Family holidays to Minnesota

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Family holidays in Minnesota

The most easterly Midwest state, Minnesota’s the one that shares Lake Superior and Superior National Forest with Ontario, and sits closer to Toronto than New York. Outdoor adventuring’s second nature here, you can be an intrepid urbanite in cultured cities or try a bit of everything, and still have time to stop and stare. Because Minneapolis is as easy to get about as it is to enjoy.

Why go on holiday in Minnesota

  • Direct flights from UK

    Virgin Atlantic fly direct from London Heathrow to Minneapolis in nine hours, year round.

  • Warm, sunny summers

    Spring arrives in April, and Minneapolis can have sunshine and highs of 30˚ from June to September.

  • Fun, freezing winters

    Temperatures drop well below freezing from December to February, but Minnesota just stops sailing for the season and goes skiing, skating and sledding instead.

  • Ski resorts from south to north

    Minnesota has over 20 family ski-resorts, snow-sure from November, and all in spectacularly scenic locations.

  • Lake Superior

    Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake, and largest of all the Great Lakes: it’s just one of more than 10,000 in Minnesota.

  • Iconic American road trips

    The North Shore is one of the world’s great road trips. Stretching 150km from Duluth to Ontario along the shores of Lake Superior, it’s reason alone to see Northern Minnesota.

  • State-wide scenic rail journeys

    Amtrak’s Empire Builder is the iconic rail journey which follows the early pioneer path from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. In Minnesota it runs from the south east corner of the state to the western prairies, twice daily, all year round.

Where to go


The state capital’s usually bracketed with neighbouring St. Paul, and collectively known as the Twin Cities. But Minneapolis alone is also called ‘City of Lakes’, it has 20 and they’re local playgrounds: frozen solid for skating and kitesurfing in winter; fun to sail in summer. Active indoors too, the city’s home to Paisley Park and the Walker Art Centre, the world’s largest shopping mall.

  • Downtown Minneapolis Skyway is the world’s longest, connecting 69 city blocks. Packed with shops and restaurants, the aerial tunnels are an amazing urban experience for kids, and essential cover in cold Minnesotan winters.
  • Head to the Uptown neighbourhood for lake sports and hundreds of walking and cycling trails.
  • Don’t miss: Mall of America; Como Town; Valley Fair; Minnesota Zoo; Science Museum of Minnesota; Lake Minnetonka; winter sledding at Theodore Wirth Park.
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St. Paul

Just over the Mississippi from Minneapolis, St. Paul is the characterful Twin City. F. Scott Fitzgerald was born here, and districts like Cathedral Hill still look much as they did back in the 19th century. Go shopping on Grand Avenue, it’s been called ‘America’s prettiest neighbourhood’, hit Highland Park for Mississippi River trails, or eat your way round the restaurant district, Selby & Dale.

  • Don’t miss: Cathedral of St. Paul; June’s Grand Old Days citywide festival; Mears Park; Mississippi River Boulevard; the Children’s Museum of Minnesota.
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Duluth’s the north eastern Minnesota city on Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. This is the base to pick for a North Shore road trip on Route 61, which stretches for an impossibly scenic 151 miles between Duluth and Canada. It’s also the gateway to Superior National Forest, Cloquet Valley, and the adventuresome waterways of Minnesota’s very own Finland.

  • Duluth Children’s Museum; Split Rock Lighthouse; Tom’s Logging Camp; Big Top Chautauqua; Great Lakes Aquarium; Lake Superior Zoo; North Shore Scenic Railway; Duluth Lakewalk.
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North Shore

Route 61 runs for 151 miles north from Duluth to the border of Canada. It’s the north shore of ocean-like Lake Superior and one of the greatest of all Minnesota experiences. Take the train, sit back and enjoy the view. Alternatively hire a car and drive: the route’s scattered with pretty towns, artists’ colonies, historic sites and eight State Parks.

  • Don’t miss: Grand Marais; Beaver Bay; Two Harbours; Gooseberry Falls State Park; Tettegouche State Park; Pigeon River High Falls.
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Superior National Forest

Spread over 4 million acres in North East Minnesota, Superior National Forest is so vast it spills into Ontario. Over 2000 of the state’s lakes lie within, and it contains the entire Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness. There are dozens of excellent lodges, inns and family resorts along North Shore with easy access to the forest’s hiking and walking trails. Superior’s an unforgettable experience for older kids and, if you don’t want to go it alone, experienced local guides are a good option for wildlife and sailing expeditions.

