City-cool and Eco-friendly, or natural wonders? History or hip? Art or pleasure? We have all, so you decide where to go next for a great ride!
1. North Shore Drive
Minnesota's North Shore is a 154-mile stretch of waterfalls, mixed woods, rocky and pebbled shoreline, small towns that hang on to their heritage and, of course, commanding Lake Superior views.
The North Shore Scenic Drive (State-61) runs 150 miles from Duluth at the southwestern tip of the lake to Grand Portage at the Canadian border.
Beginning at Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota's North Shore Scenic Drive is a journey through an unspoiled wilderness that kisses the sweeping shoreline of the world's largest freshwater lake. The breathtaking cliffs and beaches of Lake Superior's beautiful North Shore are bordered by the Sawtooth Mountains and thousands of acres of pine, aspen and birch trees. Rivers and streams make their rocky way to the lake, forging dazzling waterfalls along the way. You will hardly resist the eight state parks found on the way (including Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, left) or the Superior Hiking Trail.
To explore the culture and history of the area, stop at any or all of the 41 historic sites and museums along the shore and see what’s been going on the past few hundred years.
North Shore Scenic Drive reaches its destination at Grand Portage and you will want to do it all again!
2. St. Paul
A city of refinement and status, Minnesota's state capital has maintained its small-town feel by preserving its meandering, tree-lined streets, historic buildings, quaint public parks and beautiful Victorian homes.
For those who love to travel, St. Paul is a great city to explore. Saint Paul is one of the most bicycle-friendly states in the country. Both of the Twin Cities consistently rank among the most bicycle friendly in Bicycle Magazine’s yearly poll. Minneapolis and Saint Paul have 84 miles of dedicated bike paths and 44 miles of designated bike lanes on streets.
Saint Paul is home to more miles of Mississippi River than any other city from the headwaters in Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. The city is working to transform its riverfront parks and natural areas into a seamless network of river parks. Experience peaceful trails within sight of downtown and secluded paths along sandy river flats.
Hop on your bike and try the Bruce Vento Regional Trail, an asphalt-paved rail trail that runs from White Bear Lake to the Bruce Vento Wildlife Sanctuary. Both the trail and the wildlife sanctuary are named for Bruce Vento, an ardent environmentalist and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Minnesota’s 4th District from 1977-2000. The trail is mostly off-road, but it does go through some residential neighborhoods; it is scenic, with views of Lake Phalen, and a lovely ravine section in Swede Hollow. The trail is seven miles long and is open to hikers, cyclists, in-line skaters, and cross-country skiers. It is wheelchair accessible.
3. Voyageurs National Park
The Park is one of the nation’s wildest, most remote and unique national parks, and is widely loved for its beauty and recreational opportunities.
The experience here will be relaxing, fascinating from a U.S. History perspective and so much fun. You can explore the four major lakes dotted with hundreds of isolated islands, or escape into the wild heart of the park, the Kabetogama Peninsula, which is ringed by water and strewn with inland lakes, towering pines, rugged cliffs, and swamps.
Here you can see and touch rocks half as old as the world, experience the life of a voyageur, immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of a boreal forest, view the dark skies, or ply the interconnected water routes.
Be prepared for all aspects of the park. With the many merging bodies of water and widespread rock hazards, navigating the lakes can be tricky. Do you know your nuns and cans? Storms, winds, and waves can ruin a peaceful afternoon; watch the weather. Know how to camp in bear country. Tent camping at Voyageurs National Park is now by reservation only. There are many tent campsites available and they are accessible only by boat or hiking (one of them). Voyageurs National Park is mostly used by those in a boat. You will see so many vehicles with boat trailers in every parking lot. There are houseboat campsites, lots of fishing, tour boats, rental canoes and kayaks – you name it! You can rent a canoe or rowboat in order to access the tent site, and be sure it really worth the adventure!
4. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
This is a true North Shore icon! Nestled in a Minnesota State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most photographed and visited spots in the state, with a drama-filled history and breathtaking Lake Superior views.
Scenic trails along the lake link up to the spectacular Superior Hiking Trail. Perhaps best known for its historic lighthouse, this park offers numerous recreational opportunities. It features a lakeshore picnic area, trail center, tent camping, and 14 miles of hiking, biking, snowshoe, and cross-country ski trails along the lakeshore and through the northern forest.
Walk, run, bike or hike the Gitchi-Gami State Trail! The Gitchi-Gami State Trail winds through the park. You’ll pass near Middle Falls waterfall and spot parts of the Upper and Lower Falls as well. There are many beautiful overlooks between the park and Twin Points Public Water Access, a short distance away. For a longer trip, start at the park and head 8.5 miles south to Gooseberry Falls State Park. Stop at Thompson Beach for stunning panoramic views of Lake Superior. You even have a bike parking available at the Trail Center within Split Rock Lighthouse State Park or in the lower picnic area lot at Gooseberry Falls State Park.
Whether you’re staying a week or a weekend, the park offers plenty of tent camping sites for your short exciting vacation. If you plan to spend the night, make sure to make your reservation through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ahead of time.
Where to take the perfect photo? Take advantage of the Split Rock Lighthouse overlook, located south of the park entrance, directly off Highway 61.
5. Aerial Lift Bridge
Here we are in front of one of the most photographed landmarks in Duluth, or all of Minnesota for that matter, is the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge.
