Living in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota provides you with all the perks of big city life — from museums to top-notch restaurants — but sometimes, you might want to get out and explore a new place. There are many small towns and cities situated within a five-hour drive from Saint Paul. Book a stay at a Saint Paul vacation rental for your upcoming weekend getaway. Here’s a look at the seven best weekend getaway spots within driving distance of Saint Paul.

an amish buggy
Source: Flickr/Shinya Suzuki

1. Duluth, Minnesota

Reach the shores of Lake Superior in a little over two hours, and stay in the charming town of Duluth, Minnesota. After your trip, stretch your legs at Canal Park. This park stretches along the edge of the lake, and you can find a shady spot to watch the large ships and see the Aerial Lift Bridge in action. Tour the stately Glensheen, the Historic Congdon Estate that was built in the Jacobean style, and visit the attached gardens. Lake freighters are different than any other ship you’ve toured, so check out the SS William A. Irvin to learn more about moving goods on the Great Lakes.

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2. Ely, Minnesota

Located in northern Minnesota and almost to the border of Canada, Ely is a small town that’s ideal for relaxing and unwinding, and it takes a little less than four hours to arrive by car. Tour the Dorothy Molter Museum to learn more about a local legend and a great woman from history. She ran a local hotel by herself in the 20th century and became well-known for the root beer she crafted there. Let your family go to the dogs – or wolves, at least – when you visit the International Wolf Center. This center dedicates its time and funds to caring for the local wolf population and teaching visitors about conservation efforts.

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3. Rochester, Minnesota

Slow down and take life a little less seriously in Rochester, Minnesota. Kids enjoy visiting the Quarry Hill Nature Center. It’s somewhere between a tiny zoo and a small aquarium with only a handful of native animals, but you get a relaxing environment in which to view them. Learn more about the local Amish community and see one of their farms by booking a day through Bluffscape Amish Tours that lasts around three hours. Clifford the Big Red Dog leads the way in the Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester, where kids enjoy dozens of hands-on activities. Hop on board and spend an afternoon with Rochester Trolley and Tour Company that offers several different options.

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4. Pipestone, Minnesota

Explore the great outdoors and find out more about the Native American culture of Minnesota tribes when you visit the quaint town of Pipestone. After a three and a half hour drive, stretch your legs and walk around the charming downtown area. On Saturday, go for a hike at the nearby Pipestone National Monument. Some hiking trails feature paved walkways, and the Circle Trail runs for less than a mile as it winds its way past the Quartzite Cliffs. The site is well-known for its native American rock quarry. Peace pipes are an integral part of the Native American culture, and the Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers museum offers the largest collection and information on the creation of these pipes.

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5. Bayfield, Wisconsin

Cross the border into Wisconsin to find a hideaway along the shores of Lake Superior when you make the four-hour drive to Bayfield. In the winter months, do a little cross-country skiing and see the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Ice Caves. You can poke your head inside and wander in from the frozen lake. Try your hands at running the dogs when you book a day trip through Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing and enjoy a dog sledding adventure. Apples are a popular crop in this part of the country, and Blue Vista Farm is the spot to pick up fresh fruit or jars of preserves and jams.

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6. Taylors Falls, Minnesota

Although it’s only a little over an hour from your home, Taylors Falls is worth a weekend trip with all its great outdoor activities. Rent a kayak or canoe from Taylors Falls Canoe and Kayak Rental to explore the shoreline of the St. Croix River. Another great way to explore is a boat cruise with Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours. Choose a seat on the top deck of the boat for fresh air and amazing views of the surrounding trees and lush greenery. Older adults can take a tour of the Wild Mountain Winery.

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7. Des Moines, Iowa

In three and a half hours, drive to Des Moines, Iowa, to explore another town with plenty of options. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden offers an amazing blend of native and non-native plants and flowers in its indoor and outdoor areas, including a beautiful conservatory. Pick up the area’s freshest ingredient to make a home-cooked meal at your vacation rental at the Downtown Farmers’ Market. Made up of more than 20 sculptures, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a pleasant place for an afternoon stroll.

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