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What to do

  • Duluth History Walking Tours
    The main family attraction in Duluth is the North Shore. But exploring the city with local guides is fun too. Three hour walking Tours of Canal Park and Downtown welcome kids.
  • Upper Sioux Agency State Park, Granite Falls
    Go camping in a Tipi at Upper Sioux. This historic park preserves Sioux territory destroyed in 1862’s Dakota War. The park’s also good for heritage tours, hiking and horse riding. Two hours west of Minneapolis.
  • Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, Orr
    An incredible sanctuary where Black Bears are protected, free-roaming, and seen from forest viewing platforms. Part of the American Bear Association. Two hours from Duluth.
  • Voyageurs National Park, Orr
    Named for the traders who plied its waterways in the 19th century, Voyageurs has evidence of over 10,000 years of human use. Explore the heritage, learn to sail, go hiking, or stay overnight and stargaze under the clear northern Minnesota skies.
  • Valley Fair Amusement Park, Shakopee
    Combining the terror of North Star’s white-knuckle rides, and the bracing fun of Soak City Waterpark, Valley Fair is one of the Midwest’s wildest amusement parks, and it’s less than an hour’s drive from Minneapolis.
  • Mall of America, Minneapolis
    One of the world’s biggest shopping malls, and the second largest in the US, is in Minneapolis. Go for Nickelodeon Universe; Minnesota Aquarium; the Amazing Mirror Maze; Moose Mountain Adventure Golf; and acres of shopping too, of course.
  • Forest History Centre, Grand Rapids
    Spend the day in an authentic 19th century logging camp at this fascinating heritage site. The reenactors are masterful, there are dozens of interactive experiences, and it’s all designed with families and kids in mind.
  • Itasca State Park, Park Rapids
    Visit Itasca State Park in summer and see where the Mississippi starts out. Kids can walk on water, trek wildlife with local guides, camp under the stars, sail over 100 lakes, cycle for hours, or just gently explore a little of the 2000 acre wilderness spread.
  • Amtrak Empire Builder
    All summer long, US National Park Rangers are on-board guides on the Amtrak Empire Builder train journey from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. It’s a fantastic way to see Minnesota, family tickets and accommodation packages are available, and bikes go free.
  • Chilly Dogs Sledding, Ely
    Dog sledding the North Country in winter is amazing. Ely’s the gateway to the Boundary Canoe Waters Wilderness, and Chilly Dogs are local experts and guides.

Educational value for kids

  • Don’t miss the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis with older kids, it’s an astonishing contemporary art space, famous for its ground breaking installations, sculpture garden and innovatively curated exhibitions.
  • Paisley Park in Minneapolis is the private, creative world of Prince and the guided tour’s fascinating with teenagers.
  • With over 10,000 lakes to navigate, Minnesota’s keen to get kids sailing. I Can Paddle is a state-wide initiative offering great value family canoeing lessons in dozens of State Parks during summer.
  • The world’s largest ball of twine weighs in at 17,400lbs. See it in Darwin, about an hour’s drive west of Minneapolis, there’s a Twine Museum too.
  • Visit the Minnesota Children’s Museum, Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Minnesota History Centre all together in Downtown St. Paul.
  • Visit the Charles A. Lindbergh historic site in Little Falls or Forestville Pioneer Village in Preston, to see how seriously Minneapolis takes living heritage.
  • Kids can walk on the Mississippi in Minnesota. Itasca Lake’s the river’s source and paddling in shallow headwaters is a summer tradition at Itasca State Park.

Getting about with kids in Minnesota

Between the lakes, forests, plains, rivers and vast stretches of unspoiled wilderness landscape, Minnesota is a natural for active family holidays. One of its greatest attractions is Route 61, the North Shore highway which runs along the edge of Lake Superior for almost 150 miles. So hiring a car is definitely the way to get most out of this outdoorsy state. Cycling, walking and public transport are all good options in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth.

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