Stillwater has been calling people to its scenic shorelines long before most of us were born.
The St Croix River and lift bridge make it a romantic spot for couples. Hiking to not one but two waterfalls makes it a great place for adventure seekers. Kids love getting to make a stop and see what’s new at the candy store.
Historic Stillwater is only 30 minutes from Minneapolis and St. Paul making it the best weekend day trip location. There are so many fun things to do in Stillwater MN, you’ll be making a return trip shortly.
What is Stillwater MN Known For?
Stillwater is called the birthplace of Minnesota. It was where the settlers first conceptualized the state.
According to Historical and Cultural Resources: The “Birthplace of Minnesota”, After Wisconsin became a state in 1848, all the ceded lands west of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers were left without a government. Settlers in this unorganized territory met at Stillwater on August 26, 1848, in what has become known as the “Stillwater Convention.” At this convention, held in McKusick’s store, the delegates drafted a Memorial to Congress that a new territory be created and this territory be named “Minnesota,” and elected Henry Sibley to deliver this citizen’s petition to the U.S. Congress.
The BEST Things to do in Downtown Stillwater MN
Stillwater Minnesota is the perfect place for a Day Trip from Minneapolis. Because of its historic and scenic views from the banks of the St. Croix River, it naturally drives people in.
You could have 5 different types of people come to town and everyone could see a completely different side of the city. Every year Stillwater finds a new thing to draw me in with new things to do.
What are some free things to do in Stillwater MN?
Stillwater has some great free things to do. From hiking and playgrounds, to stepping inside an historic jail. Brin your bike and curies along the St Croix River, or climb the main street steps to get a birds eye view.
Let’s dive right in:
Main Street Stairs Lookout in Stillwater
The Main Street Stairs in Stillwater lead to the best overlook of Stillwater, more than 100 feet high on South Hill. The first set of stairs was built in 1857, giving people access to the hill.
Today it is used in the morning house by locals to get their workout in. 12 sets is one mile of stairs. If stairs aren’t your thing, you can also drive to the top of the lookout. 😊
Lowell Park was one of the first big parks in Stillwater. Originally created to preserve some of the beautiful St. Croix Riverfront.
It was designed by the same landscape architect team that designed the grounds at the Glensheen Mansion and the US State Capitol.
It’s impossible to go through Stillwater today without setting foot in Lowell Park. The green space and boardwalk call to visitors. It’s also the best place to see the historic lift bridge.
More on that later. Bring your take-out and sit at one of the many picnic tables or benches and watch the boats along the river.
Historic Stillwater Lift Bridge
Nothing is more icons in Stillwater than the lift bridge, making it a must see.
For the longest time, the Historic Stillwater Lift Bridge was the only way to get across the river in town. The original wood bridge had a floating section in the middle to allow boats through.
It was ill-conceived and in need of repair all the time but it ended up being a tragic fire that was its demise. The MN Department of Transportation put a steel lift bridge in its place. It’s one of only a few built during that time.
The iconic bridge has been a staple in Stillwater for almost 100 years. Now that the new St Croix Crossing Bridge is complete, the Historic Stillwater Lift Bridge is reserved only for pedestrian use and bikers.
Walking across the bridge is the perfect place to get a view of the river. During the winter months, the historic bridge stays down. Depending on the season, the lift bridge resumes normal operations from May 15 to October 15.
Teddy Bear Park
Looking for a way to have the kids burn off some of that energy. Teddy Bear Park is perfect. The park is designed for 7 years old and younger. There are trains to crawl through, treehouse structures, and nets.
Your kid’s imagination can run wild. The park was actually donated by a resident of Stillwater. He helped name the park, designed it, and paid over 5 million dollars to build it.
The donor wanted to remain anonymous. There is free four-hour parking adjacent to the park.
Stillwater Boom Site
The Stillwater Boom Site is a great place to explore and get off the beaten track. A mile north of the historic downtown is the Boom Site.
A ‘Boom Site’ is simply a place where a boom was used to sort logs being floated down the river.
Take the set of stairs down and swing a right to find the abandoned cave used by the loggers. You can also take the trail along the river upstream to a waterfall.
If you want to get to this waterfall, you’ll need to check out my post: Exploring the St Croix Boom Site in Stillwater MN + Hidden Waterfall. But if you are really a waterfall fanatic, make sure to explore some of the other great waterfalls around Minneapolis.
Fairy Falls is one of the more well-known waterfalls in Stillwater. For the longest time, it was on private property but people still managed to find their way back.
