Top 10 Vacation Destinations
These top 10 vacation destinations offer a diversity of experience found in few other places. These unique experiences are all found in the ten best vacations spots in Minnesota.
The Arrowhead Region of the Lake Superior North Shore is considered by many to be one of the ten best vacation spots anywhere in the world.
You will experience our "inland sea" with similar adventures as on any great body of water.
Fishing, canoeing, and kayaking, are just the start of what you can do on the water.
A road trip along the shore will take you from Duluth to the Canadian border. Some of the state's most beautiful resorts and cabins are ready to host you. Visit the unique small towns along the shore as well as seven of Minnesota's beautiful state parks.
Minnesota Day Trips by Theme (Day Trip Series)
Discover Why the North Shore is first on our Top 10 Vacation Destinations List
- Duluth - This inland port city is loved by those who know it well. Attractions include ship watching at the aerial lift bridge in Canal Park, as well as the Maritime Museum and the S.S. William A. Irvine Museum that is on an actual ship. Click the link to learn more about attractions in Duluth.
- Top 10 North Shore Attractions - There is so much to see along the North Shore so we have chosen the ten best "must see" attractions for your Lake Superior North Shore trip.
- Lake Superior Lighthouse Tours - It's great fun to stop at all the lighthouses along the North shore. If you only have time for one, make sure that it is the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse. You could also spend a night in a lighthouse in Two Harbors!
Lake Superior's Historic North Shore: A Guided Tour
- Lake Superior Circle Tour - This delightful road trip takes you from Duluth to the Canadian border in Minnesota. Do the complete circle tour and travel all the way around the world's largest freshwater lake.
Boundary Waters Planner
Exploring the Boundary Waters: A Trip Planner and Guide to the BWCAW
Voyageurs Trail Map
Voyageurs National Park (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map)
2. Minnesota Lakes Areas - Minnesota is famous as the "land of 10,000 lakes." Almost all of our top vacation destinations are situated near at least one large body of water. Going "up to the lake" is a Minnesota tradition. Many state residents have a lake cabin of their own; others of us have a favorite cabin at one of the state's legendary resorts.
- Brainerd - Most people think of the giant Paul Bunyan statue when anyone mentions Brainerd. He's worth a visit. You might also hike the Paul Bunyan State Trail. Plan a stay at one of Brainerd's famous resorts.
- Alexandria - "Alex" is famous for the Runestone that some say is a hoax. Visit and decide for yourself. A statue of "Big Ole" is a landmark in town. The most well known resort in the area is Arrowwood. You will love the Big Splash water park.
- Detroit Lakes - The "Mile Long" white sand beach is one of this small town's attractions for summer visitors. In addition to water recreation, DL is home to many festivals: We Fest, Water Carnival, Dick Beardsley Marathon, Antique Boat Show, Vintage Car Shows and many more. Visit in winter for ice fishing, skiing and other winter sports.
- Maplewood State Park - Explore miles of hiking trails in the maple, oak, and basswood forest. The Woodland Nature Trail and Grass Lake Interpretive Trail have interpretive signs. There are seventy-one campsites in the park as well as back-packing sites.
- Fishing Lakes - Many fishing enthusiasts believe that the best fishing anywhere in the U.S. is in Minnesota. Ten thousand lakes and fifteen thousand miles of rivers and streams offer year round opportunity to pursue walleye, northern, bass, trout, pan fish, and more.
- Top 10 Minnesota Beaches - Most Minnesotans learn to swim when they are very young. It's a natural in this state where lakes are everywhere. Pack a picnic lunch, grab your beach towel, and choose one of our top beaches.
- Minnesota Resorts - Many of our lovely beaches can be enjoyed at the resorts built alongside them. Resorts in Minnesota range from huge complexes like Cragun's and Ruttger's to small "mom and pop" owned cabins. You can find resorts that have lots of programs for kids or other resorts that craft great experiences for couples that include spa packages.
Select your "home away from home" from hundreds of Minnesota hotels, resorts,or cabins.
3. Minnesota Wilderness Adventures - This area in Minnesota includes 1.3 million acres of unspoiled wilderness in the Boundary Waters and 218,00 acres set aside for canoeing and camping. It is on the list of top 10 vacation destinations because it is like "no place else on earth."
- Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness - Some call this the "trip of a lifetime." Others go year after year to enjoy this beautiful wilderness that can only be traveled by way of a paddle. Camping alongside a remote lake, cooking over a campfire, watching the moon over the water, snuggling in your tent at night. All this is yours in the BWCAW.
- Voyageurs National Park - Centered on four large lakes, Voyageurs offers a wilderness experience without the regulations for exploring the Boundary Waters. Motorized boats, houseboats, and pontoons are welcome here. Voyageurs National Park is one of the least visited U.S. national parks. If you are looking for a way to enjoy nature in a beautiful place, this is it.
