Start your tour in Minnesota’s far southeast corner, in Winona. Follow the Great River Road north alongside the Mississippi, shopping and sightseeing in the historic river towns of Wabasha and Red Wing, and keeping your eyes out for resident eagles and migrating birds. Along the way, stop at some of the bluff-top parks, such as Great River Bluffs State Park, for spectacular valley views.
Spend a day each getting to know Minneapolis and St. Paul. In Minneapolis, stroll the Mississippi Riverfront and the Sculpture Garden and visit the Walker Art Center or Minneapolis Institute of Arts. St. Paul’s must-see is Summit Avenue. Afterward, visit Historic Fort Snelling or the Mall of America. Be sure to get theater tickets; the Twin Cities is second only to New York City in the number of theatrical performances per capita.
Drive three hours north to Duluth to watch ships slip under the Aerial Lift Bridge and visit the many museums in and around Canal Park, including the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center and the S.S. William A. Irvin Museum. If you can get a reservation, spend the night in the Two Harbors Lighthouse.
Follow Highway 61 as it hugs the North Shore of Lake Superior for just 150 miles, passing eight state parks, each more impressive than the last. You’ll have to pick just one or two. Gooseberry Falls is the most visited state park for good reason; Split Rock Lighthouse is a Minnesota icon; and Tettegouche has some of the most impressive shoreline on the whole lake. With a more flexible schedule, you might choose to spend one day at each. Spend the night in charming Grand Marais, where there is good food, interesting art, and fun shopping.
Now you have a difficult choice to make. Head northwest to Ely, gateway to the glorious Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and enjoy paddling one of the world’s most beautiful and wildlife-rich wildernesses. Or, for a less challenging taste of the outdoors, drive southwest to Itasca State Park, which not only surrounds the humble headwaters of the Mississippi River, but has thousands of acres of old-growth forest and many historic sites. This is a 5-6-hour drive, so break up the trip with enjoyable stops in Hibbing (Bob Dylan’s hometown) and Grand Rapids (Judy Garland’s).
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Minnesota.