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A Quaint River Town
Stillwater is a special place. It’s an adorable, quaint town nestled along the St. Croix River. The downtown area has a huge selection of restaurants, bars, bakeries, and ice cream shops. The waterfront park is a beautiful spot to sit and relax or set up a picnic. There are also a lot of parks and places to hike, a trolley, and even a gondola! And there is no shortage of places to grab food and drinks. I’ve been to Stillwater a bunch of times, and this is a roundup of my favorite things!
1. Walk Around Lowell Park
Lowell Park is a large grassy area adjacent to the St. Croix River. It has an incredible view of the historic Lift Bridge. Walk around, dip your toes in the water, or throw down a blanket and have a picnic! Lowell Park is in the center of town, so it’s very easy to get to.
2. Hike to the Arcola Bridge
This hike is about ten minutes north of downtown Stillwater, and it’s one of my favorites. There is a sign on the road indicating the entrance, and there is free street parking. The trail, however, is not marked as well. When you first enter the park, the trail splits, turn left. From there you may encounter a few other intersections. Use your gut and keep heading towards the river. I felt like I was going the wrong way a few times, and then suddenly I saw the bridge and river. It’ll take about an hour round trip if you stop for photos along the way.
There’s a beautiful stream, fallen trees, and green moss, which makes the walk to the Arcola High Bridge quite lovely. At one point, I accidentally dropped Ole’s leash and he sprinted into the river and decided to take a swim. After my initial panic that Ole was going to swim across the river to Wisconsin, I have to admit his extreme determination to jump into a body of water, regardless of the temperature, is pretty funny.
3. Explore the St. Croix Boom Site
This spot is located on the northern end of Stillwater. It’s a historical marker and if you Google St. Croix Boom Site, you will find the free parking lot. From there, you’ll see a long staircase. Head down those stairs and towards the St. Croix River. If you turn to your right, you’ll encounter a cave, which you can enter and explore.
If you turn to your left and walk for about 20 minutes, you’ll encounter the waterfall. The rocks are wobbly and unstable at certain parts. It’s also a very narrow path. I wouldn’t suggest this trail for young children or older folks. I also think this would be very difficult with any kind of slick conditions like rain or ice. If the St. Croix River is frozen, however, you can walk along the flat frozen river, which would be much easier!
4. Climb the Stairs to an Overlook
This lookout point is not easy to get to, but it’s worth the trek! It’s right next to Made Coffee, so grab a latte and begin your climb. This photo only shows half the staircase, it then turns to the right and continues up the hill. There are houses up there and you could drive to the top if you wanted, but I certainly felt like I earned the reward by climbing all 157 steps! When I visited it was a sunny day in March so the lack of leaves on the trees allowed me to see quite a bit. I can only imagine how stunning this spot must be with fall colors!
5. Drive to a Scenic Overlook
This lookout point is one you can drive to, so no hiking needed here! There’s a small parking lot, and the view of the St. Croix River is pretty remarkable from this vantage point because you are fairly high up. There are a lot of scenic overlooks in Stillwater, this one is on Peabody Ave N., close to the St. Croix Crossing Bridge.
6. Let the Kids Run Around at Teddy Bear Park
Teddy Bear Park is small, but the giant teddy bear makes it worth a stop! It’s a great place to let kids play and climb on the sculptures. You’ll find a playground, gazebo, picnic tables, and a few sculptures. Note, the park is only open from April through October.
7. Enjoy a Gondola Ride on the River
If you’re looking for something really unique, you’ll want to take a gondola ride with Gondola Romantica. It’s a very special way to get on the water and enjoy the Lift Bridge up close.
The founder and owner, John Kerschbaum, grew up in Hastings, Minnesota, and developed a love for being on the water. In 2000 John had an authentic Venetian gondola shipped from Italy to Minnesota. John says, “I’ve enjoyed years of rowing lovers alongside the bluffs and lights of Stillwater. The gondolas bring the romance of Venice to Stillwater.”
While on the gondola ride, John told us that gondolas have been around for over 1,000 years. The style and design have evolved and been perfected so that it will not flip over like a canoe. It will always right itself due to its asymmetrical design. You may notice from my photos, the boat curves to the right, and no two “ribs” are identical.
You’re allowed to bring your own food and drinks on the gondola. In nicer weather, it would be lovely to bring a basket with cheese, crackers, and wine.
