As the state is known as the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’, it should come as no surprise that many of the best things to do in Minnesota relate to its amazing scenery. Blessed in terms of its natural riches, it now has over seventy state parks and national forests for visitors to explore.
While many people head to see its sparkling waterfalls or scenic Lake Superior shoreline, countless cultural attractions can be found in the Twin Cities. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have world-class museums full of priceless collections to amble around with one of the largest state fairs in the nation also taking place here.
Outside of the massive metropolitan area, you’ll find vast tracts of untouched wilderness to hike and kayak around with roughly a third of Minnesota being coated in pristine woodlands. Add in its endless lakes and interesting Native American archaeological sites and the North Star State really does have something that will appeal to everyone.
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27. Munsinger Clemens Gardens
A very peaceful and picturesque place to stroll around, Munsinger Clemens Gardens contains lots of colorful plants, flowers, trees and shrubs. Located along the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, its scenic confines lie just across its rushing waters from St. Cloud State University.
The popular attraction’s gorgeous grounds are actually made up of two distinct yet adjacent gardens with the much older Munsinger dating to 1915. In contrast, the comparatively recent Clemens part was planted in the nineties with formal sections full of fountains, flowerbeds and rose bushes lying alongside pretty, winding paths and perennials.
Whether it is wandering about lovely lily ponds and beautiful flower displays or along shady riverbanks and red brick paths, the gardens are definitely well worth checking out while in St. Cloud.
26. Grand Portage State Forest
Another unforgettable spot to head to if you love the great outdoors is the ginormous Grand Portage State Forest. Nestled away right in the extreme northeast corner of Minnesota, its endless wild areas have a wealth of outstanding outdoor activities for you to enjoy.
Extensively logged in the early twentieth century, its remaining woods and the sparkling rivers and lakes were protected as part of a park in 1933. Since then, much of it has regrown and rewilded with only hardy adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts making it out to the seriously secluded state forest.
Those who do venture here are in for an absolute treat as you can hike, camp and kayak with barely another soul in sight. There are over sixty miles of trails to cross-country ski and snowmobile along in winter with various boat launching points lining its pristine waterways.
25. Valleyfair Amusement Park
Much more accessible yet no less exciting is the fun and family-friendly Valleyfair. Set just a short drive southwest of the center of Minneapolis in Shakopee, the seasonal amusement park has around 75 thrilling rides and rollercoasters for guests to enjoy.
Since opening in 1975, generations of families have flocked to the fair with operates from mid-May right up to the end of October. Scattered about its sprawling site are hair-raising rides such as Steel Venom and Delirious with Planet Snoopy and Soak City’s pools, water slides and splash pads being more appropriate for younger ones.
On top of all its exhilarating attractions, the park puts on countless shows and concerts with themed Halloween nights being particularly popular. With so many rides and rollercoasters to try and plenty of souvenir stands and food stalls dotted about, Valleyfair guarantees families a great time.
24. Root River State Trail
A wonderful way to see more of the state’s spectacular scenery is to hike, bike, run or even ski along the Root River State Trail. Constructed on an abandoned railroad, it takes you through the Driftless Area of southeast Minnesota which is characterized by steep hills, forested ridges and deeply carved river valleys.
Stretching 42 miles in length, the multi-purpose paved path winds its way alongside the Root River, all the way from Fountain to Houston. While some parts pass through historic old towns high up on hillsides, others feature rolling fields, farms and forests and offer up divine views over the river and its surrounding bluffs.
Along the rambling route you can stop off at cozy B&Bs and quiet campsites with charming milling districts and other relics of the railroad’s heyday also displayed here and there.
23. Pipestone National Monument
A fascinating place to visit, Pipestone National Monument protects a series of centuries-old quarries that are sacred to many tribal nations in North America. At the archaeological site, visitors can hike along its trails, take photos of all the pretty fauna and flora and learn more about the area’s rich past.
For many millennia now, the Plains Indians have quarried stone here for ceremonial pipes with most archaeologists reckoning the site has now been in use for more than 3,000 years. Asides from seeing artifacts and exhibits in its interpretive centre, you can actually watch artisans hew pipestone out of the earth and turned it into intricately carved pipes.
