Grand Rapids is a perfect example of what is so great about northern Minnesota, year round. The southern gateway into the Chippewa National Forest, no matter your personal outdoor passion, it promises beautiful hiking to biking, snowmobiling, fishing and hunting. If you prefer to stay out of the woods, the Grand Rapids area boasts four championship-level golf courses made to rival the best of the best. As with most of northern Minnesota, the logging industry has played a key role in shaping the area, and the curious may explore this role in the local heritage through a trip to the Forest History Center, or see the current state of the landscape by taking a scenic drive along the Edge of the Wilderness National Scenic Byway from Grand Rapids north to Effie. No matter your motivation for arriving, you will find ample reasons to stay. Boasting around 1,000 lakes, a stop on the Mississippi River, and traditional Minnesota charms mixed with the modern, this town has more than enough to keep you coming back year after year.

Getting There

A straight drive north on US-169 from the Twin Cities metro area puts the trip right around 3.5 hours, with a nice scenic bend around the west side of Mille Lacs adding a familiar half way point and offering plenty of small town diner lunch options along your route. Choosing instead to navigate the interstate has you hopping off of I-35 at the Moose Lake exit, following MN-73 to the north and then US-2 to the west to complete your journey. This adds about 20 miles to your route, but some of that difference is mitigated by the increased speed limit on I-35 versus 169. Factor in the state and county highways available, and your paths to Grand Rapids can be as varied as your options once you get there – just beware that smaller highways are more subject to damage — and subsequent repair work — due to the freezing/thawing cycles, so its always good to double check for known constructions projects ahead of your trip, and beware aware of the potential for a bumpy roads and/or wildlife, especially at night.

Related: Best Campgrounds In Minnesota

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Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway
Grand Rapids, MN to Effie, MN

While not quite a location to visit, the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway is much more than simply a line on the map connecting two destinations. On a quiet fall evening, the views are simply breathtaking. Pull-off spots are located all along this two-lane road, making it easier to take in the sights without losing focus on the road. In the spring, watch nature unfold from a long slumber only gets better through the summer when the trees fill out. As was mentioned above, this is a road certainly subject to weather-related damage, so be sure to watch your speeds and be aware of changing conditions and deer. With a view like this, there really is no point in hurrying along anyway. Lakes along each side of the road offer plenty of spots for a picnic lunch, a chance to cast a bobber in, or to simply explore resorts for future visits. Upon arrival in Effie, be sure to work your way over to Deer Lake Charlie’s for a quick bite to eat.

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Judy Garland Museum
2727 S. Highway 169
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
(218) 327-9276

Price: $8

Open year-round, the Judy Garland Museum offers a fantastic glimpse into the early childhood, as well as the amazing public career of one of Grand Rapid’s most famous daughters. An annual festival takes the celebration to the streets, typically held in the middle of June. For the true fans of her career, or for casual observers looking for a peak into her life, this museum houses everything from Wizard of Oz props to commemorative items made by her fans over the years.

Photo Credit: Macrostie Art Center/Facebook

MacRostie Art Center
405 1st Ave. Northwest
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
(218) 326-2697

Price: free

While visitors to the area aren’t likely to take part in the host of art classes offered at the MacRostie Art Center, its monthly exhibitions featuring both local and regional artists are certainly worth a look. Handcrafted pottery, jewelry, glass sculptures and paintings by both students and featured artists are available in the gift shop. If you time your trip just right, there are also plenty workshops and lectures by renowned artists offered throughout the year, adding a bit of big city art experience to the northwoods.

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17th Street Grill at Timberlake

144 S.E. 17th St.
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
(218) 326-2600

For a slightly more formal dining option with a northwoods twist, the 17th Street Grill in the Timberlake Lodge Hotel will more than meet your expectations. Offering an extensive menu of steak and seafood options, along with sinful desserts, the atmosphere and the food make this one location deserving of at least one meal during your stay. Enjoy weekly specials including sushi and martinis. Its wine and beer list will be sure to please every palette. If your evenings are already planned, it also offers an excellent lunch menu. Just be sure to go easy on its scrumptious signature Timbertini, or you might find that your ambition suffers for the rest of the day.

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Sawmill Inn
2301 S. Pokegama Ave.
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
(800) 667-7508

Price: from $79

Whether your needs involve a base camp to start and a day’s end exploring the nearby lakes, woods and trails, or you are looking to escape to solitude and the nearby sauna, the Sawmill Inn has a little bit of everything for everybody. Its on-site dining option is first class, and package deals please hunters, anglers and golfers. Boasting roughly 100 staff members ready to see to your every need , the Sawmill Inn is everything you could hope for from your northwoods experience.

Related: Minn. Orchestra Brings Festival To Grand Rapids

Rich Rein has been featured in Midwest Outdoors and Outdoors Weekly magazines and has been a contributor to and He is a Minnesota transplant staying busy holding down a career as a software developer by day and a firefighter/EMT by night. His work can be found at