Your Outdoor Minnesota Guide
Are you looking for a detailed guide to Minnesota’s outdoor adventures? As someone who was born and raised in New York, I honestly didn’t know how incredible Minnesota’s landscape was until years after I moved here. At times I feel like I’ve seen so much, and other times I know I’ve barely scratched the surface. The Boundary Waters, Superior Hiking Trail, dozens of state parks and miles of rivers, streams and lakes make Minnesota a truly incredible place to enjoy the outdoors. And with four uniquely distinct seasons, there’s truly something great to enjoy outdoors every month.
Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and Minneapolis is known as the City by Nature with one of the top park systems in the country. Minneapolis boasts some of the best biking and walking trails, connecting lakes, beaches, and popular neighborhoods for miles. From Lake Superior and a national park, to waterfalls and dense forests, Minnesota truly is a special place. Read on for your guide to Minnesota’s best outdoor adventures.
1. Lake Superior’s North Shore
Lake Superior’s North Shore is a truly magical place that reminds me of parts of Ireland and Vancouver. And I can’t seem to get enough of it. Every time I go, I discover another great hike, coffee shop, or beach or brewery. Click here to read my guide on the 20 must-see spots along Minnesota’s North Shore.
2. The Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail encompasses over 300 miles of waterfalls, mountains, lakes, streams, dense forests, and wildlife. No motorized vehicles or bicycles are allowed, making it a beautiful and serene place to get lost for a few hours or a few days.
3. National and State Parks
Minnesota is home to over 60 State Parks and one National Park. Each park seems to have its own unique look and feel with waterfalls, views of Lake Superior, bison, prairies, dense forests, and wildlife. Read my guide on the best state parks along Lake Superior’s North Shore, camping in Blue Mounds State Park, and checking out the bison at Minneopa State Park.
4. Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are two of the best ways to get outside and enjoy winter in Minnesota. There are many groomed trails although I personally enjoy venturing across a frozen lake with my dog where he has plenty of space. Click here to read my guide on 12 great parks for cross-country skiing in the Twin Cities metro area.
5. Boundary Waters Canoe Area
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota is an oasis of more than one million acres of untouched, beautifully preserved lakes and trees. It’s home to more than fifty species including black bears, otters, bald eagles, wolves, walleye, pike, loons, and bobcats. No motorized boats are allowed, making it a quiet place where adventure seekers travel by canoeing, and portaging. Click here to read my BWCA beginner’s guide.
Both open water and ice fishing are great ways to spend time outdoors. And if you’re a beginner like me, find a more experienced friend take go with or take a class to learn the basics. And don’t forget to get your fishing license and check out the DNR’s ice fishing regulations and resources page before heading out.
7. Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding
In the land of 10,000 lakes (more like 11,842) and with nearly 70,000 miles of rivers and streams, Minnesota is an incredible place for kayaking and paddle boarding. There’s really no shortage of places to explore as fresh water is seemingly everywhere. Click here to read my honest review of ISLE’s stand-up paddle board.
8. Mountain Biking the Cuyuna Mines
Cuyuna is well-known for miles of mountain biking trails during any season. The Cuyuna State Recreation Area is a great place for first-time visitors with trails leading to beautiful lookout spots. Paradise Point is another gorgeous spot, and so is Miner’s Point (Cuyuna Lookout), both with incredible sunset views. Click here to read about my weekend in the Cuyuna region.
9. Cold Plunges
Polar plunge, cold exposure, cold therapy, cold water immersion, therapeutic hypothermia. Whatever you call it, this ancient practice has been providing health benefits to humans for thousands of years. Click here to read my blog post on the health benefits of cold exposure including reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system.
10. Orchards and Wineries
Visiting an apple orchard to pick your own apples, or a winery and walking around the vineyard is a fun way to get outside and touch the dirt and grass. Click here to read about our experience at the Afton Apple Orchard. For wineries, we love visiting the North Shore Winery in Lutsen which makes wines from their own locally grown grapes as well as grapes grown and brought in from California’s Lodi region.
11. Farmers’ Markets
I love Farmers’ Markets and picking up fresh, locally grown fruit, tomatoes, and flowers. The St. Paul Farmers’ Market first opened in 1854 and the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market has been around since 1876! In the summer you’ll find so many local Farmers’ Markets happening in small communities across Minnesota. Click here to read my guide on 18 free things to do in the Twin Cities in addition to Farmers’ Markets.
12. Play Golf
With over 400 golf courses around Minnesota, you never have to drive too far to swing a club. It’s an active way to spend several hours outside getting your vitamin D. Check out this detailed golf guide published by Explore Minnesota.
13. Breweries and Cideries
Breweries and cideries are in the “outdoor” category because they often have great patios and rooftops, and some even have fire pits and heaters, making them a great outdoor space to enjoy in a few different seasons. With nearly 200 breweries across Minnesota, you’ll have no problem finding a hoppy IPA or light wheat beer to suite your tastebuds. Some of my favorites are Lift Bridge, Surly, Indeed and Bald Man. Click here to find a brewery on the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild site. The cider-making industry in Minnesota is just over ten years old, and it’s growing in popularity. In 2016, the Minnesota Cider Guild was formed with its sole mission of educating Minnesotans about craft cider. We love Number 12 in Minneapolis and Wild State in Duluth.
14. Bluff Region
Minnesota’s Bluff Country is an incredible part of our state. While it’s a great place to visit any time of the year, it’s most breathtaking in the fall with bursts of orange and yellow along the bluffs surrounding wide sections of the deep blue Mississippi River winding along the Minnesota and Wisconsin border. Although many of these stops can be done in a packed day trip, I recommend you spend at least 48 hours visiting this region. Click here to read my guide and learn more.
Although hockey didn’t start in Minnesota, it’s definitely a huge part of our culture. Whether Minnesotans are catching the Wild play at the Xcel Center, or playing with friends on a frozen lake or local rink, hockey is an essential part of Minnesota’s heritage.
For those looking for something a little less outdoorsy, here’s a guide for the best non-nature-related things to do in Minnesota. There’s something for everyone in Minnesota!
16. Concerts and Shows
Over the years, the Twin Cities have gained national attention for being the midwest center for arts, music, theater, and culture. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy David Bromberg at the Dakota Jazz Club, a handful of comedy shows at Brave New Workshop, Guster at the Pantages, Book of Mormon at the Orpheum, Delta Rae at First Ave, rapper NF at the Armory, Yellowcard at Varsity Theater, Lord Huron at Surly Brewery, and a handful of musicians at Rock the Garden, an outdoor concert on the Walker Art Center lawn.
Saunas were first introduced to Minnesota by Finnish immigrants who moved here in the 1800s and 1900s. Now, it’s a huge part of the Minnesota culture with saunas seemingly everywhere. They provide so many health benefits like less joint pain, increased metabolism, and reduced stress.
18. Mall of America
The Mall of America has everything needed to bring you hours (or days) of fun and entertainment. From roller coasters, ax throwing, and go-carts to an aquarium, fancy steak dinners, and comedy shows you’ll find something for everyone. Plus of course miles of shopping, nail salons and so much more. Click here to plan your Mall of America visit.
19. Sporting Events
With six major league teams including NFL Vikings, MLB Twins, WNBA Lynx, NBA Timberwolves, NHL Wild, and MLS Loons, there’s always a team to cheer on! Baseball and soccer games are especially great when you get to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.
20. Minnesota State Fair
Many people refer to the Minnesota State Fair as the Great Minnesota Get-Together or the 12 best days of summer. Roughly two million people attend the state fair each year, and it’s certainly a unique experience! The Minnesota State Fair first began in 1859 and typically runs for the 12 days leading up to Labor Day. With hundreds of food options, great shopping from local vendors, live music, farm animals, and awesome rides, it’s no wonder this event is a big deal in Minnesota! Click here to read my guide on what to do at the State Fair.
Minnesota is a True Gem
I’ve lived in Minnesota 12 years now, and it continues to amaze me. It’s a truly wonderful place to live for those who love being outside and finding new adventures. Looking for more inspiration? Check out my blog posts about 18 awesome things to do in Minneapolis, 27 fun things to do in St. Paul, 10 great reasons to visit Cook County, the best things to do in Grand Marais, and 14 awesome things to do in Duluth!