No less arresting is the monument’s striking scenery as sparkling streams and waterfalls course their way besides all the dramatic rock formations of the quarries.
22. Guthrie Theater
If after all the arduous outdoor activities you simply want to sit back, relax and enjoy a scintillating show, then the iconic Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis is definitely the place to go. Now located in an eye-catching modern building alongside the Mississippi River, its three venues put on a packed schedule of classic and contemporary plays over the course of the year.
Very highly rated for its innovative and award-winning productions, the state-of-the-art theater was established in 1963 by esteemed director Sir Tyrone Guthrie who was disenchanted with Broadway. Since then, its reputation has continued to grow with both locals and tourists alike now packing out its intimate and atmospheric auditoriums.
In addition to watching enthralling dramas, music-filled comedies and seasonal shows, the complex has a couple of great cafes and restaurants to check out. It also puts on classes and workshops where aspiring actors and theater aficionados can hone their skills.
21. North American Bear Center, Ely
Just south of Shagawa Lake in the northeast of the state is one of Ely and the surrounding area’s top attractions: the North American Bear Center. At the educational facility, visitors can learn all about black bears, their behavior and natural habitat and even see some of the majestic creatures up close in its expansive enclosures.
The only science center of its kind in the country to focus on black bears, it was founded in 2007 to educate people about the awe-inspiring animals and address misconceptions and myths surrounding them. Alongside detailed displays and dioramas, you can watch amazing high-definition footage of bears in the wild and amble peacefully along its winding nature trails.
The highlight is of course seeing its four friendly residents – Ted, Holly, Tash and Lucky – play and search for food in their enclosure which includes man-made dens, ponds and a refreshing waterfall.
20. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
For those looking to really immerse themselves in nature, the breath-taking Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the place to go. Here you can hike, camp and canoe to your heart’s content with the vast preserve covering a massive swathe of the northeast of the state.
Originally inhabited by sparse populations of Native Americans, its ginormous forests and glittering glacial lakes were later exploited by Europeans for their rich natural resources. Nowadays, its wild spaces, streams and even islands just beg to be explored with there being over 1,200 miles of canoe routes for you to choose from.
As you slowly paddle along, you’ll enjoy some stupendous views and scenery with incredible cliffs, rocky outcrops and other formations sometimes appearing from amidst all its endless trees. On top of canoeing about and camping at its 2,000 or so backcountry campsites, you can hike along hidden trails, fish in reflective lakes and gaze at the shiny stars studding its dark night skies.
19. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
If it is instead awesome animals and immaculate gardens that you are after, then you are better off going to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. Tucked away in the west of Saint Paul on the way to Minneapolis, its grounds also contain a small amusement park, golf course and swimming pool.
Since the capital acquired the land around Lake Como in 1873, miles of paved paths and playing fields have sprung up alongside playgrounds, picnic areas and even a fishing pier. While locals and tourists make use of all the park’s fantastic facilities, it is mainly the latter who head to the zoo and conservatory.
At the former, you can see gorillas and orangutans, tigers and polar bears with around 1,700 animals of some seventy species now inhabiting its spacious enclosures. The conservatory is just as special to stroll around as beautiful bonsai displays and butterfly gardens lie besides elegant orchid houses and a stunning sunken garden.
18. Chain of Lakes
Despite lying so close to the center of Minneapolis, the Chain of Lakes feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Offering up all kinds of exciting outdoor activities and water sports, the collection of five lovely lakes can be just to the west and southwest of the city.
Now grouped together as part of a regional park, they make for very pleasant and picturesque places to stop by as the sun reflects off their glinting surface. Lining their brilliantly blue waters are lots of parks, beaches and even bird sanctuaries with hiking trails and bike paths connecting everything up.
Aside from cycling around the lakes, you can also boat and paddleboard about with sublime scenery and views guaranteed wherever you go. In summer, live music events and festivals are held along their shores which are packed with people sunbathing and strolling around.
