Minnesota

8 Weekend Getaways in Minnesota From the Twin Cities to Cabin Country

Looking to explore the wonders of the Land of 10,000 Lakes? Check out our guide of the best weekend getaways in Minnesota.

My first memories of this place are primal – the rhythmic splash of our paddles among the reeds, the smell of wood smoke, the full body jolt of plunging into an icy lake. I can still feel it in my chest when I close my eyes.

It’s true that winters are cold in Minnesota. But we make up for it by maximizing every single second of sunshine.

Paddling the mighty Mississippi? Sure — canoe or kayak? Jumping into a swimming hole after cycling all day? Bring it on. Taking a long walk along the lakeshore with the family after dinner and a local pint? Of course! That’s just a normal Saturday night.

I was born and raised here and I can assure you that even the most sedentary among us are holding court on a rooftop patio and strolling to the shops in shorts and sunglasses when our neighbors down south are still rocking winter coats. It’s like a switch flips on in our heads 10 minutes into the first warm spring day and we want to maximize every minute of warm weather.

Make the most of your summer with these eight weekend getaways in Minnesota. They’ll take you from the lighthouses of Lake Superior to the Mississippi River and the cities, lakes, and forests in between.

Minneapolis

Minneapolis Parks and Recreation, Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

If you’re in Minneapolis when it’s warm, follow the crowd and get outside. You don’t have to be even remotely outdoorsy to do it – farmers market, public art, and brunch on the patio all totally count.

Hit the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden on your way into town. The garden features over 40 sculptures, including the whimsical Spoonbridge and Cherry, a symbol of the city and point of reference (“Meet me by the spoon!”). Make time to duck inside the Walker Art Center next door, too.

It’s one of the “Big Five” modern art museums in the nation, with a permanent collection that boasts more than 11,000 pieces, including works by Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, and Cindy Sherman.

Minnesota Twins baseball on a warm night is a classic summer pleasure and Target Field takes it to the next level by offering Minneapolis foodie favorites in one spot. Try brats from James Beard award winner Kramarczuk’s, rice bowls from Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen, and Barrio tacos in a mini-cantina overlooking the field.

For brunch, visit Moose & Sadie’s in the North Loop for fresh pastries or take the light rail to the Nicollet Mall station for more public art en route to The Local, an Irish pub with a busy sidewalk patio and plentiful mimosas. A colorful mural of Minnesota native Bob Dylan near the station is the tip of a triangle that includes the Mary Tyler Moore statue (the series was set here) and the First Avenue stars, which call out musicians that have played the club.

Spend the afternoon exploring the sunny banks of the Mississippi River, shopping at the Saturday Mill City Farmers Market and checking out more public sculptures in Gold Medal Park. Don’t forget to get a skyline shot as you cross the Stone Arch Bridge.

Some of the coolest patios in the city await you on the other side of the river. Sip a mai tai in a tiki hut at Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge, enjoy a steak by a garden stream at Jax Café or dine on the “vertical patio” (a freaking Ferris Wheel!) at Betty Danger’s Country Club.

You have a whole weekend. You might as well try them all.

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1/3

The Hewing Hotel, a 19th-century warehouse turned boutique hotel in the North Loop, has local spirits in the minibar and a Nordic sauna on the roof.

Hewing Hotel

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9.2 Excellent (604 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.5 / 10
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Ely

Explore Minnesota

A network of rivers and deep, clear lakes link more than a million acres of protected forests, glacier-carved cliffs and secluded, heavily wooded islands plucked straight from a camper’s off-the-grid fantasy. It feels wild and untouched, running almost 150 miles along the Canadian border. The little town of Ely is the perfect entry point. The resorts and outfitters there can hook you up with everything you need – tents, canoes, sleeping bags, even food.

Downtown Ely is undergoing a bit of a revival, anchored by the Ely Folk School, where you can learn how to make pine needle baskets or Slovenian strudel. If you’d rather not cook your own food, Ely resident and editor Heidi Mann recommends Insula for locally sourced food (like wood parched wild rice) and Gator’s Grilled Cheese Emporium, which is fairly self-explanatory. Boathouse Brewpub and Restaurant sells its beer in plastic growlers, so you can pack them in your canoe – a total Ely move.

Don’t leave without visiting some of the region’s most misunderstood residents at the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center (NABC). “The NABC features black bears in particular, and teaches about how they are not the dangerous, ferocious beasts the media portray them to be,” says Mann.

(Hey, I’m all for reducing bear discrimination. But the next time I’m canoeing in the BWCAW, I’m going to give them plenty of space. Just in case.)

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Moose Track Adventures offers outfitting, canoeing and fishing guide services as well as lakeside cabins.

Moose Track Adventures

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9.0 Excellent (39 reviews)
Excellent Service 9.2 / 10
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Saint Cloud

Lisa Meyers McClintick, Explore Minnesota

For an unconventional take on an outdoorsy vacation, try St. Cloud. It’s the perfect base for exploring the unexpected in central Minnesota, a place where you can scale quarry walls, plunge into swimming holes and paddle to islands in the Mississippi River all in one day.

