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14 Best Things To Do When You Travel To Southern Minnesota

Southern Minnesota is traversed by the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, and by small, quiet streams winding through scenic valleys and tall, wooded bluffs. Explore the vast landscape, from wide-open prairies to idyllic river valleys and hidden waterfalls.

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A brief introduction to Southern Minnesota

Scenic valleys, wooded bluffs, and winding rivers and streams make up the picturesque landscape of southern Minnesota. Here you’ll find fishing lakes, trout streams, bike trails, and caves, as well as antique shops and historic architecture.

Minnesota has incomparable lakes (also known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”), luxurious resorts, dense forests, and a unique Minnesota culture.

Art, food, beer, professional sports teams, live music, hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, caves, limestone bluffs, rivers, and beautiful nature trails are some reasons why Southeastern Minnesota is one of the most popular United States holiday destinations.

Explore all that southern Minnesota has to offer.

Top 14 best things that you must do in Southern Minnesota

Tap into the spirit and traditions of the Dakota Indians and early pioneers at numerous historic sites, and visit larger-than-life monuments like Pipestone National Monument. Visit big cities including Rochester, Mankato, and Winona, and take in the historic architecture, antique shops, and local festivals in between.

Visiting Niagra Cave

Travel far beneath the surface and experience the wonders of Niagara Cave. Witness beautiful passageways sculpted by an ancient underground stream, an active stream and waterfall, and 450-million-year-old fossils! Your underground adventure awaits!

Niagra Cave is one of the best Southern Minnesota things to do if you are any kind of nature lover or hiking enthusiast. It’s one of the largest natural caves in the United States and receives thousands of visitors every year.

Admission gets you through the door. Special bookings apply if you’d like to see shows or guided tours. Photography is allowed, so you get to take as many pictures as you like.

Accommodation can be found around the Niagra Cave area in case you’d like to stay somewhere before going on to the next stop on your trip.

Trekking through Pipestone National Monument

For countless generations, American Indians have quarried the red pipestone found at this site. These grounds are sacred to many people because the pipestone quarried here is carved into pipes used for prayer. Many believe that the pipe’s smoke carries one’s prayer to the Great Spirit. The traditions of quarrying and pipe-making continue here today.

Pipestone National Monument is one of several monuments littered throughout the American Midwest. While it’s not usually the first place you think of as a holiday destination, this National Monument is one of the best Southern Minnesota vacation spots of all.

Pipestone National Monument offers a visitor center, museum, orientation film, exhibits, gift shop, pipestone carving demonstrations (May through October) by American Indians, a ¾-mile walking trail along Pipestone Creek, Winnewissa Falls, and the tall grass prairie. Pipestone MN is a great place to experience American Indian culture, nature, photography, and bird watching.

Quiet and serene, Pipestone National Monument offers a closer look at the monument for a fee and is one of the most relaxed tours you can choose. It’s an easy hike and could be one of the best things to do in Southeastern Minnesota this weekend.

Affordable accommodation is available a stone’s throw from Pipestone National Monument if you’d like to stay before your trip continues.

Hiking across Forestville Mystery Cave State Park

About three hours south of the Twin Cities lies the largest known cave in the state. Mystery Cave in Forestville has over 13 miles of mapped passages with spelunking opportunities for the novice to the advanced cave explorer.

Department of Natural Resources employees takes visitors below ground to see the natural wonders that await. And the nearby Historic Forestville village, operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, offers a glimpse at life in the 1800s.

Forestville Mystery Cave State Park is one of the best among Minnesota’s state parks, located right in the heart of Southern Minnesota.

It’s one of the first places to visit if you would like an experience that brings you right up to nature – where you can follow one of their hiking trails, take a guided tour of the park or just soak in the incredible atmosphere.

Admission fees are under $20, and cheaper for kids. Plan for at least 1 to 2 hours here. It’s not the type of place you’ll want to stay at for just five more minutes!

Stop by Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is a rare find along the Southeastern Minnesota stretch, and a must-visit for kids and adults alike. More than 500 different species of wildlife are represented right here at one of the most beautifully manicured and popular parks in Saint Paul Minnesota.

Como Park focuses on conservation and education, and the fair treatment of all the animals in their care is guaranteed.

Educational talks, trails, and seminars provide extra education about the animals you’ll see here, and it’s not just for younger visitors: there’s plenty for adults to explore.

Stop by the gift shop, or experience any of the small restaurants that can be found not too far from here.

Checking out Quarry Hill Nature Center

Quarry Hill Nature Center is located in a 329-acre park and provides programs, recreation activities, and a public Exploration Hall for visitors year-round.

Enjoy the beauty and habitat of southeastern Minnesota by hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing the meadows, flood plain, and upland forests on the 8 miles of trails covering 329 acres. Parkland features a former working quarry, the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery, and a 3-acre pond. The Nature Center offers interactive displays and exhibits of the area’s wildlife and natural beauty including a 1,700-gallon native-fish aquarium.

Public programs on Sundays at 1:30 pm include cave tours, live animal programs, and bird banding. Cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals are available seasonally.

Taking a look at The National Eagle Center

The National Eagle Center encapsulates a world in which the iconic power and presence of eagles are known, respected, advocated for, and protected.

Located in Wabasha, Minnesota, this is the home to several non-releasable Bald Eagles and a nesting place for hundreds of others who come for the winter.

Whether you wish to see these beautiful creatures up close, observe them in their prime habitat, incorporate research into your own teachings, or donate to support their mission: the National Eagle Center has a way for you to get involved.

