Great Outdoor Destinations in Minnesota

Kayakers on Lake Superior near Grand Marais

There are some amazing outdoor destinations in Minnesota. We’re known for our water, of course—the Land of 10,000 Lakes (we actually have 11,842 lakes with a surface area of at least 10 acres). Besides lakes we have 69,200 miles of rivers, including the headwaters of the Mississippi.

But there are other beauties in Minnesota besides the lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Forests cover somewhere around 35 million acres of our state. There’s the bluff country along the Mississippi in the southeast…the “mountains” along Lake Superior and the northeast region (if you’re from the West or the Appalachians, no laughing!)…the open plains of the southwest.

I’ll admit to being biased. My favorite part of Minnesota is the North Shore and Arrowhead Region. That includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Superior National Forest and several of the State Parks. We’ll start there.

Lake Superior’s North Shore

Lake Superior contains 10% of all the fresh water on our planet. It’s got the largest surface area of any inland lake, covering 32,000 square miles. That’s a big lake!

foggy lake superior
Exceptionally thick fog along Lake Superior’s shore adds drama to the spectacular views

Minnesota’s share of the North Shore is largely igneous rock and pebble or cobblestone beaches. What this means for kids (and their dads) is an endless supply of skipping rocks along a large part of the shore.

For more about the North Shore…

Gunflint Trail

The Gunflint Trail is a 57-mile road (paved only since the 70s) that begins in Grand Marais, winds northwest, and is surrounded by Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It ends at Saganaga Lake, just short of the Canadian border.

moose gunflint trail
A family of moose in the Gunflint Trail corridor

The Trail has been designated a National Scenic Byway. It’s home to private residences, several resorts and campgrounds, a few county parks and an abundance of wildlife including the biggies: moose, black bear and timber wolves.

For more about the Gunflint Trail…

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The BWCAW is over one million acres of forest, lakes and rivers surrounded by Superior National Forest on one side and Quetico Provincial Park (Ontario, Canada) on the other. You have your pick of more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes and 2,000 campsites in this stunning wilderness area.

rose lake bwca
Rose Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

I’ve personally been on maybe a dozen BWCA canoe trips, from 3-to-10 days long, plus many day trips. That’s pretty lightweight compared to many. If you love camping and love the wilderness (and I suppose you also need to love the water), this is definitely a bucket-list destination.

Keep reading about the Boundary Waters…

Superior Hiking Trail

The very scenic North Shore is home to the 296-mile Superior Hiking Trail. It starts in Duluth and runs all the way to the Canadian border, with many more miles of spur trails along the way. Most of it follows the ridgeline above the Lake with several amazing overlooks.

hiking oberg mountain
There’s almost 300 miles of stellar hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail

There are over 90 backcountry campsites along the Trail with no fees or permits required. Trailheads are accessible every few miles off Highway 61/the North Shore Drive. I’ve hiked several sections of the Trail personally, and would recommend all of them as excellent day or half-day hikes.

Go to the Superior Hiking Trail website…

State Parks

There are 76 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas. I’ve personally only been to about 18 of them. They’re a wonderful resource for hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, walking, swimming, boating and camping. Some of the most beautiful areas along the North Shore are state parks, including the best waterfalls.

spring hiking gooseberry falls
Minnesota’s state parks are open all year long—here’s a partially frozen Gooseberry Falls

Go to the Minnesota DNR’s State Parks page…

You’ll like these, too…