Information and Services
Explore Minnesota Tourism (651/296-5029, 888/868-7476, or 800/627-3529 TTY, www.exploreminnesota.com) can answer just about any Minnesota questions you have. Counselors are available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., while a host of recorded information on topics such as snow depths and fishing reports is available 24 hours.
If you are driving to Minnesota, chances are you will pass one of the ten Travel Information Centers that have been set up along the major highways near the borders. You can also visit the Explore Minnesota USA store in Mall of America.
The foldout road map available free from Explore Minnesota Tourism is more than adequate to get you around the state. If you want to explore any back roads during your trip, you can’t do any better than the Minnesota Atlas and Gazetteer published by DeLorme.
If you’ll be spending a lot of time in the outdoors, one of the DNR’s 51 Public Recreation Information Maps (PRIMs) could prove handy. PRIMs show all county, state, and federal public lands and plot campgrounds, fishing piers, boat launches, parking lots, long distance trails, and the like. They cost $5.95 and are available at DNR offices, state parks, sporting goods shops, and online (www.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/prim.html).
If you can, either come to Minnesota with American dollars or don’t leave the airport without changing most of the foreign currency you think you will need. It’s not that you can’t do foreign exchange elsewhere, but only a handful of banks and high-end hotels in the largest cities offer this service, and even then usually only for the most common currencies.
The exception to the rule is Canadian dollars, which are not only easy to exchange at banks across the north, but, depending on the exchange rate, can get you some serious savings since many businesses in the north accept Canadian dollars (from Canadian citizens) at par.
The scarcity of exchange facilities doesn’t matter very much anymore, since Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are found just about everywhere these days. Both credit cards (primarily Visa, MasterCard, and American Express) and travelers checks (in U.S.-dollar denominations) are widely accepted, though it would be best to ask first in small-town hotels and restaurants.
Taxes are high in Minnesota, but visitors won’t likely notice since prices, compared with the rest of the country, are generally low. The statewide sales tax is 6.5 percent, and a handful of cities and counties tack on an additional half or one percent. There is no sales tax on most clothing and groceries.
Unless otherwise stated, prices in this travel guide are the lowest available for double-occupancy rooms on weekends during the summer high season and do not include taxes, which will add about ten percent. Some large resorts also tack on their own service charges, a shamefully deceptive practice.
Off-season prices can be over 50 percent less, though 20 percent is more typical. AAA and AARP members get significant discounts at just about all hotels, though many will automatically give the same reduced rate to anyone who simply asks if there are any specials.
Weights and Measures
Minnesota, like the entire country, shuns the metric system, and, except for cross-country ski trail distances, which are usually given in kilometers, you will rarely encounter it.
Minnesota is in Central Standard Time (CST). Daylight Saving Time (clocks are turned forward one hour, moving one hour of sunshine from the morning to the evening) begins on the first Sunday of April and ends on the last Sunday of October. If you will be crossing into Canada, note that the portion of Ontario along Lake Superior is Eastern Standard Time, one hour ahead of CST. The rest of Canada that borders Minnesota is CST.
Travel to and from Canada
Minnesota has seven road border crossings with Canada, one by Grand Portage, another at International Falls, and the rest to the west from Baudette on. (Some maps show one at Noyes, but this was recently closed.) The four easternmost ones are open 24 hours a day year-round, while the others close at either 10 p.m. or midnight.
Everyone needs a passport to cross the border, and children under 18 traveling with just one parent need a notarized letter of consent from the absent parent or proof that the traveling parent has sole custody. Crossings are generally quick and smooth, even at the Fort Frances/International Falls port of entry, the state’s busiest.
Officially U.S. Customs allows 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars and one liter of alcohol to be brought into the country duty free. Returning to Canada you can bring $50 (Canadian) worth of goods duty free, excluding alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, if your stay exceeded 24 hours. If you stay in the United States for 48 hours or more, the duty exemption is $200; the limit rises to $750 if you stay for seven or more days.
For stays of two days or more, the exemption can include 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, 40 ounces (1.14 L) of liquor, 1.6 quarts (1.5 L) of wine, or 24 12 oz. bottles of beer. Canada excludes all foreign citizens with a criminal record—even a DUI—from entering its territory (recent exceptions have been made for older driving infractions; check before you travel).
United States and Canadian citizens and permanent residents who wish to cross the border by boat along the North Shore of Lake Superior, Lake of the Woods, or through the wilderness of the BWCAW/Quetico Provincial Park area can apply for a CANPASS-Remote Area Border Crossing Permit. BWCAW outfitters can take care of the paperwork or you can get it at www.queticopark.com/rabc. You can also apply in person at the Pigeon River, Fort Frances, and Rainy River ports of entry, but a decision can take 48 hours.
Tips for Travelers
Crime is not something visitors to Minnesota need to worry about very much, though don’t be lulled into forgetting common sense. Women traveling alone need to take the usual big-city precautions in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but have little to worry about elsewhere. You can dial 911 statewide for emergencies.
Minnesota’s reputation for tolerance and kindness is justified, and gay and lesbian travelers or those whose ethnic background isn’t Caucasian are unlikely to encounter any problems; although outside the Twin Cities and busy resort destinations you will be a rarity. Discretion is still the best approach for same-sex couples throughout most of the state, but pretty much anything goes in Minneapolis and St. Paul, which have active gay scenes.
The best overall gay resource is OutFront Minnesota (612/822-0127 or 800/800-0350, www.outfront.org), and you can pick up the free biweekly Lavender magazine (www.lavendermagazine.com) at coffeehouses, theaters, bookstores, and other spots across the Twin Cities.
Travelers with disabilities will find access pretty limited outside cities, though the national forests and parks, state parks, and state historic sites are welcome exceptions. Access for All (www.accessminnesota.org) is a handy resource.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition