Family Vacations in Minnesota: Where to Go with Kids

Gooseberry Falls State Park.
Gooseberry Falls State Park. Photo © Jim Sorbie, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.
Color travel map of Minnesota

Minnesota is a terrific place to travel with children. While you won’t find the kind of big, flashy attractions that you might elsewhere, you will find that your children are welcomed and even catered to just about everywhere you go. (Folks looking for an escape from kids may want to take note of that, as well.) All but the very fanciest of restaurants have high chairs and children’s menus on hand, and nearly every museum has something to offer even the youngest of visitors.

A lakeside resort—of which there are hundreds, particularly in the Central Lakes—is a great place to park the family for the week, alternating time on the lake with forays to local attractions. While you’re out there, away from the crowds and high ticket prices in the cities, take the kids to a small-town festival or a Northwoods League baseball game. You don’t need themed rides and costumed mice to make memories.

Where to Go with Kids in Minnesota

Visiting the Twin Cities with Kids

The metro area has a handful of indoor water parks attached to chain hotels. The Depot, in downtown Minneapolis, is the most conveniently situated. Another hotel that does double duty as an attraction is the Marriott Residence Inn in Edina, which is connected to an indoor park and climbing structure.

Young kids should never be bored in the Twin Cities. The excellent Minnesota Zoo and Minnesota Children’s Museum can each fill a kid-sized day. The Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center is a great place to run off energy. And the south Minneapolis neighborhood of Linden Hills, with toy shops, a children’s bookstore, and trolley rides, is a relaxing place to spend an afternoon.

Older kids will get more out of the Science Museum of Minnesota, The Bakken (all about electricity), and the Minnesota History Center.

Kids here even get their own Tony Award-winning theater: Definitely get tickets to whatever’s at the Children’s Theatre while you’re here. Or, during the summer, be sure to catch a St. Paul Saints baseball game.

And, of course, what’s a trip to Minnesota without a visit to the amusement park in the Mall of America?

Visiting the St. Croix Valley with Kids

On your way up toward the North Shore, the excellent North West Company Fur Post, populated with knowledgeable costumed reenactors, is a great place to learn about Minnesota’s fur trade and the lives of the Ojibwe.

Visiting the Arrowhead with Kids

Duluth is another especially family-friendly destination. Canal Park is compact and easily traversed by little legs, and is adjacent to the city’s top family attraction, the Great Lakes Aquarium. Best of all, two scenic train rides depart from Duluth, and what kid wouldn’t enjoy that?

Much of Arrowhead’s beauty lies in remote wilderness, which can be daunting for some families. Gooseberry Falls State Park is accessible and well suited to young feet. North of Grand Marais, Grand Portage National Monument is another excellent historical site with costumed interpreters.

Inland, in Ely, the International Wolf Center and North American Bear Center offer animal-loving kids a chance to learn about two fascinating denizens of the Northwoods.

Decades of school groups have made a pilgrimage to Chisholm’s Minnesota Discovery Center to learn about the mining heritage of the Iron Range. You can spend much of a day exploring the vast museum and grounds.

Visiting the Central Lakes with Kids

The Central Lakes area is truly Minnesota’s playground. This is where you’ll find the state’s biggest, poshest, and best-known family resorts. Alexandria is a good home base for families exploring the lakes. Older kids, in particular, will enjoy the Runestone Museum, based on a hoax some people just can’t let go of.

For the right kind of kid, the Minnesota Military Museum in Camp Ripley, south of Brainerd, and the Mille Lacs Indian Museum, in the city of Mille Lacs, are absolute mustsees. The Headwaters Science Center in Bemidji does a great job spanning various ages and interests.

Little Grand Rapids is a surprisingly good family destination, with the varied and well-developed Forest History Center and an excellent Children’s Discovery Museum.

Visiting the Prairieland with Kids

This area of the state is the home of two beloved children’s literature classics: the Little House books in Walnut Grove and the Betsy-Tacy books in Mankato. Fans of both series make pilgrimages to Minnesota, and both towns—though Walnut Grove in particular—work hard to satisfy them.

A popular, one-of-a-kind attraction for families is the Harkin Store outside of New Ulm, where costumed guides show off wares dating back to the late 1800s.

Thanks to its location deep in the southwest corner of the state, Blue Mounds State Park doesn’t get the crowds you’ll find elsewhere. It’s also among the easiest state parks for families to enjoy, with gentle trails and a herd of bison.

Visiting Bluff Country with Kids

Watching hundreds of eagles soar over the Mississippi River at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha is an unforgettable experience for kids and adults. Combine it with a trip to LARK Toys in nearby Kellogg and your kids will think they’ve gone to heaven. And, if they’ve got a sense of humor, they’ll get a kick out of Austin’s SPAM Museum as well.

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