17. Niagara Cave
While Minnesota is rightfully renowned for its lush forests and twinkling lakes, there are also some spectacular sights to see below ground. Just outside the small town of Harmony for instance is the captivating Niagara Cave which boasts an incredible underground river and 60-foot waterfall.
First discovered in 1924, the colossal cavern and its soaring stalactites and stalagmites were opened as a show cave almost exactly a decade later. Since then, untold thousands have visited each year to see its snaking passageways and subterranean wedding chapel.
On tours, you’ll venture 200 feet below the ground and see 450-million-year-old fossils embedded in the craggy karst landscapes all around you. One of the Driftless Area’s top attractions, Niagara Cave is open from the beginning of May right up until the end of October.
16. National Eagle Center, Wabasha
Right on the border with neighboring Wisconsin is yet another hugely interesting institute to check out: the excellent National Eagle Center. Located right in the center of Wabasha along the west bank of the Mississippi River, its observation decks allow visitors to observe bald eagles in the wild with others inhabiting its aviary.
Set up in 1995 to advocate for and protect the majestic creatures, its site overlooks the confluence of the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers. Thanks to various environmental factors, hundreds of eagles congregate here to hunt fish and feed year-round. As such, you can almost always see at least some soaring through the air before they plunge down and pluck a wriggling fish out of the waters below.
Besides watching them in the wild, you can also meet some of their resident ambassadors – sick and injured eagles that unfortunately can’t be released outside. In addition, engaging exhibits and expert staff members can provide more information on both bald and golden eagles with habitat tours also taking you out to their natural environment.
15. Voyageurs National Park
Somewhat surprising for a state so blessed with natural riches, the scenic Voyageurs is Minnesota’s only national park. An absolute treat to explore, its innumerable lakes and islands, rivers and rapids offer up a myriad of amazing outdoor activities.
Lying alongside the Canadian border in the extreme north of the state, its watery world is accessible only by boat or by ski, snowshoe and snowmobile in winter when the water is frozen over. It is this isolation that entices many adventurers as unspoiled forests and waterways lie all around.
Occupied by Native Americans for around 10,000 years, the area was later exploited for fur, timber and gold by the encroaching Europeans. Nowadays, it is instead keen outdoor enthusiasts who come to kayak and camp in the park with black bears, elk and timber wolves often spotted here and there.
14. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Set along the North Shore of Lake Superior is the rugged and romantic Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Home to lots of dramatic coastal scenes, it is named after its historic light station which is one of the most photographed in all of the States.
Built back in 1910 atop a precipitous yet picturesque 130-foot-high cliff, it watches over the world’s largest lake which stretches seemingly endlessly away into the distance. Since its inception, visitors have flocked to the iconic landmark to take photos and bask in its fabulous views.
Other than exploring the atmospheric old lighthouse, you can hike and bike about the park with sea kayaking being another popular pastime. If you don’t feel like exerting yourself, you can always just lounge on its beach and wallow about in the lake’s cool shallows.
13. International Wolf Center, Ely
Also located in Ely is the outstanding International Wolf Center which lies on the opposite side of town to the North American Bear Center. Very similar in scope, it aims to educate people about the wonderful wild animals with visitors also able to view a small pack at its expansive site.
First opened to the public in 1993, it is now one of the leading institutions in the world dedicated to protecting wolves and preserving their native environment. As with the other nearby organization in Ely, it has an excellent interpretive center, full of fascinating exhibits and video clips.
The highlight is again seeing the adult arctic grey wolves and playful pups Blackstone and Caz who make up the pack. The center also offers educational trips out into the wilds of Northern Minnesota where you can snowshoe, dogsled and see wolves in their natural habitat.
12. Cathedral of Saint Paul
Certainly one of the city and state’s most important and impressive buildings, the Cathedral of Saint Paul rises dramatically above its surroundings. Perched atop of a large hill overlooking the capital’s downtown, it exhibits some exquisite architecture with superb marble statues and religious artworks lying within.
Visible for miles around, its distinctive copper-clad dome towers more than 300 feet in height with the beautiful Beaux-Arts cathedral having been erected back in 1915. One of the largest churches in the country, it features a fantastic facade and stained-glass windows with its wonderful rose window being a particular highlight.
