Minnesota has a variety of charming small towns. From the South Minnesota farming communities to Northern Minnesota's pine lodge settlements, and everything in between.
What I like most about Minnesota is that visiting each city and town is more than just going to a tiny community, on the off chance that you may see something.
It's all about selecting your preferences for a city since there is so much difference in scenery and vibe from one location to the next. You may also create particular themes for each journey. I'm not talking about simply wanting outdoor activities; you can get picky, such as doing a fall colors road trip or a waterfalls road trip.
It's fun to discover new things and try them out, so the possibilities are endless and well worth it. There's a lot to see in Minnesota.
Visit the North Shore to Tour the Towns
The North Shore is one of my personal favorites in Minnesota. It has everything you could want on a road trip, including a beautiful drive, a major city to visit before heading out into the wild, small-town stops en route, and fantastic state parks.
The North Shore is a 140-mile stretch of road in Minnesota that runs along Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border. There are several beaches along the route, including cobblestone beach, Brighton beach, and of course, the iconic pink sand beach.
For this road trip along the North Shore, make it about stopping at the beaches but then also make this into a tour of the towns. Along the North Shore, you can visit some of the best small town gems of Minnesota from Duluth including Two Harbors, Castle Danger, Silver Bay, Lutsen, Grand Marais, and Grand Portage.
Plan your tour around cabin hopping along Lake Superior to see the sights, see the towns and meet the locals.
New Ulm for Oktoberfest
New Ulm is a small town with a ton of German history.
This little hamlet, founded by a modest group of German settlers from the formerly tiny town of Ulm Germany, is living up to its name with numerous festivals, libraries, and churches.
New Ulm is home to some of the most beautiful German-style buildings in the state, many of which were constructed more than a century ago. You'll get an idea of this by going to August Schell Brewing Company for Oktoberfest. New Ulm is one of the largest Oktoberfests in the United States.
During Oktoberfest, I went to Schell's and must say that it knows how to put on a genuine Oktoberfest. It more than met my expectations.
While you're in town, make a point of going to Hermann the German, a well-known landmark in Minnesota that dominates the city of New Ulm.
This town makes for one of the best day trips from the Twin Cities since you can get there in just about 90 minutes.
Lanesboro and the Root River Valley
Lanesboro, Minnesota is a lovely little town with Victorian homes and kind, pleasant people.
Lanesboro is one of my personal favorites because it has a certain charm tucked away in the midst of the Root River Valley and owing to its reputation as the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota.
Lanesboro is located about an hour and a half from the Twin Cities and is a quick drive from Rochester, making it a great spot for a weekend getaway during the gorgeous summer months or quiet escapes on a cold Minnesota winter weekend.
Lanesboro is a beautiful, small town in Minnesota known for being one of the most romantic. It has some wonderful locations for memorable small weddings or photoshoots.
The town, with its quaint shops, local restaurants, and intricate architecture, makes it the perfect backdrop for a fantastic day out.
If you enjoy outdoor activities, this is an excellent location to visit since the Root River State Trail runs parallel to the town, allowing you to bike for miles. Rent a canoe or kayak and paddle down the Root River as long on a summer day as possible.
Purify Yourself in the Depth of Lake Minnetonka
If you live in the greater Twin Cities area, you might be saying is Lake Minnetonka a "road trip"?
It's probably not a full-fledged "road trip," but it is possible since the lake is so big and there are so many undiscovered gems in the region. You may have a staycation on the shores of Lake Minnetonka by staying in Excelsior and exploring the neighboring towns of Victoria or Waconia.
Or, do a brewery and winery tour in Excelsior and Waconia, respectively.
Alternatively, you can visit the north end of Lake Minnetonka of Wayzata and tour Orono, Hamel, and the surrounding small towns and gems in this area. Not to mention Lake Minnetonka is not just about boating or ice fishing, there are plenty of parks to visit as well.
On one of the many islands, you may pitch your tent and go for walks or bike rides that may take you hundreds of miles. There are a plethora of alternatives; all you have to do is be open to trying new things.
Tour the Great River Road
Another National Scenic Byway in Minnesota is the Great River Road. This driving tour, like the North Shore, is without a doubt one of the greatest road trips in America.
The Lower Mississippi River Valley is about three hundred miles long and takes you on a journey through the history of Minnesota. It begins in Minneapolis, follows the Mississippi River Gorge, and goes on for several kilometers.
Instead of being in Northern Minnesota, you'll be in Southeastern Minnesota on this journey. This trip has some fine stops, including Hastings, Red Wing, Lake City, Wabasha, and Winona.
You'll get a chance to see the scenic transformation of the Mississippi River into what turns into Lake Pepin where Lake City, Wabasha, and Winona all reside.
There are a plethora of incredible outdoor activities, including the legendary Frontenac State Park, which has hiking trails, beaches, and panoramic views of Lake Pepin.
Each attraction on this road trip offers something special. For example, Red Wing has a historic charm and the history of Red Wing Shoes. Meanwhile, Lake City lays claim to fame for water skiing and Wabasha is the hometown of Grumpy Old Men.
There are a variety of stunning cities located on the river or lake, which provide an excellent opportunity to enjoy boating, kayaking, fishing, and canoeing. This journey is a must for every visitor or local Minnesotan.
