The Minneapolis area offers so much that you’d expect from a great metropolitan area. But it’s much more than just bright lights and city sights. If you want to get away from the rush of the city, there are so many choices. Here’s a brief look at the best outdoor activities near Minneapolis.
- If you enjoy hunting for white-tail deer, you’ll find an abundance of them in Central Minnesota, in Itasca State Park in Park Rapids—home of Minnesota’s oldest state forest. This park offers hunters a quiet, “old-school” experience because it has limited road access and doesn’t allow all-terrain vehicles. Hunters can only take bucks with at least three points on one side of their antlers. A fun feature of Itasca State Park is that it is the headwaters of the Mississippi River! Itasca State Park offers limited road access and bans all-terrain vehicles, so it is a peaceful and unique hunting experience. As many as 40 deer per square mile reside in the park. Hunters are restricted to bucks with at least three points on one side of their antlers.
Superior National Forest in Duluth, is a massive (3.9 million acres) forest that is home to a deer population with an amazing 20 to 30 deer per square mile. For hunters looking for a somewhat different experience, a canoe trip on one of the lakes within the national forest is a unique and fun way to cover more ground.
- If you are a bird hunter, you will want to check out Detroit Lakes. You’ll find an abundance of ruffed goose in nearby forests to the northeast. Clay County, to the west, is a hotbed for hunting prairie chickens. However, prairie chickens are not covered under normal small game licenses, so If you plan to hunt prairie chickens, you will need a special prairie chicken license.
- Looking for great pheasant and grouse hunting? Here is a great spot to get your limit. The 40,000 acres of Rum River State Forest is teeming with grouse. You can also find plenty of pheasant in the wildlife management areas in this region. Some of the best pheasant hunting, however, is on private land, so you’ll want to make sure you have permission
Whether you’re after largemouth bass or smallmouth bass, you’ll find plenty of them in Minnesota!
- Of course, Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes, and you’ll find plenty of bass in places such as the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, 14,620 acres north of Brainerd, that boasts one of the most diverse structures found in any Minnesota lake. A favorite place for tournaments, great catches of both largemouth and smallmouth bass can be found in most of the dozen or so lakes that make up the chain. Or check out Lake Minnewaska's 7,110 acres—located just south of Alexandria. The relatively shallow waters (with a maximum depth of 32 feet) has three public access points.
- Other great fishing spots include Leech Lake in northwest Minnesota—the third-largest lake (112,000 surface acres )entirely within the boundaries of Minnesota. The irregularly shaped lake has large and small bays. The deepest point (150 feet) is at Walker Bay. In the fall, trophy bass gather in the warmer waters of Boy Bay.
- You can also head to southern Minnesota where you can explore Lake Washington—a 1,487-acre lake that hosts many bass tournaments throughout the year and boasts a good population of bass that can exceed the 5-pound range. Lake Francesnear Elysian is a 797-acre spring-fed lake with a maximum depth of 60 feet, with good shoreline cover as well as pad beds and rock points to fish.
If you love the thrill of snowmobiling, you probably couldn’t live in a better place than Minnesota! Whether you own a snowmobile or want to rent one there are plenty of places to pursue your passion.
Appledoorn’s Sunset Bay Resort in Isle is a great spot. You can't rent at the resort itself, but there are plenty of rental shops nearby. You can explore epic snowmobile flows such as the Ten Bruin trail, Rep Top ATV Trail and the Minnesota Soo Line Trail formerly the home of the Soo Line Railroad). The resort also rents ice fishing houses. That allows you to combine snowmobiling with ice fishing!
The Willard Munger trail offers variety and a gratifying ride. If you live in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul, you’ll have about an hour’s drive to reach the key trailhead in Hinckley—just off Interstate 35. You can leave home after a casual breakfast and still be on the trail heading for a lunch spot a couple of hours later. The Willard Munger Trail also has several local club-maintained feeder trails that can take you due north to crisscrossing routes that connect to the Soo Line Trail, and additional club trails around the Mille Lacs lake area.
If you’re looking to leave the flatlands of east-central Minnesota behind in favor of a Northwoods experience, remain on Interstate 35 to Duluth for Minnesota’s North Shore Trail, also known as the C.J. Ramstad trail. There you can enjoy breathtaking vistas overlooking Lake Superior and ride the winding sections of trail through a near-wilderness experience of remote forests, natural rock formations, and wildlife. Unlike the Munger Trail, the North Shore route is more remote and has limited amenities for fuel and food. You’ll want to let family and friends know your intended route, where you plan to stop, and when you expect to return.
Another trail that is relatively close to the Twin Cities metro area is the Goodhue Pioneer State Trail. Although it’s easy to access, it still a serious day of riding. This trail will take you through the heartland Minnesota, through Minnesota farmlands and small towns with names like Mazeppa, Zumbrota, Pine Island, and Bellchester. Although this trail is only 47 miles in length, you’ll be amazed at how this area of prairie, forests and river valley trails provides some of Minnesota’s most varied snowmobiling.
Check out the interactive map from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to look at these—and other trails!
If biking is what spins your wheels, you have plenty of choices here in Minnesota. Here are just a few highlights of the bike trails from which you can choose.
- Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Bike Trail is a great ride is you want to combine biking and camping. Pick up the 15-mile trail in Hopkins, right off the Cedar Lake Trail, and take it all the way to Victoria. You can stay at the newly opened bike-only campground at Carver Park. It only costs $10 to reserve a tent space.
- Running from Theodore Wirth Park to the small town of Cosmos, the Luce Line State Trail is a beautiful, 63-mile ride packed with great views of lakes, ponds, woods, and wildlife. If that sounds a bit long, you can opt for the shorter Luce Line Regional Trail for a nine-mile, paved trail that takes you from Theo Wirth to Plymouth to Golden Valley, with skyline views along the way.
- After the fall of the iron ore business the mining town of Crosby seemed to fall off the map—until the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew and the MN Department of Natural Resources opened a 25-mile network of dirt trails (The Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails) that turned the region into a year-round mountain-biking destination. Businesses, breweries, and lodging places have appeared along the trail.
- The 120-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail is among the longest continually paved trails in the United States. You can take the paved trail from Bemidji to Brainerd and pass dozens of quaint northern Minnesota towns. While riding the whole trail is fantastic, you also have the option of jumping on or off at multiple points.
- What if you prefer to stay close to the Minneapolis area? The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway covers a wide variety of different Minneapolis neighborhoods. This seven-segment, 55-mile trail loops around Minneapolis and takes you through the Chain of Lakes, past the Minnehaha and Mississippi rivers.