The Best of Minnesota
Since Minnesota is a big state, this 11-day tour is necessarily limited despite all the driving involved, but combining history, culture, technology, nature, arts, and world-class kitsch, it highlights the variety that makes Minnesota such a wonderful place.
Start your tour in Minnesota’s southeastern corner in Harmony, the center of the state’s largest Amish community. After stopping in lovely little Lanesboro, take the Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway through the deep and narrow Root River Valley to the Mississippi River.
Follow the Great River Road north alongside the Mississippi, shopping and sightseeing in the historic river towns of Winona, Wabasha, and Red Wing. Along the way, stop at some of the bluff-top parks, such as Great River Bluffs State Park, for spectacular valley views.
Spend a day each getting to know Minneapolis and St. Paul. In Minneapolis, stroll the Mississippi Riverfront and the Sculpture Garden and visit an art museum of your choice—they’re all good. St. Paul’s must-see is Summit Avenue. Afterward, visit Historic Fort Snelling, Mall of America, or Stillwater, depending on your tastes.
Spend the day in Duluth watching ships slip under the Aerial Lift Bridge and visiting the many museums in and around Canal Park, including the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center and the Great Lakes Floating Maritime Museum. If you can get a reservation, spend the night in the Two Harbors Lighthouse.
Highway 61, one of only 27 officially designated All-American Roads, hugs Lake Superior for just 150 miles, but two days is the minimum time needed to do the North Shore justice. Wild waterfalls and rugged coast run between the few small towns, and all eight state parks warrant a stop.
The first three you meet are the most impressive: Gooseberry Falls is the most visited state park for good reason; Split Rock Lighthouse is a Minnesota icon; and Tettegouche has some of the most impressive shoreline on the whole lake. The featured waterfall at far less crowded Judge C. R. Magney seemingly disappears into the rock.
Paddle the glorious Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, one of the world’s most beautiful and wildlife-rich wildernesses. Take several days rather than just one if you can spare them.
Journey into the center of the earth at Soudan Underground Mine State Park, and look at one of the city-sized strip mines between Virginia and Hibbing. Head west through the Chippewa National Forest, a lovely drive, especially if you get off U.S. Highway 2, on your way to Bemidji for a look at the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues.
Spend most of the day exploring Itasca State Park, which not only surrounds the humble headwaters of the Mississippi River, but has thousands of acres of old-growth forest and many historic sites. When done, head south to Otter Tail County and spend the night in one of the distinctive B&Bs.
Drive as much of the Otter Trail Scenic Byway as you can, making sure not to miss Phelps Mill and the statues in Vining. Then head back to the Twin Cities.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition