Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory
So you’ve just left the Badger State behind, crossed the “Old Man River” (Mississippi), and found yourself in Minnesota without a clue as to where to find fun and excitement. That’s easy: Just keep the river on your right and head north along US-61. (that’s the Mississippi River; pretty hard to miss) This is the highway made famous by Bob Dylan’s classic album, “Highway 61 Revisited.” The highway reaches from near his boyhood home in northern Minnesota, down along the Mississippi, all the way south to New Orleans.
Go north on US-61 to the town of Winona, which will welcome you to the Land of 10,000 Lakes (seriously, has anyone ever really counted?). This former lumber town now hosts two colleges, St. Mary’s and Winona State, and has all the energy that goes with it. Learn all about the historic importance of steamboat culture at Wilkie Steamboat Center or explore the outdoors at the 250,000-acre Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Continuing north along US-61 you’ll notice a pretty consistent theme, it’s green everywhere. From the southern Iowa border up to the Twin Cities, nearly the entire route is surrounded by state and national parks and wildlife refuges. Take your pick of them along the way and stop for some good camping, hiking, or wildlife watching.
If you’re looking for more civilization but in a small-town sort of way, Red Wing is a worthwhile place to visit. Once an industrial center, the town embraces its history by blending in with the great outdoors. One local favorite activity is a visit to the Red Wing Pottery, opened since 1870 and one of the state’s oldest businesses. Another favorite diversion is spending an afternoon or morning hiking the 20-mile Cannon Valley Trail that connects the towns of Welch, Cannon Falls, and Red Wing.
Back on US-61 you’ll find yourself entering the Twin Cities region. St. Paul, the state’s capital, quietly stands in the shadow of its more popular sister city, Minneapolis. A great way to introduce yourself to St. Paul can be had by exploring the historic downtown area. Here, you’ll find historic Rice Park, which is surrounded by a number of fine venues including the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the St. Paul Public Library, the Ordway Music Theater, and the St. Paul Hotel. Within spittin’ distance of the park lie the popular Science Museum of Minnesota, the Minnesota Capitol Building, and the Fitzgerald Theater, which regularly hosts tapings of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Cross over the Mississippi River to reach the other half of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis, a surprisingly modern, progressive, and cosmopolitan city here in the north. The eclectic downtown area, ironically known as “Uptown,” offers an array of top-notch restaurants and fancy shopping that can be enjoyed at any time of year. Years ago, Minnesotans here figured out that it’s really cold during the winter time, so these industrious folks built an enormous network of heated walkways throughout the Uptown area, ensuring that a visit to the city is enjoyable no matter the temperature. Good thinking. A favorite walk for those enjoying the city is a stroll across Stone Arch Bridge, a Minneapolis icon that spans the Mississippi River in the city’s downtown area.
Other attractions include the River City Trolley with which you can explore some of the city’s finest neighborhoods, or the famous Nicollet Mall, its hip commercial center.
From Minneapolis, let’s take Hwy 10 northwest to a quieter region, beginning at the town of Elk River. Stretch your legs at the 30,000-acre Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge or visit the Oliver H. Kelley Farm, a state historic site and living history site that captures life in 1860’s Minnesota.
From Elk River, keep heading northwest on Hwy 10 to end our Minnesota tour at St. Cloud. For starters, you’ll find something unique in the city’s warm downtown district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Or explore the several historic parks, including Lake George Eastman Park, Whitney Memorial Park, or Heritage Park. Finally, consider a visit to the Cathedral of St. Mary, the oldest church and largest parish in the area.