4. Twin Cities - It's just eight miles between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis. To visit one is not to understand both. English journalist Trevor Fishlock stated that the Twin Cities are: "divided by the Mississippi River and united by the belief that the inhabitants on the other side of the river are inferior." The area should be high on any list of top 10 vacation destinations.
- Minneapolis is a cosmopolitan and modern city. The skyline is filled with skyscrapers. Entertainment and theater are world class. The city is home to the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins. The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway follows the city's lakes and rivers.
- Saint Paul is laid out along curious winding streets that, at times, baffle visitors. It is known for its historic homes and old world European charm. James J. Hill began his railroad empire here. John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson brought a devastating crime spree to the city.
- Fort Snelling State Park - This urban state park commemorates much of the state's early history. It is also a surprising haven for wildlife. Activities in the park include hiking, canoeing, swimming, and cross-country skiing.
5. St Croix Valley - Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway - This vast area is preserved as a part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Project.
- Taylors Falls - Just a short drive from the Twin Cities, this charming small town offers some of the state's best attractions. Take a cruise along the bluffs of the St. Croix River. Enjoy the best burgers and malts you may ever eat at The Drive In. Tour nearby Franconia Sculpture Park.
- Interstate State Park - This is one of the smallest state parks in the state; it is also one of the most beautiful. As the name implies, it sits on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. Primary attractions are the cliffs and the geological potholes. Hike the pothole trail to see these amazing formations.
- St. Croix State Park - Designated as a "Wild and Scenic River" this is Minnesota's largest state park. You will enjoy amazing hiking trails, canoe-in campgrounds on both the St. Croix and Kettle rivers, standard campgrounds and an RV park. There is also a horse camp that can accommodate up to 100 riders and their horses.
- Wild River State Park - Ten miles north of Taylors Falls you will find the entrance to this park. The park is situated along eighteen miles of the St. Croix River. Many of Minnesota's most popular hiking trails are here as well as lovely canoe and kayak routes. In winter, thirty miles of trail are groomed for cross-country skiing.
Top 10 Vacation Destinations Continued
6. Mississippi River - The Mississippi River's path through Minnesota defines much of the state from its "birthplace" in Itasca State Park to where it crosses the Minnesota/Iowa border in the southern part of the state. The river is on our list of top 10 vacation destinations though it is really an experience more than a destination.
- Itasca State Park - Minnesota's oldest and most visited state park. This is the place to take photos of family and friends walking across the Mississippi River. It is also where you can enjoy driving or walking through a forest of stunning and stately trees, the Norway Pine, (Red Pine), our Minnesota State Tree. Reserve a room at famous Douglas Lodge or a spot in one of many campsites.
- Mississippi River Boat Tours - Tours are available at Harriet Island in St. Paul by the Padelford Riverboat Company and at Boom Island in Minneapolis. The American Queen offers tours that depart from several cities including St. Paul.You can also take a Paddleboat ride on on Lake Pepin, the largest River Lake on the Mississippi.
- Mississippi River Museum - The visitor center is in the same building as the Science Museum. You will find information about the river and, as well, events that celebrate the Mississippi.
- Great River Road - Take this road trip across Minnesota from Itasca State Park to charming small towns in Southern Minnesota. You could continue your journey through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana all the way to the Gulf of Mexico- --nearly 3,000 miles!
7. Red River Valley - Some highlights of this area include the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, and the Ottertail Scenic Byway. With Moorhead's sister city, Fargo N.D., this area is known as the "Gateway to the West."
- Moorhead - Be sure to see the replica Viking ship, Hjemkomst, built by Robert Asp and sailed to Norway. Visit the Hopperstad Stave Church, and Comstock House that celebrates the life of one of Moorhead's most significant families.
- Buffalo River State Park - One of the largest prairies in the state is part of this park. Prairie chickens can be found here; the Buffalo River flows through it. Enjoy the picnic area, swimming pond and forty-four campsites.
- Red River State Park - Located in East Grand Forks this small park offers the pleasures of camping and river sports just outside the town.
8. Southern Minnesota Prairie Land - This area is a prime farming area. It is also the place where you will see some of Minnesota's most unusual attractions. Just a few include Walnut Grove, Pipestone National Monument, Little Sod House on the Prairie, Jeffers Petroglyphs, Blue Mounds State Park, and the World's Largest Ball of Twine. The unusual nature of attractions here landed it on our top 10 vacation destinations list.
- New Ulm - This town celebrates their German heritage with attractions that include a Glockenspiel, Hermann The German Museum, Museum of Brewing, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, and the Wanda Gag House.
- Flandrau State Park - Just to the west of New Ulm, this lovely state park features a sand bottomed swimming pool. Two wonderful hiking trails are the Old Island Loop and River Loop.
