight dining options.

2. Taylors Falls

scenic boat tour at St. Croix River
Source: Taylors Fall

This town might be tiny, but it sure packs a punch when it comes to charming views and adventures. Only an hour north of Minneapolis, Taylors Falls was voted 4th in the “Top 10 Coolest Towns in Minnesota” and is a well-loved autumn destination for seeing some enchanting fall foliage. 

Taylors Falls makes an ideal day trip for nature-loving travelers who want to explore the great outdoors. See the St. Croix River water gush over million-year-old rock formations as you hike one of the many trails or relax on a scenic boat tour. Stop by Wild Mountain for fun year-round outdoor activities: waterparks, waterslides, and go-karts in the summer, and skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing in the winter. 

When you’re done with all the fun, take a trip back in time at Taylors Falls Drive In to enjoy homemade burgers, root beer floats, and carhops in poodle skirts.

3. New Ulm

Hermann Heights Monument in New Ulm
Source: New Ulm

Bursting with German pride and culture at every corner is New Ulm, a quaint town situated an hour and a half outside Minneapolis. The town’s crown jewel, a 45-foot tall, 37 bell glockenspiel complete with dancing figurines, sits downtown and chimes five times a day. 

Stop by the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame where legends like Prince and Judy Garland are honored, or stick around to celebrate Christmas in the wreath and tree-lined downtown district and watch the annual Parade of Lights.

Of course, a visit to New Ulm wouldn’t be complete without enjoying some German cuisine and brews. The historic New Ulm Turner Hall is the oldest bar in Minnesota and offers German classics like bavarian pretzels, sauerkraut, and spӓtzle. Schell’s Brewery, the oldest brewery in Minnesota and second-oldest family-owned brewery in the United States, offers their own craft beer, tours around the brewery, and hosts events like Oktoberfest. Prost!

4. Austin

austin, minnesota
Source: Wikipedia

Not to be confused with the Texas capital, though still bursting with eccentricity, is Austin, a charming small town an hour and a half away from Minneapolis. It even made it on a “Best Small Cities in America” list in 2015.

Visit the Spam Museum (Austin is also known as Spamtown, USA), catch an old-school movie at the beautiful Paramount Theater, or pose with Buffy the Cow, the 15-foot fiberglass Mower County Fairgrounds mascot. Austin is also the birthplace of Hormel Foods, and you can tour the Hormel Historic Home.

When you’re done, grab a bite to eat at The Tendermaid, a simple burger and shake joint that’s popular with locals. 

5. Stillwater

relaxing river view from Stillwater
Source: Stillwater

Located half an hour outside of Minneapolis, Stillwater is considered the birthplace of Minnesota and holds accolades on lists like Best Minnesota Weekend Getaway, Best Twin Cities Day Trips, and landed a spot on Forbes Magazine’s “Prettiest Towns in America.” 

This picturesque river town is full of antique shops (they were also voted one of the best antiquing towns in the U.S.), boutiques, wineries, breweries, and restaurants. 

Immerse yourself in the history of Stillwater by taking a walk down historic Main Street with over 100 locally-owned shops. Or, get your steps in by walking all five historical sets of stairs and enjoy the breathtaking views. Cool off on the scenic St. Croix River with pontoon rentals, kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, or a river boat tour. 

6. Niagara Cave

wonderful Niagara Cave
Source: Niagara Falls

Located 2 hours outside of Minneapolis in the tiny town of Harmony, Niagara Cave will bring you underground to a whole new world. 

Put on your best walking shoes and a warm jacket (the cave is around 48° and goes nearly 200 feet below the surface) and marvel at the 450 million-year-old fossils, 60-foot waterfall, and stunning stalactites and stalagmites. Once you’re done in the caves, head up to enjoy mini-golf, gemstone panning, and a picnic lunch at the playground. 

Still craving some more history? Harmony and the surrounding area is home to Minnesota’s largest Amish settlements, and a variety of Amish-owned shops and tours are available to take a peek into this way of life.

7. Winona

Beautiful Winona Town during Winter
Source: Winona

The scenic town of Winona is only a couple of hours outside Minneapolis— and yes, it’s home to and the namesake of actress Winona Ryder. Enjoy an afternoon wine tasting at one of the four vineyards in the area, take a stained glass walking tour around the historic city center, or follow in the footsteps of famous blues singers like Bob Dylan as you drive down the iconic U.S. Route 61. 

Traveling with small kids? Keep them occupied during your next flight with these awesome airplane games for kids. There are also a variety of museums and parks to check out in Winona, like the Minnesota Marine Art Museum and Merrick State Park. 

There are also a variety of museums and parks to check out in Winona, like the Minnesota Marine Art Museum and Merrick State Park. 

