Wondering what to do in Minnesota? The state isn’t usually top of the list for tourists, but there are lots of great things to do in Minnesota, and many reasons to visit. Here are just a few…
A holiday to Minnesota. Maybe not top of your USA to-do list, but I spent ten days there and wanted to show you exactly what the northern US state has to offer.
Locals say Minnesota is underrated, and according to Micah and Jenna from WandertheMap, who live there, that’s just fine. I spent three days with them road tripping round northern Minnesota and they said they love having the state to themselves while everyone else goes off to do what they could do there, in the likes of Utah, Arizona and California.
- Best things to do in Minnesota
- 1. Explore the Great Outdoors
- 2. Learn about Minnesota's music history
- 3. Chill in the cool downtown area
- 4. Go shopping at the Mall of America
- 5. Visit Grand Marais for the boutique shops
- 5. Live an artist's dream life (temporarily)
- 6. Drive the stunning road trip route
- 7. Enjoy the craft alcohol scene
- 8. Go on different boat trips
- 9. Mooch round spooky old houses
- 10. Stay at cool hotels
- 11. Go skiing in winter
- 12. THE BEST FUDGE IN THE WORLD EVER
- 13. Visit the animal sanctuaries
- 14. One of the best lamb shanks ever
- 15. An awesome airport
- More fun things to do in Minnesota
Best things to do in Minnesota
Here’s what to do in Minnesota if you need some inspiration for your adventures…
1. Explore the Great Outdoors
From my recent adventures it’s easy to see that Minnesota is a great destination for anyone with a passion for the outdoors and looking for somewhere a bit different to go. Someone I met there, I forget who, said that people just think ‘Minnesota is cold all time’. He said it to me as I was shivering in my totally unprepared for action and adventure, leather (look!) jacket. I probably should’ve worn some socks too.
There was an opportunity to go canoeing, but I rescheduled for some time when it was above 20C for fear of ending up frozen, Anna and Elsa style.
But, y’know I was there at the start of June. I went to California this time last year and cold and unprepared there too.
Woods, waterfalls, cliffs, forests and trails – seriously, if you’re the outdoorsy type you’d love Minnesota.
In the Iron Range you can cycle the trails for 100 miles, pretty cool right?
No time for those kind of shenanigans on our schedule though.
We did hike the Cascade River State Park though, right up alongside the waterfall, over the top and down the other side. I’d thought it was pretty impressive from the point where it flowed into the lake, but by the time we’d got to the top, it was incredible.
Like most parks you’ll get your fill of greenery and wildlife but this one has a waterfall too. The best views you’ll get of Lake Superior below are at the top of the waterfall so we promise you it’s worth the trek.
A fact for the fishing buffs, Lake Superior is the biggest freshwater lake in the world.
2. Learn about Minnesota’s music history
Minneapolis’ music history, Minnesota’s capital, centres around poor old Prince.
Once upon a time there was a thing called the ‘Minneapolis Sound’. It was a synth / new wave kind of collaboration, that Prince was the star of. The photo above is me at First Avenue, the club at the centre of the sound, and where ‘Purple Rain’ was filmed.
Up in Duluth we took a guided bus tour with theduluthexperience.com. They also do a craft beer tour, which, y’know, I would’ve been well into. We did get to see Bob Dylan’s first home though, where he lived as baby Bob. Further up north, in Hibbing, you can look round his teenage house too.
Learning about the music history is one of things to do in Minnesota, especially in Minneapolis. Minneapolis is a great city for the creative. There are art installations, organic eateries and grungy. clubs. The Mississippi river even runs right the way through it.
Just so you know though, there’s a bit of conflict between Bob Dylan and the locals. They’re a little upset that he’s not prouder of his Northern Minnesota roots…
3. Chill in the cool downtown area
Luckily for us the weather was perfect and it was a great way to see one of the cleanest and best kept cities you’ll ever find.
4. Go shopping at the Mall of America
Everything is big in the US so you know that when we say Minnesota is home to the largest mall in the country, it has to be pretty big.
Mall of America is just outside Minneapolis in a suburb called Bloomington. You’ll no doubt find any shop your heart desires here, but this gigantic building also houses the Nickelodeon Universe theme park and the Sea Life Aquarium. This is possibly the only place you can combine your love of underwater life with underwear shopping.
