When people think of Minnesota, they probably think of picturesque, endless expanses of snow, and possibly the warm, slightly naive folksiness and funny speech patterns of the characters in Fargo. Minnesota is indeed a terrific destination for winter recreation, and there is no shortage of friendly people with that charming, upper Midwest accent, but there’s a lot more to the state than that.
Here are a few of the attractions that await visitors to Minnesota:
Mall of America, Bloomington
Opened in 1992, the Mall of America is the largest mall in the United States. (It is no longer the largest in North America, having been surpassed by the West Edmonton Mall in Canada.) It draws over 40 million visitors a year, with a good 40% of those being tourists from outside the area.
At 4 million square feet, the Mall of America is large enough to have an entire amusement park inside “Nickelodeon Universe” with dozens of rides including two roller coasters. Also inside the Mall is the 1.2 million gallon Underwater Adventures Aquarium.
The Mall has 520 retail outlets, 50 restaurants, and 14 movie screens.
The Mall of America is located in Bloomington, a southern suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Great Lakes Aquarium, Duluth
Opened in 2000 at a cost of $34 million, the Great Lakes Aquarium in the northern Minnesota city of Duluth on the shores of Lake Superior is one of the few major aquariums in the United States that focuses on freshwater marine life. The Aquarium emphasizes the varied animals and habitats of the Great Lakes region, but also contains exhibits based on other freshwater ecosystems including that of the Amazon River in South America.
The largest exhibit is the 85,000 gallon “Isle Royale,” which extends two floors and contains Great Lakes fish such as trout and lake sturgeon. But that is merely one of over two dozen permanent exhibits, showcasing not only 70 species of fish, but also amphibians, reptiles, birds, and river otters.
The Aquarium is open every day year round except Christmas, from 10 AM to 6 PM. Admission is $14.50 for adults, $11.50 for seniors, and $8.50 for children.
The town of Fergus Falls, population 13,544, is a community with a surprising amount of tourist attractions for its size. Those interested in sports and recreation, and those interested in the arts, will have plenty of reasons to want to spend some time in this western Minnesota town, located 60 miles southeast of Fargo in Otter Tail County, right off of Interstate 94.
The rolling hills, prairie, and forests of the area make Fergus Falls a place of striking scenic beauty. For recreation opportunities, there are 1,048 lakes in Otter Tail County, a large and diverse bird population for birding enthusiasts, a 55-mile paved Central Lakes Bike Trail that connects to the 46-mile Lake Wobegon Trail in Osakis, golf, and multiple city parks.
Geocaching is big in the area (if you’ve never heard of that, it’s treasure hunting with GPS devices), with GeoFest Midwest held here every September. There’s also the Red Horse Ranch Arena and the BMX Track.
A Center for the Arts features concerts, theater, film, and more. Every Thursday in the summer there are free concerts in Roosevelt Park. Top local and regional artists are featured at the Kaddatz Gallery, the Charles Beck Gallery, and the Lake Region Arts Council.
For history and education, there’s the Otter Tail County Historical Society Museum, as well as the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center to promote understanding of the natural environment.
Fergus Falls is right on the 150-mile Otter Trail Scenic Byway, one of Minnesota’s 20 byways. The Otter Trail Scenic Byway is a loop that takes you to 23 sites, including Perham with its specialty shops and doll museum, Maplewood State Park, and Pelican Rapids. There are plenty of places to stop along the way with hiking trails, picnic facilities, and opportunities to view wildlife.
Niagara Cave, Harmony
Niagara Cave features a 60 foot tall waterfall, beautiful intricate stalactites, calcite flowstone, and fossils that are as much as 400 million years old. A guided tour lasts one hour.
Besides its impressive natural features, Niagara Cave also boasts a unique Wedding Chapel where over 300 couples have been married over the years.
Niagara Cave is open to the public seven days a week from May through September, on weekends in April and October, and by appointment only from November to March. It is a constant 48 degrees Fahrenheit inside the cave year round, which means that, yes, since this is Minnesota, it’s a great place to go to warm up.
Harmony is in the extreme southeast of the state, just north of the Iowa border, and just west of the Wisconsin border.
Voyageurs National Park, International Falls
One thing that makes this National Park in the extreme north of Minnesota unusual is that the bulk of it is water, or only accessible by water. It includes four large lakes, smaller lakes, swamps, bogs, beaver ponds, islands, peninsulas, woods, and hilly terrain.
Enjoy boating, fishing, hiking, ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing and more. Certainly wildlife watching, as Voyageurs has 240 bird species, 53 fish species, 10 amphibian and reptile species, and 42 mammal species, including black bears, wolves, deer, and moose.
