Nicknamed the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota has no shortage of fantastic swimming holes. If you’re looking to get beyond the inland lakes, you’re in luck — this picturesque Midwestern state has a lot to offer. From the forests of the north to the farmland of the south, this state is full of hidden gems and spectacular Minnesota vacation rentals to help you get away from it all.
1. Little Box Sauna, Minneapolis
Experience the Finnish influence on Minnesota culture at the Little Box Sauna. This roving sauna moves around Minneapolis and St. Paul, giving you the chance to experience an authentic hot-rock tradition. Book the sauna for your group, or sign up for a public sauna time. For a true Finnish experience, cool off by jumping in the snow. The sauna is available throughout the year, and is easily accessible from vacation rentals in the Twin Cities; check the website for times and to reserve your spot.
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2. Skyline Parkway, Duluth
Enjoy some of the best views in Minnesota on the Skyline Parkway, a scenic drive that stretches the length of Duluth. As you drive, look out over Lake Superior and the St. Louis River Bay. Along the way, multiple overlooks offer the chance to pull over and take in the view. From spring through fall, use the adjacent trail system for hikes; in the winter, break out your cross-country skis. The Skyline Parkway is just a few minutes from most vacation properties in Duluth.
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3. Lighthouse Point, Two Harbors
Watch enormous ore boats being loaded at Lighthouse Point. This thrilling – and largely ignored – spot offers a close-up look at the Great Lakes maritime tradition. Watch the working 1892 lighthouse glow dramatically in the sun, check out the 1896 Edna G. tugboat, or climb out on the breakwall for spectacular lake views. Want to learn more about what you’re seeing? The 1910 depot museum offers a fascinating look at shipping through Lake Superior. The area is open all year and easy to reach from Two Harbors vacation rentals; for safety don’t walk out on the breakwall when waves are high, as Lake Superior is unpredictable.
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4. Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Soudan
Check out Minnesota’s first iron ore mine at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. On the underground tour, you can feel like a miner in the 1800s as you descend more than 1/2 mile below the surface by cage and rail to the last of the mine’s active mining sites. As you travel, guides explain how miners removed ore from the rock. Tours are available from Memorial Day through the end of September and on weekends in October, and you can stay in Soudan or on the shores of Lake Vermillion.
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5. Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais
Although Minnesota doesn’t have tall peaks, it still offers spectacular hiking. The best trails start from the Gunflint Trail, a scenic byway near Grand Marais. Start with the Magnetic Lake Trail, which leads to a highly magnetized rock pillar that confounds your compass. For the best views, take the Honeymoon Bluff Trail to a spectacular overlook over Hungry Jack Lake, West Bearskin Lake, and the Boundary Waters. The hiking paths along the Gunflint Trail offer days of adventure during the summer and fall; set up a base in Grand Marais.
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6. Itasca State Park, Park Rapids
See where the mighty Mississippi River starts at Itasca State Park. This lovely park is tucked away at the headwaters of the river, so you can see the source and marvel at how small the upper reaches are. Hiking trails and bike paths provide plenty of opportunity for exploration; in the winter, bring your cross-country skis or snowshoes to get out into the wilderness. Vacation rentals are available in Lake Itasca and Lake George.
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7. Heritage Center, Grand Portage
Minnesota’s north coast played a big role in the historic fur trade between settlers and Native American tribes. Inside the depot, you can see a reconstructed great hall, canoe storage area, and kitchen. Outside, explore an Ojibwe village and see how the European traders lived in the voyageurs encampment. Throughout the area, interpretive signs provide insight into the process and dangers of fur trading. The center is open year-round, and you can stay nearby in Grand Portage.
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8. Niagara Cave, Harmony
Hike through a curving, undulating slot canyon at Niagara Cave, a fascinating spot tucked away in southern Minnesota. A tour of the cave takes you one mile under the earth, through fascinating canyons and caverns, past fossils that date back more than 450 million years, and to an underground waterfall. Tours are available from April through October. Bring sturdy hiking shoes from your Harmony vacation rentals and dress warmly, as the cave is cool year-round.
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9. Franconia Sculpture Park, Shafer
Get up close and personal with works of art at the Franconia Sculpture Park, a family-friendly spot near Shafer. Here, more than 100 larger-than-life sculptures scatter across a large field, so you can explore and interact with them. If you want to learn more, schedule a tour from April through November. This fantastic park is free and open all year; stay nearby in lovely Taylors Falls.
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10. Gold Rock, Two Harbors
Witness Lake Superior’s power at Gold Rock in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, which is open year round. Many tourists stop to see the stunning lighthouse before moving on, but the true hidden gem lies beneath the lake. From the top of Gold Rock, look down into the water to see the wreck of the ship Madeira, which was beaten against the sheer rock cliff in a 1905 Lake Superior gale. If you want to stay in the area, the best vacation rentals sit on the shoreline north and south of the park.
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