Minneapolis is home to the Mall of America, where I ended up spending three days because of the travel blogging conference I was at. I’d like to say if you want to know anything about that place ask me, but I didn’t actually look round it that much given that I have no space in my suitcase and a long-suffering bank account.
I did manage to buy two rings and a pair of sandals in American Eagle Outfitters though.
5. Visit Grand Marais for the boutique shops
If little boutiquey cool shops are more your thing, I hear ya.
Grand Marais is the best location for those kind of shenanigans. We shopped at Lake Superior Trading Post – so much cool stuff for your house, if I had one I might’ve had to buy another suitcase. And then Joynes Ban Franklin was one of those shops that seems to sell everything. Go, you never know what you’ll find that you don’t actually need.
Getting a little more rustic and rural, Grand Marais is right in the north of the state and only 30 miles from the Canadian border. It’s a small city with a population of around 1000 and is the ideal place to pack away the boots and bring out the brushes.
This lakeside location is a creative hotspot pulling in those searching for a little inspiration. Different workshops take place everyday offering everything from pottery to poetry so you can release your inner arty demon.
5. Live an artist’s dream life (temporarily)
Grand Marais, right up north just 30 miles as the crow flies from Canada, is an absolute artist’s dream. A group of artists settled there years ago and now it’s become a mecca for the creative, with different centres and workshops dotted around the town.
Its right on the lake making it the perfect spot to let any creative juices one might have, flow. Artists hung out at the Grand Marais Art Colony – where the boat above was carved – chilled by the lake and apparently once a year all lined up on Artist’s Point (the tip of a peninsula) to paint the scenery. It’s also where you’ll find the Betsy Bowen Gallery, the famous painter.
6. Drive the stunning road trip route
One of the absolute best things to do in Minnesota is to go on a road trip up the coast.
We took the North Shore All American Road all the way from Duluth to Grand Marais. I’d planned to do some work along the route, but the views out over Lake Superior were too beautiful to miss.
We drove past Gooseberry Falls, a huge waterfall, and then went on to the Split Rock Lighthouse. Minnesota actually has the most lighthouses of all the states of the USA. Little factoid for ya.
Most of the route was lined with wilderness and the roads seemed pretty easy to navigate. The North Shore All American Road would definitely make for a good road trip with your mates.
7. Enjoy the craft alcohol scene
In Duluth we went to the Canal Park Brewery, just over the car park from our hotel, and got straight in there with a beer flight of 10 to sample all the beers of the house. Love a craft beer, me. I also had that yummy salad you see above to try and keep that all important balance of health and fun.
The highlight of my visit in Duluth was the Vikre Distillery. Kind of because the name is a bit like mine, kind of because I liked the staff, and then also because the cocktails were perfectly blended. They make as much as possible of all their ingredients on site. I’m starting to get the feels for my own distillery, obviously it’d help if I was in the same place for long enough, but I just love what’s happening in that industry right now.
I’ve spoken to a few master distillers recently, and went to a talk on it at SXSW. I’m going to buy a kit. Pro before you know.
In Grand Marais we went to the Voyageur Brewing Company. I LOVED it in there, I mean, if I did open some sort of independent boozerie, the Voyageur would be what it’d be like. Live music, good food, a cool atmosphere and everything made on site.
And the final brewery I visited was the Bent Brewstillery in Roseville, near Minneapolis. We went for a crawfish boil and got to try two of the house blends, as well as their gin and we even got to sample their ‘moonshine’ too. The owner, Bartley Blume (self proclaimed Lord of Brews & Booze), came up with the ‘brewstillery’ idea and has been changing, blending and experimenting with the beer and spirit industry ever since. I really, really liked his attitude to it all. His aim is to be ‘undefinable’.
8. Go on different boat trips
Whatever boat you want to float you’ll find it in Minnesota. We went out on a trip to explore Lake Superior on a big ferry with VistaFleet – compete with 30 x 5th graders, which was just delightful.
My new friend Vicki Winters and I also took out a peddleboat at the White Iron Beach Resort to the island across the waters, and we didn’t capsize! Yay!
The apparently famous Boundary Waters canoe area right up north is so sacred, you’re not allowed any sort of camera equipment. We drove up to where it started, and it was amazing to think we were only 20 miles from Canada.
