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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. Minneapolis, one-half of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, is the perfect place to start exploring more of what the beautiful Midwest has to offer.
From stunning views, quirky pit stops, and attractions for the young and young-hearted, here are 10 of the best day trips from Minneapolis you should take this year.
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 Stillwater’s history by taking a walk down historic Main Street with over 100 locally-owned shops. Cool off on the scenic St. Croix River with pontoon rentals, kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, or a river boat tour. Or, get your steps in by walking all five historic sets of stairs and enjoy the breathtaking views.
This town might be tiny, but it sure packs a punch when it comes to charming views and adventures. Only 1 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.
See the water of the St. Croix River 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, take a trip back in time at Taylors Falls Drive In to enjoy homemade burgers, root beer floats and carhops in poodle skirts after a round of mini golf.
3. 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.
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!
Not to be confused with the Texas capital but also bursting with eccentricity is Austin, a charming small town an hour and a half outside Minneapolis. They 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. When you’re done, grab a bite to eat at The Tendermaid, a simple burger and shake joint that’s popular with locals.
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 before hitting 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. Stay for lunch, dinner, ice cream and cocktails at one of their eight dining options.
6. Niagara Cave
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 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.
Don’t miss the opportunity to discover some amazing Native American history at Jeffers Petroglyphs in Comfrey, 2 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 amazing site, stop by Comfrey Bar and Grill. It’s the only restaurant in this tiny town— so you know it’s good. Their huge and inexpensive menu serves up comforting American classics.
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 4 vineyards in the area, take a stained glass walking tour around the historic city center, or follow in the footsteps of blues singers like Bob Dylan as you drive down the iconic U.S. Route 61.
While no stop in Bemidji can be done without taking selfies with the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, this little town has more to offer than these roadside legends. Take advantage of the nearly 3 and a half hour journey from Minneapolis by exploring the great outdoors at Lake Bemidji State Park, picking up some vintage goodies at Grandma’s Attic Antique Mall, then devouring some Irish fare at Keg n’ Cork, the first Irish pub on the Mississippi River.
10. Silver Bay
If you’re looking for a quick coastal break, journey a few hours outside of Minneapolis to Silver Bay. If relaxing on their stunning black sand beach (appropriately named Black Beach) isn’t of interest to you, 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.