Visit Some of Minnesota's Best State Parks Along Lake Superior
Okay, let's return to the North Shore. This stretch of road is just too fantastic to be overlooked. On this journey, I propose that you arrange your itinerary based on "State Park Row."
As you drive north from Duluth along the North Shore, several state parks are so truly iconic to Minnesota including (in order from Duluth to heading north):
- Gooseberry Falls State Park,
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park (pictured above),
- Tettegouche State Park and you must see Palisade Head
- Temperance River State Park
- Cascade River State Park.
- Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters, and
- Grand Portage State Park
Not only that, but you also have some of the greatest hiking in the United States with Kitchi-Gami Trail and Superior National Hiking Trail. Each location offers a variety of camping options so you may turn your trip into a camping and hiking vacation.
The most beautiful times to visit are in the fall for the vibrant colors or in the spring when the snow has melted and waterfalls such as Gooseberry Falls, High Falls at Tettegouche State Park, and High Falls at Grand Portage may be seen. Watch this video on Tettegouche State Park and why it's so amazing.
Stop by the Voyageurs National Park in the central northern part of Minnesota if you have more time to plan.
Visit Close "Gems" to the Twin Cities like Hastings & Stillwater
Hastings is a small town located right on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin and sitting on the meeting point of 3 different rivers.
This town is a great stopover spot along the Great River Road in Minnesota.
Hastings features parks, a hopping downtown area, and some superb restaurants. Stillwater is another town that borders Wisconsin but is located in an entirely different area.
Stillwater, which is in Washington County and was established in 1855, is not just one of Minnesota's oldest settlements. It is the first incorporated city in Minnesota, and it is located on the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. This town is home to both beautiful architecture and nature.
Stillwater is a fantastic spot for foodies, as well as anybody looking for one-of-a-kind stores. Being that Stillwater is the state's first city, it's an excellent location to visit for history enthusiasts too. Make sure you check out the Old Warden's House and Washington County Courthouse while you're in town.
Stillwater and Hastings have many similarities and both are great day trip options from the Twin Cities since you can get there in under an hour. But I suggest staying the night and exploring everything that each of these towns has to offer.
Visit Schafer, Franconia Sculpture Park, Lindstrom, and Taylors Falls
You may explore all of these locations in one journey because they are all near to one another and accessible by car. Shafer is a lovely little city with stunning scenery, which offers boating, fishing, and canoeing as well as other outdoor activities. This village also has the quirky yet amusing Franconia Sculpture Park, which is a must-see if you're looking for something different.
Lindstrom, located on the shores of Chisago Lakes, is a town that has a little bit of everything from shopping and dining to nature. Make sure to check out the historic Taylors Falls while you're in the area. These falls are stunning, and they make for a great place to take photos.
Lindstrom is a Scandinavian sister city that features Swedish shops, bakeries, restaurants, and a ton of history about immigrants of Scandinavia in Minnesota.
Taylor's Falls is of the many fun small towns located on the St. Croix river offering good times and good vibes. Taylor's Falls is charming, with plenty of trails and surrounded by natural beauty.
The beautiful land of Interstate State Park is great for jogging and trekking. The Wild Mountain Ski & Snowboard Center is a favorite destination all year.
Visit the "Capital" of Southern Minnesota aka Rochester
It's been far too long since I set foot in Rochester, Minnesota, and I'm not sure why. But when I returned, I was surprised and captivated. Rochester is the third-largest city in Minnesota after Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Rochester, Minnesota is a lovely small town with a charming small-town feel. It's also home to the renowned Mayo Clinic. Rochester, Minnesota is a bustling hospital and lively downtown that provides an attractive, small-town atmosphere while still being considered a city.
Rochester is home to some fantastic craft restaurants and several of my favorite breweries in the state. Given the history of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester offers one of the better art cultures and history that the state has to offer. The Mayowood Mansion with its art, architecture and sprawling gardens is one example.
They have several artworks in the world's most significant collections of medicine, including the prestigious one at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
Go "Up North"
To summarize, in Minnesota, the term "Going Up North" is used to generally describe anything from going up north. I'm not sure how to explain it, but when you say you're going up north people know what you mean.
If you haven't met the individual before and claim that you are going to Minnesota, Minnesotans will just understand it and accept it. There are no inquiries asked about where you're going.
Going "north", on the other hand, implies seeing the Chain of Lakes in Brainerd, Nisswa, and Pine River, as well as several other towns throughout Minnesota. Alternatively, I suggest going to Walker for the Chippewa National Forest.
You may go even further north to see Ely and the International Wolf Center or have brunch with the bears at the Vince Schute Wildlife Sanctuary.
This is a journey you must make during the summer evenings when mosquitoes are the size of little birds. It's worth it, though, because the sky, loons, and timbering pine trees are unlike anything else on Earth.
Hiking is a rite of passage that, because it's "simply going up north," allows you to shape your meaning. You don't need a city or a landmark. And you certainly won't need any technology.
Minnesota offers a variety of roadway excursions to undertake. Whether you're searching for the finest views, museums and art galleries, or outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, or boating - Minnesota has something for everyone.
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