Bayfield, Wisconsin

As the most heavily populated city in the state of Minnesota, Minneapolis is one of the best home bases for travelers who are coming to visit the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

It’s a partner city with St. Paul, which together are known as the Twin Cities. Although the Twin Cities are a fantastic location, many people enjoy taking day trips from Minneapolis to explore other parts of the state.

In this post, we’ll go over some of thaose great trips that can be taken in just one day that will allow you to see some of the best places that Minnesota has to offer.

Duluth

Distance from Minneapolis: 2 hours 30 minutes/155 miles

Duluth is one of the most beautiful places in the state, with the shore of Lake Superior right in the city.

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world, and some people even consider it to be Minnesota’s “ocean.” Visitors love spending time exploring Canal Park down by the lake, which has a variety of delicious restaurants and local shops.

You can also see the historic Aerial Lift Bridge, spend time on the beach at Park Point, and see the Minnesota Point Lighthouse.

If you have a bit of extra time, take a drive up Highway 61 on the North Shore. This beautiful drive offers fantastic views of Lake Superior. In the winter, you can hit the slopes and ski or snowboard at Lutsen Mountains.

There are also tons of hiking trails including out to waterfalls and viewpoints over the shore. Make stops in Two Harbors, Grand Marais, and Lutsen. Each of these small towns has tons of local restaurants, shops, and places to explore.

Stillwater

Distance from Minneapolis: 40 minutes/30 miles

If you’re looking for a way to escape the city but don’t want to drive too far, head to Stillwater for some of the best exploring close to the Twin Cities.

During the summer, there are a lot of great activities to participate in outdoors. Hop on the Stillwater Trolley and take a ride around town, take a kayak tour around the St. Croix River, go for a gondola ride on the river, or splurge and book a hot air balloon ride.

If you have little ones, make your way over to Teddy Bear Park, which is a large park with multiple-sized teddy bears sculptures, a train structure, and more.

The city of Stillwater is a beautiful place year-round, but in the fall, you can do other fun activities such as picking apples at Aamodt’s Apples or viewing the fall foliage that surrounds the St. Croix River.

Winter brings a lot of snow and cold and makes recreating outdoors a bit more difficult, but there are several fun restaurants around town that make for a nice relaxing evening or date night. A few of the best places include Brick & Bourbon, the Tilted Tiki, and Papa’s Rooftop Restaurant. Also plan to make a stop at MN Nice Cream for dessert.

Pepin, Wisconsin

Distance from Minneapolis: 1 hour 30 minutes/80 miles

Pepin is a small town, located along the Mississippi River. It’s home to Lake Pepin, which is a lake that’s found within the Mississippi.

So fittingly, visiting Lake Pepin is one of the most popular activities when you’re in the town. People enjoy recreating on the lake, doing everything from boating to ice fishing to kayaking.

In Buena Vista Park, there is a beautiful overlook that showcases the city of Pepin and some of the river bluffs. Visit during the fall months and you’ll be treated to a show of colorful fall foliage surrounding the river.

If you’re a wine lover, you’ll be happy to know that the Great River Road Wine Trail runs right through Pepin. You can grab a glass of wine at Villa Bellezza Winery.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum is found within Pepin, which allows you to visit the birthplace of this popular American writer, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie series.

LARK Toys is also a popular stop for those with little kids, which has been consistently ranked as one of the top toy stores in the world.

Other fun activities in Pepin include going for a hot air balloon ride with Lesmesiter Balloon Company, visiting the National Eagle Center, and checking out the Pepin Marina.

Brainerd

Distance from Minneapolis: 2 hours 15 minutes/130 miles

Brainerd is another fantastic location, located in northern Minnesota. It’s surrounded by lakes and gives visitors that Up North feel that they may be searching for.

During your visit to Brainerd, there are many activities that you can participate in to fill your day.

Start with a morning walk on the Paul Bunyan State Trail. This 115-mile-long paved trail stretched from Bemidji to Crow Wing and is the perfect place for bikers or walkers to get out and enjoy the morning sun.

Another popular place in Brainerd is the Brainerd International Raceway. This complex features multiple racetracks for events such as drifting, drag racing, and more. There is also a small pond where one of the most fun activities you’ll ever watch takes place- snowmobile watercross.

