After hours of sitting at a desk, the shining sun outside your window is calling you to drop everything and explore a world uncovered from feet of snow. But not everyone has time for a week-long vacation or the budget to jet off to a distant locale. Instead, make the most of your weekends (or a day off) and take a day trip to one of Minnesota’s local attractions. Adventures are only a drive away.
The Quarry Park (St. Cloud)
1802 County Road 137
Waite Park, MN 56387
Distance from Twin Cities: approximately 1 hour northwest
Between the 684 acres of land and 20 abandoned rock quarries, the Quarry Park in St. Cloud offers a unique way to stay active and cool off. First go hiking, biking or rock climbing on billion year old un-quarried bedrock, or stroll through trails in sprawling grasslands and scenic forests. Once you work up a sweat, scuba dive in your choice of four quarries or jump off 20 to 40-foot high cliffs into a 116-foot deep swimming hole (bring along an inner tube to float if you aren’t much for heights). But the best part about the Quarry Park? Day permits are only $4. On your way back home, stop by Nelson Bros. Restaurant & Bakeryin Clearwater for some home-cooked American cuisine.
Franconia Sculpture Park (Franconia)
29836 St. Croix Trail
Franconia, MN 55074
Distance from the Twin Cities: approximately 45 minutes northeast
Most people in the Twin Cities have posed next to the Spoonbridge and Cherry, but even more outrageous sculptures lie 45 minutes northeast of the Cities in Franconia. The Franconia Sculpture Park boasts a rotating collection of 75 sculptures that encourage visitors to interact with the oversized art. Though the park is more catered to families (with plenty of room for the little ones to play on the brightly colored sculptures) the park also offers more adult events like an annual celebration of the Summer Solstice and dinner parties with the resident artists. Franconia is also located conveniently close to Stillwater and Taylors Falls, which offer bonus options for dining and recreation.
202 Cedar St
Pepin, WI 54759
Distance from the Twin Cities: approximately 2 hours southeast
Sick of bustling city life and want a town with a slower pace? Drive south to Pepin, WI, a quaint town on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota known for its history and marina life. Start your trip with a little history by visiting the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder (don’t forget to read the books first!). Then head into town and stroll along First Street, stopping in shops like Dockside Mercantile and The Palate. Head next to Pepin Marina, where you can either bring your own sailboat to sail or sit at the dock watching boats drift around the lake. End your day at the famous Harbor View Café, for a delicious meal made with all fresh ingredients, overlooking the town’s namesake: Lake Pepin.
Bonus: If you don’t mind a little more road on your trip, stop by nearby Stockholm and Maiden Rock for the same small town charm in a different setting.
1950 Northwestern Avenue South #101
Stillwater, MN 55082-5189
Distance from the Twin Cities: approximately 40 minutes east
Antiqu-ers and window shoppers beware: this town could be your downfall. Downtown Stillwater offers a wide array of shops, such as Staples Mill Antiques (which boasts over 10,000 square feet of antiques), Valley Bookstore and Art and Soul gift shop. When you tire of browsing (or your wallet keeps you from going any further), take a walk along the beautiful shores of the St. Croix River. But before you leave, make sure to stop by Tremblay’s Sweet Shop to take home some delectable salt water taffy.
30 Civic Center Drive SE,
Rochester, MN 55904
Distance from the Twin Cities: approximately 90 minutes south
Contrary to popular belief, Rochester is more than Mayo Clinic. With a skyway and subway system that keeps pedestrians warm and dry during all seasons, it offers enjoyable (and accessible) activities year round. In the summer, be sure to stroll along the RiverWalk that runs next to the Zumbro River and on Sundays catch a free outdoor concert at Mayo Park. In the fall, a hike to the top of Quarry Hill offers a gorgeous view of the fall foliage decorating the landscape. In the winter, cross country ski on the five miles of trails at Quarry Hill Nature Center or take cover from the cold in the downtown shopping district. In the notoriously fickle spring weather, try any of the previously mentioned activities or brush up on your history by a visit to the Mayowood Mansion or Assisi Heights, a Franciscan community housed in a beautiful Italian Romanesque building. No matter the season, you’re going to find something to do in Rochester.
BONUS: Uptown (Minneapolis)
1406 West Lake Street,
Minneapolis MN 55408
Located in the Twin Cities
For those of you not in the Twin Cities (or perhaps a Twin Cities resident looking for a day trip a little closer to home), head to the Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis for an all-inclusive experience. In addition to fantastic restaurants, bars and coffee shops on every block, there is a variety of shopping, thriving nightlife and parks all within walking distance. Here are a few locales to be sure not to miss: Chino Latino for family-sized fusion cuisine, Walker Sculpture Garden for the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry, Fifth Element for local hip hop music, a bike ride around Lake Calhoun and Brave New Workshop for comedy. But there are hundreds more options for every day-tripper.
— Karis Hustad is an intern with WCCO.COM.