Bemidji is the kind of Northwoods destination that makes for a quintessential Minnesotan vacation. Located a little more than four hours northwest of the Twin Cities, it is an easy getaway for a quick weekend trip or an extended stay. While quieter than many other destinations, Bemidji still promises plenty to do and see, especially if you want to really get out and enjoy nature. Nestled in the midst of hundreds of quality fishing lakes and the Mississippi, a visit here offers rustic charm and outdoor fun for everyone. Home to two of Minnesota’s tallest tales (Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox), a thriving Native American culture, and some of the best natural scenery to be found, vacationing to Bemidji is only tough in determining where to go next.


Getting There

Located northwest of the Twin Cities, Bemidji is an easy drive for a weekend trip. Clocking in at just more than four hours, the trip makes its way through St. Cloud and near enough to Brainerd for a quick refreshment stop or layover if needed. Stop off in the Paul Bunyan State Park and check out the Mantrap Lake Campground and Day-Use Area. With its public access to the lake, there’s plenty to do on a sunny day. Fish for muskies or hop in the lake to cool off before enjoying a picnic. When you’re ready, drive the last hour into Bemidji.

What to Do

(credit: Minnesota DNR)

Itasca State Park
36750 Main Park Drive
Park Rapids, MN 56470
(218) 699-7251

Bemidji snagged the title of the first city on the Mississippi River, but these days a visit requires you enter through Itasca State Park, where you can stand at the headwaters of the great river itself. With biking trails, a wildlife sanctuary, and historical markers including Wegmann’s cabin, the park is easily a trip unto itself. Indeed, for those making a longer trip to the area, camping out in the park may be an excellent way to spend a little more time here. For more info on the park and current conditions, check out the DNR’s section on Itasca State Park.

Paul Bunyan’s Animal Land
3857 Animal Land Drive Southeast
Bemidji, MN 56601
(218) 759-1533

Price: $6.95 adults age 13 and older/$5.95 children ages 3 to 12/free children age 2 and younger

Paul Bunyan’s Animal Land is the largest petting zoo and wildlife park in Minnesota. In addition to petting bears and feeding camels, check out the indoor learning center and pack a picnic lunch to take full advantage of your time at the park. With a mix of native and exotic animals, a visit here is both educational and entertaining for families of all ages. Open daily in the summer (from Memorial Day through Labor Day), Paul Bunyan’s offers a great respite from water sports.

Buena Vista Ski Area
19600 Irvine Ave. Northwest
Bemidji, MN 56601
(218) 243-2231

Price: $34 adult lift ticket/$26 youth lift ticket/$20/28 rentals (ski/snowboard)

Just north of Bemidji proper, get the need for speed out at the Buena Vista Ski Area. With ski slopes aplenty, as well as terrain and tubing parks, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the wintery weather. The area is still open in the off-season, offering wagon rides and visiting hours to Buena Vista Ranch, which sits atop the Continental Divide and looks out over nine lakes.


(credit: Jupiter Images)

The PepperCorn Restaurant
1813 Paul Bunyan Drive
Bemidji, MN 56601
(218) 759-2794

Hailed as one of the finest steak houses in the north, The PepperCorn delivers delicious specialty baby back ribs daily. With outstanding seafood, chicken and pasta entrees as well, there are plenty of options for everyone. The restaurant is great for a romantic date or a hearty meal after a long day of fishing. Take advantage of its carry-out menu to grab great food to go.

Wild Hare Bistro & Coffeehouse
523 Minnesota Ave.
Bemidji, MN 56601
(218) 444-5282

The Wild Hare is a rare little treasure in the back woods of Minnesota. With an emphasis on high-quality, fresh foods, this little bistro offers a welcome respite from bar and pub foods. Check out its freshly prepared soup of the day, home-grown salads or daily specials. All items are handmade and often featured produce from CSAs or its own gardens. Kick back and relax with a cup of coffee while perusing the local art on display or using the WiFi to check in with the rest of the world.

Sparkling Waters
824 Paul Bunyan Drive South
Bemidji, MN 56601
(218) 444-3214

If you’re looking for an upscale dining option with a view, then Sparkling Waters is just the restaurant. Located between Lake Irving and Lake Bemidji, the views here are unbeatable. Fortunately, the food is too. Take advantage of patio season and enjoy the fresh lake breeze. With a full wine bar and savory lunch sandwich specials, Sparkling Waters offers a great meal with plenty of unique flavors. It also offers a full Sunday brunch, making it a great last stop in Bemidji.

Dave’s Pizza
422 15th St. Northwest
Bemidji, MN 56601
(218) 751-3225

For a fantastic family friendly option, check out Dave’s Pizza. A Bemidji staple since 1958, the pizza joint brings real Italian roots to the kind of pizza that’s sure to make any mouth happy. Stop by for a pizza or grab a take-out if the lake still beckons. Be sure to check Dave’s out online before you go, as it often posts coupons and specials online to help keep your trip budget on track.

Related: Getaway Guru: Weekend Guide to Lake Miltona


(credit: Jupiter Images)

Villa Calma Bed & Breakfast 
915 Lake Blvd. Northeast
Bemidji, MN 56601
(218) 444-5554

Nestled in on the western shore of Lake Bemidji, Villa Calma B&B is the perfect place to stay on a romantic retreat. Its convenient location on the Paul Bunyan trail system means fun is only a step outside of the doors, and its charming, Italian-inspired guest rooms (four in total) make this 100-year-old house feel comfortable and classy. Use one of the make it special packages to add extra oomph to your stay.

Kohl’s Resort
15707 Big Turtle Drive Northeast
Bemidji, MN 56601
(800) 336-4384

Just north of Bemidji on Big Turtle Lake, Kohl’s Resort offers a mix of hotel suites and cabins for rent. The lake is home to ample game fish to add to your fishing tales, and the resort offers regularly planned family activities in addition to the plentiful watersports options. Guests may also get out golfing on one of the three nearby courses, or drive on it to Bemidji for the day. An indoor pool and an outdoor hot tub mean this resort is still a great option for a fall or winter vacation to enjoy the autumn leaves or winter snowfall.

Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge 
7598 Bemidji Road Northeast
Bemidji, Minnesota 56601
(218) 444-3463

Ruttger’s is the name in family resorts on Minnesota lakes, with more than 100 years of experience and 75 years on the northside of Lake Bemidji. Ruttger’s knows exactly how to maximize a great lake vacation. Enjoy a mix of room options available from hotel-style rooms to cabins and town homes for rent along the nearly 1,700 feet of natural sand beaches along the lakeshore. Summertime lake activities include complimentary supervised children’s recreation time. Borrow a kayak for the day and explore one of Minnesota’s most beautiful lakes.

Related: Getaway Guide: One Tank Trip To Grand Rapids, MN

Sassy professional by day, men’s style expert by night, Bethany Rein is a twenty-something living in Minneapolis. She loves baseball, coffee and the well-dressed male. An avid runner, Bethany also plays recreational sports with more enthusiasm than skill. Her work can be found at