Then that the National Parks Service took over ownership of the land.
The entrance to the falls is on Orwell Ave. Orwells Court and Fairy Falls Road all have no parking signs and it’s being strictly enforced. Hopefully, soon it will open up and we can enjoy it in person again.
The site is currently closed due to erosion and safety concerns. The NPS is planning on reopening the park after some improvements. In the spring of 2023, they held a public forum to decide how best to fix it up.
Biking in Stillwater
Stillwater is well know in the biking community thanks to is great selection of trails. This includes the Brown Creek Trail, the Gateway trail and the newest trail, the St Croix River Crossing loop.
Browns Creek Trail
There are plenty of options for biking in Stillwater. The Browns Creek Trail goes right through downtown with the trailhead parking next to the Stillwater Lift Bridge.
The Gateway State Trail
The trail is 5.9 miles long and connects to the Gateway State Trails.
St Croix River Crossing Loop
The newest trail that Stillwater just opened is the St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail. It is a 4.7-mile trail taking visitors through downtown Stillwater. No car traffic is on the loop, making it perfect for bikers, families, and walkers.
Bikers start by crossing the Stillwater Lift Bridge. Then head south on the trail through Wisconsin. Then take the St Croix Crossing Bridge and back down the hill into Stillwater.
Paddle Board on the St Croix River
Do you have a paddle board? Why not get it on the St Croix River? Need one? Check out St Croix SUP Co. They offer full-day rentals and weekend rentals giving you the time to go at your own pace. They also handle the pickup and delivery of the boards.
Aamodt’s Apple Farm
The St Croix River Valley is an amazing growing location. All across the river you’ll find Orchards and Vineyards.
During autumn, you need to visit Aamodt’s Apple Farm. During the season they have all kinds of different activities, like wagon rides and a Goat Farm. Inside the Apple Barn and Bakery, you can get a slice of fresh apple pie, local honey and maple syrup.
Keep your eyes peeled for food trucks and other fun activities. Oh yeah, there are apples there too! Most years they have Pick Your Own Apples. Get your bag and start filling it up.
Washington County Historic Courthouse
The Washington County Historic Courthouse is a must see for anyone in Stillwater. This free museum has a ritch history in the state.
Constructed in 1867 the courthouse was designed to hold the Courthouse, Sheriff’s residence, and an eight-cell jail. By 1962 the county had outgrown the building.
The Sheriff’s Office was moved, the courtroom had been divided up and there was talk of tearing it down and rebuilding a different government building in its place.
Instead of tearing it down, they decide to preserve the complex. It’s now part of the National Register of Historic Places. Today you can walk in and check out the museum exhibits for free.
From the outside, you’d never know there is a jail hiding in the back of the building. You can walk into the cell block and see where the prisoners ate and slept.
At one time the jail held over 24 prisoners on two separate floors. The most famous residents were the Younger Brothers of the Jesse James Gang.
The Washington County Historic Courthouse is free to enter and they provide free tours for those interested. Or you can just wander around inside like I did and see what you can find.
|Interested in seeing where the Jesse James and Younger Brothers were brought down? Stop by Northfield MN!
Across from the courthouse is Veteran Park. I recommend stopping by after the courthouse.
Murals in Stillwater
Stillwater has done an amazing job of highlighting the beauty of the St Croix River. It’s only fitting that they take it to the next level by making sure every space is filled with something equally as beautiful.
The two most well-known pieces are on Myrtle Street and one more on the Candy Land Candy Store. Consisting of full-size murals depicting some of the town’s logging history and lift bridge.
My personal favorites are in Lowell Park, where the electrical boxes were given a facelift. Keep your eye out as you enjoy Stillwater.
Tours to Take in Stillwater
Stillwater is ripe with things to do. Their scenic location make makes it a dream for fun activities. And its history makes it a unique destination that begs you to learn more about it.
If you are interested in put Stillwater on the map, I highly recommend taking at least one tour. It’s also a great way to break up the day.
St Croix Kayak Tour
If you are one of those people that prefer to get on the water as opposed to sitting beside it, you have to do a kayaking adventure on the St Croix River.
WAHOOO! Adventures include everything you need for your adventure. Guided tours of Stillwater include views of the wildlife, city, and a pass by the Stillwater Boom Site. They have multiple types to choose from, including family or adult-themed adventures.
Stillwater Trolley Company
The Stillwater Trolley is a staple in the town for 30 years. Hop onto the open-air trolley and get a tour of Stillwater. This is one of the best ways to get the history of the city all while keeping the kids entertained.