The closest town of any size is International Falls (population 6,700) 11 miles west, on the Canadian border. If you’ve heard of International Falls at all, it’s probably because it so often is mentioned on weather reports as having the coldest temperature in the nation on a given day.
So, yes, this is a very, very cold area of the state. Camping is a common activity at Voyageurs, but if you’re going to try it during the colder months you better know what you’re doing and be prepared. It’s a wonderful adventure, but only for hearty souls.
However, there are other lodging options besides roughing it in a tent, ranging from rental cabins, to the 1912 Kettle Falls Hotel, to chain motels in International Falls such as Days Inn and Holiday Inn.
First Avenue, Minneapolis
The hip art deco music venue known as First Avenue started as a Greyhound Bus depot in 1937. In 1970 it was converted to a nightclub known as the Depot, then Uncle Sam’s, then Sam’s, and finally First Avenue.
Over the years, First Avenue has become a major part of the Midwest music scene, hosting international headliners such as the Allman Brothers Band, U2, and Frank Zappa. It has been especially significant in finding and nurturing local talent that then went on to prominence. Prince was long a regular act at First Avenue, and filmed his movie Purple Rain here.
As a kind of annex to First Avenue (it used to be the restaurant and coat room for the bus station), the 7th Street Entry is a smaller venue for mostly local bands trying to establish themselves.
The First Avenue neighborhood itself is a thriving area of shopping, bars, and restaurants that draws plenty of people during both the day and evening.
Minneapolis Queen Riverboat Cruise, Minneapolis
The Minneapolis Queen is a 125-passenger paddlewheel riverboat that takes you on a cruise on the Mississippi River and into the past.
Starting from Boom Island Park in downtown Minneapolis, the cruise follows the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway and Heritage Trail, and takes you past Nicollet Island, the lock at St. Anthony Falls, the Stone Arch Bridge, the Mill City Museum, Mill Ruins Park, the historic Riverplace building, and Father Hennipen Bluff Park.
Cruises run from May through October. In addition to the standard cruises ($17), Wednesday and Thursday evening is the Happy Hour Pizza Cruise ($23), Friday evening is the Dinner Cruise ($45), and Sunday at 11 AM is the Sunday Brunch Cruise ($30). 50% off for children 12 and under. $2 senior discount.
Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis
Like Central Park in Manhattan, Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis is a large oasis of greenery that almost makes you forget you’re surrounded by skyscrapers and freeways.
The most striking attraction of the park is Minnehaha Falls, a waterfall that drops 53 feet from Minnehaha Creek. A bridge above the falls affords a spectacular view.
Popular activities in the 170 acre urban park include picnics, hiking and biking trails, a playground, kayaking, cross country skiing, and fishing. There are snack bars and public grills in the park. Highland Park Golf Course is across from the park.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
The Walker Art Center opened in 1927 as the first public art gallery in the Upper Midwest. Over its history it has developed into one of the five most significant museums for modern art in the country.
Across from the Walker, as a joint venture of the Walker and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a sculpture park whose signature piece is the giant Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg.
The Walker has presented dance, poetry and chamber music since 1940. Over the years it has sponsored various forms of art in the Twin Cities area, including jazz, opera, modern dance, rock music, and folk music, featuring such artists as Philip Glass and Twyla Tharp.
The Walker is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission is free for ages 18 and under, $6 for students, $8 for seniors, and $10 for other adults. Admission is free to all every Thursday evening from 5 PM to 9 PM.
Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul
Designed by famous architect Cass Gilbert, the Minnesota State Capitol was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Completed in 1905, it is topped by an unsupported marble dome, the second largest in the world, surpassed only by St. Peter’s.
Visitors may observe Minnesota House and Senate sessions. There are 45 minute guided tours of the building available, featuring paintings, statues, flags, portraits of the governors, the lavish rathskellar caf©, and the gold-leafed quadriga (a chariot drawn by four horses) on the roof.
Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul
Since its opening in 1907, the Science Museum of Minnesota has been wowing visitors with a myriad of educational and intriguing exhibits.
Current exhibits cover such areas as Hmong culture, Latin American ceramics, Mayan masks and textiles, malaria, cell biology, weather, optics, and dinosaurs. Outdoors there are additional exhibits about the Mississippi River and biodiversity, a prairie maze, a camera obscura, and even a miniature golf course.
The Museum is closed Monday. It opens at 9:30 AM the other six days, closing at 5:00 PM on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and at 9:00 PM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Don Amerman, “Minnesota Tourist Attractions.” USA Today Travel.
“Minnesota Tourism.” Minnesota Beautiful.
“Minnesota Tourist Attractions.” Tourist Attractions USA.
“Things to Do in Minnesota.” Destination 360.