9. Mooch round spooky old houses
I’d never heard of Glensheen Mansion, but as the spot where a gruesome murder happened it’s pretty famous around Duluth. We went at night, with a torchlight tour included, and what would’ve been smores on the beach if the weather had played fair. The spookiest room was where the carriages were, it felt very ‘Woman in Black’.
Do you know that book?
We toured round the whole mansion, from the room where the murder happened, to the safe where the silver is kept, onto the games room and out the front too.
I was also getting The Great Gatsby vibes too, agree?
10. Stay at cool hotels
In Duluth we stayed at Canal Park Lodge – niiice room!
And only a few steps from the Brewery, and from Grandma’s, the restaurant to be at in Duluth, especially if you want a massive sandwich with some soup on the side.
We stayed at East Bay Suites in Grand Marais.
I COULD SEE THE LAKE FROM MY BED.
It was awesome guys, loved it. That night we managed to have smores, although I’m not sure how pleased about this the couple who initially shared them with one of us and then the six of us came out were.
In Ely we stayed at White Iron Beach Resort. Log cabins located on the lake with so many water sport opportunities we didn’t have the time or weather to do.
11. Go skiing in winter
At Lutsen Mountains they opened their new gondola up especially for us to try it out. The views!
Lutsen Mountains is the Mid West’s largest ski resort, and so I’m told has some pretty awesome apres ski too. They do this really cool thing where they invite bands onto the gondola and have ‘the gondola sessions’ because of the excellent acoustics, which are broadcast on the resort radio. How cool is that?!
We had dinner at the top, another yummy huge sandwich and some welcome tomato soup. The views from up here were amazing, and just ask them about those composting toilets. Amazing.
If you’re looking for things to do in Minnesota in winter, then skiing is a great idea.
12. THE BEST FUDGE IN THE WORLD EVER
If ever you visit Grand Marais you need to go to Beth’s Fudge Shop and Gifts. I’m a massive fan of fudge, as in, when I see it being sold freshly made I can’t resist, and this was the best fudge I’ve ever tried. I ate way more than I should’ve, as she gifted us a pack, and it was worth every calorie.
Wondering what to do in Minnesota? Eating is always a good idea!
13. Visit the animal sanctuaries
Seeing as my canoe trip was rained off I ended up at a Bear Sanctuary, in Ely. Confused at first, yes. But those bears were cool. I met Ted up close. He came to see us despite having a tonne of space to explore.
Next up was the Wolf Sanctuary, where I saw the baby pups. They were all sleepy, and everyone was talking in hushed tones, and it was so nice and warm in the area you could go to see them, that I sat down on a chair and promptly fell asleep.
Loved seeing the animals – ended up being one of the most fun things to do in Minnesota!
14. One of the best lamb shanks ever
– no photo, check out this cool bird house instead
And then the best dinner of the trip, at Insula in Ely. I’ve just looked, and yes, it’s the number one rated restaurant in Ely for food. Not surprised. I stupidly hadn’t taken my camera and I’m not going to show you the picture on my phone because it’s not very good and you won’t believe how great the food was. Lamb shank isn’t usually something on my menu radar in a restaurant, but I just wanted meat. Had a desperate yearning. Maybe from hanging out with bears and wolves all day?
Anyway, the lamb shank was absolutely delicious. I had a ‘Bees Knees’ cocktail to accompany it, made from Vikre Gin and honey. That was blummin delicious too.
15. An awesome airport
I have to give a shout out to Minneapolis Airport.
Ten minutes to get in, and then I was rewarded with a frozen yogurt station, fresh pizza place, custom burger station, a waiting area where you can order whatever you want to your seat via the iPads and comfy chairs for all. This is what air travel should be like.
Possibly my favourite airport I’ve ever experienced? I need to think about that one.
(I was in Terminal 1, Gate G6 with Delta, who knows what the rest of the airport is like)
More fun things to do in Minnesota
All these great activities in Minnesota have been recommended by the Quirky Minnesota Facebook group.
– Fishing on the Rainy River in Baudette.
– ATV ride
– Checking the European Market in St Paul.
– Visit New Ulm.
– Camping in the State Parks.
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