This Land of Lakes has hidden depths. Minnesota offers a whole range of different pursuits to try, particularly if you’re into water activities such as boating, fishing and kayaking. It’s well known for its various sports teams and winter sports, as well as for its amazing national forests and parks, full of winding bike and hiking trails. Minnesota is an outdoor-lover’s dream.
If you’re thinking of making the Midwest your next travel destination, be sure to check out these lesser known haunts and best kept secrets of Minnesota along the way.
Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary
The Vince Shute wildlife sanctuary is one of the only places you can see black bears in the wild. Unless of course you leave your picnic basket out while camping in the outdoors! They roam freely through acres of meadow, swamp and pine forest, all of which can be seen from the viewing deck. If you look up into the trees, you may even see cubs.
This is a really lovely place to go as a family, or if you have an interest in nature photography as it’s possible to get some fantastic views. They even offer a photography workshop for those who want to get serious with it. Definitely bring a camera, and if possible arrive early in the day for breakfast with the bears.
Niagara Cave is something of a spectacle, primarily because inside the cave there is an epic 60-foot giant waterfall. Crawling with canyon-like passageways sculpted by underground streams, it feels a little like walking through an Arizona slot canyon – only darker and colder. It really is beautiful, but definitely worth bringing a jacket.
You can pan for gemstones and fossils, and outside the cave there is a mini golf course, gift shop and picnic grounds. This would be a cool place to take children, though possibly slightly older children as there are lots of stairs.
Hamel Lions Flea Market
For collectors, hipsters and lovers of all things vintage, you’ve got to try Hamel Lions Flea Market, 20 minutes west of Minneapolis. This is one of Hennepin County’s largest outdoor markets, selling antiques, crafts, collectibles, plants, produce and all sorts of curios. It’s open on Sundays between 6:00am and 12:00pm from May through September, and admission and parking are both free. Good for rummaging to your heart’s content – and mini donuts.
Afton State Park
As mentioned, Minnesota’s national parks are something else. Afton State Park is one of the best, with the scenic St. Croix river running through it. Its best features are its swimming and fishing spots, and the amazing views that overlook glacial moraine as you hike around the hills.
Just 45 minutes’ drive from Minneapolis, it makes an excellent day trip if you’re based in the city, but if you want to stay a little longer then camping is available all year round. Or if you’re feeling fancy, try glamping! The park has several cabins and yurts nestled in the forest, which are lovely cosy places to stay at night and get away from all the hustle and bustle.
This one’s a bit out there and a little more pricey than the other suggestions, however, this is a one-time unique experience not offered anywhere else – unless you are a tank driver that is. Tank driving at the aptly named ‘Drive A Tank’ is an extreme adventure, with options to crush cars, fire machine guns and even drive through a house. You will also leave with a greater knowledge of military history, as there are history/safety presentations given before you are allowed to drive. Not for the faint-hearted.
Magical History Tour
During your time in Minnesota, it’s very likely that at some point you will visit Minneapolis. If you’re someone who enjoys tours, then the Magical History Tour is a fun one to try, as the whole thing is done on segways. It’s a 3 hour tour that covers approx. 5-7 miles and takes you to many of the riverfront area’s historical sites, such as the Stone Arch Bridge, St. Anthony Falls and Saw Mill District, with a stop for refreshments at the Mill City Museum. Every history tour needs a little bit of magic.
Best Kept Secrets in Minnesota
Many people route through Minneapolis and never take the time to see the cool side of Minnesota. Hopefully this will inspire you to stay awhile on your next visit and enjoy some of the off track wonders that this state has to offer. Besides, being from Wisconsin, Minnesota is the backyard to our hometown.
Have you visited Minnesota? What were your favorite places to visit?
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