A clearance of 180 feet is attained when the span is completely raised. The span length is 386 feet and weighs approximately 900 tons! The bridge is very similar to the only other one of its kind in the world, which is in Rouen, France.
There is quite a view when big cargo boats are passing through the canal and the bridge is raised! It's one of those things that maybe you saw as a kid and then you show the kids then the grand kids.
6. Lake Itasca
Established in 1891, Itasca is Minnesota's oldest state park.
Today, the park totals more than 32,000 acres and includes more than 100 lakes.
Lake Itasca is a small glacial lake approximately 1.8 square miles (4.7 km2) in area. It is notable for being the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and is located in southeastern Clearwater County, in the Headwaters area of north central Minnesota. The lake is within Itasca State Park and has an average depth of 20 to 35 feet (6–11 m), and is 1,475 ft (450 m) above sea level.
What is great to enjoy here? Walk across the mighty Mississippi as it starts its winding journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Stand under towering pines at Preacher's Grove. Visit the Itasca Indian Cemetery or Wegmann's Cabin, landmarks of centuries gone by. Camp under the stars, or stay the night at the historic Douglas Lodge or cabins. Explore Wilderness Drive past the 2,000-acre Wilderness Sanctuary, one of Minnesota's seven National Natural Landmarks.
Bike and boat rentals are available spring through fall, so you can explore bike trails or walk across the Mississippi.
A five-mile paved bike trail runs from Douglas Lodge to the Headwaters, past 200 year old red pines, and along the shores of Lake Itasca. This trail is shared with hikers and features a 1/2 mile long boardwalk, rolling hills and winding curves. Wilderness Drive is a 10 mile paved road from the Headwaters to Douglas Lodge on the west edge of the park. Most of it is one way traffic, allowing bikers a safe riding experience. It travels along grassy marshes, pristine pines and several small ponds. It will be delightful!
7. Minehaha Falls
One of Minneapolis' oldest and most popular parks features a majestic 53-foot waterfall, limestone bluffs, and river overlooks, attracting more than 850,000 visitors annually.
The Minnehaha Falls area is awesome as it is home to one of the best urban waterfalls in the United States, located in Minneapolis Minnesota.
The falls is in Minnehaha Park, a large city park on the shores of the Mississippi River. The park includes picnic areas, trails, sculpture and the 53 foot falls.
There is a bridge just above the falls, and trails that go down into the gorge on both sides, and another bridge below the falls. Park benches in the upper reaches of the gorge provide a cool and shady spot to watch the falls on hot summer days.
For the more adventurous, take the trail down the gorge past lovely pools and photogenic stone bridges to a sandy beach at the confluence of Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. Minnehaha Falls offers paved trails throughout the park and a bike rental site where you can bike throughout the 193-acre park.
More than 18 million visitors find their way to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul every year, drawn by a place that touts outdoor fun as much as culture and cuisine.
The Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area strikes a great balance between city-cool and eco-friendly, and between history and hip.
If you are an art lover as we are, you must see the Institute of Arts with its large collection of works from many countries and in many styles, including pictures by European masters such as Rubens and Rembrandt. One more and we leave you alone with our art obsession. Considered one of the nation’s ‘Big Five’ modern art museums and one of the top Minneapolis attractions, the Walker Art Center is a multi-disciplinary contemporary art center in the heart of Minneapolis. You should not miss it!
Ok, let’s get back on our bike ride! Go next on a scenic bike ride along lakeside trails, take a behind-the-scenes tour of a famous baseball field and have a romantic dinner and listen to a live music performance. Minneapolis is ranked as one of the best biking city in the country by Bike Score, it is #3 biking city by Bicycling Magazine (2014), and the #2 bicycling commuting city by the U.S. Census Bureau (2014). As of 2015, Minneapolis has 129 miles of on-street bikeways and 97 miles of off-street bikeways. The city has also been awarded with the Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the League of American Bicyclists. This is perfect city for you and your bike!
9. Stone Arch Bridge
The Stone Arch Bridge is the only bridge of its kind over the Mississippi River. It is made of native granite and limestone, and measures 2100-feet long by 28-feet wide. The bridge consists of 23 arches, and spans the river below St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis.
The bridge is an ideal location to walk, bike or run, offering great views of downtown and the Mississippi River. Mill City Ruins can be seen from the bridge and the Mill City museum is near the downtown side of the Bridge
You can give it a ride to Mill City Park or Father Hennepin Park - on the downtown side of the Stone Arch Bridge St. Anthony Falls can be seen from the Stone Arch Bridge with a short self guided walking tour available, telling the history of the falls.
10. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
It is considered by some as the most beautiful wilderness they have ever seen.
National Geographic named it one of 50 Destinations of a Lifetime.
In other words, a vacation you do not want to miss. The BWCAW is a unique area located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. Great glaciers carved the physical features of what is today known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness by scraping and gouging rock. The glaciers left behind rugged cliffs and crags, canyons, gentle hills, towering rock formations, rocky shores, sandy beaches and several thousand lakes and streams, interspersed with islands and surrounded by forest. The area contains more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails and more than 2,000 designated campsites. You must have a quota permit to enter the BWCAW for overnight trips during the quota season: May 1 - September 30.
Did we checked all the great places? Maybe, or maybe not. But we are also eager to found that special ones without necessarily the famous appearance.
Do you know such places in Minnesota? Be a good pal, share your tips for greatest trips at [email protected]!