Last updated on August 24th, 2019
Memorial Day marks the official start of summer for most Minnesotans. This is when school lets out, road construction comes out in force, and for me, it’s the start of the Minnesota Road Trip Season. Ok, I take trips in the Spring, Fall, and Winter too. But Summer Road Trips in Minnesota is where it all started. I’ve put together a list of 28 different ways to make sure you get the most out of your summer vacation. If you are looking for a Day Trip to take, or full-fledged weekend road trips from Minneapolis, here are some ideas to start off your adventure. These are only thing that can do during Summer.
28 Minnesota Road Trip Ideas
Get Wild at a MN ZOO
Zoos are always a great way to spend a summer day. But this time, skip the big cities zoos and take a day trip to the Pine Grove Zoo in Little Falls or Hemker Park Zoo in Freeport. Both are smaller, family-owned operations that depend on your support. They offer opportunities to meet the animal with special encounters.
Amusement parks are a no-brainer. The bigger parks like Valley Fair has extended the season past the Memorial Day to Labor Day norm, but the rest is just open for this limited-time season. Visit Big Kahuna Fun Park in Spicer, Casey’s Amusement Park in Alexandria, Paul Bunyan Land and Pirates Cove both in Brainerd, or Wild Mountain Waterpark in Taylors Falls.
Watch Some Fast Cars
Have a need for speed? Get your fill at Brainerd International Raceway. The raceway features top thrill drag races and all kinds of other events through the summer season. I took a trip up here before, and it’s a whole different world. Don’t forget to check out the pits!
The Jeffers Petroglyphs
See some original art at the Jeffers Petroglyphs located in Comfrey Minnesota. It’s estimated that these glyphs are 5,000 years old American Indian Rock Carvings.
The site is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society and makes a perfect stop on your way to the Pipestone National Monument. These roadside stops are what MN road trips are all about.
While you can see Split Rock Lighthouse any time during the year, you have to wait for summer to look inside. Once past the visitors center, and be able to tour the inside of the lighthouse and supplementary buildings, go down the steps to the shoreline to get your ionic MN North Shore picture. Every Minnesotan should do this once in their life. If you are short on cash and don’t want to go inside the lighthouse, here are some tips to save some cash: How to See Split Rock Lighthouse MN Without Breaking the Bank
Oliver Kelley Farm
Head out to Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River. What makes this farm so special is it’s a working farm from the 1860s. You’ll be able to see the differences between how agriculture has changed and its global impact.
See a Horse Race
Visit Canterbury Park and bet on a winner. This is a short road tirp form Minneapolis. You don’t have to put any money down to enjoy the fun. Sit in the stands with a big fancy hat. Go down the racetrack level. Meet the horses and see the winners. Come out on some of the themed weekends. You’ll get to see exotic animals racing, and even dogs and other fun things. Check their calendar for the details.
Get a Drink
Pick up a MN Wine Passport and visit some wineries. Get some friends together and go on one of the Minnesota Wine Trails. If wine isn’t up your alley? Try a brew at the Shells Brewing Company. Or do a Girls Weekend and see them all at the Clink Wine Fest! Sampling The Best Minnesota Wines at Clink Sip + Savor Wine Market
Go to a Train Station
When you are out looking at Minnehaha Falls, make sure to stop at the first train station on the west side of the Mississippi’s. On Sunday afternoons, visitors can enter the museum and learn about the railroad’s history. All the volunteers come from the Minnesota Transportation Museums. Which is also another great place to see more rail road history. Or ride on a historical train on the Best Scenic Train Rides in Minnesota.
The SnakeRiver Fur Post
The Fur trade is one of the earliest business drawing in settlers to the area. The Snake River Fur Post tells its story. You can see where the fur traders met with the Ojibwa, where they made their homes and explore some of the trails in the era as you walk through history’s footsteps.
Visit a Sculpture Garden
Minnesota is so unique with the variety of different art we have. My favorite has always been the sculpture gardens. Some of my favorites are the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Franconia Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis and the Harrison Sculpture Garden in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen.
Croft Mine Historical Park
Take an elevator ride into a simulated underground iron ore mine at Croft Mine Historical Park. The historic site of the 1924 collapse of the lake nearby that killed 41 men and is one of the deadliest accidents in the country. The chilling tale of what these people went through can be heard at: Truly Haunted Places in MN. To avoid the scare factor, see it during the summer season.
Hinckley Fire Museum
If you’ve ever been to Duluth, you’ve seen the signs for the Hinckley Fire Museum. It’s a roadside sign you need to follow. This museum shows how just a small spark led to one of the biggest natural disasters in history.
Minnesota Military Museum
Similar to the Hinckley Fire Museum, the Minnesota Military Museum sign had been tempting me to follow it too. This time it was on the way back from Brainerd. It turned out to be a fantastic adventure filled with Tanks, Trucks, Aircraft, Military barracks and so much more. Well worth a short detour, plus you get to go on a military base.
The Big Boot
Red Wing put itself on the amp from their incredible boot designs. To celebrate the company’s success, in 2005 they decided to create a size 638 ½ boot of their iconic shoe. They used the same materials and design to construct it. Head down to RedWing to see just how big a size 638 ½ shoe is.
