Outdoors in Minnesota

I’m just a little bit obsessed with Minnesota.

And that’s because, when it comes to getting outside, there is a lot to love in the North Star state.

Let’s start with lakes. Although Minnesota is fondly known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the actual number of lakes in the state larger than 10 acres is nearly 12,000, the largest being Lake Superior.

Lake Superior

The largest of the Great Lakes, Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest in the world by volume. Of all the freshwater on earth, 10% is stored in Lake Superior.

And while all that is really interesting, what we like best about Lake Superior is Minnesota’s North Shore, a beauty spot of rugged coastline, intermittent beaches, lighthouses, active harbors and rustic cabins where it’s impossible to be stressed.

Duluth and its twin port Superior, Wisconsin, anchor the region. While Duluth’s vintage brick downtown has seen better days, the city has a thriving port and waterfront, paved biking and running paths along the shore and dozens of mountain bike trails in the surrounding forest just moments from the city. Here, you can also find the region’s only lift-served bike park at Spirit Mountain, the local ski area.

As for food, despite the short growing season, locally-sourced organic food is everywhere. Check out At Sara’s Table and the Duluth Grill. Also, don’t miss the Northern Waters Smokehouse for locally smoked meats, fish and amazing sandwiches.

The Twin Cities

Two hours south of Duluth, the cities have a lot to recommend them: sports, food, beer, theater, architecture, history and bike paths galore.

A good place to start is the Chain of Lakes Trail beginning at Lake Calhoun, a beautiful lakefront bike path with options for riding up to dramatic Minnehaha Falls.  Chain of Lakes is just one of seven districts along the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a depression area CCC project.  Biking is popular in the Twin cities, and additional bike paths and bike lanes extend throughout the city, making Minneapolis the best city for biking in the US.

City bike racks are everywhere, although if planning to ride more than a few miles, it’s worth it to bring your own bike or rent something lighter. Canoes, kayaks and SUPs are also available to rent at Lake Calhoun.

Further afield, but still in the Twin Cities metro area, find mountain biking at Lebanon Hills (beautiful hiking, too) and at Buck Hill. Buck Hill also offers the only summer skiing in the area on neveplast, an artificial surface that is surprisingly effective at mimicking snow.


Home of the Mayo Clinic, most visitors, including myself, first come to Rochester for healthcare. And while Rochester is not as geographically interesting as Duluth or the Twin Cities, there is nearby mountain biking and skiing in winter at Welch Village and over 85 miles of paved path in the city and out into the surrounding woodlands.

Of note, if the Laura Ingalls Wilder classics captured your heart as a child, visit nearby Lake Pepin where the actual Little House in the Big Woods once stood. It’s 63 miles from Rochester along the Mississippi River.