Minnesota is the pride of the northern Midwest, bordering Canada, Wisconsin, Iowa plus North and South Dakota. It's got it all: the big parks, its own great lake, amazing lakeside retreats and nature's attractions; snowy winters with skating and ice fishing, thriving cities by the water that become summer beach resorts and gourmet food. This list of ten places to make sure you visit is just the beginning of what can be a superb vacation.
1. Lake Superior
Its the biggest of the Great Lakes and Minnesota is proud to have the western fingers of this wonderful waterland within its state. It's not only the largest of the big five; it's the largest freshwater inland body of water on our planet with a surface area of almost 32,000 square miles. The lake is an all-round record breaker. Superior is fed by more than two hundred rivers, is the deepest point in the entire continent and on average is around 150 metres deep. It has tides and waves of over nine metres in height, earning the name of the unsalted seas. The main settlements in the Minnesota part of the lake include Duluth, see below ... plus Grand Marais, Silver Bay, Two Harbours, Beaver Bay and Arnold. But much of the shore is state park and completely undeveloped. Just come here.
2. Minnehaha Falls
To the southeast of the state capital is another state park with water as is central attraction. The little tributary of Minnehaha Creek falls delightfully, near its meeting point with the great Mississippi. It's not the highest waterfall at sixteen metres, but is ever so pretty and sits within nearly 200 acres of parkland. Minnehaha Park has several historic buildings including an old railway depot and homes, wilderness areas and places for climbing. The park is one of the oldest and also most visited in the state, and is open from 6.00am until midnight every day.
Bloomington is a small, waterside one in the south, some ten miles from the capital Minnesota. It's on the Mississippi River and close to the international airport; very accessible with a lot of free transport. Yet it's not all urban and certainly isn't urban sprawl. Though Bloomington is a prosperous city with nearly forty good hotels and great shopping at the famous Mall of America, it has managed to keep nature right on the doorstep. The 14,000 acre Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Reserve is here to explore. You can hike and bike along miles of trails, camp and relax. Or you stick to the manmade attractions and go wild at the Water Park of America - the largest and arguably the best indoor water park in the States. The most popular attraction by far greets more than 40 million visitors every year: Mall of America. A staggering two and a half million square foot of retail makes the biggest mall in the USA, with 500+ shops and a bewildering array of entertainment venues including the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park, a fourteen screen cinema and nightclubs too.
4. Lake Harriet, Minneapolis
In Minneapolis' chain of lakes, pretty Lake Harriet is one of the favourites. It's got two sandy beaches, running paths, a bandshell that looks like a chateau, a swimming dock, great fishing, a great restaurant, boat hire and sailing, play area, three miles of cycle paths and a street car line to Lake Calhoun. Small wonder it's so popular for recreation! Find it in the southwest of the city and enjoy a family fun day out.
5. Mill Ruins Park, Minneapolis
In the centre of downtown Minneapolis is a fascinating living museum: a park dedicated to the development and history of milling flour in the city. The ruins were saved from being covered by tarmac and roads in the early Eighties, when a survey by archaeologists discovered the remains of several nineteenth-century mills, piers, canals and early industrial buildings. In a modern city, this is a fascinating, unusual and surprisingly beautiful place that celebrates the early heritage of the Midwest. Find it on the shores of the Mississippi next to St Anthony Falls.
6. Voyageurs National Park
This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the USA. It is named for the fur traders from France who first explored and settled the area, right on the northern borders of Minnesota, near the town of International Falls and including four spectacular lakes. The rocks here are up to three billions years in age - as old as the earth - and the views over lake and rock, cliffs and forest are breathtaking ... particularly in Fall. Still waters run deep and reflect the amazing foliage colours. Remote and serene, much of the park is only reached via the water. You're going to be happy to leave the car at home! You really will be escaping the crowds and cares. Take your tent on your canoe and head out to your own private camping spot. The fishing is of course great, with lake trout, crappie, bass, pike, walleye, bluegill and perch. Being so far north, this is also a superb winter destination and many come here to play on snowmobiles, ski across country, fish in the iced-over lakes and go snowshoeing.
Duluth is the biggest city and a major port, forming Minnesota's gateway to Lake Superior. It's a big draw for visitors to the region and has heaps of attractions. From here you can drive along the North Shore for miles and miles, taking in the wonderful scenery or taking in the plentiful parks. You can marvel at and walk a six-mile-long baymouth bar, take an aerial lift bridge across the canal and visit the only freshwater aquarium in the USA. Duluth, due to its hills that rise sometimes quite dramatically from the lake shore, has also been dubbed the Midwest's answer to San Francisco.
8. Como Zoo and Conservatory, Saint Paul
To the east of Minneapolis is another great city: Saint Paul. Almost midway between the two urban centres is a great attraction, or more accurately set of attractions: the zoo, a golf course plus mini golf, Lake Como with its piers and paddleboats, an amusement park, running, cycling and walking trails, sculptures and waterfalls, a swimming pool, enormous glass conservatory and carousel. This landscaped, green area has lots of free entertainment: donations are encouraged for the zoo and wonderful glass conservatory, but there is no admission fee. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is really impressive. First opened in 1915, it contains nine different gardens including a picturesque sunken garden and butterfly garden. The conservatory contains ferns and orchids, tropical species and also art installations. The zoo is sure to please all the family , with gorillas and giraffes, penguins and polar bears, seals and sloths. It's incredible that the zoo and conservatory are both open free of charge, every day of the year. No visit to Minnesota would be complete without coming here.
9. Itasca State Park
When you're finished enjoying the city delights of Bloomington, head north into the wilds and the headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca Lake. This is a completely different world. The second oldest park in the USA, it has accolades galore and deservedly so. There are three distinct types of natural environment in the landscape: including prairies, deciduous trees and pine forest that, along with the lake, make for a wildlife haven. More than 200 species of bird flock here, including bald eagles. Wolves and sixty other types of mammals still roam. The fishing is also excellent at the lake and in the rivers: walleye, panfish, bass and pike can regularly be caught. You can get out on the water by motorboat, kayak and canoe or stay on the land for walking, cycling and horseriding on fifty kilometres of trails. In winter, ice fishing is very popular, and there are several hundred miles of groomed trails for snowmobiles. There are points of interest all over the park: from eight hundred year-old burial sites to log cabins from the early 1900s. Find the southern entrance 23 miles away from Park Rapids, to the north, on Highway 71.
10. Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
In Chaska within the grounds of the University of Minnesota can be found a spectacular series of gardens. There are over 1,000 acres featuring the different indigenous, natural environments of the state: from prairie to wetland and woods. You can visit on all but two days of the year all day long, with free admission for all children, and explore more than twelve miles of trails. Here at the south end of Minnesota's very own lake district is one of the most outstanding public gardens and arboretums in the world, with over 5,000 different tree and flower species.
From the celebration of man's achievement and industry to the beauty of nature, particularly around the water, Minnesota is going to be very hard to beat. Winter or summer, this is a great state for a great holiday with plenty to keep all the family entertained and wowed.
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