Not too far away, you’ll find Mount Ski Gull, which is home to some great downhill skiing or snowboarding and snow tubing during the winter months. 

A few other activities that can help you fill your day include visiting the Northland Arboretum, spending the day at This Old Farm, which is a small amusement park, and grabbing dinner at one of the many Brainerd cafes and restaurants.

New Ulm

Distance from Minneapolis: 1 hour 40 minutes/95 miles

New Ulm is known for being one of the most German cities in Minnesota and is well known for its German heritage. It’s located in the southern part of the state, just under 2 hours from Minneapolis.

During your visit to New Ulm, you’ll likely hear the Glockenspiel sounding. This free-standing bell tower is found in the downtown area of town and sounds its bells multiple times each day. You’ll hear them at noon, 3pm, and 5pm, as well as other times throughout the day.

The Minnesota Music Hall of Fame is an interesting museum to visit, honoring musicians that have lived in the state and have made music great in Minnesota.

You can also go see the 102-foot statue called the Hermann Monument, which stands in Hermann Heights Park.

Other historical sights in the city include the Wanda Gag House and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.

Red Wing

Distance from Minneapolis: 1 hour 10 minutes/55 miles

Located right along the Mississippi River just south of the Twin Cities, Red Wing is known for its historical sights, as well as being the home of Red Wing Shoes.

The first thing that you should do in Red Wing is hike to the top of Barn Bluff, which is a popular viewpoint within the city. At the top, you’ll have amazing views of the entire town and the river.

The Red Wing Marine Museum is a popular location, showcasing historical boats that were once made in the city.

Of course, you’ll want to visit the Red Wing Shoe Store and Museum. These popular work boots were founded in the city, and today, you can go and see some of the old pairs. It’s also home to the largest boot in the world, which is worth seeing.

Red Wing is also known for its museum, so be sure to stop in to a few, including the Pottery Museum of Red Wing and the Aliveo Military Museum.

Grantsburg, Wisconsin

Distance from Minneapolis: 1 hour 20 minutes/80 miles

Grantsburg is a small city in western Wisconsin, just over the Minnesota border. It’s unsuspecting and doesn’t seem like there would be much to do, but visitors are often surprised once they arrive!

It’s the gateway to Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area, which is the largest wildlife preservation area in the state. It has over 30,000 acres of restored wetland and brush prairie which plenty of wildlife call home. Visitors can kayak, hike, or camp within the park for some time spent outside.

One of the most popular attractions in Grantsburg is the World Championship Snowmobile Watercross event which takes place every July at Memory Lake Park. Come watch snowmobiles as they race across water. 

Brickfield Brewing is a fantastic place to grab a drink while you watch the events. There are also several small local stores, such as boutiques and antique shops that are fun to wander through during your visit.

Although Grantsburg is pretty small, it’s a nice way to get away from the city for a day.

Taylors Falls

Distance from Minneapolis: 1 hour/50 miles

Taylor's Falls, Minnesota

Taylor’s Falls, Minnesota

One of the most beautiful places in southern Minnesota is Taylors Falls, located just over an hour away, making it one of the best day trips from Minneapolis.

Taylors Falls is home to some of the best places to get onto and recreate on the St. Croix River. Many people enjoy kayaking or paddleboarding on the river. You can also book a Scenic Boat Tour on the river.

Interstate State Park is located on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the rivers, giving lots of opportunities to explore. Both sides of the park have dozens of hiking trails that offer some beautiful views of the river.

The Minnesota side of the park is home to over 200 potholes that were created back in the Ice Age, making for a unique thing to see during your visit.

Adults should plan to make a stop at Wild Mountain Winery for a glass of wine and to enjoy one of the best vineyards in Minnesota.

During the winter, hit the slopes at Wild Mountain Ski Resort or try snow tubing. 

Grab a bite to eat at The Drive-In, which is a drive-in restaurant that has been operating and serving up delicious burgers since 1956. Or grab an ice cream cone at Schoony’s.

Rochester

Distance from Minneapolis: 1 hour 30 minutes/90 miles

Known mostly for being the home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, Rochester is a nice option for a day trip from the Twin Cities in the southern half of the state. Luckily, you don’t have to be paying a visit to the clinic to enjoy Rochester.