8. Take a Tour on the Trolley
Each time we’ve been to Stillwater the trolley has been closed due to COVID or because we were there off-season when they are not open. I have heard great things about the trolley and hope to experience it someday. The 45-minute narrated tour takes you on a journey around Stillwater past views of the St. Croix River, the historic Lift Bridge, and the lumber baron’s multiple mansions. You’ll learn about Stillwater’s history and what makes it such a special place. It costs $13.50/adult and $7.50/child.
9. Enjoy Stillwater’s Food Scene
Grab tacos and margaritas at Lolito’s which is right in the center of town. The ingredients are fresh and the flavors are vibrant. We started off with locally brewed beer and chips with avocado and tomatillo salsa. For our entrees, we shared Mahi, duck, and braised beef tacos with a side of rice. We also had margaritas, which were the best we’ve had in a long time!
During another visit to Stillwater, we checked out the rooftop patio at Brick and Bourbon. Their patio has a great view of the Lift Bridge. I highly recommend the brie cheese appetizer, which comes smothered in raspberries! A few other great spots include Nacho Mamas, Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter, Matchstick Restaurant, and the Tilted Tiki.
10. Grab a Cocktail or Beer
There are a ton of awesome places to grab a beer, cocktails, wine, and anything in between. Stillwater has three breweries, Maple Island Brewery, the St. Croix Brewing Company, and Lift Bridge Brewery, which is a short drive from downtown. If you need a suggestion, Farm Girl is my favorite Lift Bridge beer! If you prefer wine, there is also a great winery in Stillwater called St. Croix Vineyards. Lastly, there is a distillery called Forge and Foundry, which has great cocktails!
A lot of the restaurants have great bar areas too. Lolito has a massive, beautiful bar with tons of seating, and Brick and Bourbon is known for its fancy cocktails, including an Old Fashioned that shows up surrounded by a cloud of smoke!
11. Get Caffeinated
There are a ton of great coffee shops in the heart of Stillwater. Made Coffee is attached to Lora Hotel, and it’s also at the base of the stairs to the lookout I mentioned above. I grabbed a latte and headed up the stairs so I could sip my drink with a great view. A few other popular spots include Coffee Paw Cafe, The Daily Grind Espresso Cafe, and Oasis Cafe.
12. Go Shopping Downtown
The downtown shops offer a huge variety of beautiful items. Many of them are upscale and sell items with a Scandinavian or Up North feel. I’m not a big shopper, but I love walking around these stores. There are so many high-quality items like clothing, hats, pillows, purses, shoes, and home decor. Some of my favorites are Kenzington, Minnesota Made, Scandinavian North, Lake Bound Clothing Co., and Juri and June.
There is also a great candy store called Tremblay’s Sweet Shop. You can find any candy you’re able to dream about in this shop!
Nearby you’ll also find Stillwater Olive Oil Co. When I opened the door and walked in the incredible perfumes from all of the oils and herbs were palpable!
13. You’ll Find Plenty of Options for Places to Stay
Stay at the Historic Water Street Inn. Built in 1890 as the Lumber Exchange Building, the Water Street Inn is now a gorgeous, romantic place to stay. Located in the heart of town at the foot of the historic Lift Bridge most rooms have incredible views of the St. Croix River. You can easily walk to many coffee shops, restaurants and breweries.
This hotel is absolutely gorgeous. Our room was enormous and we had an expansive view of the St. Croix River from our balcony. There is a gas fireplace, beautifully exposed brick and marble countertops in the bathroom. They also have room service for breakfast, and we had egg sandwiches and fruit delivered to our room. The bacon was so crispy and the fruit was sweet and ripe. This hotel oozes luxury and comfort, yet it’s affordable and in a super convenient location.
I haven’t had a chance to stay at Hotel Crosby or Lora Hotel yet, both places are very popular spots also in the heart of town.
Stillwater is Great in Any Season
Stillwater is an incredible town. It has so much to offer and a huge selection of shops, parks, restaurants, and breweries. Yet, it manages to maintain its romantic, small-town feel. This quaint river town has quickly made its way to one of my absolute favorite Minnesota towns. I can’t wait to return for my next trip to explore even more! For more ideas, check out my blog post on a winter visit we took to Stillwater here.
Note, the Gondola Romantica experience was complimentary. All thoughts and opinions are my own.