The prettiest Mississippi River views in town can be found in St. Cloud’s public gardens. Walk along the riverside trail or grab a burger and fries from Val’s Rapid Service, a cult classic take-out only joint, and picnic amidst the flowers or under a canopy of towering trees at Munsinger and Clemens Gardens. If you’d rather eat indoors, cross the river and grab a table at House of Pizza, a local favorite for more than 50 years. You can also hop on the Mississippi River Trail Bikeway, which follows the river from its Minnesota headwaters to the Iowa border, a journey of roughly 600 miles.

For an adrenaline rush, cannonball into 20 abandoned granite quarries at Quarry Park and Nature Preserve in Waite Park. The cliffs are steep and the water is as deep (more than 100 feet in some places), but there’s also a beach and a floating dock for a less intense experience.

If the scenic waters of the Mississippi River are more your speed, you can paddle around the more than 30 Beaver Islands near St. Cloud. Clear Waters Outfitting Company and Beaver Island Brewing Company offer a summer canoe expedition that comes with a free pint of whatever experimental IPA the brewers are dreaming up. If you visit the taproom, toast your trip with a Sweet Mississippi Milk Stout.

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GrandStay Residential Suites Hotel offers cool amenities for active travelers, including a pool, outdoor sports court, and a putting green.

Grandstay Residential Suites Hotel- Saint Cloud

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8.7 Excellent (717 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 8.9 / 10
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Saint Paul

Visit Saint Paul

Minnesota’s capital city is a blast for families. The historic city center is easy to navigate on foot (even little ones) and most family-friendly sites are close together, with parks and green spaces in between.

Start at the Minnesota Children’s Museum, where kids can scale towers and climbing walls and use real tools to paint, sculpt and create electric circuits. There’s a special play area for toddlers, a nursing room for moms and outdoor activities, too.

The Science Museum of Minnesota is similarly hands-on. The dinosaurs, Omnitheater films, and the giant interactive astronaut basically make kids out of everyone. Don’t miss the LEGO® skyscraper exhibit on display through September 3rd.

When you’re hungry, head to Cosetta Alimentari for quick-serve pizza and pasta on the first floor, a restaurant, and balcony seating upstairs and exquisitely presented desserts in the Pasticceria. Across the street, New Bohemia offers a community taproom vibe, locally sourced brats and hotdogs, and pretzels as big as your head.

For ballpark hotdogs and baseball, catch a Saint Paul Saints game just a few blocks away. The in-game entertainment (like sumo wrestling and tire races) keeps kiddos engaged between innings.

For the most bang for your buck, you can’t beat Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. Admission is free (although a donation of $3 for adults and $2 for kids is suggested) and you can easily spend the whole day here. Budget to feed the giraffes at 10:45 a.m. (the weirdness of a giraffe tongue is totally worth $5) and ride the amusement park rides, then have a picnic in Como Regional Park. You really don’t need a lot of money to rock a family vacation in St. Paul.

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The Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Paul Downtown offers family-friendly amenities like playpens, an indoor pool, and made-to-order breakfast. Two-bedroom suites let larger families stay in the same room.

Embassy Suites by Hilton St Paul Downtown

8.1 Very good (3436 reviews)
Very good Service 8.4 / 10
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Duluth

Alyssa Hei, Explore Minnesota

With lighthouses dotting the shoreline, steep city streets, and the cool breeze off the water, Duluth always makes me think I’m watching ships on the ocean instead of Lake Superior. The water is the heart of this romantic harbor city and your first visit to Duluth should absolutely include a Lake Superior excursion.

“You can’t go wrong with a Duluth Harbor cruise,” says writer and North Shore enthusiast Jack Dura. Vista Fleet offers popular sightseeing tours and dinner cruises, while Moon Shadow Sailing will take you out on a sailboat.

“Watching the ships come in along the Lakewalk is a fun, free activity, ” he adds. It’s so popular, you can track ships in Duluth Harbor in real time.

The Lakewalk’s miles of paved trails offer dreamy views of Lake Superior and Duluth’s most famous landmark, the Aerial Lift Bridge. There are also beaches for wading and parks to explore.

Staircases take you up into downtown Duluth, where you’ll find shops, boutiques, and galleries and into Canal Park, where you gorge yourself on endless nachos and house-made salsa fresca on the patio at Little Angie’s Cantina and Grill. Or save your appetite for a Lake Superior fish sandwich and local beer at Canal Park Brewery. It operates one of the city’s best lake-view patios.

A tour of Glensheen, an ornate lakeside mansion built by an iron-ore tycoon, is a good choice for a rainy day. To get a broader view of the city, take the North Shore Scenic Railroad. The Duluth Zephyr takes you through downtown Duluth, along the shores of Lake Superior and into the woods before returning to the historic depot.

