Your full travel guide to Minnesota

With its cultured cities, the Mississippi slicing it in two and enough outdoor adventure to shake a paddle at, there isn’t anywhere quite like Minnesota. Let’s lift the lid on the Land of 10,000 Lakes…

Team Wanderlust
09 May 2023
Promoted by

From kayaking on the world’s largest freshwater lake, to watching the Northern Lights dance above the prairies, or cruising on a paddle steamer along the Mississippi, the midwestern US state of Minnesota is a land of epic landscapes and unique experiences. Head out from the culturally diverse Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and you’ll discover some of America’s most spectacular national and state parks, with miles of trails for hiking and biking, or skiing and snowmobiling during the winter months. And while Minnesota may not have an ocean in sight, this “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (or 11,842 to be exact) has no end of rugged coastlines, sweeping sandy beaches and aquatic adventures to enjoy. Get ready to dive in…

Getting there

Delta Air Lines whizzes passengers from London Heathrow to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) in Minnesota in just nine hours on its daily non-stop flights. The St. Paul-Minneapolis Union Depot in Lowertown is a hub for America’s national rail operator, Amtrak, and a stop on the epic Empire Builder long-distance route, which connects Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.

Minnesota must-sees

Minneapolis skyline (Shutterstock)

The Twin Cities

Standing side-by-side on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, Minnesota’s capital, St. Paul, and its largest city, Minneapolis, are known collectively as the Twin Cities, and together they offer an exciting gateway to the state, whatever the season.

With dramatic skylines to rival Manhattan, the sibling centres are packed with world-class museums, theatres, sport and music venues, and have plenty of open spaces, too, with parks, trails and waterways including the Chain of Lakes and the Mississippi Riverfront.

Wandering the diverse neighbourhoods, you’ll discover hip food halls and markets serving enticing dishes from South America to Sweden and Somalia, and bars serving local wines, ciders and beers. In local favourite, Northeast, you’ll find a gallery and studio-filled Arts District, while Lyndale & Lake is an eclectic mix of indie boutiques and diverse performance venues where every night is totally different to the next in this dynamic district.

The Mississippi

Minnesota is home to the headwaters of one of the world’s most iconic rivers: the Mississippi, which starts in Itasca State Park and flows 3,782km through the United States to the Gulf of Mexico.

From the early Native American inhabitants, the Dakota and Ojibwe, to the immigrants who arrived by steam boat in St. Paul from the mid-1800s, the river has been an essential lifeline for sustenance and trade. North America’s second-longest river remains a vital commercial waterway for the Twin Cities today, as well as a major migration route for fishes and birds.

Minnesota claims more of the Mississippi than any other US state – 1,046km. There are no end of exciting ways to access it, as it flows through valleys, iron ranges and woodlands including the Chippewa National Forest, which offers canoeing and backcountry camping along sections of the river, and the chance to say you’ve paddled the mighty Mississippi.

A riverboat along the Mississippi River (Paul Vincent/Explore Minnesota)

Voyageurs National Park is a certified International Dark Sky Park (Erik Fremstad/Explore Minnesota)

Voyageurs National Park

Water covers 40 percent of the unique Voyageurs National Park, with its interior only accessible by boat or snowmobile for much of the year, adding to its appeal for travellers seeking an off-grid adventure.

With four large lakes – Sand Point, Rainy, Kabetogama and Namakan – 26 smaller lakes, hundreds of deserted islands (some with secluded campsites) and the Ash River to discover, a houseboat, canoe, kayak or motorboat are great ways to explore the park, with guided tours available for those who prefer not to go it alone.

This certified International Dark Sky Park is one of the best places in the United States to watch the Aurora Borealis light up the sky, and on a clear night, the limitless horizons and glassy lakes provide the perfect canvas for a dazzling display, with meteor showers and the Milky Way often visible, too. And in winter, this northerly park has some of the most exciting snowmobiling trails in Minnesota.

Where to get outdoors

Lake Superior

Split Rock Lighthouse of Lake Superior (Explore Minnesota)

One of North America’s five spectacular Great Lakes, and the world’s largest body of freshwater, covering a vast 82,103 square km (bigger than the other Great Lakes combined), Lake Superior straddles the United States and Canada, with 240km of scenic Minnesotan shoreline providing a playground for hikers, bikers and boaters.

