Planning your next vacation? Try these 18 Minnesota day trips


Have you been dreaming about your next vacation? It’s spring break season, and summer is approaching. That may have you thinking about your next trip, whether it’s a trip with friends, family or yourself. 

You don’t have to go far to have a great time.

Luckily, there are plenty of day trips and staycations you can take right here in Minnesota. 

MPR News host Angela Davis talked with Em Cassel, co-founder and co-editor of Racket, a Twin Cities publication for news, arts and culture, and Stephanie March, the executive editor of new media and food at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, about their favorite hidden gems for travel in and around Minnesota, and how to plan a short getaway.

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a host and two guests in a studio

MPR News host Angela Davis talked with Em Cassel and Stephanie March about their favorite hidden gems for travel in and around Minnesota, and how to plan a short getaway.

Samantha Matsumoto | MPR News

Here is a list of cities, places, and activities our guests, callers and readers shared with us.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.   

Hot dish festival and more in Fargo-Moorhead

March: We drove up (from Minneapolis) on a Saturday and we did 24 hours in Fargo. We went to go see some music, then we went to dinner and did some bar stuff, and then the next day we went vinyl record shopping. They have a Plains Art Museum that is spectacular. We saw Indigenous art. We walked around and then we went to this brewery, Drekker. We saw everybody going nuts over hot dish and it was a riot. It was perfect.

Hiking and rafting with your dog in Northern Minnesota

Cassel: I do a lot of day tripping based around my dog, who is big and loves being outside. It’s a lot of state parks. I really like going to Jay Cooke, which is a state park. If you head up that way, it’s really close to Duluth and to Gordy’s Hi-Hat, which is one of my favorite spots to grab a burger and sit on the patio. 

There are these inflatable rafts called pack rafts. They pack down to a foot by a foot and you can latch them to a rack on your bike and then ride somewhere, inflate them and raft somewhere and then bike away.

The tour of lakes in Brainerd

There is a great trip called “The Tour of Lakes bike ride.” It’s in Brainerd on Saturday, June 3. It’s an easy day trip out of the cities or wherever you’re coming from. We offer three different routes — a long route if you’re more serious about it and routes as short as 12 miles if you want to take the kids or if it’s your first time on a bike. Anyone can do it. We have great rest stops and someone will pick you up if you have trouble.

– Ed in Brainerd

Whiskey on the rocks in southern Minnesota

March: I can advocate for the Southwest. Go ahead because it is gorgeous down there. There are like 2-billion-year-old rocks (at Blue Mounds State Park) and I might be a rock nerd but I’m telling you, there’s something about the beauty of these bluffs. The way that they change color, the light, you just get this shimmery look to them. The water that goes through rock then becomes really good for brewing and distilling. If you go down to Spring Grove, they have RockFilter Distillery, which has some of the best whiskey in the state if you ask me.

An enchanted rock garden in Richfield 

Sometimes I would take my son and a few of his friends during spring break to this little local business in Richfield called the Enchanted Rock Garden. Give each kid five bucks and they will spend two to three hours. They walk in the door and there are little buckets that each kid can get kind of like their own little Easter egg hunts but for rocks, and if they bring them up front, the guy at the desk has stories of every rock.

– Mara in Hopkins

A sweet getaway in La Crosse

My partner and I, and sometimes friends, go down to La Crosse which is in Wisconsin, so not Minnesota, but right over the river. There’s a fabulous four-star hotel called The Charmant. It was an old candy factory right on the river in the main area. They make their own chocolate, there’s a little restaurant and there’s this little cafe with a wood burning fire on the top. They’ve got a rooftop deck and it’s really well done. You feel like you’re in Paris. They have free bikes to ride up and down the river, you can walk to all the little breweries, restaurants, vintage stores, etc. There’s hiking too, there’s the Grandad Bluff. We go like twice a year. Highly recommend it. The staff is fabulous. And you won’t regret it.

– Margaret in Minneapolis

Explore the Minnesota border in Lake Pepin 

Davis: I went there on a reporting assignment in a previous job and I had never been to Lake Pepin. So it is right there on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. And it’s just gorgeous. You can do sail boat rides, go shopping in cute boutiques and candy stores. It was maybe an hour and a half from the Twin Cities.

