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The 9 Best Day Trips from Minneapolis &. St. Paul

red wing minnesota best day trips from minneapolis

Ready to go exploring, but you’re short on time?

You need a day trip.

And good news! The Twin Cities sit next to plenty of amazing spots to get away to. Whether you’re looking for cute river towns, beautiful state parks, or some of the best vacation lakes in the state, you can make a quick trip of it from Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In writing up this post, I limited the selections to the day trips that are about 2 hours or less from Minneapolis. So when you’re ready to get spontaneous, these day trips will be there for you!

(If you’re looking for longer trips with more stops along the way, then check out my similar guide to the best road trips from Minneapolis.)

Short day trips (less than an hour from Minneapolis)

The Twin Cities have plenty of fun day trips that are anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour away from downtown.

1. Stillwater, MN

Stillwater might just be the Twin Cities’s most classic day trip. With a quick 30 minute drive, Twin Cities locals can find themselves nestled among one of the most iconic river towns in the state of Minnesota.

If you were looking to build the ideal river town, you probably couldn’t create a better spot than Stillwater. Nestled on the river banks and with a beautiful view of Wisconsin across the water, it’s no surprise that an endless collection of shops, stores, and restaurants now fill the historic buildings that make up this beautiful place.

 

  • Distance from Minneapolis: 35 minutes

2. Taylors Falls, MN

best day trips from minneapolis - taylors falls
Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, MN

For the outdoors lovers, Taylors Falls is a perfect day trip. Located less than an hour from Minneapolis, Taylors Falls is home to one of the most popular state parks in Minnesota, Interstate State Park.

Interstate is probably most famous for its collection of over 200 “Glacial Potholes.” These strange holes were literally drilled into the basalt rock of the park by the powerful forces of the St. Croix river. But for our money, the real highlight of the show here are the amazing views of the river itself.

Check out the Walter F. Mondale River Trail, which meanders for two miles high above the river. The views of the St. Croix are incredible!

 

  • Distance from Minneapolis: 55 minutes

3. Hudson, WI

Hudson, Wisconsin is a great river town located just about 15 minutes east of St. Paul.

In the summer, this place comes alive with visitors who enjoy strolling along the St. Croix River. Lakefront Park, which should really be renamed “Riverfront Park” sits right on the river and includes sand volley ball and the very cool Hudson Pier, which juts out nearly half a mile into the river and makes for a great walk.

When you’re finished, grab a beer at Hop and Barrel Brewing, then wander the downtown’s main street, which is filled with plenty of gift shops, antique stores, and restaurants.

Although Hudson certainly feels like a “summer” destination, don’t sleep on this place come winter! Each season, they light up the mainstreet with holiday lights that give the whole place a postcard-vibe.

  • Distance from Minneapolis: 30 minutes

4. Waconia, MN

waconia mn day trip
Sovereign Estate Vineyard in Waconia, MN

Who knew you can enter wine country just 40 minutes west of Minneapolis?

In Waconia, you can find tons of Minnesota’s best wineries, each nestled around the beautiful Lake Waconia. Soveriegn Estates is an award winning winery with stunning grounds that include jaw-dropping glimpses of the lake. Schram Vineyards is a beautiful, barnhouse style space with gorgeous views of the vineyards. And Deardorff Orchards / Parley Lake Winery are a City Pup approved place for grabbing a glass!

And if the wine isn’t enough, you can always head downtown, where Waconia Brewing awaits.

 

  • Distance from Minneapolis: 40 minutes

5. Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka is one of the most beautiful lakes in Minnesota, which is probably why its shores are lined with more million dollar mansions than just about anywhere else.

For a taste of the wealthy lake life, head 30 minutes west of Minneapolis to the heart of Minnetonka, which ironically, isn’t the town of Minnetonka.

Instead, head to Excelsior, MN, where the lake really comes alive. There, you can hop on a lake cruise from the Port of Excelsior, grab a beer at Excelsior Brewing, or soak in some rays at Maynards – an enormous space with one of the best patios in Minneapolis.

