If your ideal Memorial Day getaway destination includes a relaxing retreat to a lakeside cabin and breathtaking natural scenery, then head to Minnesota. Home to 10,000 legendary lakes, this friendly state offers everything from tiny ponds to the sprawling Lake Superior in the far north. Bid farewell to the winter and welcome summer by staying at one of numerous Minnesota vacation rentals in any of these great Midwestern cities and towns.

1. Ely

boundary waters sunset
Source: Flickr/ryan harvey

Make the most of the warming spring weather with a canoeing trip to Ely. This small town is the jumping-off point for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a stunning network of rivers and lakes that runs through the forests of northern Minnesota. Rent canoes from Voyageur North Outfitters or Ely Outfitting Company and spend your days paddling and picnicking on hidden beaches. Be sure to book your vacation rentals early to secure cabins with waterfront property and beautiful views.

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2. Duluth

duluth bay view
Source: Flickr/Sharon Mollerus

Just two over hours from the Twin Cities, Duluth feels a world away from the chaos of the city. This lovely hillside city offers access to the spectacular Lake Superior. Although the water is still too cold for swimming on Memorial Day, you can kayak in the bay with a rental from On The Water Boat Rentals, or simply enjoy a stroll by the shore at Canal Park. Get into the holiday spirit at the Northland Memorial Day Parade in West Duluth, which runs down Grand Avenue and draws large crowds.

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3. St. Paul

historic fort snelling
Source: mnhs.org/fortsnelling

For history buffs, it’s hard to beat St. Paul on Memorial Day. Each year, the city’s Historic Fort Snelling hosts a thrilling series of events. Actors in period costume bring the fort to life, providing a fascinating glimpse at how the fort operated during the height of the fur trade in the 1800s. Watch soldiers shoot muskets, see a cannon being fired, and watch historical demonstrations. Elsewhere in St. Paul, you can watch the Memorial Day ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the State Capitol.

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4. Biwabik

giants ridge
Source: giantsridge.com

Memorial Day marks the start of the summer – and the return of golfing weather to the cold north. Celebrate in Biwabik, the home of The Quarry, one of the most popular golf courses in the state. By late May, the snow has melted, leaving this stunning course is awash in brilliant green leaves and fresh grass. Bring your camera: each tee on this forested course is more spectacular than the last. Between games, head to the Giants Ridge Recreation area to hike the Birches Trail or bike through the wilderness on the gorgeous Mesabi Trail.

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5. Hastings

hastings lift bridge
Source: Flickr/Michael Hicks

Take part in a truly moving Memorial Day tradition in Hastings, the home of the March for Them event. This 28-mile walk starts in Red Wing early in the morning and ends in Hastings in the early evening; the pace is slow and comfortable, and participants walk as a group with frequent breaks. At the end, join other walkers, friends, and family in a special dinner and celebration at the Hastings Veterans Memorial. If you can’t walk, you can cheer on the participants along the route, which runs through the beautiful southern Minnesota countryside.

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6. Bemidji

mississippi river source
Source: Flickr/Randen Pederson

Pack the whole family for a Memorial Day weekend in Bemidji, a small, friendly city in northern Minnesota that has something for everyone. If you’re dying to get outside after a long winter, head to Lake Bemidji State Park or Itasca State Park. For a great workout, rent bikes from Nice Ride Bemidji and ride the Paul Bunyan Trail. At the fantastic Leech Lake Memorial Pow Wow, which is held each Memorial Day weekend, you can watch traditional dances and performances by the Ojibwe tribe.

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7. Onamia

milky way and meteor over big sand lake
Source: Flickr/Lorie Shaull

Honor service members and veterans on the Mille Lacs Native American reservation near Onamia at the Memorial Day Powwow. This fun, free event on the shores of Mille Lacs Lake provides a unique look into the Ojibwe traditions and culture. Try fry bread, watch dancing, and hear songs that have been passed down through the centuries. The Mille Lacs Indian Museum is also worth a visit; this small but spectacular facility offers a variety of exhibits, activities, and a kid-friendly trading post packed with unique gifts.

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8. Brainerd

gull lake flowers
Source: Flickr/Jess R.

After Minnesota’s intense winters, families come out in droves on Memorial Day to experience the state’s many theme parks. For a true Minnesota original, head to Paul Bunyan Land in Brainerd. You won’t find high-speed roller coasters here – instead, watch your kids’ mouths drop as a huge lumberjack statue speaks to them, and enjoy a full day of classic carnival rides. Be sure to explore Pioneer Village, which houses a huge variety of 1800s-era artifacts in 45 fascinating buildings. Check out the historic schoolhouse and the log home, and then head over to the petting barn to visit with adorable animals.

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9. Raymond

minnesota green field sunrise
Source: Flickr/ramendan

Experience Minnesota small-town charm in Raymond, a tiny area located west of the Twin Cities. The town’s annual Memorial Day parade draws huge crowds each year, creating a fun, festive atmosphere that starts the summer off on the right foot. Watch marching bands, horseback riders, and a variety of local groups as they celebrate veterans. Later, head to Fairview Cemetery and St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery for a 21-gun salute and a moving honor ceremony before heading back to your vacation rental for the evening.

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