Outside in MN

The Minnesota Summer Bucket List

How do you celebrate summer in Minnesota?
How do you celebrate summer in Minnesota?
MPR News graphic

This list was originally published in the summer of 2016, but just about all of the activities are ones that you can still do this summer.

Are we missing something? Share your ideas here.


More resources: Enjoy all the outdoors has to offer in Minnesota
Share your adventures: Inspire other Minnesotans to get out, too!
Why it's important: We have a lot to gain by getting outdoors

How do you summer in Minnesota?

Is it all about barbecuing in the park? Or dipping your toe in Lake Superior? Do you hit the city beaches? Or road trip to a state park?

We're building a list of 40 essential Minnesota summer activities. We've pulled together the first half — now, we need your help to fill out the rest of the list. What are your favorite ways to celebrate summer in Minnesota?

The Minnesota summer bucket list

Itasca State Park
The Mississippi River winds from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
Courtesy of the DNR

1) Cross the headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca State Park.

Lake Itasca is where the Mighty Miss begins — but it's not so mighty at the start. Walk across the shallow waters where the Mississippi begins its 2,552-mile journey from Lake Itasca to New Orleans. The water at your feet will take 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico.

2) Take in a ball game.

The St. Paul skyline from CHS Field
The St. Paul skyline was visible beyond CHS Field at the Saints baseball season opener last year.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP 2015

Catch the Twins at Target Field (and choose from 10 different kinds of hot dogs), or see the Saints (and maybe Bill Murray) at CHS Field.

But you can also catch a town ball game: Drive out of the metro to see the Albertville Villains, the Lakefield Horn Frogs, the Bemidji Bucks or one of more than 30 other teams that play around the state.

3) Picnic in the park.

Minneapolis just took the top spot for best parks in the country, according to The Trust for Public Land. St. Paul came in a close second. Not a bad place to eat lunch.

4) Go to a county fair (because we know the State Fair's already on your list).

Come Aug. 25, it's time for Pronto Pups, baby animals, giant slides and Ye Olde Mill — but before you hit the State Fair, mark your calendar with a county one: They're smaller affairs (pun very much intended), and there are more than 60 every summer.

The Minnesota Federation of County Fairs has a full schedule.

5) Put a toe in Burntside Lake.

Burntside Lake
A view of the sunset from Burntside Lake.
Greg Seitz via Creative Commons

Head north: Burntside Lake is a beautiful gateway to the Boundary Waters. If you're up for an excursion, you can continue into the BWCA (with the necessary permit). But if you're looking for a vacation that involves less portaging, there are several great places to stay along the lake, from classic lodges to woodsy camps.

Don't miss Sigurd Olson's Listening Point on the south side of the lake. The well-known author and environmentalist lived and wrote at the lake retreat, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places. You can arrange a tour to see the property.

6) Drink a Minnesota-brewed beer — or root beer — outside.

Beer and cards
A game of cards and pints of beer at the Summit Brewing taproom in St. Paul.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2013

Surly, Steel Toe, Summit, Northbound, Bent Paddle, Bad Weather, Indeed... There are more than 110 breweries around the state. (Up from just five 10 years ago!) Take your pick and sit back in the sun with a local brew. For non-alcoholic options, many breweries have whipped up their own custom sodas.

7) Pitch a tent and gaze at the stars in one of the darkest parts of the state.

Getting the tent ready
Maxine Hall and her son Langston, 5, prepared their tent during the I Can Camp! workshop at Afton State Park in Afton, Minn.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2010

City lights obscure the stars, so check a light pollution map and pick a camping spot where it actually gets dark — really dark.

If you time it right, you could also catch an aurora on your trip.

8) Take a waterfall tour.

Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis
Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis is 53 feet tall.
Susan Lesch via Creative Commons

Minnesota is known for its lakes, but its other water features aren't too shabby. Sit by Ramsey Falls in Minnesota's largest municipal park, or Minneopa Falls at Minneopa State Park, where you can take a side trip to see the park's bison herd.

Minnesota has (at least) three different Hidden Falls — all worth finding. There's the Hidden Falls in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Hidden Falls Regional Park in St. Paul and Hidden Falls in Temperance River State Park up north.

And, of course, Gooseberry Falls, Taylors Falls, Minnehaha Falls, Devil's Kettle Falls... The list goes on. What we're saying is: Do go chasing waterfalls.

9) Catch a big one (or a little one!).

The DNR has an easy guide to finding a prime fishing spot, whether you want to road trip or stay near home.

City dwellers: There are plenty of options for you, too. The department's Fishing in the Neighborhood program includes spots all over the 7-county metro area.