This large city is just an hour from the Iowa border and offers plenty to do for visitors. In fact, it’s the largest city in Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities.

A few of the best activities for your visit include visiting the Heritage House Victorian Museum, going for a walk at Chester Woods Park, grabbing a glass of wine at the Salem Glen Winery, and attending some of the seasonal events.

In the summer, the city of Rochester holds something called ‘Rochesterfest,’ which aims to celebrate the city. There are also several farmers’ markets throughout the summer. Thursdays on First & 3rd is another fun event, that takes place every Thursday in the summer where you can enjoy finds from local vendors.

Park Rapids

Distance from Minneapolis: 3 hours 30 minutes/200 miles

Although the trip to Park Rapids is quite a bit further away from Minneapolis than others on this list, it’s a fantastic place to visit, especially during the summer months.

Park Rapids is known for its adorable downtown area, as well as Itasca State Park, which is only about 30 minutes outside of town. Itasca State Park is home to the Mississippi River Headwaters, so you’re able to see where the river starts before making its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

There are several hiking trails within the park, and you can also spend time biking on the trails and wading in the water at the headwaters.

While in town, wander around Main Street, as there are several local shops to check out as well as restaurants that make for the perfect place to grab a bite to eat.

Other fun activities include grabbing some handmade candy at Aunt Belle’s Confectionary, eating breakfast at the Rapid River Logging Camp, and watching a movie at the Old Park Theater.

While you’re in Park Rapids, head about 10 minutes west to Dorset, which has been named the ‘Restaurant Capitol of the World.’ This small town is home to 4 restaurants, but there are only 22 residents! A favorite is Companeros, which serves up delicious Mexican food during the summer months.

Hudson, Wisconsin

Distance from Minneapolis: 30 minutes/30 miles

Just a short drive from Minneapolis and St. Paul will get you to Hudson, just over the Wisconsin border. Located on the St. Croix River, Hudson is known for its scenic beauty and overlooks of the river bluffs.

The best thing to do within the city is visit Willow River State Park, which is home to Willow Falls. The beautiful, cascading waterfall is unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s a popular place for hiking and wading in the summer months.

The Octagon House Museum is another popular attraction, showcasing a unique 8-sided house that was home to the First Kindergarten in America.

Other popular activities include visiting Badlands Sno Park in the winter for some snow tubing and grabbing a bite to eat at the many, many restaurants and cafes that are found in the town.

Bemidji

Distance from Minneapolis: 4 hours/230 miles

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox - Bemidji, Minnesota, one of the best day trips from Minneapolis

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox – Bemidji, Minnesota

Bemidji is well known for being the first city on the Mississippi, as Lake Bemidji is the northernmost lake feeding from the Mississippi when it starts in Park Rapids.

The city is also home to Bemidji State University, which is a popular college within the state of Minnesota.

One of the best things to do during a visit to Bemidji is head to Lake Bemidji State Park, which gives you opportunities to swim, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, fish, and more.

Another must-do, while you’re in town, is to visit the famous Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. These legendary figures are giant and have many stories that accompany them. Find a local Bemidji resident to fill you in, as nearly everyone in the state knows them!

Other fun activities include strolling through Bemidji’s Public Sculpture Walk, watching a hockey game at the Sanford Center, and bringing the kiddos to play at the Bemidji City Park.

Winona

Distance from Minneapolis: 2 hours 15 minutes/120 miles

Winona is a very picturesque and beautiful city located on the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota. It’s found right on the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Many people may be familiar with the name ‘Winona’ from the popular actress who played in Stranger Things, Winona Ryder. The actress was actually born in Wiona, MN and was named after the town!

Winona has also been nickanamed ‘The Island City’ because it’s sort of sitting on an “island” within the Mississippi River.

The city is nestled right under some bluffs along the river, giving it its beautiful views and wonderful hiking locations. A visit to Great River Bluffs State Park in Winona is a must do, and will give you some of the best views.

Sugar Loaf Bluff is perhaps the most popular hiking trail in the city, and offers some of the most fantastic views of town and the surrounding trees. During the fall months, it’s particularly spectacular.

