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If you’re looking to explore the U.S. state of Minnesota, our Minnesota Bucket List will guide you to the top 13 absolute best things to do here!
With water being the primary draw to this upper Midwest state, Minnesota is aptly known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” though it actually has 11,842 lakes (Wow!).
Having been born and raised in Minnesota, and now currently raising my own family here, the experiences mentioned here are near and dear to my heart and have helped shape who I am as a person today.
This perfectly crafted Minnesota Bucket List is divided by activities found in the Northern and Southern halves of the state in order to best guide you in your travels.
Though there are so many more amazing places and attractions to visit in Minnesota, here is a look at 13 hand-picked gems!
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Minnesota Bucket List: Northern Minnesota
Northern Minnesota is characterized by wild beauty, panoramic lake views, scenic rivers, and dramatic woodlands – as well as pleasant summers and frigidly cold winters!
The essence and splendor of Northern Minnesota’s rugged landscapes and glistening freshwater lakes are any outdoor enthusiast’s dream.
Fishing, boating, hiking, camping, and canoeing are king in summer, spring, and fall.
Winters consist of ice hockey, ice skating, ice fishing, skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
Here are the Minnesota bucket-list-worthy experiences and attractions found in the Northernmost half of the state of Minnesota.
1. Discover Voyageur’s National Park
One of the best places to visit in Minnesota that tops our Minnesota bucket list is Voyageur’s National Park!
This solely water-based National Park is so different than its more popular counterparts (Yellowstone, Arches, Acadia, etc.) in that you absolutely must get out of your car to experience it.
You see, Voyageurs consists of 500 islands, 655 miles of shoreline, and more than 200,000 acres of land and water, most of which are only accessible by boat.
Popular summer activities here include front and back-country camping, walleye fishing, hiking, and boating.
Winter activities in Voyageurs National Park include snowmobiling, ice fishing, winter camping, and cross-country skiing.
2. Explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Accessible primarily by canoe, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Northern Minnesota is one of America’s most beautiful and remote adventures making it a Minnesota bucket list highlight!
BWCA is a backpacker’s paradise in that it is home to over 2,000 lakes connected by rivers and portages that are only accessible to paddlers.
In fact, one of the hardest things about planning your first Boundary Waters trip is deciding where to go within the vast preserve’s 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 11 hiking trails, and approximately 2,000 designated campsites.
While there, Up North experiences include paddling, portaging, and cooking over an open fire.
Likewise, visitors can expect to spot moose, black bears, loons, and bald eagles, as well as experience the Superior National Forest.
Keep in mind that outfitters in getaway towns such as Ely, Crane Lake, Grand Marias, and Tofte, Minnesota can provide able guides and supplies to orchestrate your trip and help fulfill your camping checklist.
3. Visit Duluth & Canal Park
Visiting the Northeast port city of Duluth, MN is another one of the absolute best things to do in Minnesota!
Duluth sits on the north shore of Lake Superior, which is the largest of the 4 Great Lakes of North America.
Its lakeshore location offers a nautical vibe complete with plenty of activities for those seeing outdoor lakeside leisure.
Considered one of the “Best Outdoor Cities in America,” and “The Craft Beer Capital of Minnesota”, the perfect Duluth itinerary consists of experiences and attractions that appeal to a wide variety of ages and interests.
As an active port city, our favorite activity in Duluth is watching ships from around the world transporting grain, coal, and iron ore into Duluth’s harbor via the canal.
Other free things to do in Duluth include exploring Duluth’s world-famous Canal Park, the Lighthouse Pier, Lakefront Trail, and Duluth’s Aerial Life Bridge.
For these reasons and more, Duluth’s Great Lake attractions are Minnesota Bucket List must-dos!
We love visiting our home state of Minnesota so much, that we’ve written several other guides to help you plan a trip there!
- Complete 3-Day Duluth, MN Itinerary
- A Complete List of Duluth, MN Attractions
- Minnesota Wineries: 15 Must-Try Locations!
- The Best Zoos in Minnesota for Fun Animal Encounters
- The Best Indoor Waterparks in Minnesota!
4. Travel the North Shore Scenic Drive
The North Shore Scenic Drive is a 154-mile scenic “All American Roadway” that extends from Duluth to Two Harbors, MN (on Co. Rd. 61), and from Two Harbors to Grand Portage, MN (on Hwy. 61).
What makes the North Shore Scenic Driver so special is that it includes 7 state parks, as well as breathtaking views of Lake Superior and its surrounding cliffs, forests, and waterfalls.
The must-see stops on the Minnesota North Shore include Gooseberry Falls State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse, Palisade Head, and Tettegouche State Park.
