Best Day Trips from Minneapolis, Minnesota

Staying in Minneapolis on your next big holiday? This list of the best day trips from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the perfect way to expand your adventure and enhance your city-bound itinerary with a little extra razzle-dazzle.

Minneapolis is a beautiful destination known for its parks and inner-city lakes, but it’s also a great choice, thanks to its road-trip potential. With other top Midwest destinations within easy reach, the fun never ends around Minnesota’s biggest city. Whether you want to seek out nearby hidden gems, infuse your holiday with the fresh air of the great outdoors, or hit another big city while you’re in the area, you’ve come to the right place.

Easily accessible by car (and some by public transportation), there are plenty of top-notch travel destinations just a quick road trip away. Compliment an already jam-packed activity with a super-quick trip to Lake Minnetonka, or go further afield with a drive to Duluth.

Ready to start filling up your Minnesota itinerary? Choose from these epic Minneapolis side trips, or add ’em all to craft a travel-writer-approved vacation full of excitement.

Top-rated Minneapolis side trips

Stillwater, MN

Nestled along the St. Croix River is a city that has maintained all the charm of a small town: Stillwater. Just 36 minutes away from Minneapolis, this road trip will suit even the busiest schedule and appeal to the masses. From young families and doting couples to history buffs and shopaholics, the “Birthplace of Minnesota” is a destination that has something for everyone.

Stillwater

Start your day off with some impromptu retail therapy. Stillwater has a great shopping district, with over 50 independent boutiques to discover throughout the historic downtown core, plus a significant antiquing scene. Once you’re all shopped out, hop on a historic Paddlewheel riverboat or a vintage trolley tour for a signature sightseeing experience.

For a sweet afternoon treat, be sure to make a stop at the Stillwater Blueberry Fields, where you can pick a few delicious berries yourself (that’s as fresh as it gets, folks!), or visit the iconic Nelson’s Drive Inn Dairy Store for ice cream cone piled sky-high.

Stillwater is known for its beautiful range of boutique hotels and historic inns. Even though it’s close enough to Minneapolis that you can make the roundtrip in a single day, it might be worth planning to stay awhile.

Taylors Falls, MN

Taylors Falls is a tiny town in the St. Croix Valley that’s the ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. It may only be one hour from Minnesota, but you’d never know it with how untouched this pocket of wilderness feels. Get ready to disconnect and breathe in that fresh mountain air!

Taylors Falls

You won’t find many cheap or flashy thrills around Taylors Falls, but you will find plenty of forest and lake activities to amuse your senses. There are two main ways to enjoy the scenery here:

  1. By foot via either the Interstate State Park or Taylor Falls River Walk.
  2. By boat via one of the two most popular ways to explore the channels: embarking on a scenic boat cruise or renting a canoe/kayak and spending the day out on the water, paddling at your pace.

After a long day of physical activity, treat yourself to a pour at the Wild Mountain Winery. This rustic vineyard also serves up pizzas and hosts nightly bonfires, all to the tune of live music. Sounds like the perfect way to unwind to me!

Red Wing, MN

This brilliant destination is a beacon for art lovers. Red Wing is perched on the bank of the Mississippi River, just one hour and 5 minutes from the Minneapolis city center. Red Wing is considered a hotspot for niche museums and has an undeniably interesting underlying arts culture.

Red Wing

If you love plays and other live shows, be sure to check out the performance schedule at the Sheldon Theatre of the Performing Arts. Of course, if you need something to do while you wait for the curtains to open for your Matinee, the Pottery Museum of Red Wing is a popular choice and a great place to do some artisanal souvenir shopping in Red Wing.

Tired of pounding the pavement to meet your daily step goals while on vacation? Go on a quick nature hike up one of the two main bluffs surrounding Red Wing: Barn Bluff or Sorin’s Bluff.

New Ulm, MN

Looking for a European-style vacation on this side of the Atlantic? Just add a one-hour-and-45-minute road trip to your Minneapolis itinerary and discover New Ulm. Full of German heritage and influence, this destination is utterly unique; some even say it’s the spitting image of a traditional German city, from the architecture to the shops.

New Ulm

If you’re looking to add a few concrete attractions to your New Ulm itinerary, don’t skip over The Music Hall of Fame. Once you’ve finished jamming your way through the museum, embark on a self-guided walking tour to visit several of the historical monuments around town. (And don’t forget your camera!)

Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to visit Schell’s Brewery before you skip town. A right of passage for tourists and locals alike, this craft brewpub is the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the United States, making this not only a local gem but a national treasure. (And, when you’ve been making beer that long, it’s sure to be the best pint around!)

Lake City, MN

Located on the south shore of Lake Pepin, Lake City is the place to be if you’re a waterbug. Just one hour and 25 minutes outside of Minnesota, this destination is perfect for a little fun in the sun. As its name suggests, Lake City is best known for its lakeside water activities.

Lake City

Warm summer days are the best time to lay on the sandy beaches, learn to sail or try your hand at a new sport. (Did you know that Lake City is “the birthplace of water skiing?”)

If you’re traveling to Lake City in August, it’s worth planning your road trip around Float-A-Palooza so you can join in on all the fun. This annual event is a local staple, where everyone from near and far gathers with their favorite floaties to splint the day lake-bound, soaking up the sun. Complete with carnival games, food trucks, and live entertainment, this event is fun, unique, and sure to make a big splash!