After having snapped some photos, it is well worth venturing inside to see its charming chapels and ornate organ. Decorating the walls of its cavernous interior are all kinds of interesting artworks with its peaceful ambience also making the cathedral a nice place to spend some time.
11. Gooseberry Falls State Park
Lying just to the south of the Split Rock Lighthouse is another very attractive spot to stop by when you’re in the area. Named after its magnificent waterfall, Gooseberry Falls State Park has a diverse array of landscapes and local wildlife for daytrippers to enjoy.
Protected as part of a park since 1937, its woods, waterfall and lava flows lie along the North Shore of Lake Superior around the mouth of the Gooseberry River. Its standout sight is of course the four-level falls and their surrounding rock formations. Various trails take you to see their Upper, Middle and Lower parts where you can clamber about and splash around in the refreshing pools.
While the gushing waterfall makes for some fabulous photos and viewing, the rest of the park is just as pretty to explore. As you hike about its ancient lava flows and alongside the lakeshore, you may catch a glimpse of black bears and Canadian lynx hidden away in the undergrowth.
10. Science Museum of Minnesota
Back in the center of St. Paul is yet another of the city’s top tourist attractions and most highly rated institutes. Full of fun things for you to see and do, the Science Museum of Minnesota now occupies a massive modern building alongside the Mississippi River.
Established in 1907 to encourage the ‘intellectual and scientific growth of St. Paul’, its holdings now consist of some 1.7 million enthralling artifacts and age-old specimens. Across its three vast floors, guests can see well-done exhibits on not just dinosaurs and the human body but the people, animals and environment of the Mississippi River too.
On top of all of this, you can watch thrilling science shows and other educational films on its IMAX theater’s giant screen.
9. Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
As it combines two of the city’s great loves – art and the great outdoors – the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is one of its most popular spots to visit. Home to around sixty unique and unusual artworks, it can be found right next to the Walker Art Center and Loring Park, just southwest of the center.
A firm favorite with locals and tourists, it was first opened to the public in 1988 with immaculately groomed lawns and flowerbeds now coating its grounds. Scattered about are thought-provoking and imaginative sculptures of all shapes and sizes, backed by gorgeous trees and reflective ponds.
At the heart of the sprawling garden is the now iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculptural fountain which is almost impossible to pass without snapping a picture or two.
8. Itasca State Park
The oldest and largest of Minnesota’s state parks, Itasca was formed in 1891 to protect the source of the legendary Mississippi River. Considered the crown jewel of the state’s park system, it has large tracts of old growth forest to explore and over a hundred shimmering lakes for you to see.
Created over the course of many millennia by advancing and receding glaciers, its rugged terrain is sometimes referred to as ‘knob and kettle’ due to all the depressions and mounds. The warm summer months lend themselves perfectly to horseback riding or kayaking about Lake Itasca, the headwater of the river, while skiers and snowmobilers congregate here in winter.
Autumn too has its charms as the leaves on the trees turn a fiery shade of colors while wildflowers coat the entire park in spring. Throughout the year, you can spy beavers, porcupines and black bears with rustic old lodges and around thirty Native American archaeological sites also dotted about.
7. Tettegouche State Park
Even further up the North Shore of Lake Superior from the Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls is the terrific Tettegouche State Park. As well as being home to the state’s highest waterfall, the much-loved nature preserve has countless trails and viewpoints for roadtrippers to delight in.
Actually named after a group of local businessmen who bandied together to buy the area in 1910, its rocky landscapes and woods are traversed by the roaring Baptism River. It is further inland along its meandering course that you can find the phenomenal seventy-foot-tall waterfall that is appropriately known as High Falls.
Besides basking in its beauty and bathing in its waters, you can rock climb up its cliffs or hike along the twenty or so miles of scenic trails that crisscross the state park.
6. Minnesota State Fair
One of the largest and liveliest state fairs in the United States, ‘The Great Minnesota Get-Together’ is held each year from late August to early September. Over the course of its twelve fun-filled days, exciting livestock competitions, concerts and car shows take place with millions traveling from all around to attend.
