WHY VISIT MINNESOTA
It’s all about the water in Minnesota. If you visited a different lake every day here it would take more than three decades to see them all – yup, there are 11,842 lakes to choose from, meaning virtually limitless opportunities for aquatic adventures: from waterskiing (invented in this very state) to paddlewheel boat trips, there’s a watersport for everyone.
Grab a kayak, cram it with camping gear, and explore 2,400km (1,500 miles) of routes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Or venture into Voyageurs National Park for a Swallows and Amazons-style experience, exploring hidden islands and trails, and sleeping on a houseboat or lakeside cabin.
Landlubbers can stick to pedaling disused railways and lakeside paths or hurtling down the phenomenal mountain bike trails at Cuyana’s old iron ore mine. Golfers have the pick of hundreds of scenic courses, including the 2016 Ryder Cup host, Hazeltine National Golf Club.
In the depths of winter, Minnesota completely freezes over, and the lakes and land are transformed into sparkling playgrounds crisscrossed with snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and dog-sledding trails, while hardy anglers bundle up for a spot of ice fishing.
And if all that open space has you hankering after some urban action, the cosmopolitan twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul are home to the humongous Mall of America, the architectural masterpiece that is the Minnesota State Capitol, and an unstoppable craft brewery boom. Alternatively, Duluth is a busy, big-city port on the shore of Lake Superior, and a gateway to your next outdoor adventure.
WHAT TO SEE IN MINNESOTA
- Minneapolis / St Paul: Minnesota’s main city is actually two in one. While St Paul is the sober government branch of the capitol, Minneapolis is the creative artsy half. Visitors will likely spend their time in the latter, where a lively Theater District puts on a great show after dark and waterfront cafés along the headwaters of the Mississippi River buzz in the long summer days. Check out the slick Warehouse District for the city’s best bars, restaurants, and social scene. Minneapolis has a lengthy tradition of live music, and an afternoon on the historic Minneapolis Queen paddle boat is a superb way to experience the river.
- Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: one of the last true wilderness areas in America, the country’s wildest and most adventure-bound outdoor destination is the Boundary Waters, a million-acre maze of lakes and waterways on the Canadian border. Canoeing and kayaking are the preferred way to experience the 1,200 miles within the park, although there are also miles of hiking trails if you’d prefer to stay on land.
- Duluth: the historic port town of Duluth sits at the edge of Lake Superior, occupying the role of the best small city. The locals call it Little San Francisco due to its charming mix of architecture, waterfront scenery, hilly topography, and a solid variety of cool amenities. Hang around the tourist-friendly Canal Park for a mix of restaurants, bars, and main attractions along the lakeside, or explore the brick streets of historic downtown for a taste of Old Duluth. Enger Tower provides the top views of the city, while Split Rock Lighthouse is the perfect day drive along the lake.
- Walker Art Center: Minneapolis is one of America’s hottest cities for theater and the arts and its star attraction is the Walker Art Center, where the striking architecture is just as inspiring as the collection of cutting-edge contemporary works inside. It’s a great gallery featuring photographs, multimedia installations, sculptures, and paintings. Right across the street is America’s largest urban sculpture park, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and between the two, you’ve got a solid half-day of cultural exposure.
- The Mall of America: just outside the Twin Cities is the largest shopping mall in America. Perhaps it was the long, cold winters that inspired developers to build this behemoth, but whatever the reason, you can easily spend a full day exploring the 500 shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. There’s an on-site amusement park with a roller coaster, mini-golf course, aquarium, NASCAR Silicon Speedway, and plenty of other fun rides. Shopping aside, it’s somewhere you have to see to believe.
- Apple Valley: another small town worth a couple of days’ visit is historic Apple Valley. Home to the Minnesota Zoo, 2,300 animals are viewable via a monorail that runs the 500 acres. There are also sandy beaches for summer fun and several huge public parks. Its historic downtown is packed with nice bars, restaurants, and boutiques. A strong art scene ensures plenty of theater, galleries, and live music for nighttime entertainment.
- Itasca State Park: the biggest and oldest of Minnesota’s many beautiful state parks, Itasca is the ideal outdoor destination if you don’t want to get too adventurous. A gem that embodies the classic north woods experience, old-growth forests, pristine rivers, lakes and plenty of hiking trails await. Lake Itasca is also the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River, a unique side note. There are tons of wildlife to spot and easy access from the interstate highways.
WHEN TO GO TO MINNESOTA
The best period to visit Minnesota is from June to September.
Minnesota may be beautiful, but it endures some of the most brutal weather in the entire United States. Both winter and summer suffer from extremes so neither season is particularly inviting. The winters are definitely the toughest time of year in Minnesota, even if you are used to living in cold climates. From November through March the daytime highs around Minneapolis-St Paul rarely get above 30°F and nightly lows are well below freezing. Snow falls often and heavy across the state, occasionally turning to freeze ice. Winter lows have been recorded more than once to less than -50°F.