The quaint towns and lakeside villages on the North Shore provide picturesque views of the pine trees, rock formations, and lakeside beauty.
In addition, be sure to discover the unforgettable things to do in Grand Marais, as this is a town that will leave a lasting impression on your heart!
The North Shore Scenic Drive is a family getaway that you simply won’t forget.
Additional planning tip: Heading up the North Shore in the winter? Be sure to stop and experience the best skiing in Minnesota at Lutsen Mountains Ski Resort located in Lutsen, MN.
*Read about our best family road trip tips in order to cruise this American roadways with ease.
5. Spend a Summer Vacation in the Brainerd Lakes Area
The Brainerd Lakes Area offers a small-town Minnesota charm set alongside the most popular lakes and resorts in Minnesota.
Located just 125 miles north of Minneapolis/St. Paul, there are dozens of things to do in Brainerd, along with its rivers and lakes that offer wildlife and recreational fun.
The Gull Lake and Whitefish chain of lakes are bustling with dining and lodging options whereas the Crow Wing or Pine Rivers offers a slower pace and more natural landscapes.
Favorite Brainerd Lakes Region resorts include Grand View Lodge, Breezy Point Resort, and Madden’s on Gull Lake.
This area is also home to a few of Minnesota’s best indoor waterparks which is definitely a draw here for families with kids!
With deluxe accommodations, watersports, kids’ activities, golf & spa options, and specialty dining experiences, add a summer vacation to the Brainder Lakes Area to your Minnesota bucket list!
Minnesota Bucket List: Southern Minnesota
Southern Minnesota is home to dozens of charming small towns with historic main streets, as well as the big cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Rochester, Minnesota.
In addition, most of the state’s cultural centers and historic architecture can be found throughout Southern Minnesota, along with wooded bluffs and winding rivers and streams.
Here are the Minnesota bucket-list-worthy experiences and attractions found in the Southern half of the state of Minnesota.
6. Visit the Minnesota State Capitol
The free or self-guided tours offered at the Minnesota State Capitol building in St. Paul, MN are a definite ‘must’ on any Minnesota bucket list.
The Capitol recently underwent a 3-year, $310 million restoration project which brought the already stunning building back to life.
Among its most impressive features are the golden horses on the exterior of the building that can be seen from even miles away (referred to as the quadriga).
While inside, visitors have a chance to see the legislature in action in the restored House and Senate chambers via the public gallery that is located on the third floor.
Other favorite activities here include admiring the gigantic first-floor rotunda and paintings of scenes from Minnesota’s involvement in the Civil War that can be found in the Governor’s Reception Room.
Guided tours lasting 45 minutes leave at the top of each hour from the Capitol Information and Tour Center.
7. Spend a Day at the Mall of America
Your Minnesota bucket list should most definitely include spending a day or more at Bloomington, Minnesota’s Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the United States.
Boasting over 40 million visitors a year, you can literally spend an entire weekend here taking it all in!
Not only is Mall of America the nation’s largest retail shopping center, but it is also a mecca of dining, entertainment, and dozens of family-friendly attractions.
For families with children, the crown jewel of the Mall of America is the indoor Nickelodeon Universe theme park found in the center of the mall!
With classic theme-park rides such as rollercoasters, the Log Chute, a Ferris Wheel, and bumper cars, Nickelodeon Universe tops the list of the best things to do in Minnesota with kids!
If visiting the Mall of America ends up on your bucket list, perhaps you’d like to stay there too?
Featuring both luxury and convenience, the Radisson Blu and JW Marriott Minneapolis are attached to the mall itself. With direct access to the Mall of America, you never have to step foot outside during your visit.
*While there, be sure to experience the other top things to do in Bloomington, MN found here!
8. Stay at Great Wolf Lodge
Located adjacent to the Mall of America is another Minnesota bucket-list favorite, Great Wolf Lodge.
With over 19 locations (and counting!) in the U.S. and Canada, the Great Wolf Lodge resort brand has become a family favorite of many!
What started as a small indoor water park hotel in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, Great Wolf Lodge now features a line of family resorts each complete with a water park, restaurants, arcades, spas, and children’s activities.
Part of Great Wolf’s appeal is that it offers a weatherproof getaway where visitors can swim and wear bathing suits regardless of the time of year. For this reason, this resort is hugely popular as a destination during the cold Minnesota winters.
We love Great Wolf Lodge for its rustic-themed rooms and family-friendly atmosphere.
*Read our entire review of Bloomington’s Great Wolf Lodge here!
9. Visit Minnehaha Regional Park
Overlooking the Mississippi River, Minnehaha Regional Park is one of Minneapolis Minnesota’s oldest and most popular parks – an ultimate bucket list idea for sure!
