8 Minnesota historical road trips to take this summer

Jeffers Petroglyphs
The mile-long trail loop around the Jeffers Petroglyphs site in Comfrey, Minn., winds through tallgrass prairie below broad, open skies.
Meg Martin | MPR News file

What if you want to take a road trip and learn some history along the way? Where are the best places to go in Minnesota that have historical significance?

MPR News' Tom Weber talked to John Crippen, director of historic sites and museums for the Minnesota History Society, to get suggestions on interesting historical locations across the state to add to your upcoming road trip itinerary.

Minnesota historical road trips

1) Jeffers Petroglyphs in Comfrey, Minn.

Crippen said this is one of his favorite sites for Minnesota history.

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"It's a rock outcropping kind of the eastern end of what we now called Buffalo Ridge," he said. "Through thousands of years, native peoples would come through here and leave their mark. What we've discovered in the past few years spending a lot of time talking with elders from around the country is that these carvings are ways to illustrate stories that they would tell each other and they would pass down through their rigorous oral tradition histories. What we've rediscovered in the past few years is about 3,000 additional carvings we didn't know about."

Little Crow
Little Crow, as photographed by John H. Gravenslund, circa 1862.
Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

These carvings were rediscovered when lichen that had grown on the rocks was cleared away from the site.

2) Trace U.S.-Dakota War landmarks through Minnesota

A caller said she did a camping trip last summer marking the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War. She followed the steps of Little Crow, a chief of the Mdewakanton Dakota people, from the Upper Sioux Agency to the Lower Sioux Agency. They ended their trip in Hutchinson where Little Crow died.

3) Pilot Knob in Mendota, Minn.

From the Pilot Knob Preservation Association:

This is the north slope of Oheyaw ahi, "a hill much visited," also now known as Wotakuye Paha, "the hill of all the relatives," a sacred place named by Dakota people centuries ago. This hill has been a gathering place for Dakota, Ojibwe, and Iowa people, and a place for ceremonies and burials. Pilot Knob was the site of signing of the Treaty of 1851, which transferred 35 million acres of Dakota land to the United States. In the winter of 1862-63, 1,300 Dakota men, women, and children were confined in a fenced camp on the opposite river bank, where many died. Some were buried here.

At the top of the hill, you get a view of Fort Snelling and both downtown skylines.

Lindbergh house
Charles Lindbergh's boyhood home still stands south of Little Falls, Minn. The property is now a historic site and a state park.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

4) Charles A. Lindbergh house and state park in Little Falls, Minn.

Tour the home where the famous aviator spent summers in his childhood along the Mississippi River. The state park is adjacent to the home.

5) Duluth

Callers recommended visiting the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial that marks the location where three young African-Americans were lynched in 1920. On your way from the Twin Cities, Crippen recommends checking out the 1804 North West Company Fur Post in Pine City, Minn.

Kensington Runestone
The Kensington Runestone, which is inscribed with what some believe to be the writings of Nordic explorers dating from the year 1392. The debate over its authenticity has raged for decades.
Courtesy of The Kensington Runestone Web site

6) Kensington Runestone in Alexandria, Minn.

If you're looking for a bit of controversial history, check out the Runestone Museum. It is the site of a 200-pound slab of runes allegedly discovered by a Swedish immigrant in 1898. The stone's inscription appears to be a record left behind by 14th century Scandinavian explorers before Columbus' landing and scholars have debated its authenticity.

7) The Lost 40 in Itasca County

From MPR News' Dan Olson:

The tract, a Minnesota scientific and natural area, preserves a remnant of the state's forest primeval. A walk-through finds trees about 130 feet tall, perhaps 300 years old. The biggest have trunks that need two or even three people holding hands to surround them. They include valuable white pine cherished by wood workers and the state's largest red pine. "When the logging came through these trees were left. They were lost to time," said AmberBeth VanNingen, a forest ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

8) The Defeat of Jesse James Days in Northfield, Minn.

The festival is Sept. 9-13, 2015 and each year includes a reenactment of the brothers' attempted robbery of the First National Bank in Northfield where several gang members were captured or killed.

9) Other metro area spots

Alexander Ramsey House in St. Paul, Fort Snelling and a walking tour related to the history of Swede Hollow.