The lake effect moderates the weather a bit along the shore of Lake Superior. This means slightly warmer winters and cooler summers. In the southern region, summers are hotter and more humid than in the north averaging in the mid-80s°F, but high humidity levels make it feel closer to the upper 90s. This weather spawns around 40 major thunderstorms every year, almost all in the summer. The state also experiences about 20 tornadoes a year, mostly in June and the other summer months.
Spring and fall are the wildest seasons as dramatic atmospheric changes take place, characterized by windy weather and mercurial temperature fluctuations. April is the windiest followed by October.
WHAT TO DO IN MINNESOTA
Paddle the headwaters of the Mississippi River
It’s hard to believe that the mighty Mississippi River, America’s east/west divider and main industrial waterway, starts in a calm little lake and estuary about 200 miles north of Minneapolis. The Mississippi headwaters sit in Itasca State Park, home to Lake Itasca. You can easily rent a kayak and traverse the lake, watching out for bald eagles as you paddle to a log marking the river’s headwaters. If you’re not down for getting in the water, you can also take a short bike trail to the beginning of the Mississippi, or hike around the park’s 28 miles of trails.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations in Minnesota.
- Icebox Days: the nippy town of International Falls does its best to make winter more bearable with a popular and cheery five-day festival every January. Minnesotans celebrate the cold that keeps them bundled up with fun events like frozen turkey bowling, smooshes races, and snow sculpture competitions.
- St Paul Winter Carnival: dating back to 1886, St Paul’s Winter Carnival is one of the highlights of the long cold season. The highlight is the Minnesota State Snow Sculpting Championship, a big deal for many in this state. Starting with the crowning of the king and queen, a series of interesting and free events carry the party along for several days in January until the final candlelight parade through downtown St Paul.
- Festival of Nations: America’s largest multicultural gathering takes place each May in Minneapolis-St Paul. For four bustling days, nearly 100 different ethnic groups converge in the city to share their food, music, folklore, and crafts. It all happens at the Saint Paul RiverCenter, with the highlight of the international dance performances.
- St Paul Beer Festival: you better believe there’s some tasty craft beer being brewed in Minnesota to help everyone stay warm during the cold winter months. In June, around 50 breweries and thousands of patrons converge on St Paul’s Midway Stadium to sample the best the region has to offer. Once inside, the beer samples are free and unlimited. Live music, food, and other events round off this very popular summer festival.
- Lumberjack Days: Minnesota was born on the back of the timber industry, so lumberjacks were some of the first people to live in the state. Every July the small historic town of Stillwater celebrates its distinction as one of Minnesota’s first lumber towns with four days of fun. The free festival is held at Lowell Park next to the river and downtown. Competitions include tree chopping running races, kid’s activities, music, and a massive fireworks display.
- Minnesota Fringe Festival: proving that the Twin Cities are indeed an artistic hotbed, the annual Fringe Festival in August brings some of the most creative and eclectic dance and music to stages all over the capital. The event runs for 11 days with each performance under 60 minutes. This outpouring of originality carries over into special gallery exhibits, concerts, and festivities in the city’s bars and clubs.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH MINNESOTA
Unless you have no intention of traveling around the state or even the town where you visit, a car will be needed to reach attractions and move between destinations. Except during the dead of winter when road conditions can get very tricky thanks to snow and ice, the driving in Minnesota is very pleasant. Public transport is limited to the major cities, and even then won’t help tourists that much. Car rental companies are readily available at the airports and in the downtown districts of the most popular travel destinations in Minnesota.
Taxis are only located in the largest cities like Minneapolis-St Paul, Duluth, and Rochester. They are useful for moving around the city centers, but that’s the extent of their function in Minnesota.
If time is not an issue, taking the train to Minnesota is a fantastic way to travel. Amtrak’s Empire Builder line runs from Chicago to Seattle, stopping at Red Wing, Winona, St Cloud, Minneapolis-St Paul, Detroit Lakes, Staples, and Fargo-Moorhead in Minnesota. The fares on Amtrak may not be any cheaper than taking a flight into Minneapolis, but the scenery can’t be beaten. The train is very comfortable and features dining, drinking, and lounge cars.
Travelers will find more flexibility and more destinations by using the Greyhound bus to reach Minnesota. There is also good regional service on Jefferson Lines and Megabus, which run between the big cities in this part of the country. Fares on the bus are very cheap, and the comfort level is good enough for a few hours of travel time.
Within Minneapolis-St Paul, the Metro Transit company provides public transport by bus and light rail within the Twin Cities and their suburbs. The city’s light rail is particularly useful for visitors as it runs between several major attractions like the Mall of America, the Warehouse District, and the airport. Fares are very reasonable and the train is a relatively new project so everything is still clean and shiny.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON MINNESOTA
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-6 (-5)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN MINNESOTA
Typical food in Minnesota
- Freshwater fish
- Blueberry muffin
Souvenirs from Minnesota