This isn’t recommended for kids under 3, but everyone over three will have a good time. While my kids may not have cared as much about the history as the adults, they loved getting to ride inside.
The tour guide does an amazing job.
St Croix River Cruise
Next to a trolley tour, the Saint Croix River Cruise is one of the most popular ways to see the river. Take one of their two-hour cruises over Lunch or Dinner time.
Onboard you’ll listen to live entertainment from Emperors of Jazz. Enjoy a meal and drinks while you relax onboard. This is a fun way to enjoy a part of Stillwater.
Stillwater Hot Air Balloon Rides
For many, a Hot Air Balloon ride is considered a bucket-list-worthy adventure. In Stillwater, you can take a Hot Air Balloon ride with Stillwater Balloons.
The hot air balloons take off blocks from the St Croix River, giving you some stunning views of the river that last about 2.5hrs. They’ve been offering rides since 1976.
What I love about this company is safety is its number one goal. They only fly during the right conditions. When you buy a certificate, it never expires. If you are interested in taking a flight, give them a call.
Looking for a different take on the history of Stillwater. Let’s face it, sometimes tours can be more fun when there is a creep-out factor. Stillwater Ghost Walks is the perfect thing then.
Your guides will take you on a 1.5-2hr walking tour of Stillwater. They’ll tell you all about the recent investigations, Native American legends, paranormal investigations, and more. The total tour is about 1.5 miles long so bring your walking shoes.
Looking for something a little different? Have you thought of maybe a Gondola Ride on the St. Croix? This one surprised me at first too, but there is actually a Gondola operator running romantic rides down the river.
The owner is a Minnesota Native who used to run guided tours in the BWCA. With a long fascination with gondolas, he finally purchased one from Italy and had it shipped over.
He now runs his own company. They offer one-hour paddles and full moon cruises. I recommend reserving online but they do offer walkups too.
Historic walking tour
You can experience the history of the Small Town in a number of different ways. RiverTownTours.com offers three different types of walking tours.
If you are a do-it-yourself person, you can also take a self-guided tour thanks to the city of Stillwater. They have a YouTube presentation you can watch before you visit.
Or do a free web-based app that points out key features as you walk along Stillwater’s downtown. Using your phone’s GPS points out the history of objects.
Warden’s House Museum
The Warden’s House Museum is where the wardens of Minnesota Territorial Prison once lived. The prison was just north of the house and some of the foundations can be seen in the apartment complex neighboring it.
The house was home to 13 different wardens. The house was sold to the Washington County Historical Society in 1941 and transformed into a museum.
You can visit it and see elements of Washington County History from the lumber industry, civil war, and some of the old Stillwater Prison.
Shopping in Downtown Stillwater
The best stretches of shopping are in downtown Stillwater. Most of it is found along the historic main street. But there is also some great stuff along the side streets too. Don’t count them out.
One of the best parts about Stillwater is that they always manage to keep the storefronts filled with trendy and unique finds. There is something for everyone there.
A trip to historic downtown Stillwater would not be complete without a trip to at least one of the antique shops. I love getting to explore the hidden treasures inside. There are plenty to choose from in town and each one has a little different feel to them.
My favorites to explore are Midtown Antiques. They have an attic filled with larger items. There is always something cool up there. Stillwater Antiques Mall is another favorite.
It was an old bank. When you are inside, look for what’s hiding in the old vault. Black leather books are another good store to explore if you love vintage reads.
Candy Shops in Stillwater
For as long as I’ve been going to Stillwater, it was a shock when I stumbled upon a second candy store in town just the other day. I must have had blinders on.
The most we’ll know Candy Store is Candy Land. Located on the Northside of Downtown. It’s recognizable by the Linus statue out front and a great mural of Stillwater on the side of the building. They make fabulous fudges and their specialty is popcorn.
Tremblay’s Sweet Shop
The other one in town is Tremblay’s Sweet Shop. We were enticed in by the smell of Brittles’ being made fresh. Inside were bins of candy in every direction. It was hard to decide on what to pick. They also have a selection of hand-dipped candies behind the counters.
Stillwater Olive Oil Co.
Every time I go to Stillwater there are a few things I need to do. The first is a stop into Stillwater Olive Oil Co to get a bottle of infused olive oil with garlic.
In addition to oils, they also infuse White Balsamic, Dark Balsamic, and of course Olive Oils. Stillwater Olive Oil Co has so many options that are hard to choose from.
