I have traveled the world as part of my jobs with Mississippi River Country, Carlson Companies and, for the last 16 years, as director and CEO of Explore Minnesota.
As exciting as it is to visit places such as Tokyo, Paris and London, I truly landed my dream job when I was appointed director of Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism agency. I market my home state as a great place to visit, play, live and work, and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do.
Having lived in Minnesota my whole life, you may think I would run out of new places to go, attractions to visit or events to attend. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every week, I learn about something I’ve never done before and add it to my ever-growing Minnesota bucket list.
What follows are 10 of the things on my list this summer. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to add a few to yours as well.
Drive something really big: Ever wanted to drive a tank, bulldozer or firetruck? Kasota, Minnesota, is one of the only places in the world where civilians can drive a military tank, with options including driving over a car or even through a house. And at Extreme Sandbox in Hastings (recently seen on ABC’s “Shark Tank”), drivers can choose between an excavator, bulldozer, skidsteer or 10-passenger firetruck. The only hard part is picking which one you want to drive.
Visit a national park: The National Park Service is observing its 100-year anniversary in 2016, and Minnesota is playing a proud part in the coast-to-coast celebration. Did you know we have six sites that are part of the national park system? Voyageurs National Park, Pipestone and Grand Portage National Monuments, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, Mississippi National River & Recreation Area and the North Country National Scenic Trail highlight some of the state’s most remark- able natural, historical and cultural resources. Each site has special events planned for the centennial, and offers an array of outdoor recreation experiences for the whole family.
Go underground: See a whole new part of Minnesota this summer – the part below ground. At Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, visitors can ride half a mile down into a former iron mine and imagine what it was like to work there a century ago. In southern Preston, Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park offers guided tours of a 13-mile- long cave, complete with stalactites, stalagmites and beautiful underground pools. And in the heart of the Twin Cities, the Wabasha Street Caves take people below downtown St. Paul into sandstone caves that once housed an underground nightclub. There’s also a ghost tour once a month, and swing dancing on Thursday nights.
Play some truly unique golf: Minnesota is home to more than 500 golf courses and will host the prestigious Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in Chaska this fall. As an avid golfer, I’ve played a lot of these courses, and a few stand out for their unusual holes. For example, the eighth hole at Stonebrooke Golf Club in Shakopee includes a ferry ride from the tee box across the lake to the landing area. StoneRidge Golf Club in Stillwater has a barn on the third hole that play- ers have to hit over, around or through, and the Northwest Angle Country Club is the northernmost course in the lower 48 states, and features sand greens.
See the world’s largest…ball of twine, boot, hockey stick and more. Roadside attractions make any trip more fun, and Minnesota is full of them. Head to the small town of Darwin to see the largest ball of twine – made by one man – housed in a glass gazebo. Go north to Eveleth for a giant hockey stick outside the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Or venture to downtown Red Wing to see the world’s largest boot at the Red Wing Shoe Company Museum.
Go to a pizza farm: Yes, you’re reading that right. In a trend that’s sweeping Minnesota, a handful of farms host pizza nights that have picnickers flocking from miles around to chow down on pies made with freshly picked ingredients, listen to live music, and enjoy an entertaining evening with family and friends. Two Pony Gardens in Long Lake, Red Barn Farm in Northfield and DreamAcres Farm in Wykoff all host pizza nights throughout the summer.
Visit 100-plus breweries: Not all at once, of course. The state now boasts more than 100 breweries – astonishing growth considering there were only five less than a decade ago. In addition to old favorites such as Schell’s, Fitger’s, Summit and Surly (with a new Minneapolis taproom), small towns from Marshall to Grand Marais have new craft breweries with taprooms, tastings and tours. Add one to your next trip and you’ve got yourself a “brewcation.”
Get up close with purebred bison: Two of Minnesota’s state parks – Blue Mounds near Luverne and Minneopa near Mankato – are home to some of the last remaining herds of purebred bison in the world. Sightings are not guaranteed, but keep your eyes peeled and your camera handy; they’ve been known to graze right alongside the road. Both parks also offer hiking, camping and naturalist programs.
Go scuba diving: We may not have any oceans, but Minnesota does have several scenic spots for scuba diving. On Lake Superior, take a charter from Duluth for a shipwreck diving adventure on the biggest of the Great Lakes. In central Minnesota, visit the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area and explore the clear mine pits that are great for beginners. St. Cloud’s Quarry Park is another popular spot for certified divers.
Walk in the footsteps of the greats: So many famous faces hail from Minnesota, and homages to their legacies can be found all over the state. Visit the childhood homes of Judy Garland in Grand Rapids, Charles Lindbergh in Little Falls and Sinclair Lewis in Sauk Centre. Take a walking tour of St. Paul’s Summit Avenue to learn about famous residents such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Garrison Keillor. See a show at First Avenue in Minneapolis, made famous by Prince’s “Purple Rain,” or take a self-guided tour of Hibbing to see Bob Dylan’s old haunts.
I hope you’ll join me in checking some of these activities off your Minnesota bucket list this summer. Find more ideas and resources, including lodging, events and attractions, at exploreminnesota.com, and document your travels on social media with the hashtag #OnlyinMN. See you out there!
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