Visit a Historical Home
Check out one of the many historic houses that open up Memorial Day. Charles A Lindbergh Historic Site, Folsom House, Comstock House, and the W.W. Mayo House. Visit the author and illustrator home how made ‘Millions of Cats’ and other works in New Ulm, the Wanda Gag House
Visit as Historical Town
Visit one of the historic towns in Minnesota. Houses are one thing, but historical towns are on a whole other level! We have so many different ones that include buildings and storefronts. There is the Harkin Store in New Ulm, Fort Ridgely in Fairfax, Fort Snelling in St Paul, and Historic Forestville in Preston MN.
A Scenic Drive the Saint Croix
The Saint Croix River has all kinds of fun things to do, and because of how close it is to Minneapolis, it’s a perfect Day Trip. Starting in Taylors Falls, enjoy Interstate State Park’s on both sides of the river. Stop in for a glass of wine at the Chateau Saint Croix. Take a train ride on the Oscelo & St. Croix Valley Railway. Keep driving south to William O’Brien State Park. Stop at the Marine Mill, the first Saw Mill in North American. And wind your way down to Stillwater for some antiquing and lunch on the river.
Hunt for Agates
First, stop at the Moose Lake Park Agate and Geological Center to find out how to hunt for gems along Minnesota’s North Shore. Then walk along some of the north shorelines and see how many agates you can find along the shoreline. Some of the best places to find stuff is Five Mile Rock Beach, Paradise Beach, and Beaver River Bay. Superior Trails has some useful tips on finding them.
Heading North? Gory’s Hi-Hat is the place to stop for some good old fashion greasy food. They were featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives. Trust me; it’s worth waiting in line to get a basket of their onion rings and a milkshake! They also added wild rice veggie burgers to the menu.
Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store
Minnesota’s Largets Candy Store is amazing. Every year it’s like walking into something different. They transformed the candy buying experience into a traditional event in our family. Bring a camera and lots of cash, because they don’t take credit cards. They stock old fashion candies, rare hard to find candies, imported Anime candies, licorice, flavored sodas and a complete line of bacon-flavored everything. Opening in May every year, and close just before Thanksgiving. Check their Facebook Page to confirm the exact dates. Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store | Willy Wonka has nothing on this place
Shopping along the North Shore
Next time you drive to Minnesota’s North Shore, stay on the scenic byway, Highway 61 for a great road trip. It adds a little to the commute, but it’s worth it for the views and the amazing shops along the way. From Smoked Fish, to Candy to Ice-cream to fantastic apple pie. Get some of the worlds best donuts in Grand Marias. Bring a camera and take things slow, because this is a great MN Road Trip.
Bike the Root River Trail
The Root River Trail is one of the best bike rides you can take. Thousands of people travel the trail each year because of their flat path and scenic rides. The trail goes through small towns like Lanesborough and Whalen, home of the Stand Still Parade. The cities along the trail have so much charm and great stores that you won’t want to leave. It’s the perfect way to spend a summer day in Southern MN.
Solve the mystery of Devils Kettle
Devils Kettle has been stumping scientists for years. The waterfall that splits off into a strange hole in the grounds. It wasn’t until a few years ago they determined that it that it’s part of a bigger underground waterway. But it’s still fun to hike out to the park to see it for yourself. The Lie of Devils Kettle at Judge Magney State Park
Learn to Sail on Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun)
Take a sailing class with the Minneapolis Sailing Center. They are one of the largest sailing schools in the Midwest and offer classes for all ages and levels. Sailing is a great way to spend some time on the water. The lake has some amazing views of the skyline and is the perfect size lake for a beginner to start. So hoist those sails!
Canoe the BWCA
One of my favorite ways to escape from it all is in the BWCA. Being in the remote part of the wilderness is a great way to detach from every form of technology and just enjoy and recharge for a weekend. You could spend weeks or even month up there if you needed. But one thing is for sure; every Minnesota should visit at least once in their life.
Hike the Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail is the first section of a much larger hiking trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail. This trail crosses seven states. I recommend starting with the Superior Hiking Trail. The trail is filled with great scenic views including, cliffs, waterfalls, and Superior Lake views. If you aren’t sure if you want to strap on a backpack yet, to a day hike. Pack a lunch and water and enjoy some of these well-maintained trails. For a look at what the adventure is like, check out a first timers experience on the Superior Hiking Trail.
Eat your way through the MN State Fair
The Minnesota State Fair has been ranked in the top 5 Fairs in the Country. Each list has a differnet criteria. And for good reason. No end to the summer could not be completed without a trip to the Fair. The goal is always to see how much anyone can eat. Check out the top 5 reasons why Minnesotan’s keep going back.
What’s Your Favorite?
This is just to get you started off. There are tons more MN Road Trip ideas in for summertime haven’t made our list. If you are planning on staying overnight, make sure to check out Expedia for some of the best rates on hotel stays. Road Trips in Minnsota are so much fun. If you are thinking your kids are too small for a long car ride, think agian. I’ve been taking my kids with me on all my adventures starting when my youngest was one. Use some of my 10 Tips for Surviving Road Trips with Toddlers.
If you are looking for more things to do in Minnesota, check out my other 28 Things to do Lists:
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