Whether you enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing and camping or the arts and entertainment, Minnesota offers plenty of opportunities “just waiting to be explored” this summer, said Alyssa Ebel, spokesperson with Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism office.
“Nationally, Minnesota is well-known as ‘The Land of 10,000 Lakes’ (actually we have 11,842 lakes) and the outdoor recreation opportunities related to water,” Ebel said.
The state boasts 75 state parks and recreation areas, with more than 69,000 miles of rivers and streams and 750 resorts.
“We have the best canoeing rivers in the U.S.,” she said.
While many people in this region are aware of the state’s big attractions — the Mall of America, the Twin Cities and the North Shore — they may not know much about all the other travel opportunities the state offers, such as “our six national parks, 4,000-plus miles of paved bike trails, and the 100-plus breweries, for example,” she said.
As spring gives way to summer, a host of arts, entertainment and cultural events flourish throughout the state, she said. “There are more than 440 performing arts theaters, hundreds of museums and art galleries, and lots of music venues.”
For some travelers, tax-free shopping is a bonus, she noted. “That’s something you don’t appreciate until you go out of state.”
If golfing is your thing, the state is home to more than 400 public courses.
Anglers can find “world-class” fishing at Lake of the Woods, the nation’s seventh-largest lake, and the Northwest Angle, the most northern point in the U.S., Ebel said.
If “roughing it” in the great outdoors does not appeal to your significant other, try “glamping,” a more civilized approach to camping, in a rented camper cabin, uret, recreational vehicle or houseboat, Ebel said.
Whatever your preference, “it’s important for people of all ages to explore the outdoors,” she said. “You should always make time for travel, because it’s so good for your quality of life.
“Travel can be so educational — you’re learning while you don’t even know it. You can clear your head, and you come back to work or school with a fresh perspective,” said Ebel, who grew up near International Falls, Minn.
“You’re gaining a new experience in life.”
Where to go
Among the sites on what Ebel calls “a great bucket list” of things to do in Minnesota in 2016, she recommends the following:
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: The Boundary Waters, in northeast Minnesota, is the biggest wilderness east of the Rockies, with 1.3 million acres and a network of 1,200 lakes and 1,500 miles of canoe routes connected by streams and portages.
The BWCAW has been named as one of National Geographic’s Traveler magazine’s “50 Places of a Lifetime.”
“It’s a unique getaway you can only have in Minnesota,” Ebel said. “It’s a trip worth trying in your lifetime.”
The wilderness area extends nearly 199 miles along the international border with Canada in the northern third of the Superior National Forest, where lakes and streams tangle with islands surrounded by rugged cliffs, gentle hills, canyon walls, rocky shores and sandy beaches.
Visitors can canoe, portage and camp in the spirit of the French voyageurs of 200 years ago. There are 18 hiking trails and nearly 2,200 campsites where you can share the environment with a wide assortment of wildlife species and, as any summer visitor will tell you, an abundance of insect life.
“It’s renowned,” Ebel said. “When people think of Minnesota, that’s what they think of.
“(The area) is cool, untouched. When you’re camping there, you have your own island — and it’s a great workout when you go through the portages.”
The North Shore of Lake Superior: The world’s largest freshwater lake (by volume), Lake Superior stretches to the horizon.
Discover stunning scenery in the unspoiled wilderness along the 151-mile North Shore Scenic Drive from Duluth to the Canadian border. The waterfalls along the northeast portion of the shore run all year long.
The beaches and rocky cliffs are bordered by the Sawtooth Mountains and thousands of acres of pine, aspen and birch trees.
Hike to the crests of the bluffs along the lake. Take along a packed lunch to enjoy a picnic in one of the eight state parks that encompasses some of the most striking natural resources and breathtaking views in the area.
At Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, take a break for a hike and tour of one of only two Great Lakes lighthouses to be designated as a National Historic Landmark.
You can stop at any of the 41 historic sites and museums which provide a glimpse into the culture and history of the area. Take time to enjoy some of the many unique shopping and dining venues in small towns along the way.
Visit studios and galleries that showcase the work of area sculptors, fiber artists, potters, painters, photographers, woodcarvers, jewelers and other artists and craftspersons.
Headwaters of the Mississippi: More than 2,500 miles north of its mile-wide mouth in the Gulf of Mexico, the mighty Mississippi River starts at Itasca State Park as a stream tumbling over a few rocks, easily crossed on foot.
The park’s north entrance is 21 miles south of Bagley, Minn.
Established in 1891 as Minnesota’s first state park, Itasca covers 32,000 acres and includes more than 100 lakes.
Stand under the towering pines at Preacher’s Grove. Visit the Itasca Indian Cemetery or Wegmann’s Cabin, landmarks of centuries gone by.
Learn more about the area at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center, which also features a cafeteria-style restaurant and the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.
Camp under the stars, or stay the night at the historic Douglas Lodge or cabins. The Douglas Lodge Four Season Suites are available to rent year-round.
Explore Wilderness Drive, which runs past the 2,000-acre Wilderness Sanctuary, one of Minnesota’s seven National Natural Landmarks.
A reunion of the Itasca State Park Centennial Wagon Train is June 11. All are invited.
For more information, email email@example.com or call (218) 699-7251.
Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park: If you love wildlife, history, landscape and geology, get ready to be fascinated by the natural wonders, above and below ground, at this vacation destination.
Hidden under the farmland of southern Minnesota, at Mystery Cave State Park, are 13 miles of caverns lined with stalactites, stalagmites, colorful rock formations and pools of water. The park entrance is 5 miles south of Wykoff, Minn.
Beat the summer heat by going underground, where the temperature is a constant 48 degrees.
Park naturalists provide tours of the cave in the summer and on weekends in spring and fall. The three-quarter-mile walking tour, on paved trails and bridges, is ADA accessible.
Other tours are designed to meet special interests of photographers, for example, and those who want to closely examine the cave’s formations.
Above ground, stop by Historic Forestville (pictured above), a restored 1800s village operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. Interpreters, dressed in period costume, bring the past to life.
Take in the sights and sounds of nature as you hike the ridge tops and stream valleys where you’ll notice geologic features, including sinkholes and the dramatic Big Spring, along the way. You will see the pastel display of wildflowers and hear ruffed grouse drumming and wild turkeys gobbling.
Fishing in the park’s three blue-ribbon trout streams entices anglers from April to September.
“You can easily spend a day there,” Ebel said.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the main park office at (507) 352-5111 or Mystery Cave office at (507) 937-3251.
Minnehaha Falls: This urban natural wonder, a roaring 53-foot waterfall in a quiet Minneapolis neighborhood, is located on Minnehaha Creek near the creek’s confluence with the Mississippi River, near Fort Snelling.
It is part of Minnehaha Park, which lies within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service. The 167-acre park, one of the oldest state parks in the nation, preserves historic sites that illustrate transportation, pioneering and architectural themes.
Preserved structures include the Minnehaha Princess Station, a Victorian train depot built in the 1870s; the John H. Stevens House, built in 1849; and the Longfellow House, a replica of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow House in Cambridge, Mass. (The falls inspired Longfellow, sight unseen, to write “The Song of Hiawatha,” a poem which helped to spread the park’s notoriety.)
Minnehaha Falls can be viewed from two bridges, one above the falls and the other below.
The park features several gardens, including the Pergola Garden with its native wildflowers and grasses, and a river outlook in the Wabun picnic area that includes a children’s playground.
Trails and paths are dotted with natural seating areas made of limestone.
Bikes are available for rent, and there is an off-leash dog park area.
You can enjoy one of several outdoor picnic sites or a picnic shelter with cooking and restroom facilities. A playground and wading pool make it a popular area for kids.
More than 850,000 people visit the park each year, and it continues to be one of the most photographed sites in Minnesota.
Pictured above: Forestville historic site in Mystery Cave State Park.