Winona is also home to Sugar Loaf, a bluff topped with a rock formation that towers nearly 80 feet into the sky. See the town from a different perspective as you hike and climb up this beautiful landmark. If the bluff’s name has you wanting something sweet, stop by Bloedow Bakery, Winona’s hometown bakery of almost 100 years.

8. Jeffers Petroglyphs

sacred rock carvings in Jeffers Petroglyphs
Source: Jeffers Petroglyphs

Don’t miss the opportunity to discover some amazing Native American history at Jeffers Petroglyphs in Comfrey, two hours away from Minneapolis. See nearly 5,000 sacred rock carvings (petroglyphs) that date back to 7,000 years ago, explore trails with over 250 native species of grasses and wildflowers, and if staff is available, visit the atlatl range and learn how to throw this ancient spear at bison targets. Native Americans get free entry!

After a day exploring this unique site, stop by Comfrey Bar and Grill. It’s the only restaurant in this tiny town— so you know it’s good. Their vast and inexpensive menu serves up comforting American classics.

9. Bemidji

Bemidji is one of the best day trips in Minneapolis
Source: Bemidji

While no stop in Bemidji is without snapping a photo with the famous statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, this little town has more to offer than these roadside legends. 

Bemidji has plenty of boutiques, parks with hiking and biking trails, art galleries, and a brewery (Bemidji Brewing) that will make your day trip well worth it. 

Take advantage of the nearly three and a half hour journey north from Minneapolis by exploring the great outdoors at Lake Bemidji State Park, picking up some vintage goodies at Grandma’s Attic Antique Mall, and devouring some Irish fare at Keg n’ Cork, the first Irish pub on the Mississippi River. 

10. Silver Bay

Stunning black sand beach in Silver Bay
Source: Silver Bay

If you’re looking for a quick coastal break for your day trip, journey a few hours north of Minneapolis to Silver Bay

Relax on their stunning black sand beach (appropriately named Black Beach) or enjoy a few other on-land activities. You can zipline and do ropes courses at North Shore Adventure Park, hike Tettegouche State Park, or take a scenic cruise for some adventurous alternatives with gorgeous views all around. 

End your day at Northwoods Family Grille, serving up all-day breakfast and award-winning burgers. There are also a number of breweries and wineries in the area.

North of Minneapolis is Duluth, home to museums, lighthouses, restaurants, and shops that offer plenty of family-friendly day trip options. The city features one of the United States’ only aquariums that focuses on freshwater exhibits, Great Lakes Aquarium, Lake Superior Zoo, and the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge. 

Duluth is also the birthplace of Bob Dylan, and you can see his childhood home or attend the Duluth Dylan Fest.

Spirit Mountain offers year-round outdoor adventures for outdoor lovers, from snow tubing and skiing to camping and an adventure park. There are also a variety of breweries, distilleries, and wineries that fill the city. 

12. Lake City

Lake City, MN
Source: Tripadvisor

Lake City is a little over an hour outside of Minneapolis and is an outdoor day trip dream, sitting next to Lake Pepin and boasting a plethora of parks and some of the best swimming, boating, and fishing in the Midwest. 

Lake City is also the birthplace of water skiing, and the annual Water Ski Days are held to commemorate this. Other year-round festivals, scenic cruises, hiking and biking trails, campgrounds, and beaches provide endless outdoor entertainment. 

When you’re done exploring all of the beautiful nature here, find charming local shops and restaurants across the city.

13. Red Wing

Red Wing, MN
Source: Visit Red Wing

Red Wing is one of the most popular day trips from Minneapolis and is only an hour away from the city. Named after a 19th-century Dakota Sioux chief, this charming town is home to the iconic Red Wing Shoes company and Barn Bluff, a nearly 400-foot tall sacred bluff of the Dakota people, for hiking and sightseeing. 

Aside from swimming and boating in the Mississippi River or Lake Pepin, Frontenac State Park, just a short drive away, offers excellent mountain biking, bird watching, golfing, and cross-country skiing. You’ll also find many ideal day trip outings across Red Wing like museums, galleries, and shops with antiques and authentic Red Wing shoes.

Foodies will enjoy all the local flavor Red Wing has to offer. Red Wing Brewery has craft beer and pizza, while Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop (voted Best Bakery in Minnesota) serves up homemade bread, custom cakes, and a variety of creative and flavorful donuts. Head to Scarlet Kitchen & Bar for more upscale dining and panoramic views of the Mississippi River. 

14. Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka
Source: Lake Minnetonka

Only half an hour away from Minneapolis is Lake Minnetonka, dotted with lakeside communities along its more than 100 miles of shoreline. As one of the largest lakes in Minnesota, Lake Minnetonka is popular for swimming, boating, and steamboat cruises. Journey out to Big Island for sunbathing, floating, and picnicking. 

After a day out on the water, explore towns along the lake that will add tons of culture and entertainment to your day trip. Visit Excelsior, one of the most popular towns, for antique shops, waffle fries, and to find your new favorite ice cream parlor. 

Just a short jaunt out of Minneapolis, near the city of Minnetonka, are exciting finds like the Pavek Museum and Westwood Hills Nature Center

You can also find parks, beaches, playhouses, dinner theaters, and attractions like the Wayzata Street Trolley and Noerenberg Gardens around the area. Pubs, live music, and seafood add to the local lake life atmosphere around Lake Minnetonka. 

15. Owatonna

Owatonna, MN
Source: Owatonna

The charming small town of Owatonna is only an hour away from Minneapolis and makes a quaint city break with interesting day trip ideas for the whole family. See a variety of reptilians up close at the Reptile & Amphibian Discovery Zoo, catch a performance at the Little Theatre of Owatonna, or take an art class at the Arts Center.

Owatonna’s historic downtown district spans 12 blocks and features three landmark properties, locally-owned boutiques, and a farmers market, all surrounding the town’s Central Park— where you can stop by in the summer for their live music concert series.

Outdoor adventures include River Springs Water Park, golf courses, and numerous parks and trails for hiking and biking. Don’t forget to snap a photo with the Princess Owatonna statue in Mineral Springs Park!

Visit Owatonna in August for the Steele County Free Fair, the largest county fair in Minnesota, featuring amusement rides, carnival games, live music, and more. SpareTime Entertainment offers more gaming and entertainment with bowling, laser tag, and more.

There is plenty of tasty local cuisine to choose from, like bagel sandwiches at Old Town Bagels or drinks (plus games and live music) at Bridge Street Tavern. There are also a few breweries in town and several wineries in the surrounding area. 

16. Brainerd

Brainerd, MN
Source: Visit Brainerd

The Brainerd Lakes area is home to 450 lakes, and the town of Brainerd has a huge variety of indoor and outdoor entertainment lined up for your day trip: from parks, lakes, water parks, adventure and entertainment courses, and a wildlife park. 

In for a long drive? Be sure to check out these 21 road trip games for kids.

One famous Brainerd attraction is Paul Bunyan Land, named after the Minnesotan legend. This amusement park features a 26-foot-tall talking Paul Bunyan, as well as 27 rides, Pioneer Village (pioneer-themed area with attractions), and a campground. 

One famous Brainerd attraction is Paul Bunyan Land, named after the Minnesotan legend. This amusement park features a 26-foot-tall talking Paul Bunyan, as well as 27 rides, Pioneer Village (pioneer-themed area with attractions), and a campground. 

After a day exploring the beautiful land and water of Brainerd, find both family dining and fun nightlife to round out your day trip. 

17. Alexandria

Alexandria, MN
Source: Explore Alexandria Minnesota

Alexandria is one of the fastest-growing communities in western Minnesota and is well-loved for its location around hundreds of clear, blue Minnesotan lakes. 

Alexandria’s historic downtown district features bookshops, boutiques, cafés, and more. Visitors can enjoy the town’s golf courses, race track, and other cultural adventures like museums, theatres, live music, and galleries.

A number of parks with hiking and biking trails, plus easy access to lakes for swimming, boating, fishing, water sports, and more, makes Alexandria an ideal nature-filled day trip. 

Local restaurants, pubs, and bakeries fill Alexandria, and plenty of breweries and wineries in the area. 

More From Great Wolf Lodge

No matter the season, you can take a break from the Twin Cities and explore more of the beautiful Midwest without even leaving the state. These 17 day-trip ideas are just a jumping-off point to photo opportunities, new experiences, and lifelong memories with you and your family and friends. 

From hidden town gems and history-filled streets to delicious cuisine and outdoor adventures galore, Minnesota is in no short supply of incredible ideas for easy-going or jam-packed day trips from Minneapolis. 

If you’re planning to visit the area and haven’t yet booked your stay, consider making Great Wolf Lodge home base. In addition to the indoor water park, our Bloomington lodge features tons of dry-land attractions, including an arcade, ropes course, bowling alley, and more! 

If you don’t have plans to travel this year, you can always enjoy some quality family time at home. Check out our blog for water activities, crafts, recipes, science experiments, and more! 

FAQ

Where can I go for a day trip from Minneapolis?

Popular day-trip destinations include Stillwater, Taylors Falls, Duluth, and Red Wing, all within one hour of Minneapolis. 

What is there to do for a day trip in Minnesota?

Minnesota offers plenty of day trip activities across the state, from historical sites, state and local parks, lakes and beaches, local shopping and dining, adventure courses, arts, culture, and entertainment.

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