Have you ever been sitting on your couch watching your favorite Netflix TV show and think, "I kinda wanna go on a road trip this weekend"? While most of the time, that thought will probably remain just a dream, if you are hoping to road trip from (or to) some of the Minnesota outdoor activities, this guide is for you!
Growing up in the southern Twin Cities, I know a few things about last-minute road trips up north and to other areas of the state. From the scenic shores of Lake Superior to the rolling hills found in southwest Minnesota, I am going to illustrate the must-see spots to check out during your memorable, last-minute road trip.
All of these breathtaking spots will not require a reservation and are open during most days of the year. Therefore, no matter when your wanderlust rises, you will be prepared with the top, must-see destinations in the great state of Minnesota.
Split Rock Lighthouse
Created in 1910 by the United States Lighthouse Service, the Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors attracts thousands of eager travelers throughout each year as one of the Minnesota outdoor activities.
This magnificent stop is a perfect way to explore the north shores of Lake Superior on your Minnesota road trip. Split Rock Lighthouse was constructed in response to the large number of ships lost during the world-renowned Mataafa Storm of 1905. During this storm, 29 ships were lost or damaged on mighty Lake Superior. If you have time, make sure to check out one of the shipwrecks (the Madeira), which is located slightly north of Split Rock.
Since the fierce storm and construction, the lighthouse has become one of Minnesota's best-known landmarks. It has recently been restored to its popular 1920s appearance. As a National Historic Landmark, Split Rock Lighthouse is an ideal stop on your last-minute road trip through Minnesota.
If you are leaving from somewhere in the Twin Cities area or wanted to pair your nature road trip with some downtown Minnesota outdoor activities, Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis is a pocket of natural beauty ready to be explored.
As one of the most accessible waterfalls in the state of Minnesota, you will find this breathtaking waterfall in Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. Find your way over to Minnehaha Creek near the crossing with the mighty Mississippi River neighboring Fort Snelling. Boasting over a million visitors a year, Minnehaha Falls will not disappoint. Plus, with its vicinity to other popular spots in the downtown Minnesota area, you can easily spend an afternoon here after checking out the nearby attractions.
Dropping more than 50 feet, the falls are famously known as the subject of Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha". This stop is a perfect way to escape your home for a while on a last-minute road trip through Minnesota.
Another one of my favorite Minnesota outdoor activities is back up north at the site of the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River.
Lake Itasca is totally a must-see stop on your road trip if you are planning to explore what northern Minnesota has to offer. This specific lake may be smaller than some other lakes found in this lake-ridden state, but as the starting point of the Mississippi River, it is definitely one of the most crucial natural locations in the state of Minnesota. Lake Itasca can be found in Clearwater County where the University of Minnesota's Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories campus is located.
If you are looking for a decent fishing spot, Lake Itasca is the stop for you. Stocked with game fish, there will be plenty of action pulling your line as you enjoy the breathtaking scenery. The lake is also very popular for boaters that circle the lake on light cruises. Visitors to Lake Itasca will find plenty to do in Itasca State Park (the oldest park in Minnesota).
Blue Mounds State Park
Our next stop is quite literally on the other end of the state as one of southwest Minnesota outdoor activities.
Found slightly north of Luverne, Minnesota, Blue Mounds State Park is home to one of the last remaining herds of purebred bison in the world. If that is not a good enough reason to visit this spectacular park, you will also love that this park lies on a Sioux quartzite cliff rising over 100 feet into the air!
The surrounding landscape includes a small piece of the United States' once-massive tallgrass prairie which is home to hundreds of natural wildflowers, prickly pear cacti, and big bluestem grasses that can grow over 7 feet tall.
Head over to southwest Minnesota to spend a day biking or hiking the trails at this park. Otherwise, there are areas designated for tent and RV guests. If you are feeling really adventurous, opt-in for one of the popular on-site teepees.
Another one of the best Minnesota outdoor activities is perfect if you are in the Two Harbors area is the breathtakingly beautiful Gooseberry Falls.
Gooseberry Falls State Park is located right along the North Shore of Lake Superior (very close to Split Rock Lighthouse). This last-minute destination on your road trip is a gorgeous place to visit during your escape through Minnesota.
If you are traveling during the winter you will love the exhilarating cross-country ski trail system the park boasts. Otherwise, you can find beautiful colors of the leaves during the fall and loads of safe hiking trails throughout the park for the warmer months. However, if you are road tripping in Spring, you will absolutely fall in love with what Gooseberry Falls has to offer.
This state park is well-known to be super picturesque during the springtime when the waterfalls are at their fullest and most powerful as the snow melts. If you are highly considering this destination, head up towards Duluth, Minnesota where the park is within reach of Highway 61.
Voyageurs National Park
If you are heading up north, make sure to add Voyageurs National Park to your must-see stops on your last-minute road trip to Minnesota outdoor activities.
Voyageurs National Park is broken up and divided into a series of interconnected waterways. Known to be navigated by early voyagers, these exact waterways are the reason the park earned its name.
Here you can enjoy a pleasant hike or bike ride through the trails, but if you are looking to be a little more adventurous to discover the park, I highly suggest getting on the waters. You can easily rent or bring some kayaks or a canoe to feel exactly the way the early voyagers did as they explored Minnesota's great outdoors.
Known as the "heart of the continent", you are not going to want to miss this stop in northern Minnesota. The perfect time to explore Voyageurs National Park is in the summer, however, the park is beautifully breathtaking year-round.
Jay Cooke State Park
Next up is Jay Cooke State Park which is situated on the famous St. Louis River in northeastern Minnesota.
Hike the historic Grand Portage of the river on this breathtaking stop during your road trip. Part-way through your hike you will notice a fascinating bridge you will get to cross that will create gorgeous, high-up sites of the park below. Peer over the swinging bridge on the dramatically rocky river gorge located below.
The forests and vistas found in this magnificent state park make this spot highly sought after by hikers and skiers alike. Jay Cooke State Park boasts over 50 miles of hiking, 8 miles of biking, 6 miles of horse trails, 8 miles of snowmobile trails, and 34 miles of intermediate cross-country trails.
If you are looking to stay the night, check out the park's variety of camping options. These include tent campsites with tent pads, RV sites, and fiver camper cabins. If you are looking for some assistance during your visit, this park offers a variety of naturalist activities and programming year-round including guided hikes and historical presentations.
Great River Bluffs State Park
Another one of the best Minnesota outdoor activities is located back in southeastern Minnesota in the city of Winona.
Located on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, Great River Bluffs State Park is known as a great park along the high bluffs lining the Mississippi River. With scenic overlooks that are easily within reach through walking trails, you will find a quiet getaway from everyday life at Great River Bluffs State Park. Here you will find oak-hickory woods, pine plantations, and goat prairies filled with countless birds, beautiful scenery, and other unique animals notable in the region. Hike on over 6 miles of trails or cross-country ski on over 9 miles of mostly intermediate trails.
You may also enjoy this quiet park for bird watching and camping. While this Minnesota park may be a far way away from your road trip starting point, Great River Bluffs State Park is a beautiful stop to include in your last-minute adventure.
That completes our list of the best Minnesota outdoor activities to explore during your last-minute road trip through Minnesota.
Make sure to consider these breathtaking destinations when planning (or not planning) your next adventure throughout the magnificent state of Minnesota.
Whether looking for a day trip, planning a weekend getaway, or driving through Minnesota on your massive cross-country road trip, these gorgeous nature spots will definitely be worth your time to explore. If you are in the Twin Cities area, check out the top activities in the Twin Cities!
No matter the time of the year, Minnesota outdoor activities will leave you breathless.