Other activities in the city include visiting the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, grabbing a drink at Island City Brewing Company, and driving along the Scenic Highway 61.

Afton

Distance from Minneapolis: 35 minutes/30 miles

Afton is a popular place just about 30 minutes outside of the Twin Cities that offers plenty of fun for those who love the outdoors.

It’s home to Afton State Park, which has opportunities for hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, and more. The park is over 1,500 acres, and also is home to wildlife that you may spot while you’re out exploring.

During the winter months, many people flock to the popular Afton Alps Ski Resort, which is part of the Epic Pass system. This resort has 50 runs, and 18 lifts, and is one of the best ski resorts in the Midwest.

The Afton Apple Orchard is a popular place for apple picking in the fall months, as well as the annual Afton Apple Festival.

Ely

Distance from Minneapolis: 4 hours/250 miles

Known for being the gateway into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Ely is a hot spot for tourists and visitors in the summer months.

It’s the perfect location for outdoor lovers, no matter the season, but especially during the peak summer season. Visitors enjoy heading into the BWCAW for hiking, canoeing, and camping. While much of this is done on overnight trips, there are areas that are great for day trips as well.

There are also hikes outside of the wilderness area that are perfect for visitors. The trail to Kawashiwi Falls and Trezona Trail are great options.

Many people enjoy strolling through downtown Ely which houses a few local shops as well as many restaurants that locals enjoy. A favorite is The Chocolate Moose, which serves guests seasonally with choices including burgers, entrees, and breakfast.

Although Ely is quite a bit further away, it can still act as a great day trip from the Twin Cities, and really gives you that ‘Up North’ feel.

Bayfield, Wisconsin

Distance from Minneapolis: 4 hours/240 miles

Bayfield, Wisconsin

Bayfield, Wisconsin, one of the best day trips from Minneapolis

Bayfield is one of the most beautiful places in Wisconsin and is the gateway to the beautiful Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

If you don’t mind getting up a bit earlier than normal and having a long day of driving, then this trip is going to be perfect for you. You’ll actually do some exploring in other parts of the peninsula, rather than just Bayfield.

Once you get to Bayfield, head straight for Meyers Beach, which has one of the best hiking trails that’s onshore without getting on a kayak and heading to the island. If you have more time, you can rent a sea kayak and actually head to the islands. But this is tough with just one day.

The hiking trail at Meyers Beach leads you to some sea caves along the shore of Lake Superior, which are absolutely beautiful. The hike is best done in the summer, to avoid having to hike on slippery ice and snow. 

You can also visit during the winter and visit the ice caves, but they’re only open on very select days when the ice is just right.

The beauty that you’ll experience during a visit to Bayfield surely makes the long drive to reach it so worth it!

Alexandria

Distance from Minneapolis: 2 hours 30 minutes/140 miles

Alexandria, Minnesota

Alexandria, Minnesota

Alexandria is located in central Minnesota, just under 3 hours from the Twin Cities. It’s well known for being a resort town, where many Minnesotans flock in the summer. This is because of the many lakes that surround the city. After all, Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

This small city packs a pretty big punch, as there is a lot more to do here than one would think. During your visit, start off by seeing the Big Ole Viking Statue, standing at 28-feet tall and reminds people of the nordic people that once lived here.

A few fun activities include checking out some of the towns popular breweries and wineries such as Carlos Creek Winery, checking out the Legacy of the Lakes Museum, and recreating on one of the many lakes.

Many people enjoy swimming, boating, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding on the water. The most popular lake in the city is Lake Le Homme Dieu.

Wrap-Up: Day Trips from Minneapolis

Although the city of Minneapolis itself is a great place to visit and experience, many people enjoy leaving the city to see more of the state.

If you’re looking to explore some more of Minnesota, whether you live here or are visiting, consider taking one (or a few!) or these day trips from Minneapolis.

About the author

Kassidy Olson, guest author at The Backpacking Site
Kassidy Olson
More posts by this author
Kassidy Olson is an avid hiker and outdoors lover, living in Minnesota. She loves exploring her home state and the rest of the beautiful world. She loves sharing her adventures over on her blogs, The Hiking Helper and Kassidy's Journey.
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