Running from the port town of Duluth to the Canadian border, Superior’s North Shore Scenic Byway, Highway 61, is one of the country’s most iconic stretches of road, offering dazzling views of the rugged coastline, fringing pine forests and lakeside beaches and bays. On this “All-American Scenic Drive,” there are eight state parks to explore, with rivers, cascades and walking trails, which transform into frozen wonderlands in winter as temperatures fall, and mountain bikes make way for dog sleds, snow mobiles and skis. Stay at campsites, cosy cabins or elegant lodges along the way, and don’t miss High Falls: Minnesota’s tallest waterfall, which plunges from 120ft above Grand Portage State Park.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Sunrise over Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Gary Hamer/Explore Minnesota)

Look out for bald eagles soaring overhead, otters playing in the shallows and moose wandering through stands of birch and aspen, as you paddle through the pristine wilderness of Boundary Waters; an awe-inspiring preserve within Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. With over 1,900km of canoe trails and more than 1,000 lakes, rivers and streams stretching along 240km of the Canadian border, Boundary Waters offers an escape from the frenetic pace of modern life and a valuable opportunity to reconnect with nature – and yourself. Whether you’re here for a one-day taster trip or a week-long wild immersion, local outfitters can provide canoes, camping gear and guided tours, and help you plan your perfect adventure. Leaving the city behind, you’ll encounter just a few other intrepid travellers – and if you’re very lucky, elusive timber wolves or black bears – as you explore the lakes, waterfalls and forests of this spectacular slice of the USA.

St. Croix River Valley

Overlooking Angle Rock in the St. Croix River Valley (Shutterstock)

Take a trip back to the golden age of steam, with a visit to the St. Croix River Valley. Just a 30-minute journey from the Twin Cities, this wildly beautiful region has plenty of old-town charm, and a fleet of historic paddleboats plying its waterways. At its most stunning when autumn transforms the foliage in the region’s four state parks to russet and gold, St. Croix offers year-round outdoor pursuits, from hiking and biking to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, while the historic streets of Stillwater – known as the Birthplace of Minnesota – yields treasures of the traditional craft and antique kind. Wine lovers can stop off at Alexis Bailly Vineyard for a tasting accompanied by live jazz at Minnesota’s first winery, founded in 1973, and in Scandia – the site of the first Swedish settlement in Minnesota – the Gammelgården Museum of Scandia celebrates the diverse immigrant heritage of the United States.

Top three activities to do


Some of the most stunning hiking trails in the USA weave through Minnesota’s forests, river valleys, parks and prairies, ranging from shorter treks like the Glacial Ridge Trail and the Pine Ridge Trail along the Mississippi River, to challenging multi-day backcountry treks, where having the right kit is essential.

One of the state’s most (literally) breathtaking treks, the Superior Hiking Trail or SHT runs for nearly 500km along Lake Superior’s rocky northern shore, passing through eight state parks, old-growth forests and the remote Split Rock Lighthouse, with over 90 free backcountry campsites to stop for the night along the route. The lake mirrors the state’s spectacular big skies, while shore walks offer time for tranquil reflection and the chance of seeing moose, lynx, bald eagles and black bears adds to the thrill of taking a walk on the wild side. Dip in for a day or hike the entire trail in two to four weeks.

Hiking in Grand Marais (Roy Son/Explore Minnesota)

Cyclists in view of the Minneapolis skyline (Explore Minnesota)


Whether you’re getting to know the neighbourhoods or riverfront in Twin Cities, or striking out to explore a remote wilderness, Minnesota has over 6,400km of paved trails, including the Mississippi River Trail, Root River State Trail and the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway – named after the legendary giant lumberjack – that will make your cycle ride a breeze. Prefer to go off-road? The state has mountain biking trails for all ages and abilities, from the 80-plus km of single-track red dirt that lead around Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area – a former mining site for iron ore, reimagined as a world-class mountain biking region – to the 160km-long network of the Duluth Traverse (DT), which also welcomes runners, hikers and fat-tyre winter bikers. Daredevils will love Duluth’s Spirit Mountain downhill bike park, which has routes for all rider levels, while the 14-plus km of trails in Lester Park at the end of the DT are easy-going enough for beginners, who can cool off in the river after the ride of their lives.

On the water

Unsurprisingly, thrilling water-based activities abound in the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’, and Minnesota has 35 state water trails, offering over 7,200km of bicep-building, shoulder-sculpting paddling through some of America’s most epic landscapes.

Lake Superior’s North Shore, the Mississippi and Boundary Waters are the big draws, but Minnesota’s many other lakes, rivers and parks definitely deserve your attention, and operators offer houseboat, canoe, kayak and motorboat rentals on many waterways across the state.

In the northeast, Lake Vermilion is scattered with secluded, pine-covered islands to explore by boat and canoe, or by snowmobile in the winter; Lake Minnetonka (which featured in the Prince movie Purple Rain) brings sandy beaches, sailing and wakesurfing to the party, while the clear, spring-fed lakes at Cuyuna Country State Recreational Area are popular with kayakers and scuba divers, and the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis offer outdoor adventures in the city, including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and swimming, plus ice skating and hockey in the wintertime.