Of course, Lake City is a great destination all year round and the lake comes with plenty of winterized attractions to keep you intrigued.

From classics like skating and ice fishing to innovative activities like “ice sailing” through the frigid waters, there’s no need to shy away from visiting—even if the city is covered in a hefty layer of snow!

Lake Minnetonka, MN

Want to party like you’re 19 again? Lake Minnetonka, located 40 minutes from Minneapolis, is a different brand of lake destination. Though there are plenty of family-friendly activities here, Lake Minnetonka certainly has a “younger” vibe that makes it popular with 20-somethings.

Lake Minnetonka

You may want to start off with a more laid-back activity before turning up the dial and having a wild evening in Lake Minnetonka. If that’s the case, you absolutely have to ride the famous resurrected Steamboat Minnehaha. That’s right: This boat actually sank to the bottom of the lake in 1926 and stayed there for some 54 years. Not to worry, though: It’s been safely floating across Minnetonka since 1996, and sailing on it will definitely afford you some bragging rights back home.

Start to ease into your night out in Lake Minnetonka with this next hidden gem. Located down a secret “back channel,” Back Channel Brewing is decidedly the best microbrewery around.

While you can certainly get to Back Channel Brewing by land, most patrons choose to use the dock entrance. Unless you’re planning to rent a boat, this may not be the best to access the tap room, but you could certainly make the trek with a paddleboard or kayak, which is highly recommended just for the full-circle experience.

RELATED: Top-Rated Things to Do in Minneapolis

If you like drinking, boats, and really loud music, then you should know that Big Island is party central on Lake Minnetonka, especially for college-aged spring-breakers.

Eau Claire, WI

With the Wisconsin border so close by, why not check out one of its top destinations? One hour and 30 minutes from Minneapolis, Eau Claire, WI, is full of classic Midwest vibes. With forested parks for hiking, rivers for floating in an inner tube, and a whole lot of brewing companies, you’ll never run out of things to do in Eau Claire.

Eau Claire

If you want to “get back to nature,” be sure to strap on your backpack full of snacks and check out the footpaths at the Beaver Creek Reserve and Big Falls County Park.

Prefer something closer to the city center? Eau Claire boasts several art galleries, as well as a handful of kid-focused attractions. The Chaos Indoor Water Park is perhaps the most popular, with water cannons, two giant slides, and a pool-bound obstacle course.

Duluth, MN

For a laid-back Midwest destination with a Maritime feel, head to Duluth, MN. Located two hours from Minneapolis on the shores of Lake Superior, this top Minnesota destination is all about boating, beaches, and (micro) breweries.

Duluth

Duluth is known for its amazing selection of urban parks. In fact, there are 23 of them scattered around the city!

One of the best waterfront options in Duluth is Park Point. You can take postcard-worthy vacation photos alongside the gorgeous ice floes in the winter or sandy beaches in the summer, or you can head to Devil’s Island and take a swim through the caves. (The water can get pretty chilly, though: Don’t say we didn’t warn you!)

Want a more structured attraction to add to your park-going itinerary? Check out the Great Lakes Aquarium, home to over 200 species of freshwater and saltwater critters, from frightening piranhas to furry river otters. The Great Lakes Aquarium even has a moon jelly touch pool, providing you with the unique opportunity to answer the question, “what does a jellyfish feel like?”

Owatonna, MN

Another great day trip for history buffs, Owatonna is a small city known for its historical tourism. A short one-hour drive from Minneapolis, the town is an easy addition to most Minnesota holidays.

Owatonna

Owatonna has a handful of specialty museums, including the State School Orphanage Museum, which is a fan-favorite. You may also want to make a stop to admire the incredible architecture at the Prairie School Bank.

RELATED: Best Areas to Stay in Minneapolis

For a more immersive historical experience, be sure to visit the Village of Yesteryear. This pioneer village will transport you back in time as you wander through the church, post office, general store, and 15 other preserved buildings.

Rochester, MN

Rochester, MN, is one of the larger cities on this list, and it’s a great choice for families with young children. The drive from Minneapolis clocks in at one hour and 30 minutes, which is a good compromise for those who quickly tire of hearing, “are we there yet?”. This not-too-long road trip has tons of kid-friendly activities once you reach your destination.

Rochester

Perhaps the first thing you’ll want to do when you reach Rochester is to find a fast-paced attraction for your kids to blow off some of the pent-up steam from the drive. Bouncing around at the Air Insanity trampoline park or zipping around in a go-kart at the Skyline Raceway are both great options.

Once everyone’s had a chance to get their wiggles and giggles out, navigate the corn maze at Sekapp Orchard or make friends with some exotic species at the Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo.

Red Cedar State Trail, WI

This one’s for serious backpackers: If you’re looking for a challenging hike to take on during your Minneapolis vacation, the Red Cedar State Trail is the destination for you. As the trail is located one hour and 19 minutes from the city across the Wisconsin border, you’ll need a bit of time budgeted for this excursion.

Red Cedar River

The Red Cedar State Trail is one of the most highly reviewed hikes in the vicinity, spanning 14 and a half miles through Dunn County and Eau Claire County. Starting at a retired railway depot, you’ll wind your way past old train tracks, lush forests, sparkling rivers, a little waterfall, and sandstone cliffs. You might even spot some wildlife!

The trail is long but not particularly difficult. If you want to take on the journey but have less time or a lower fitness level, there are a few “opt-out” points where you can cut the hike short.

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