The oil you choose is bottled fresh in front of you.
If you are a regular like myself, you can bring in your old cleaned bottles and get a discount on refills. If you love cooking, you gotta stop in.
Pinch N Rub
For specialty teas and spices you gotta check out Pinch N Rub. Some people can’t start their day without a cup of coffee, I love my teas! But not just any tea, fruity, sweet, specialty teas are my favorites. They have an entire selection of loose-leaf teas to choose from.
In addition to teas, they also specialize in spice rubs. My husband is a big meat cooker and gravitates that way. The staff is great and has everything you need to get set up for whatever is brewing or grilling!
Gullywubbles is one of my new favorite locations for gifts and nostalgia. The handmade works of several local artisans are available at Gullywubbles along with tutus, apparel, and accessories for children, to pet products and graphic tees for adults.
Browse our variety of books, novelties, toys, décor, and more! Plus a few antique vintage games you’ve been dying to get your hands on.
The friendly staff has one mission and that is to assist in the fun, family-friendly atmosphere that is sure to make you leave with a smile on your face!
They definitely accomplished their mission as my husband and I were laughing the entire time, all the while hoping our kids wouldn’t ask us to explain the adult references.
My kids ended up getting to spend their pocket money here and were having a great time.
Kari’s Create & Paint Studio
I had the pleasure of stopping into Kari’s Create and Paint Studio. They are absolutely amazing.
The staff helped us through our very first project and were incredibly patient with the kids. What I think was great about them was how they adapted through the pandemic.
For those that didn’t want to come in, they offered take-home kits. If you have the time, I recommend creating your own piece of art as we did.
Craft Breweries and Vineyards in Stillwater
The Stillwater Caves and Logging industry made it a prime location for Breweries. Prohibition put a quick end to the business. But in the last 20-30 years breweries and wineries have been creeping back into town. There are plenty to choose from.
Maple Island Brewery
Maple Island Brewery is hard to miss in Stillwater. Located in the middle of downtown, they have a prime location overlooking the river. Inside they serve full-flavored craft beers using unique local ingredients.
Some of my favorite parts about the brewery are that pets are allowed on the patio and they have craft sodas, pop, and water for kids.
BierCycle Adventures with Wolf Brewery Company
German Brewer started in 1879 and became the largest brewery in the state. Using the caves to store and keep his brews cold.
During prohibition, the company transitioned to selling bottled water, sparkling water, and soda. Soon after the owner’s death, the family sold the buildings.
The main office building of the brewery still holds Josephs Wolf’s name and two of his granddaughters have once again started selling Wolf Beer.
Today you can buy Wolf Beer in stores and at local restaurants in and outside of Stillwater. But the biggest draw is their BierCycle Adventures.
Similar to a peddle pub, this BOYB cycle allows you to tour Stillwater on a 35-minute tour on a BierCyle Adventure. Their BOYB style makes it family-friendly, allowing you to bring sodas and other items to ensure everyone in your party has a fun time.
Saint Croix Vineyards
On the same grounds as Aamodt’s Appel Farm is the Saint Croix Vineyards. The vineyard has been growing and creating Minnesota wines for over 27 years. Inside you can sample some of their varieties, take a tour of the wine-making process and listen to some live music.
Make sure to check their website to see all the latest information and events. Winery tours are typically free, but with COVID some things have been put on hold.
Dining in Stillwater MN
Stillwater has a huge selection of dining. I could write up a whole post on different places to eat. Instead, I’m going to tell you about a few of my favorites Breakfast, Lunch, and Snack Options.
If you are looking for dining, check out. LoLo American Kitchen, Nacho Mamas, The Tilted Tiki Tropical Restaurant, and Portside. All are excellent.
If you are looking for a great breakfast joint you need to head over to Oasis Café located on 95 just before you get to town. They serve eggs, pancakes, haystacks, and more.
There are three different dining sections; a traditional diner, a full-service bar, and an outdoor patio. The food is great, the service was top-notch.
I recommend getting there first thing in the morning as a line was already forming on Saturday before the doors opened. Their parking lot is limited too. You may have to park down the street if you can’t get in. You won’t regret your decision!
The Freight House Restaurant Tap Room
The Freight House is where to get the best views of the St Croix River and the historic lift bridge. The building was originally created to hold many of the materials needed for the railroad that went through Stillwater.
In 1979 it was recognized as the first building on the National Registry of Historic Places in Stillwater. Today you can visit the Freight House for a bite to eat.
