When out-of-towners visit Minnesota for the first time, they usually have a few things on their bucket lists. The Mall of America almost certainly makes an appearance, and the rest of the list is full of other common Twin Cities attractions. But beyond Minnehaha Falls and the Como Zoo, MOA and MIA, there are many hidden attractions that are well worth visiting – if only tourists knew about them. Here are 11 of our favorites:
1. Franconia Sculpture Park - Shafer
Franconia Sculpture Park is part art exhibit, part playground. And because it's not far north of the Twin Cities, it's easily accessible to those who stay in Minneapolis and St. Paul. This attraction is great visitors of all ages. Everyone will enjoy the quirky and whimsical sculptures scattered throughout this large park, and kids will love the crazy, colorful playground.
Address: 29836 St. Croix Trail, Shafer.
2. Minneopa Falls - Mankato
Many visitors to Minnesota make a stop to Minnehaha Falls, as they should. It's unusual to find such a beautiful oasis in the middle of a busy city. But for those visitors who want to travel a little off the beaten path, Minneopa State Park in Mankato is home to a beautiful waterfall that you can view from a picturesque stone bridge. If you have the stamina, you can hike down to the bottom of the falls, where sandstone caves make for interesting photo ops.
Address: 54497 Gadwall Road, Mankato.
3. Quarry Park and Nature Preserve - Waite Park
St. Cloud doesn't often top lists of things to do in Minnesota. But between the gorgeous Munsinger Gardens and the nearby Quarry Park in Waite Park, this area of Minnesota has a lot to offer. The park in particular is riddled with scenic hiking trails that run alongside a large quarry. It's a popular swimming spot in the summer, and it's a beautiful place to visit all year.
Address: 1802 County Road 37, Waite Park.
4. Black Beach - Silver Bay
Even if you're from a place with many beaches, Silver Bay's Black Beach is sure to inspire. The black sand contrasts beautifully with the blue sky and red cliffs. It's an almost otherworldy place to visit and a must if you're traveling along the North Shore.
Address: Off Highway 61 in Silver Bay.
5. Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory - Duluth
Also along the North Shore, Duluth's Hawk Ridge is both educational and incredibly beautiful. Visitors can learn about the hawks that make their homes in and migrate through the area. Even if you aren't interested in birds, the view from Hawk Ridge is something you just can't get in the more popular Canal Park.
Address: 3980 East Skyline Parkway, Duluth.
6. Great River Bluffs State Park - Winona
If you're a visitor interested in seeing one of Minnesota's most charming towns, a trip to Winona might just be in order. But after you're done exploring all that the downtown has to offer, it would be wise to make the climb to Great River Bluffs State Park. From there, the view of the Mississippi River, with its many tree-spotted islands, is nothing short of breathtaking.
7. Mississippi River Headwaters - Park Rapids
Speaking of the Mississippi River, visitors looking for a truly Minnesotan experience might want to head north to Itasca State Park. This is where the Mississippi River begins is journey down to the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of Minnesotans - and other savvy visitors - have visited the park to walk across the Mississippi Headwaters. It's off the beaten track, but it's a true Minnesota rite of passage.
Address: 36750 Main Park Drive, Park Rapids.
8. Palisade Head - Silver Bay
Another North Shore destination, Tettegouche State Park is fairly popular among Minnesotans - and much less popular for out-of-towners to visit. However, it's an incredible park that should be squeezed into a Minnesota travel itinerary if possible. One of the best sights at the park is Palisade Head. No matter whether you hike to it or view it from afar on Shovel Point, you're going to get an incredible panoramic view of Lake Superior and some of that call it home.
Address: 5702 Highway 61, Silver Bay.
9. Mystery Cave - Preston
Tourists curious about southern Minnesota may be interested in Minnesota's two caves. Niagara Cave is a privately owned cave that comes complete with a waterfall. And not far further south, Mystery Cave is located in Preston's Mystery Cave State Park. Tours of the cave include its most interesting features, including a beautiful blue pool that looks bright blue under the cave lights.
Address: 21071 County Road 118, Preston.
10. Minnesota's Largest Candy Store - Jordan
Sure, you can get candy and other treats at many stores at the Mall of America. But why not take a road trip out to Minnesota's Largest Candy Store? Tourists often overlook this Highway 169 landmark. But it's only about a half hour outside of the Twin Cities, and it's absolutely worth the trip.
Address: 20430 Johnson Memorial Drive, Jordan.
11. The Bakken - Minneapolis
The most popular museums in the Twin Cities are probably the Science Museum in St. Paul and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. But the Twin Cities - and Minnesota in general - are full of interesting museums. One of the coolest is the Bakken museum. It's full of interesting exhibits about the history of electricity and how it has been studied and used. Many of the displays are interactive, making this a great place to bring kids.
Address: 3537 Zenith Avenue South, Minneapolis.