- Lac Qui Parle State Park - This small state park is adjacent to the Lac Qui Parle Wildlife Management Area and the Lac Qui Parle Mission. You might see some of the abundant wildlife in the area as you hike the trails.
- Pipestone - Pipestone National Monument preserves the ancient Native American tradition and craft of quarrying the Catlinite stone. The Catlinite that appears here is found nowhere else in the world. The stone is fashioned into sacred objects.
- Jeffers Petroglyphs - You can hike the eighty acres of this historic site to enjoy the more than two thousand etched carvings done by ancient Native Americans.
- Blue Mounds State Park - This small state park is one of Minnesota's most interesting. The massive quartzite "mound" is reason enough to visit. The resident herd of buffalo is an added attraction.
9. Minnesota Bluff Country - Enjoy a diversity of experience in this region. Some of the "must see" places include historic Red Wing, romantic Lanesboro, an Amish settlement near Harmony, the SPAM Museum in Austin, and seven of Minnesota's beautiful state parks. These romantic and unique attractions put this area on our top 10 vacation destinations list.
- Red Wing - Famous for Red Wing Pottery and Red Wing Shoes. This is one of the most beautiful towns along the Mississippi River. Hike to the top of Barn Bluff, enjoy a riverboat ride, picnic in Colvill Park, hike the Cannon Valley Trail.
- Frontenac State Park - This gorgeous state park is located on a bluff overlooking Lake Pepin. This is a wonderful park fir bird-watching. See the historic glacial rock, in-Yan-Teopa, that has a hole carved in it by a glacier. There is a large campground in this park.
- Lake City - Built along the shores of Lake Pepin, this lovely town is a paradise for water sports lovers. In 1922, a Lake City resident invented water skis. Wineries and apple orchards near Lake City are great reasons to visit.
- Nerstrand Big Woods State Park - One of Minnesota's last remaining stands of "big woods" can be enjoyed here. Lots of rare wildflowers and beautiful birds inhabit this park. Hike to the Hidden Falls waterfall.
- Wabasha - This historic town has preserved much of its 18th century architecture and claims to be the oldest city in Minnesota. The movie "Grumpy Old Men" claims Wabasha as its location. Visit in winter to see the largest gathering of eagles anywhere other than Alaska.
- John A. Latsch State Park - A stunning feature is the trio of five hundred foot tall bluffs named Faith, Hope, and Charity. There is only a small campground here, but it is a great day trip.
- Whitewater State Park - Known for great varieties of both birds and wild flowers. This park has two large campgrounds on its 2,700 acres. You can hike several trails including the short Chimney Rock Trail that will take you to the top of the bluff.
- Winona - Attractions include 500 foot tall Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Watkins Heritage Museum, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, and the Victorian homes surrounding Windom Park.
- Great River Bluffs State Park - Preserved as a "natural" park, this is a place for great views of the Mississippi River. There is a small picnic area and campground. Hike the King's Bluff Nature Trail.
- Beaver Creek Valley State Park - Great fly-fishing for trophy brown and brook trout. Virgin hardwood forest, great bird-watching, peaceful secluded campsites. Visit Schell's Mill just north of the park.
- Rochester - Famed home of the Mayo Clinic, this is also the place to hear the The Rochester Carillon. Historic sites include Plummer House of the Arts, Heritage House, and Mayowood Mansion. Visit the Children's Museum, Rochester Art Center, and Silver Lake Park.
- Lanesboro - Famed as a romantic destination, Lanesboro is often called the "Bed & Breakfast Capital" of Minnesota. Visit the Eagle Bluff Learning Center and the Lanesboro Art Center. Be sure to attend the yearly Rhubarb Festival.
- Forestville Mystery Cave State Park - Explore Minnesota's longest cave. You will be amazed by the stalactites, stalagmites and underground pools. You can schedule guided tours.
- Harmony - This tiny town is right in the middle of two Amish communities. You are likely to see the people dressed in their traditional garb and driving horse-drawn carriages. The shops in town feature many Amish-made goods and other art and craft items. Guided tours through the area are available.
- Big Island State Park - Hundreds of migrating birds converge here in autumn. Bird-watching is great along the Great Marsh Trail. The Big Island Trail is the most popular hike. Most campgrounds are located in the woods.
- Austin - Most well-known as the location of Hormel Foods, makers of SPAM. Visit the Hormel Historic Home, the SPAM Museum, and the Mower County Historical Museum. Visit in early March for the Minnesota Storytelling Festival.
10. Minnesota State Parks
Wherever you travel in Minnesota, you will find a state park. If you love camping or just hiking through some of the best of unspoiled Minnesota, our state parks are for you. We consider them to be the top of our Top 10 Vacation Destinations!
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