Now covering a colossal area, the state fairgrounds lie along Snelling Avenue on the way out of the city. Come August, thousands of stands and stalls pack out its grounds as individuals and companies vie to showcase the best of the state’s agriculture and entertainment.
Asides from seeing art exhibitions and watching some exhilarating shows, there is also lots of tasty food to eat with cheese curds and corn dogs always proving popular. Thanks to the family-friendly environment, generations of locals and out-of-towners alike have enjoyed the Minnesota State Fair since 1859.
5. Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth
Definitely Duluth’s standout symbol and sight, the enormous Aerial Lift Bridge connects the center and Canal Park to Park Point. Both an architectural and engineering marvel, it was impressively the first transporter bridge to be built in the US.
Completed in 1905, the ginormous steel structure spans the busy Duluth Ship Canal at the entrance to the harbor. Later converted into a vertical-lift bridge, its unusual look and design now make for fascinating viewing, especially when its long central span is raised 135 feet in the air to allow ships to pass below.
At night, the hulking great bridge looks just as striking as hundreds of tiny little LED lights help its silhouette stand out against the dark night sky.
4. Minneapolis Institute of Art
Boasting one of the biggest and best collections of artworks in the United States is the ever-popular Minneapolis Institute of Art. Situated just south of the center, its 90,000 or more paintings, carvings and sculptures span over 5,000 years of world history.
Founded in 1883, MIA occupies a brilliant Beaux-Arts building with its grand galleries displaying masterpieces by El Greco, Gauguin and van Gogh among many others. While some sections look at ceramics and textiles, others transport you as far away as Africa, Asia and Oceania.
Decorative arts and drawings also feature as do photo exhibitions and video installations. Outside is just as pleasant to explore as numerous bronze statues and a Chinese garden containing Taihu stones surround the museum.
3. Mall of America
If instead of seeing the state’s stunning scenery and cultural sights, you want to shop until you drop then the massive Mall of America is the place to go. The largest shopping center in all the western hemisphere, its endless shops and eateries lie in Bloomington, a southern suburb of Minneapolis.
Since opening in 1992, the mega-mall has revolutionized the shopping experience with its four vast floors now containing a staggering 520 stores. Scores of top-class cafes and restaurants can also be found next to large anchors like Macy’s and Nordstrum.
Due to its huge size, you can easily spend all day at the mall with over forty million people visiting each year. With attractions like Sea Life Minnesota and the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park located on site, the gigantic shopping complex really is well worth visiting if you have the chance.
2. North Shore Scenic Drive
Meandering its way alongside Lake Superior is one of the most gorgeous roads in all the States: the North Shore Scenic Drive. Offering up some absolutely spectacular vistas, it takes you past picture-perfect state parks and interesting old historic sites with quiet little towns scattered along the route.
Now stretching just over 150 miles in total, the scenic byway whisks you all the way from Duluth’s Canal Park right up to the Canadian border, just outside Grand Portage. On the way, you’ll pass the historic Split Rock Lighthouse and charming Two Harbors town with the lakeside village of Grand Marais also warranting a stop.
Not to be missed are the lovely state parks of Gooseberry Falls and Tettegouche with Grand Portage State Forest also lying near its northeastern end. With epic views and scenery guaranteed wherever you go, road tripping along the North Shore of Lake Superior really is one of the best experiences the state has to offer up.
1. Minnehaha Falls
Not to be outdone however is the marvelous Minnehaha Falls which lies just down the Mississippi River from the center of Minneapolis. Celebrated through poems, paintings and photos for centuries now, it certainly is a must-see sight when in the North Star State.
Due to its scenic splendor, people have visited the falls ever since the ‘Fashionable Tour’ steamboat rides started running in 1828. Once you catch a glimpse, you’ll instantly recognize why the waterfall is so enduringly popular. This is because its jet white waters plunge their way off the top of a steep cliff with lush foliage threatening to engulf it on all sides.
The central feature of Minnehaha Park, it is now the most photographed site in all Minnesota with untold thousands visiting each year. After snapping some photos of the fabulous falls, make sure to hike around the rest of the area as it has some sites relating to Native Americans and early pioneers for you to check out.