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Where to Stay in Duluth

Park Point Marina Inn offers balconies and harbor views so you can watch the sailboats in the marina and see the ships pass just feet in front of the hotel.

Park Point Marina Inn

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9.3 Excellent (4876 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.5 / 10
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Red Wing

Explore Minnesota

For scenic views and small-town charm, take The Great River Road National Scenic Byway south to Red Wing. This sleepy little Mississippi River town is perched under towering bluffs about an hour south of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Have a leisurely lunch with Mississippi views on the rooftop Veranda at the St. James Hotel, then explore the shops in the cozy downtown district. Say hello to Reveler the book dog at Fair Trade Books before checking out the city’s signature brands.

Red Wing is famous for the virtually indestructible Red Wing Shoes, prized by practical, blue-collar folks around the world (and a growing contingent of hipsters), and café au lait-colored Red Wing Stoneware and Pottery, a fixture in town since 1877. You can shop and attempt to take a selfie with a giant boot (it’s harder than it looks!) at the Red Wing Shoe Museum downtown. You can watch potters at work during a factory tour.

Spend evenings taking in the sunsets, Red Wing style. Pick a hiking trail (they range from easy to moderate) to watch the sun go down from the top of Barn Bluff, Red Wing’s 340-foot landmark.

Toast the end of your trip with wine made from cold climate grapes grown among the hills near Flower Valley Vineyards and Winery. Finish at Falconer Vineyards for more local wine, rustic pizzas from the summertime bistro and a sunset view from the outdoor patio.

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The historic St. James Hotel, locally owned since 1875, offers comfortable suites, in-house dining options, and a convenient downtown location.

Hotel St. James

Top rated
8.7 Excellent (752 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.3 / 10
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Mankato

Explore Minnesota

To do Mankato right, you’ve got to get outside. The county with the most river shoreline in the state lures paddlers and anglers to the Minnesota River and the Blue Earth River’s rapids. More than 50 miles of paved trails tempt cyclists and runners. There are mountain biking trails to conquer and indoor and outdoor rock walls to climb.

But this southern Minnesota town, located about midway between the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro and the Iowa border, isn’t just for hardcore athletes. Multi-use trails, parks, and outdoor art spaces make nature accessible for everyone.

Minneopa State Park has two different areas to explore — the prairie and the falls hidden away in the woods,” says Jenn Singer, a Minnesota writer who blogs at DayTripper28.com. “The hike to the base of the falls is easy for those with little legs to do.”

The park is also home to a herd of bison. Don’t let their size fool you; bison can run up to 35 miles an hour, so view them from outside of the bison range on foot and stay in your car at all times if you go inside it.

You can vote for your favorite sculpture on the self-guided CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour in downtown Mankato. You’ll also find colorful traffic signal boxes in the city center and poems posted in parks and along trails.

For dinner, try upscale Mediterranean (kabobs and couscous) at Olives or the not-so-upscale Mediterranean (saucy, thin crust pizza) at Pagliai’s Pizza, which has operated in Mankato since 1969. Don’t be afraid to make it an early night, since you’ll probably get outside bright and early tomorrow.

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Soak sore muscles in the whirlpool at Hilton Garden Inn Mankato Downtown, then walk downstairs to Olives for dinner.

Hotel Hilton Garden Inn Mankato Downtown

8.4 Very good (624 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 8.9 / 10
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Detroit Lakes

CJ Berzin, Explore Minnesota

The western Minnesota resort town of Detroit Lakes hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. Aside from the first weekend in August, when WE Fest brings thousands of country music fans to town, this place has a slow pace and retro charm that’s made it a favorite vacation spot for generations.

The sandy public beach is still the center of the action. Families unpack coolers, kids fish from the dock, and dads slowly back their boats into the water. A pavilion in a shaded park anchors one side of the beach. It still hosts bands and dances, just like it did in the early 1900s, A handful of laidback restaurants and bars with lake view patios stretch in the opposite direction. People cruise the two-lane main drag to see and be seen. Regulars dock their boats (and occasionally, their float planes) and head in for a bite or a beer.

If beer’s your thing, they make their own at Lakeside Tavern and Brewery. Everything pairs well with the stuffed crust pizzas. You’ll find them just across from the J&K Marina, where you can rent canoes, kayaks, fishing boats and pontoons. At some point, everyone ends up at the sandbar, a hangout spot shallow enough for the kids to wade.

There are elevated pub food and regional brews on tap at Brygge Taps & Tastes and cute little boutiques downtown if you can tear yourself away from the lake. If you can’t, grab a seat on the patio at Zorbaz on the Lake. Gorging yourself on Zorbaz nachos after a day on the water is a D.L. rite of passage.

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The Holiday Inn Detroit Lakes offers boat docks, a private beach and lakeside bar.

Holiday Inn Detroit Lakes - Lakefront

8.1 Very good (328 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.6 / 10
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Featured image courtesy of Hansi Johnson, Explore Minnesota