Located on the banks of the St. Croix River, which serves as the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin, this former logging town is charming without being cloying. It’s an active waterfront city that delivers a historic downtown district and artfully restored period homes, but equally known for romantic hideaways and some surprising ways to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Not the history geek? See Stillwater through two different weekend styles named above.
Outdoor Stillwater for Active Travelers
For travelers not content to simply view nature from above, Stillwater offers a variety of ways to jump right in. The locals love exploring the city by bicycle, on foot or on the river. But as you’d expect from a city that offers gondola rides and hot air balloon flights, there are also some wild card options in the mix.
The Grandstay Hotel & Suites offers loads of extras at a great price. Score a complimentary breakfast before hitting the trail, take a dip in the remodeled indoor pool (re-opening March of 2017) and ask about free gym passes at the front desk. The hotel is dog friendly, so you can take one or two furry friends (up to 50 pounds) along for the ride.
The Holiday Inn Express & Suites in nearby Woodbury is a smart buy for families. Up to two kids under 19 stay for free when their parents book a room and the hotel offers a free continental breakfast, an indoor pool and whirlpool. It’s located midway between Stillwater and Saint Paul, just off of I-94.
Active travelers can bike (or run, walk, in-line skate or even ride a horse) all the way to Stillwater from Saint Paul. Start on the 18-mile Gateway State Trail that links Saint Paul to Stillwater’s Pine Point Park. The paved trail runs through farmland, prairies, and forests, passing ponds and community gardens along the way. It’s easy enough for beginners, but the distance appeals to more experienced cyclists and skaters. The Gateway State Trail connects to Brown’s Creek State Trail, which takes you right into the heart of Stillwater, along the banks of the St. Croix.
Once the weather warms up, St. Croix watercraft traffic picks up, too. Wahoo! Adventures offers kayak outings that include a lesson, gear, snacks and a little lumber town history during the summer months. Or you can rent stand up paddle boards from 45 Degrees in downtown Stillwater. The shop, known for its custom window displays, also rents snowshoes and cross country skis in the winter and sells all the gear you’ll need for any seasons, from wool socks to sunscreen.
Runners looking to add a little incline to their workout will love Stillwater’s historic staircases. The city boasts five staircases cut into the hills of the downtown district, each with about 100 steps. “They are a favorite for the locals to stay fit and get out of the house together,” said Jessica Brouillette, who lives in Minneapolis and covers off the beaten path attractions in Minnesota for mnbucketlist.com.
It’s a steep climb, but the view from the top is worth it. “You can see the whole skyline,” said Brouillette. This recommended route includes all five staircases and ends up being about a 5K run or walk.
For those that don’t want to sit still, even to eat or drink, Stillwater offers several unique experiences. The “Savor the Flavors of Stillwater” tour from Foodies On Foot takes guests on a 3 ½ hour guided walking tour of the city’s restaurants and specialty food shops Fridays and Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. during the summer and Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. during the winter. The tour includes food, drinks and a healthy helping of local trivia.
BierCycle Adventures takes the history on the go concept a step further, offering adventurous drinkers the chance to cruise the historic streets of Stillwater on a ten seat pedal bike. You bring your own beverages and the guides regale you with stories of Stillwater’s history. The BierCycle rents by the hour all year long. (Yep, even in the winter — Minnesotans are a hearty bunch.)
When you’re finally ready to sit down for a second, the city’s two craft breweries are always a solid bet. Lift Bridge Brewery, named for the Stillwater’s favorite bridge and known for its Farm Girl Saison is a short drive (or ride!) from the city center. Maple Island Brewing, a laid-back spot with a menu full of punchy beer names (care for a Puck’in Awesome Cream Ale or a White Butt IPA, anyone?) is located downtown.
To fuel up before a ride, check out Chilkoot Café and Cyclery, a café, espresso bar and bike shop named for a super steep hill in town and housed in a sunlit former grocery store built in 1912. The food is fresh and local and the coffee is roasted in-house. Make like a local and ask for a fat, house-made marshmallow in your espresso drink. Community rides leave from the bike shop during the summer months.
Wrap up a tour of Stillwater back right back where you started, along the banks of the St. Croix River. Grab a coffee and a fruit-packed scone from the in-house bakery Tin Bins or cozy up to someone special over appetizers. The restaurant, coffee bar and bakery is located inside another of the city’s landmarks, a towering grain elevator called the Commander Building, built in 1898 and relocated to the current spot near the waterfront in 1904.
A seat on the Tin Bins patio is worth the wait, since it includes a view of the St. Croix and the Stillwater Lift Bridge. It’s just one of the many places in Stillwater where history, romance and nature come together. It’s the perfect spot to raise a glass to your adventure in one of Minnesota’s most charming cities.