Get a drink from their taproom, or enjoy the large patio and take in the view of the river.
Blue Sun Soda Shop
Home to delicious craft sodas in every fun flavor imaginable. Blue Sun Soda Shop has made its way to Stillwater.
The original store is in Spring Lake Park. There they bottle their own Whistler Soda. They have the largest selection of specialty sodas in Minnesota. In Stillwater, you can purchase all the great sodas and cadies too!
Where to find Stillwaters Best Ice Cream?
It’s hard to go to a town like Stillwater without running into an ice cream shop. Actually, there are three.
Nelson’s Ice Cream
Nelson’s Ice Cream Shop delivers old-school ice cream.
They are still serving ice cream out of the original shack they used in 1923. I consider this the place locals go for ice cream because it’s a mile from downtown. In my humble opinion, it’s worth the drive.
Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop
There are a couple of options in the middle of downtown Stillwater for this summer favorite. Most recognizable is Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop on the corner of Main Street and Chestnut.
They have class foods like burgers, onion rings, and of course malts.
MN Nice Ice Cream
If you are looking for a modern twist, you’ll want to check out MN Nice Cream. They are right next to Leo’s on Chestnut Street.
They have vegan and lactose-free options. Their ice-cream creations are out of this world and ready to post on social media.
Hotels/Bed and Breakfasts in Stillwater
There is so many things to do in Stillwater MN, you may want to think about spending the whole weekend there.
Bed and Breakfasts in Stillwater
If you’re looking for the full Stillwater experience, you need to stay in one of their bed and Breakfasts.
My favorite is the Rivertown Inn. Each of their rooms is themed based on famous authors. You can stay in the Oscar Wild Grand Suite, Agatha Christie Grand suite, or even a Joan Austen Suite.
The Anne Bean Mansion comes in a close second!
Hotels in Stillwater
There are two hotels in downtown Stillwater that you have to consider when you stay in Stillwater.
The Water Street Inn has a Restaurant and Roof Top Bar. The nearby Charlies Restaurant and Irish Pub and a 61-room hotel located on St Croix River. It’s the best way to get a view of the Historic Lift Bridge at any time of the day.
The newest hotel is the Lora Hotel. It is built by the old Wolf Brewery. The hotel retains the original stone walls that were built into the cliff, as well as vaulted ceilings from the warehouses and even the caves that lead to nowhere. This all sits beside the Main Street Stairs.
|Book your stay at the luxurious Lora Hotel today!
Stillwater has some amazing accommodations. Hote’s and Bed and Breakfast barely scratched the surface. For more great places, including pet friendly and family friendly places to stay, check out: 13 Beautiful Places to Stay in Stillwater MN
Tips for Downtown Stillwater MN
Stillwater is an amazing destination. But it can get overwhelming, especially on a beautiful day. To make you have a great time, I’ve put together my best tips.
Parking in Stillwater
There are plenty of parking lots in Stillwater. Most of the parking lots are located between the river and 95. On the south side of town, these lots charge by the hour. Keep driving north.
You’ll start to notice free lots, depending on the seasons. They start at 1-2 hr parking limit. Keep driving. On the far north side of Stillwater, still downtown, is a free lot for a full 24hrs.
Once you park your car, consider staying put. Around lunchtime, it can be hard to find a spot.
Avoid the Crowds
To avoid the crowds, consider visiting during the week. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve driven through and didn’t stop because of the crowds.
Stillwater’s historic downtown is stunning. The riverfront likes to reflect a lot of heat and shade can be hard to come by.
That’s why I recommend bringing with you a bottle of water. I like an insulated Hydro Flask so everything stays cool all day. We downed a few bottles where while we were there.
If you love Day Trips from Minneapolis like these, get yourself a copy of Day Trips from the Twin Cities by Lisa Meyers Mcclintick. She has a ton of great ideas.
If you only have an hour in Stillwater?
There is so much to see and do in Stillwater, you can spend a week here easily enjoying it all.
If you are a city person and you’re short on time, spend the time wandering the streets of the Historic Downtown Stillwater. Walk across the Stillwater Lift Bridge and soak it all in.
If you are an outdoor-loving junkie, head straight to the Boom Site. It is one of my favorite things in Stillwater Minnesota. Use whatever time you have left and get some ice cream on the way out of town for a reward.
There are so many things to do in Stillwater, that it’s hard to pick only a few of my favorites. I’m sure you’ll find a selection of things to do for everyone.