32 Best Minnesota Road Trips from Minneapolis this Summer
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 32 different ways to get the most out of your summer vacation. If you are looking for a Day Trip to take, or a full-fledged weekend road trips from Minneapolis, here are some ideas to start off your adventure. These are the things that you can only do during Summer.
Why is Summer the best time for road trips in Minnesota?
The best time to go on a weekend road trip is in summer. That because more things are open. With leaner staffs, that is more important than ever as even small towns will shut down stores during the week. So plan accordingly.
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32 Minnesota Road Trip Ideas
Get Wild at a MN ZOO
Zoos are always a great way to enjoy summer and a favorite destination of mine. 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.
Of course, there is always the Minnesota Zoo, open year round.
For a list of all Zoos in Minnesota, check out: The Best Zoo’s in Minnesota | From Aquariums to Animal Encounters
Amusement parks are a simple decision. The bigger parks like Valleyfair have extended the season past the Memorial Day to Labor Day norm, but the rest is just open for this limited-time season.
Go to 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 at the Raceway
Have a need for speed? Take a road trip to northern Minnesota in Brainerd, to get your fill at Brainerd International Raceway. The raceway features top thrill drag races and all kinds of other events throughout the summer.
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 & Pipestone
Hit the road and find some Petroglyphs. See some original art at the Jeffers Petroglyphs in southwestern Minnesota. It’s estimated that these glyphs are 5,000 years old American Indian Rock Carvings. These glyphs are only viewable during the summer months.
The Minnesota Historical Society operates the site and makes a perfect stop on your way to the Pipestone National Monument. These roadside stops are what MN road trips are all about.
Pipestone National Monument is a favorite of mine. They are open year-round and free to enter. Click here to find out more!
Go Inside a Lighthouse at Split Rock Lighthouse
While you can see Split Rock Lighthouse any time during the year, to look inside, it has to be summer. Once past the visitors’ center, and tour the inside of the lighthouse and supplementary buildings, go down the steps to the shoreline of Lake Superior to get your ionic MN North Shore picture.
Every Minnesotan should do a road trip here 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.
Sunflower Fields in MN
Minnesota fields pop each summer with spectacular sunflowers. We didn’t realize they were blooming so early until we took a trip to some Minnesota State Parks in northern Minnesota.
Between July to August, there are plenty of opportunities to check out these amazing sunflower fields.
See a Horse Race
Check out Canterbury Park and bet on a winner. This is a quick road trip from 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.
Find a Vineyard
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, stop at the first train station on the west side of the Mississippi. On Sunday afternoons, visitors can enter the museum and learn about the railroad’s history.
All the volunteers come from the Minnesota Transportation Museum. Which is also another great place to see more railroad history. You can also take a trip along the shores of Lake Superior or the St Croix on a Scenic Trian Ride. The Best Scenic Train Rides in Minnesota.
The Snake River Fur Post
The Fur trade is one of the earliest businesses 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 trails in the area as you walk through history’s footsteps.
Explore 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.
Short on cash? Check out: Over 28 Free Museums in the Twin Cities in 2022
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 killed 41 men and is one of the deadliest accidents in the country.
You can hear the chilling tale of what these people went through at: Truly Haunted Places in MN. To avoid the scare factor, see it during summer.
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 sparkled to one of the biggest natural disasters in history.
Minnesota Lock and Dams
Visit one of seven locks and dams along the Mississippi River. These serve as the stairway steps on the river. Run by the US Amy Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service.
Tours of most of the Dams are free and open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. When guided tours are not in session, you can see them from the viewing platforms.
Wonder what it’s like to visit? Check out Minnesota Lock and Dam #2
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 created a size 638 ½ boot of their iconic shoe.
They used the same materials and design to construct it. Take a trip down the Great River Road and to Red Wing in southeastern Minnesota and see just how big a size 638 ½ shoe is.
Stick around Red Wing for more fun things to do.
Visit a Historical Home
Check out one of the many historic houses that open up on Memorial Day. Charles A Lindbergh Historic Site, Folsom House, Glensheen Mansion, Comstock House, and the W.W. Mayo House.
Visit the author and illustrator’s home who made ‘Millions of Cats’ and other works in New Ulm, the Wanda Gag House.
Take a peek inside the Glensheen Mansion: Glensheen Mansion Tour | Duluth’s Downton Abbey
Visit a 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 ones that include buildings and storefronts.
There is the Harkin Store in New Ulm, Fort Ridgely in Fairfax, Fort Snelling in St Paul, The Landing and Historic Forestville in Preston MN.
The Landing in Shakopee is a great stop, plus it offers free admission. Check out all the details by clicking here.
Take a Scenic Drive along the St. Croix
The best Minnesota road trips include a great view. 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 on both sides of the river. Stop in for a glass of wine at the Chateau Saint Croix.
Take a train ride on the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway. Keep driving south to William O’Brien State Park.
Stop at the Marine on St Croix, the first Saw Mill in North America. And wind your way down to Stillwater for some antiquing and lunch on the river.