Or for more of the Minnetonka life, head around to the Spring Park, MN or Mound, MN. These make up a whimsical area with tons of options.

  • Entertainment? Try one of the lakefront charter cruises or even the amazing Big Stone Mini Golf.
  • Drinking? Back Channel Brewing is a fan favorite.
  • Upscale lakefront dining? Try Vann Restaurant, Al & Alma’s Supper Club, and the long-standing Lord Fletcher’s.
  • Want to finish it all off with a tiny little ice cream shop? Lost Lake Creamery.

 

  • Distance from Minneapolis: 30 minutes

6. Lake Pepin / Red Wing, MN

red wing minnesota best day trips from minneapolis
Red Wing, MN

In our article about the best road trips from Minneapolis, we raved about the scenic drive from Minneapolis to Red Wing. This path along the Great River Road meanders past the scenic Mississippi River bluffs, with plenty of interesting stops along the way.

In Red Wing, you can check out the legendary Red Wing Boots factory, Red Wing Pottery Shop, or Red Wing Stoneware. Head to Bayfront Park to feel like you’re right on the river, or go up high atop Barn Bluff for sweeping views of the landscape.

Of course, Red Wing is just the start. If you continue along Scenic Highway 61 for just 15 minutes and you’ll find yourself at Frontenac State Park, which is filled with fantastic hiking trails on the banks of the Mississippi River / Lake Pepin. (They river and lake are somewhat ne in the same, as we discuss in our article about the best vacation lakes near Minneapolis.)

To complete the loop, head on down to Wabasha, MN, across the river to Nelson, WI. For the return trip, you can take in all the views in again from the Wisconsin side!

 

  • Distance from Minneapolis: 1 hour 15 minutes

Longer day trips (1-2 hours from Minneapolis)

If you want to escape farther away from the city, these getaways are anywhere from a 1-2 hour drive. Certainly still day-trippable, but these would definitely be more enjoyable as weekend trips.

7. New Ulm, MN

New UIm is a small town with a big German history. That’s seen everywhere throughout town, but where it becomes the most obvious is the legendary August Schell Brewery.

Schell’s is the oldest brewery in Minnesota, and it’s also one of the largest and most popular in the state. Personally, I’m not sure if you can even call yourself a Minnesotan until you’ve sipped one of their classic lagers in the shadows of its original birthplace.

Given the German history and the impact of the brewery on the town, it’s no surprise that Fall is one of the most popular times of year to daytrip to this little town. Why? Oktoberfest, of course. Nobody in the state does it better!

 

  • Distance from Minneapolis: 1 hour 35 minutes

8. Brainerd, MN

nisswa day trip
One of the many lakes in the Brainerd Lakes area

At about 2 hours and 15 minutes away, this spot is definitely one you’d want to consider saying overnight. Which is exactly what most Twin Cities visitors to Brainerd do, considering that in the summer, the Brainerd Lakes area is probably one of the most popular weekend trips in the state!

Nothing says Minnesota summer like a trip to Brainerd’s always popular Gull Lake (or any of other dozens of lakes in this area). Don’t miss a visit to the nearby town of Nisswa either. It has an endearing north woods feel that comes alive in the summer with shops, restaurants, bars, and breweries.

 

  • Distance from Minneapolis: 2 hours, 15 minutes

9. Duluth, MN

This is another farther away day trip that you’ll probably want to turn into a weekend trip, both because of Duluth’s distance from the Twin Cities (over 2 hours) and all the awesome things to do there!

Duluth is a beautiful port town just oozing with character. The town revolves around the 130 year old lift bridge which still sees barges coming in from the great Lake Superior before making their trek all the way down the Mississippi River.

Of course, we wouldn’t be good Minnesotan bloggers if we didn’t mention that a trip to Duluth is really just the start. You should totally consider continuing your trip up the entire Minnesota North Shore, since it’s definitely one of the all-time best road trips from Minneapolis.

 

  • Distance from Minneapolis: 2 hours, 15 minutes
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