Kayaking in Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes (Paul Vincent/Explore Minnesota)

Get under the Twin Cities’ skin

In the footsteps of Prince

The Prince Atrium in Paisley Park (Explore Minnesotra)

Minneapolis is synonymous with the artist formerly known as Prince, and although The Purple One sadly passed away in 2016, his legacy beats on in the city he called home. Minnesota’s own Graceland, Paisley Park was Prince’s sanctuary in Chanhassen, and the HQ for Paisley Park Records. With a recording studio, sound stage and performance space, the complex is now a museum, hosting concerts, screenings and events, and offers guided tours which take in the singer’s incredible collections of clothing, cars and guitars. The Twin Cities celebrate Prince Day every year on 21 April, with people encouraged to wear purple and spread the Prince love.

Wander its world-class museums

Weisman Art Museum (Shutterstock)

When it comes to culture, the Twin Cities offer a double dose, with museums and galleries which celebrate Minnesota’s fascinating past and champion the artists of tomorrow. A National Historic Landmark on the historic Mississippi Riverfront, the Mill City Museum tells the story of Minneapolis’ meteoric rise as a flour-milling centre, while the must-see Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) has a world-class collection of sculpture, paintings and photography. Explore 11 galleries of modern and contemporary art at the Walker Art Center and stroll the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and don’t miss the stunning stainless steel Weisman Art Museum, designed by internationally acclaimed architect, Frank Gehry.

See nature on a day trip

Minnehaha Falls (Shutterstock)

While Minneapolis-St. Paul has plenty of nature on the doorstep, including the Minnehaha Falls, take time to discover the natural attractions that abound nearby. The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the course of the Mississippi and yields some spectacular views. The beautiful Taylors Falls offers hiking, kayaking and swimming in summer, and skiing, snowshoeing and snow tubing on Wild Mountain in winter months, while Interstate State Park has rare glacial potholes and lava flows to explore. An hour’s drive will bring you to the riverside town of Red Wing, home to the famous Red Wing boot, indigenous heritage and adventures of the biking, hiking and kayaking kind. And a couple of hours south of Twin Cities, Jeffers Petroglyphs protects over 5,000 indigenous rock carvings, dating back 7,000 years. Tours uncover ancient images of turtles and bison, while hiking trails lead through the surrounding prairies, as songbirds swoop among the cactus and wild flowers.

Try something unique

A Juicy Lucy is a homemade rite of passage (Shutterstock)

Find your favourite ‘Juicy Lucy’

Sometimes the best meals are the messiest. That’s certainly the case with the Juicy Lucy an iconic Twin Cities dish where beef patties are stuffed with molten cheese. Where the first was made (as well as the best) is as hotly contested topic as you’ll hear in Minneapolis-St. Paul but one thing’s for sure: you won’t struggle to find somewhere serving Minnesota’s favourite burger. The classic filling is American cheese but varieties include a blue cheese filling or a combo of pepperjack, American and provolone cheeses; even non-meat eaters can get in on the act, with a local bar serving a vegan version. Whatever you choose, a Juicy Lucy is a messy but quintessential rite of passage in Minnesota.

Visit the Lower 48’s northernmost point

Climb to the top of the ‘Chimney’ in Minnesota’s Northwest Angle and you’ll be as far north as you can go in the contiguous USA. Separated from the rest of the state by the vast Lake of the Woods, the ‘Top of the Nation’ borders Manitoba and Ontario, and can only be reached by crossing the lake by boat, or entering by road from Canada. It’s a worthwhile journey: the lake is known for its large populations of walleye or yellow pike fish, and more than 275 bird species have been recorded on the nearby Pine to Prairie International Birding Trail, including Canadian geese, great blue herons and American white pelicans.

Angle Inlet in the Northwest Angle (Shutterstock)

Spoonbridge and Cherry fountain (Greg Beckel/Explore Minnesota)

Strike a pose in Spoonbridge and Cherry

Every visitor to Minneapolis takes a photographic bite of this cherry. The super-sized Spoonbridge and Cherry fountain installation in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden – one of the country’s largest urban sculpture spaces – has become a national treasure and a global icon. Spanning a seed-shaped pond in the grounds of the Walker Art Center, this larger-than-life piece of pop art was designed by husband-and-wife team, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and was the first piece commissioned for the garden, which opened in 1988. Crafted from aluminium and stainless steel, the sculpture stretches more than 50ft and is the Twin Cities’ cherry on the cake.

Feeling inspired?

For more inspiration, head over to the official Explore Minnesota website.

Make it happen

Get under the skin of Minnesota with the experts at Bon Voyage on their Minnesota – Land of 10,000 Lakes trip. Seven days from £1,995 per person (including international flights).

Explore More

More Articles