The Very Best of Minnesota
Minnesota – the land of 10,000+ lakes and more
I’ve called Minnesota home for 25 years, and here are a few must-see-and-do experiences from a local’s perspective. All destinations are appropriate for most ages except where noted, and all accessible by vehicles.
Mall of America offers more than shopping
If you‘re a first-timer, the Mall of America (or MOA as we locals call it) can be daunting and overwhelming as the 5.6 million-square-foot mall features more than 500 stores. Located in Bloomington, Minn., it’s only a few miles from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.
Then there’s this seven-acre amusement park in the center – Nickelodean Universe – the largest indoor theme park in the U.S. In all, the Mall of America features 27 rides and attractions, including the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium.
How to get there: It’s drivable and offers plenty of parking. Or you can take the blue line on the light rail from Minneapolis or the MSP Airport.
Go jump into one of the 10,000+ lakes
With 11,842 lakes, you’ll never be at a loss on water activities from fishing to boating to paddleboarding to tubing to swimming. Here are few popular lake destinations.
Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park – Located right in Minneapolis; this park includes Brownie Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Bde Maka Ska, and Lake Harriet, with trails connecting them.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area – Looking for a place to completely unplug? This is the place. Located in the northern part of Minnesota, this wilderness area covers more than one million acres and features 1,200 miles of canoe routes and 12 hiking trails. This is a fairly rugged area so probably not suitable for younger children.
Lake Minnetonka – At more than 14,000 square feet, this is the largest lake in the Twin Cities metropolitan area that boasts fun activities for the entire family.
Lake Mille Lacs – a popular family vacation destination, it’s one of the state’s largest lakes where you can enjoy activities year-round
Miles and miles of bike and hiking trails
Minnesota offers 4,000 miles of paved bike trails with many created from former railroad beds in scenic areas. Check this rails-to-trails site for locations, trail terrain, length and reviews. Hiking trails are also quite abundant with various degrees of difficulty – from paved paths to steep rocky climbs. Check this site for details on everything from easy daytrips to multi-day backpacking adventures. These resources are also good in determining age-appropriateness.
Stroll through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Take a nature break at Minnehaha Falls
One of Minneapolis’ oldest parks features the 53-foot Minnehaha Falls waterfall right in the heart of the Twin Cities. And if visiting late spring to early fall, be sure to stop at the nearby Sea Salt Eatery, one of my favorite al fresco restaurants.
Take the scenic drive along the North Shore to Gooseberry Falls
If you love waterfalls, take a three-hour drive north of the cities along Lake Superior and visit the beautiful Gooseberry Falls. The whole family can enjoy an easy hike on a paved trail around the falls top to bottom.
Tour the historic Split Rock Lighthouse
Drive seven miles north of Gooseberry Falls to tour the beautiful and historical Split Rock Lighthouse that sits above Lake Superior in Two Harbors, Minn. If you don’t mind stairs (there’s a lot of them), you can check out the lighthouse from the shores of Lake Superior. Take caution especially with small children as it is very rocky and can become dangerous during inclement weather.
Lutsen Mountains offers year-round activities
Take a scenic road trip another 45 miles north on the North Shore and visit Lutsen Mountains. This area offers year-round activities including hiking trails, a gondola ride, alpine slide and skiing. The gondola ride is especially incredible during leaf-peeping season.
Duluth – the gateway to Lake Superior
I could write an entire blog series on all the great things to experience in Duluth, one of my favorite places in Minnesota. My son attends the University of Minnesota-Duluth (Go Bulldogs!) so we visit often (about a 2.5-hour drive from the Twin Cities – depending on weather and construction, of course).
Here’s an abbreviated list of things to do in Duluth.
- Lake Superior Lakewalk and Boardwalk – a paved 7.5-mile trail where you can enjoy lake views, shopping and restaurants; and can walk up to the harbor lighthouse during the summer
- Aerial lift bridge – Duluth’s most famous landmark – stay long enough to watch it rise to let boats and even ships through (here’s a ship schedule)
- Glensheen Mansion tour – this historic two-acre estate overlooks Lake Superior and features gardens, bridges, and a 39-room mansion
- Great Lakes Aquarium – features animals and habitats found within the Great Lakes Basin as well as animals from other freshwater ecosystems such as the Amazon River
- Scenic drives – Duluth offers several beautiful drives in the area
- Brewery tours (21+) – if you’re a fan of craft beer, check out one or more of their local brewery tours
- Bentleyville Tour of Lights – America’s largest free walk-through lighting display during the winter holiday season
Take a family day at the Science Museum of Minnesota
The Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul is one of our favorite places to visit especially when my two young nieces visit (elementary school), but we adults also love it.
Minnesota Zoo – from tigers to exotic fish to butterflies
Open 365 days a year, the Minnesota Zoo is a fun family destination. And while the zoo features many animals, birds and sealife from around the world, my favorite is the Butterfly Garden. Another endearing exhibit is Farm Babies, open March 22 through April 30 – so much cuteness! The Minnesota Zoo is also a great way to eliminate cabin fever during the winter months.
These are just a few of my favorite things to experience in Minnesota, and is not an exhaustive list. For more amazing destinations, refer to Explore Minnesota – a great resource to discover Minnesota.
Bio: Karen Mellott-Foshier (aka kmf)
A former hockey mom midway through my third year as an emptynester, I recently resigned from corporate life after 25+ years as a journalist, corporate communications manager, writer, and editor. I’m excited to focus my energy on two of my passions – writing and traveling – and sharing travel tips and destination inspirations for emptynester, family, solo, and girlfriend getaways.
Would love to connect with you on social. Here’s where you can find me
Karen Minnesota looks BEAUTIFUL! I would love to visit when the leaves are changing! Thank you for sharing with us!