10) Play Minnesota wildlife bingo.

Spot a moose, an eagle, a bear, a loon and a wolf. (All from a safe distance!) Zoos count.

11) Visit the world's largest _______.

Darwin twine ball
Darwin, Minn., is home to the largest twine ball in the world -- made by one man.
Scott McLeod | Creative Commons via Flickr 2014

Otter? Ball of twine*? Hockey stick?

Minnesota likes to go big with its roadside attractions. Take a detour this summer to get your picture taken with a 20-foot-tall loon, a giant Viking named Big Ole or a 9,000-pound booming prairie chicken, to name a few.

*Technically, it's the largest twine ball rolled by one man.

12) Climb the Witch's Hat water tower.

Witch's Hat Water Tower
The Witch's Hat water tower watches over the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Bridget Bennett | MPR News

The landmark tower that looms over Prospect Park in Minneapolis is open to visitors only one day a year. If you want to climb the 100-year-old, 60-foot-tall structure, it's typically open on the first Friday after Memorial Day, at the neighborhood Pratt Ice Cream Social.

13) Eat a Dilly Bar in the Dilly Bar capital of the world: Moorhead, Minn.

Dilly Bars were invented at a Dairy Queen in Moorhead in 1955, or so the lore goes. Bob Litherland is credited with perfecting the frozen treat.

The Moorhead store still makes them fresh on location — so it's likely the best Dilly Bar you'll ever eat.

If you can't make the trek, luckily there's ice cream everywhere.

14) Take a ride on the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System.

More than 30 years ago, mining companies abandoned this 5,000-acre stretch of pits and rock deposits. Now, the state has turned it into a recreational destination: The Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. There's camping, fishing and some of the best biking the state. Cuyuna has more than 25 miles of trails spread across 800 acres. There are 30 routes to choose from, for everyone from beginning bikers to pro-riders.

Looking for a less extreme ride? There are thousands of miles of bike trails around the state. Ride the Willard Munger State Trail, which stretches from Hinckley to Duluth, or take a spin around the chain of lakes in Minneapolis.

15) Go underground.

Turquoise Lake
A stop at Turquoise Lake is a highlight on the Mystery Cave tour in Forestville State Park in southeastern Minnesota.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

In case you think summer is just too sunny, indulge your shadow-loving side and head deep under the earth. Tour a historic mine at the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park or explore the Mystery Cave. (Bring a sweater: It's 48 degrees down there.)

There's also Niagara Cave in Harmony, which comes complete with an underwater waterfall.

16) See a drive-in movie while you still can.

Projecting a movie
Minnesota's drive-in theaters are an endangered species: The Cottage View Drive-In in Cottage Grove closed in 2012.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Drive-in movie theaters are a rare sight in Minnesota, so enjoy the open-air treat while they remain open. There's Vali-Hi in Lake Elmo, Long Drive-In in Long Prairie, Starlite Drive-In in Litchfield, and a few others still keeping the past alive.

If you can't make it out to a drive-in, there's plenty of walk-in movies this summer, at parks all around the state.

18) Ride the Como-Harriet Historic Streetcar.

The Como-Harriet Streetcar Line
The Como-Harriet Streetcar Line is part of the Minnesota Streetcar museum.
Cathy Wurzer | MPR News

The historic streetcar only operates six months of the year, so catch this slice of history during the summer.

The 100-year-old cars travel between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, and volunteer guides are on hand to answer history questions about the area. The round trip only takes about 15 minutes.

18) Watch a wildlife race.

Turtle racing
Every Wednesday during the summer, a downtown Nisswa, Minn., parking lot transforms into a race track and the streets fill with families. For 50 years, turtle racing has been a highlight for the Crow Wing County community.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Minnesota loves to get competitive with its small creatures. You can see duck races in Pine River, turtle races in Longville, Perham and Nisswa, pig races in Nevis and minnow races in Pelican Rapids. Take your pick.

19) Stand atop the Three-Way Continental Divide.

Northern Minnesota is home to a geographic curiosity: A three-way continental divide, located north of Hibbing. Rain that falls here could flow into one of three major watershed systems: the Hudson Bay Watershed, the North Atlantic Watershed or the Mississippi River Watershed.

20) Beat the heat in a museum.

Museums are fascinating, educational — and usually air-conditioned. Whether you want to brush up on the art of Southeast Asia at Mia or dive into local history at the Minnesota History Center, there are plenty of options in the cities and out.

MPR News intern Gitanjali Raman contributed to this story

Volume Button
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News