It’s one of the best Southern Minnesota things to do, and you can’t afford to miss a stop at the National Eagle Center at least once in your life.


Take some pictures at The Minneapolis Institute of Art

The city of Minneapolis is an art Nirvana; you’ve got the Weisman Art Museum, the Walker Arts Center, and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Among these giants is The Minneapolis Institute of Art, located at 2400 Third Avenue in South Minneapolis.

The Institute is one of the most well-known art galleries in the world, and can’t be missed on the way through if you are any kind of art lover, or even if you aren’t – it is a simply incredible art museum that covers a huge array of styles and topics.

It’s one of the best places to take pictures in Minneapolis given the aesthetic and the park across the street with skyline views. A collection of more than 80,000 unique objects are housed in this grand old building. A small inside gift store offers posters, prints, and other cool stuff you might want to take home to remember your visit.

Books are also available for purchase if you find that a specific collection grabs your interest and you want to learn more information.

Wandering around The Mall of America

The Mall of America is internationally famous as one of the largest by-area retail complexes in the United States and the largest mall in the States.

Located in Bloomington, right next to MSP International Airport, it’s one of the most popular Southeast Minnesota attractions for tourists and local visitors who would like to get their retail therapy sessions on the road.

There are more than 500 different stores to explore once you’re inside the greatest mall in all the land. That’s shoes, clothing, food, electronics, art, furniture, and gaming, if you can add it to your wishlist, you’ll probably find it here.

It’s like a huge, physical Amazon store where you can buy anything you can name. Expect to do a lot of walking as you make your way through the aisles and from store to store. While it’s not a hiking trail, it can start to feel like one after about an hour’s worth of walking back and forth.

Good thing there’s a huge food court to explore and several great restaurants to fuel up at!

Not only that, there’s an indoor theme park in the form of Nickelodeon Universe, an aquarium, the Crayola Experience, and a water park for kids’ activities, as well as hotels right outside for overnight trips.

Reliving weird history at The Museum of Quackery & Medical Fraud

A museum within a museum, devoted to history’s most questionable medical devices.

This collection of dubious medical devices reminds us that sometimes, medicine is best left to the doctors. Exhibits on display include a phrenological machine that gauges personality by measuring the size of bumps on the head and glasses and soap products designed for weight loss.

The museum is currently the world’s largest display of “what the human mind has devised to cure itself without the benefit of either scientific method or common sense.”

Atlas Obscura lists this as a top travel destination, and we’d have to agree! The Museum of Quackery & Medical Fraud is where you’ll see a medical history of the bizarre, from false claims to snake oils through the ages.

Taste-testing at The Spam Museum

If you thought that the Museum of Medical Quackery & Fraud was going to be the strangest local attraction on this list, then you might have to think again! Southern Minnesota is also home to the great Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota.

It’s the only place in the world other than the state of Hawaii where Spam is loved exactly this much. Not the dreaded e-mails you have to clear out every so often, but the squidgy pink foodstuff typically found in cans.

The newly built, 14,000-square-foot museum features 9 SPAMtastic galleries with interactive games and photo opportunities. Admission is free to all visitors.

Follow Spam from its invention through to its modern enjoyment, with resources and selected recipes on display.


Have a lovely meal at Four Daughters Vineyard, Winery & Restaurant

Four Daughters Vineyard, Winery & Restaurant is located outside of the big cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul in Spring Valley, at 78757 MN-16. Opening hours are later in the day from 11 am.

With bookings, you can experience an incredible one-of-a-kind wine-tasting experience in their tasting room, or stay longer and sample some of what the excellent in-house restaurant has to offer.

A restaurant that served beers and other refreshments is also available on the menu if you are not a traditional wine drinker. The food is top-rated, and alternative options are available if you are gluten intolerant or vegan for example. While it’s small, that’s exactly what counts when it’s that “small towns” atmosphere that matters.


Sightseeing at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is located at 9700 170th Street (East) and was first opened to the public in the year 1945. It’s one of the most incredible forests that you can find in the area, and one of the best hiking trails in the entire Upper Midwest.

The park’s trails line More than 11 miles of the forest, and that’s not all. If you would like to spend some more time in the forest, camping options are available at different price points.

There’s a visitor center in the Forest if you would like to know more about the beautiful environment around you.


Stay silent at Orfield Labs Quiet Chamber

The Orfield Labs Quiet Chamber is located in Minneapolis, at 2709 East 25th Street. It used to be named the quietest place on Earth according to the Guinness Book of Records, although its spot has since been overtaken.

There are many serious scientific reasons why the Quiet Chamberexists: research is one of them. But let’s be honest, a completely soundproof chamber is also a lot of fun.

Visits to the Quiet Chamber run into the expensive side, up to $125 per person a visit, but it’s totally worth it for the experience. Just don’t stay inside too long; the lack of sound apparently sends people barmy if they’re in one of these chambers for too long!


Inspect Frank Lloyd Wright Gas Station

The Frank Lloyd Wright Gas Station is important because it is a poignant landmark that is part of the country’s history, and quite unlike any other gas station you might see across the United States: yes, it’s literally a one-of-a-kind piece of historic architecture.

Also called the R.W. Lindholm Service Station, it was designed by one of the most prolific architects in the States, and as far as gas stations go, it’s a damned quirky stop on any Southern Minnesota road trip.

Plus, it’s free!

These are the locations that Hyannis Holiday recommends you stop by once you have the chance to visit Southern Minnesota. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. Have a nice Holiday!

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