It’s common knowledge that cities are hotter than their surrounding suburbs and rural areas. A large concentration of human bodies, lots of buildings and roads to absorb heat, and less plants to cool the air through water evaporation all add up to a phenomenon known as the “urban heat island effect.” If you want to escape the heat, the people, or both, but you don’t have the time or money to get away for a full vacation, a road trip could be exactly what you need. Here are some of the best Minnesota road trip destinations!
NEW ULM – THE POLKA CAPITAL OF THE NATION!
An hour and 45 minutes of driving southwest will land you in the ideal setting for a day trip — the cozy town of New Ulm, Minnesota. Founded in 1854 by German immigrants, New Ulm features a quaint German downtown and is home to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, several historic monuments, the historic Schell’s Brewery, Flandrau State Park (with lots of hiking trials and a sand-bottom swimming pool), and various annual festivals. Unwind in Schonlau Park to the sounds of New Ulm’s glockenspiel, one of the few freestanding carillon clock towers left in the world.
ITASCA STATE PARK
Pack a lunch and grab a copy of Huckleberry Finn before heading out to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi River in this gorgeous and sprawling testament to natural beauty. Itasca State Park is only a few hours drive north from the Twin Cities. The oldest park in the state (established in 1891) and the second oldest in the country following Niagara Falls State Park, Itasca was designated a Natural National Landmark in 1965, and boasts 32,000 acres and 100 lakes that will satisfy even the most adventurous spirit. Enjoy a night of camping, rent a cabin for the weekend, or visit the historic town of Detroit Lakes nearby.
A few-hour drive north, Duluth makes a great summer road trip destination for the kids. The city sits on a hill overlooking Lake Superior, making for some beautiful views. Find some of the best by driving along Skyline Parkway. Duluth also offers plenty of activities for the little ones including a zoo, aquarium, large railroad museum, harbor cruises, and children’s museum. The Canal Park area on the lake contains a plethora of family-friendly restaurants and shops to complete your experience.
THE NORTH SHORE SCENIC DRIVE AND HIGHWAY 61
A perfect road trip for Bob Dylan fans (or anyone else who likes gorgeous scenery), Highway 61 is, in fact, the one Dylan references in his song Highway 61 Revisited on the album of the same name. A quintessential all-American highway experience, the North Shore Scenic Drive is a scenic byway that follows Saint Louis County Road 61 / Lake County Road 61/State Highway 61 (formerly U.S. 61) from the city of Duluth (Dylan’s birthplace) to the Canadian border, offering up beautiful vistas of Lake Superior and breathtaking snapshots of the foothills of the Sawtooth Range along the way. Sites include Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Palisade Head.
Camping and other lodgings, restaurants, and shops are all available along the route, making this a great family weekend road trip.
THE BLACK HILLS OF SOUTH DAKOTA
If you’d like a longer excursion, the Black Hills of South Dakota is about 10 hours from Minneapolis/St. Paul. For some people, open land can clear the mind like nothing else. The plains of South Dakota can do just that, rewarding you with picturesque mountain ranges and forests once you reach the Black Hills. Home to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument, other attractions include Custer State Park, the Needles (a region of eroded, granite pillars) and miles for hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing galore. Note: the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally can throw a wrench into your travel plans, so be sure to check the events calendar before starting your trek.
Whether it’s just for a few hours, a day, or a weekend, a road trip can replenish your mind, body, and spirit, enabling you to navigate the day-to-day stressors of living in the city during the hottest part of the year like a cool breeze.