It attracts over 850,000 visitors annually.
A visit to Minnehaha Falls Regional Park, which is home to the enormous Minnehaha Falls, is a must-do recommendation on our Minnesota bucket list.
The 53-foot-tall majestic Minnehaha Falls is one of the greatest urban waterfalls in the United States.
The park also features scenic river overlooks and limestone bluffs.
Be prepared to stand in awestruck wonder at the beautiful Minnehaha Falls located in the middle of Minnesota’s biggest industrial city!
Minnehaha Park is located at the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and Minnehaha Parkway in a 193-acre wooded setting.
Additional planning tip: Make it a point to visit the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and see the famous Spoon Bridge and Cherry sculpture that is a convenient 6 miles from Minnehaha Falls!
10. Cheer On the Home Team
Minneapolis, Minnesota happens to be home to four professional sports teams and associated sports complexes that draw enormous crowds during their prospective seasons.
The Minnesota home teams include:
- MLB’s Minnesota Twins at Target Field
- NFL’s Minnesota Vikings at the U.S. Bank Stadium
- NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA’s Lynx at the Target Center
- NHL’s Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center
In the winter, hockey is king in Minnesota.
Attending a Minnesota Wild hockey game is by far one of the best things to do in Minneapolis!
The Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, MN becomes a haven to over 18,000 Minnesota Wild spectators each and every time the puck is dropped on home ice.
Not a current fan?
There is no doubt that the activities, enthusiasm, and exciting atmosphere at Xcel Energy will get you into the game.
Likewise, there is literally not a bad seat in the house.
You will always feel at the heart of the action when attending a game here!
12. Visit Rochester and the Mayo Clinic
The historic and world-famous Mayo Clinic is located in Rochester, Minnesota, which is 75 miles south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Rochester has long been rated as one of the best places to live in the United States by multiple publications such as Money Magazine.
This is due in part to the presence of its world-class medical facility, Mayo Clinic.
On August 21st, 1883, The Great Tornado demolished much of Rochester and there was no medical facility in the immediate area at the time.
Local doctors Will and Charlie Mayo worked together to care for the wounded as well as pioneered several lifesaving medical techniques.
The Mayo practice grew tremendously and is now one of the largest and most well-respected medical facilities in the world.
Many notable people from around the world, including several former U.S. Presidents, have visited Rochester as patients of the Mayo Clinic. International patients include King Hussein of Jordan.
Along with multiple other memorable things to do in Rochester, MN, visiting or admiring the grounds of the Mayo Clinic is one of them!
Mayo Clinic offers free guided art, audio, and historical tours for patients and their guests while they are at Mayo.
The general public can tour Mayowood, Assissi Heights, the Plummer House, and W.W Mayo House, all of which are important landmarks in the history of the Mayo Clinic.
11. Visit Forestville and Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park
Forestville and Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park is located in Preston, MN which is located 37 miles south of Rochester, MN.
Historic Forestville is a restored 1800s village operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. They offer guided tours that allow visitors to connect with historical figures and experience what life was like at the turn of the 20th century.
Tours begin at the Forestville visitor center and travel through the garden, kitchen, Meighen family house and offices, and general store filled with original 19th-century artifacts and merchandise.
Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park surrounds Historic Forestville. This park features tours of Mystery Cave, tent and camper cabin camping, horseback riding and a horse camp, hiking trails, and trout fishing.
As Minnesota’s longest and most popular cave, Mystery Cave tours are complete with views of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, beautiful underground pools, and a maze of interconnecting passages.
Parks naturalists lead your tour through various portions of the cave and explain its history, its features, and how it was formed. Modern lighting and walkways enhance accessible tours.
Due to its uniqueness, beauty, and overall appeal, we have included Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park on this Minnesota Bucket List! Plus, who knew that Minnesota has caves?
13. Wheel through Winona
Another one of the best places to visit in Minnesota is the city of Winona!
Located in Southeast Minnesota, Winona is nestled in the scenic bluff country located along the Mississippi River.
Known for its picturesque vistas, multiple parks, and historic sites, the city is highlighted by an extraordinary history.
Winona’s downtown features 11 monumental blocks devoted to its architectural distinction from stone and stained glass masterpieces to remarkable basilica structures.
Some of the best things to do Winona are driving, hiking, or biking to the top of Gavin Heights overlook, walking or biking around Lake Park, and hiking on the trails up the front side of Sugar Loaf bluff.
If you happen to be in the area, I also recommend visiting Wabasha, MN which is located 30 miles north of Winona.
Wabasha is a beautiful lakside community on the Mississippi River and is home to the world-famous National Eagle Center.
This concludes our Minnesota Bucket List! What is one place from this list that you are intrigued to visit?Jen
Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*