A Nature Center in White Bear Township

I think of the Tamarack Nature Center (in White Bear Township). It has really nice trails and they have a really nice play area for kids with a stream that goes through the whole thing and they can play in the sand. They’ve got an old prairie house and barricades and they do sledding in the winter.

– Kyle in Hugo

Grand Old Day is back in St. Paul

I just wanted to let everyone know that we are bringing the Grand Old Day back to St. Paul on June 4. It’s being planned by volunteers, including almost all businesses along the avenue who are coming together to make it happen. It’s just one day — there’s going to be beer gardens and several stages of live music. There’s going to be a parade and a children’s area with bounce houses, petting zoos and all that good stuff. 

– Kim in St. Paul

All Minnesotans should try disc golf 

I wanted to highlight the game of disc golf. That’s something that I usually like to do on weekends. I also bring out the dogs and stuff. It’s a relatively cheap sport to get into. (Disc golf courses) are scattered around pretty much anywhere. One place I like to go down to is Toppling Goliath brewery in Iowa. 

– Jeremy in Rochester

Enjoy these two caves in Southeastern Minnesota

A few years ago, my wife and I took the kids down to some caves called the Niagara Cave (in Harmony) and there’s one very close to it called Mystery Cave (in Spring Valley). Niagara Cave, I think, is private. But so you just have to pay a fee.

– Brett in Maple Grove

Tubing on the Otter Tail River

March: Detroit Lakes is a spot that so many people have as a destination either from their childhoods or they were taken there as kids or with friends but it’s really a town that comes alive in the summertime. The Otter Tail River goes through and they have K & K tubing — it is one of those two-hour river glides. The tubing down here is a little more raucous; the tubing up north is a little more family friendly. 

Relax in Bemidji

March: How do you not go to Bemidji and go see Babe the Blue Ox. They have a huge state park up there and it’s turning 100 this year. What I like really about Bemidji is it’s like the cool pine mists of everything, more of a relaxed place. 

Visit the Mesabi Trail in Grand Rapids

March: Grand Rapids is one of those undersung places too. Rapids Brewing Company is a great brewery that’s up there and they also have a location down here in the North Loop. They have the Mesabi Trail up (in Grand Rapids) too. And by the way, if you ever want to get on an ATV you can get up there and get on a four wheeler.

Go fishing in the trout capital of Preston

I work with all of the Root River Trail towns. So lots of fun things to do for day trips, but I really wanted to plug, trout fishing opener comes up in April and we have a lot of streams open for that. Also, disc golf is becoming a really popular activity for us down here so we just opened 18 holes of disc golf course before winter hits.

– Gabby in Preston 

Camping in state parks 

Cassel: Camping gets you into nature in a very visceral way. It’s just a totally different shift from a lot of the other staycations that you would do. We go to Interstate State Park a lot which is right on that border of Wisconsin and Minnesota, it’s super easy to get there. (The reservations) are a completely unsung resource.

Out-of-this-world snorkeling in Cuyuna

I went up to Crosby Cuyuna (Country State Recreation Area) for biking and it was unbelievable biking up there. But then, after biking and a hot day, we jumped into the mine pit lakes and someone had some snorkeling gear. So we were able to snorkel and it was like we were in a different world because the water was so clear. You could see these big trees underwater. We rented some paddleboards and we just were absolutely hooked. We can’t wait to get back up there.

– William in St. Paul

Escape the routine in the Twin Cities metro

Cassel: My partner and I with our dogs love Pike Island. It’s maybe five minutes away from the airport, but it feels like you’re very secluded. It’s right where the Minnesota and the Mississippi rivers meet. And it truly is almost like a pike-shaped little path. You can do about like a 5 mile hike. It’s very flat. And in the winter, if you are a cross country skier, a lot of the trails are converted to cross-country ski trails.

Walking in the woods 

March: I’m a big “walk in the woods” kind of gal. If you’re going with friends, there’s actually a preserve out in the Long Lake area called Wolsfeld Woods and it’s right outside the metro. It’s part of the big woods system that used to be a part of the whole state. There are trails and people have built little wood sculptures there. It can be romantic, if you want to take somebody.

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