This stretch of road is one of the best road trips in Minnesota.
Taylors Falls has lots of seasonal attractions, but summer is where it shines. 16 Things To Do In Taylors Falls Minnesota | The Ultimate Guide
Hunt for Agates
Having a great lake means you can find some great agates. First, stop at the Moose Lake State 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 are 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 Largest 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 closing just before Thanksgiving.
See Related: 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 Scenic Drive along Highway 61, with over 28 Different Stops, along the scenic byway 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 and Ice-cream to fantastic apple pie. Get some of the world’s best donuts in Grand Marais. Bring a camera and take things slow, because this is a great MN Road Trip.
Tip: Make sure you take the scenic route on the North Shore. There are so many hidden locations. Find them all by clicking here.
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 its flat paths 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 summer in Southern Minnesota.
Solve the mystery of Devils Kettle
Devil’s Kettle has been stumping scientists for years. This north shore waterfall splits off into a strange hole in the grounds.
It wasn’t until a few years ago they determined that it was part of a bigger underground waterway.
This Minnesota Road Trip-worthy adventure is a one-mile hike through the best parts of the north shore, ending in the spectacular waterfall with it’s natural beauty.
MN’s North Shore is stunning and this hike can be a bit of a challenge. Make sure you are prepared: 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!
Go to an outdoor concert
Many outdoor concerts and festivals take place throughout Minnesota during the summer months. From music festivals to food festivals, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
The summer months are the perfect time to explore Minnesota’s many biking and hiking trails. From the Cannon Valley Trail to the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, there are plenty of options for outdoor enthusiasts.
Do some Cave Exploring
Minnesota is home to several unique cave systems that offer visitors an opportunity to explore the natural wonders hidden beneath the surface of the earth.
Three popular cave destinations in Minnesota include Niagara Cave, Mystery Cave, and the Soudan Underground Mine State Park. These caves are only open during the warmer summer months.
Niagara Cave and Myster Cave can both be done in one day making it sone of the best road trips from Minneapolis to take.
Canoe the BWCA
Niagara Cave and Myster Cave can both be done in one day making it sone of the best road trips from Minneapolis to take.
You could spend weeks or even months up there if you needed. But one thing is for sure; every Minnesota should visit at least once in their life.
Tips for an Epic trip in the BWCA with Kids
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.
The trail crosses seven states. I recommend starting with the Superior Hiking Trail. The trail has great scenic views including, cliffs, waterfalls, and Superior Lake views.
If you aren’t sure if you want to throw on a backpack yet, for 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
They ranked the Minnesota State Fair in the top 5 fairs in the Country. I did my own independent research at the Iowa State Fair and agree, MN is better!
The end of summer is not complete without a trip to the Fair. The goal is always to see how much anyone can eat. Check out the top 5 reasons why Minnesotans keep going back.
What are some of the best road trips listed in this guide?
Some of the best road trips listed in this guide include the North Shore Scenic Drive, Great River Road Scenic Byway, Lake Mille Lacs Scenic Byway, and the Bluff Country Scenic Byway.
Is Minneapolis a good starting point for these road trips?
Yes, Minneapolis is a great starting point for many of these road trips as it is situated centrally in Minnesota and provides easy access to the state’s major highways and scenic byways. From Minneapolis, you can get to all corners of the state of Minnesota in around 5 hours. I recommend selecting locations where the trips will take 3hr drive max.
Are there any day trips listed in the guide?
Yes, there are several day trip ideas listed in the guide, including visits to state parks, waterfalls, and small towns such as Red Wing and Grand Marais.
Can this guide be helpful for weekend road trips from Minneapolis?
Absolutely! This guide features many weekend road trip ideas from Minneapolis, including trips to the North Shore, Southern Minnesota, and the trail scenic byway.
Are there any haunted road trips listed in the guide?
Yes, the Haunted Minnesota Road Trip is one of the destinations. But if you are looking for some real hauntings around the state, make sure to check out: 16 of the Most Haunted Places In MN To Visit Any Time
When is the best time to take these road trips?
The best times to take these road trips are from late spring to early fall when the weather is mild and most of the attractions are open to visitors. During the middle of summer time in Minnesota, head to the north shore and the scenic highway 61.
Are there any scenic byways listed in the guide?
Yes, there are many scenic byways listed in the guide, including the North Shore Scenic Byway, Great River Road Scenic Byway, and the Lake Mille Lacs Scenic Byway.
What’s Your Favorite Minnesota Road Trip?
This is just to get you started off. There are tons more MN Road Trip ideas in for summer that hasn’t made our list. You can also see my list of Minnesota Day Trips from Minneapolis to take this Summer with town recommendations. Or 5 Family-Friendly Day Trips from Minneapolis.
Rent a cabin on the lake or stay in a charming hotel during your time in MN. Click here to book one.
If you are thinking your kids are too small for a long car ride, think again. 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. Pick up a free MN State Map and start your exploration.
If you are looking for more things to do in Minnesota, check out my other 28 Things to do Lists: