Essential RV Minnesota:
The Ultimate Guide to
Exploring the North Star State
by Linsday Menting
Minnesota is unlike any other state in the U.S., dontcha know? A gopher filled, hockey-loving wonderland, this beautiful slice of the Midwest has everything. From lakes (10,000 of them to be exact) and ski slopes to high rises and historic sites, you'll encounter new adventures everywhere you turn. To top it off, you’ll also find locals exuding the realness of 'Minnesota nice' at every corner of the North Star state.
Minnesota's urban center is unique for its Twin Cities—Minneapolis and St. Paul—centered around the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix Rivers. Both cities boast similar population numbers and equally engaging things to do and see. While they’re referred to as twins, they’d actually be better described as siblings. Minneapolis and St. Paul arose from the settlers who came through Fort Snelling—a United States Army base you can still visit. The soldiers began using nearby water sources, including St. Anthony Falls, to generate power for sawmills and flour mills. By 1870, Minneapolis was the flour milling capital of the world. St. Paul further distinguished itself through a harbor that opened up a booming river trade, becoming the head of navigation for the Mississippi river. In the cities’ early days, an inevitable rivalry developed, leading to occasional skirmishes as residents regarded their neighbors as competition for trade, money, prestige, and more.
Today each city evokes quite different undertones: St. Paul has a more traditional feel, marked by tight-knit neighborhoods while Minneapolis is at the forefront of a hip, sprawling urban dwelling. Together, their complementary vibes shape much of Minnesota’s economy, personality and identity. The only real rivalry nowadays is born of a healthier motivation. (And a joke or two—siblings can’t help themselves!)
Our first must-see in Minneapolis is the Stone Arch Bridge. Originally built in 1882 as a railway, it’s now a favorite for bikers and walkers who want a panoramic view of St. Anthony Falls and much of the city skyline. The Sculpture Garden is another tourist favorite, featuring supersized modern art in an outdoor park setting. Here you’ll find that ‘insta-worthy’ landmark known as the Spoonbridge and Cherry! Curious to learn more about those mills that gave the city its start? The Mill City Museum will guide you on a riverfront tour filled with the history of Minneapolis.
On the other side of the river, much of St. Paul’s history stems from its strong Catholic demographic. No matter your faith, the Cathedral of St. Paul is one of the city’s most stunning landmarks. Its copper-clad dome watchguards the city from atop Cathedral Hill. Besides the Cathedral, another must-see is The Como Park Zoo. Featuring stunning award-winning exhibits that play to all your senses, it’s a prime opportunity to connect to nature and animals.
If nature is more your thing, you won’t have to travel far to find it. Lying just south of the Twin Cities, Minnehaha Falls offers a 53-foot waterfall, set in a picturesque 193-acre park filled with river overlooks and limestone bluffs. You can hike, bike or stroll the grounds to get there and explore the meandering Minnehaha Creek that sidle up to it. Designed by landscape architect Horace W.S. Cleveland in 1883, the park is part of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway system and features many standing historic structures. There’s enough to see and experience, you can actually spend an entire day here.
Mall of America
The coveted Mall of America is an iconic Minnesota landmark, not only for shopaholics but tourists everywhere. Trust us when we say that it's much more than a mall! The former home of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins, the 5.6-million square foot monster entertainment complex transitioned its square footage from a sports arena and opened its doors in 1992. Located in Bloomington, MOA boasts more than 520 stores, 60 restaurants, Nickelodeon Universe (a 7-acre indoor amusement park), SeaLife Aquarium, a comedy club, world-class gaming, mini-golf and tons of other activities for kids, teens, and adults alike. It's impossible not to find something you’ll love here.
Where to Stay
RV Parking at the Mall of America is available at the Lindau Lot, but there are also plenty of places nearby to escape the bustling city and spend the night. Some of the most popular picks on the southern side of “the cities” include Southwest Minneapolis KOA with large, shady campsites and plenty of amenities; Dakotah Meadows, a full hookup campground near the Mystic Lake Casino; and Town and Country Campground with 50 full hookup sites and 35 electric and water sites.
If you're looking to stay on the north side of the Cities, Bunker Hills Campground is a beautiful area with 72 secluded sites, and the Northwest Minneapolis KOA has all the amenities you could possibly need.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Within one of Superior National Forest's most northern points is the tranquil and remote Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The glaciers left behind over one million acres of a one-of-a-kind landscape that stretches 199 miles along the international border. Thousands of lakes and streams are interspersed with islands and surrounded by forest. Accessible primarily by canoe, you won't find residents, roads or buildings. Most of the lakes are deemed paddle only to maintain the tranquility. Essentially, if you're for true peace and quiet, just park your rig nearby, grab your canoe, kayak, or paddleboat and experience the profound calm of the waters. Permits are required to spend the day, so head here to learn more.
Where to Stay
While the actual Boundary Waters aren't RV friendly, there are plenty of great spots on the outskirts to set up a base camp. Birchlake RV Park, Hungry Jack Lodge, Lambs Resort, and Gunflint Pines are beautifully wooded campgrounds with full hookup options.
The fourth-largest city in Minnesota has also been tagged the best outdoor city in America: despite its size, Duluth manages to retain a small-town feel. Unique arts and culture, and extraordinary dining, complement the cities nature and make it the perfect getaway. Take a peek at the heart of Duluth by making your first stop the Aerial Lift Bridge. Built in 1905 to connect the mainland to the 5-mile long sandbar called Park Point, the bridge rises frequently to allow ships to sail to and from the port city. Take a stroll across the beautiful water, or just watch the ships come in.
You can also find family fun year-round at Spirit Mountain—featuring Nordic trails, ski mountains, and tubing runs in the winter, along with mountain biking and amusement park rides in the summer.
Where to Stay
Park your rig right on the water at Lakehead Boat Basin. 30 RV spots and 12 full hookups will give you spectacular views for your stay; you can even take the Aerial Lift Bridge to get there! Duluth Indian Point Campground and Buffalo House Duluth are two other great options for full hookups, amenities, and beautiful sites. You can also camp right at Spirit Mountain.
North Shore Scenic Drive
Outside of Duluth you'll find the All-American Road of Minnesota, aka Highway 61, or the North Shore Scenic Drive. Meander your way through 150 miles of small towns and beautiful landscapes that line the Lake Superior coastline, leading to the Canadian border. You won't find a mediocre scene in the entire drive! There are seven state parks along the way, with two must-stops at Grand Portage and Grand Marais:
On the rocky shores of Grand Marais are spectacular water views as vast as the ocean—what you’re really seeing is the expansive Lake Superior. French explorers and traders settled the town, making it a hub for timber and fishing. You'll find abundant trading posts and the delightful North Shore Folk School, housing thousands of handcrafted items. You can even take classes on-site, tapping into your inner craftsman. Aside from the great outdoors, there are plenty of delicious dining options featuring oh-so-fresh seafood. Northeast of Grand Marais is Grand Portage, offering an even more rugged landscape than Grand Marais. We recommend heading to the state park at the entrance to Canada where you’ll find the highest waterfall in the state, and so much wildlife (moose included) amiably roaming around. Finish the day by heading to the Grand Portage National Monument to celebrate the Native American heritage of the Anishinaabeg Ojibwe as well as the area’s fur trading history.
If happen to find yourself in Minnesota during the winter months, you can find some of the best skiing in the Midwest in Lutsen—be sure to add a day of alpine to your list as well.
Where to Stay
Grand Marais offers gorgeous landscape just steps away from downtown to set up camp—with full hookups. The Grand Portage Lodge and Casino is also a beautiful hotel and resort option, with a great RV campground.
Southwest Minnesota is home to the state's largest city (outside of the Twin Cities): Rochester. Much of the town's history and current vibrance stem from the Mayo Clinic, renowned as the original campus for clinical practice, research and education. William Morrel Mayo settled his family in Rochester in 1864 and opened a sole proprietorship medical practice that evolved under his sons, along with a handful of practice partners, into Mayo Clinic. One of the original partners was Henry S. Plummer, the famed owner of the Plummer Building. Built in 1928, the majestic structure is now a National Historic Landmark and home to many Mayo Clinic offices. Tourists can visit the elaborate English Tudor as well as the Mayowood Mansion and the Plummer House of Arts. Meanwhile, the Bluffscape Amish Tours offer a picturesque glimpse into Minnesota's Amish community while also allowing you to do some shopping. You can also honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country at the Soldiers Field Veterans Museum. Over 3,000 Minnesota men and women are honored at the Wall of Remembrance.
If you’re looking for an incredibly convenient getaway, Quarry Hill Nature Center is a 329-acre gem, found in Rochester's Quarry Hill Park. There are a plethora of hiking trails (more than eight miles actually), a tranquil pond and a historical sandstone cave that was carved in 1882. It’s open year-round with cross country skis and snowshoes available for rent on-site.
Where to Stay
Itasca State Park/Lake
Itasca State Park is Minnesota's oldest state park and contains the Mississippi River's headwaters in Itasca Lake. You can enjoy the outdoors in every season, from spectacular fall foliage to beautifully snow-capped pines. It’s the perfect spot to chill, enjoying a toasty cup of coffee at the historic Douglas Lodge. For a little more adventure, you can climb on of the park’s historic fire towers: Aiton Heights’ 100-foot tower stairway is open for climbing and even has an interpretive program.
Where to Stay
Itasca State Park has multiple campgrounds fit for RVs, so you can stay in the heart of it all. You can learn more about accommodations at their website.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park/Gooseberry Falls State Park
Situated just seven miles apart (you can even take a trail from one park to the other) are two beautiful coastal state parks. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is known for—of course—its picturesque lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the nation. At the turn of the century, devastating shipwrecks prompted its erection, sitting atop a cliff overlooking Lake Superior. You can take a tour to see how it operated before its light was dimmed in 1969. There are also plenty of trails and cobblestone beaches for exploring. Gooseberry Falls is deemed the gateway to the North Shore: you can hike through rocky waterfalls, river gorges, and historic logging structures and even rent a "fat bike."
Where to Stay
Down the road from both state parks, you'll find Burlington Bay Campground in Two Harbors. There's plenty of space to spread out, and everything you need to set up camp.
One of the ideal spots to view fall foliage is along Minnesota 210 highway, with the quaint town of Brainerd as a destination all its own. You can join any number of tour groups, specializing in autumn leaf-peeping. With such an abundance of pristine lakes and rivers, there's also plenty of fishing, boating and cruising. Whitefish Chain of Lakes in Crosslake is the largest chain of waterways in the area. Seven championship golf courses and a number of resort greens make for a relaxing getaway, cut right out of the North woods.
And, of course, no trip to the Brainerd Lakes area is complete without visiting Paul Bunyan Land—a charming amusement park, featuring the best of Minnesota logging history with an adjacent campground. You'll be greeted by a 26-foot talking, animated version of the famous lumberjack at the entrance. Within the amusement park itself are endless rides, a pioneer village and Paul’s Petting Barn. Plus, there are over 45 buildings that house the largest collection of antiques and relics in Minnesota.
Where to Stay
Blue Mound State Park - Luverne
While quieter in nature, you'll find plenty of beauty and things to do on the west side of the state. Outside the town of Luverne is Blue Mound State Park: home and protector to a herd of 130 American bison herd, grazing on one of the country’s largest prairie remnants. Tours are included, along with a few surprises that include the Sioux quartzite cliff, acres of swaying grasses and even prickly pear cacti blooming! Looking to keep a prairie state of mind? Head to Laura Ingalls Museum to learn the full history of her family and more on the Little House on the Prairie series.
Travel a bit further, and you can visit the Brandenburg Gallery and Herried Military Museum, commemorating many service members who called Minnesota home.
Where to Stay
Camp on-site at the Blue Mounds State Park Campground. You'll be immersed in the park, and even have the option to rent a tipi. Be aware, though, that the max length limit is 50 feet. The Freedom Ranch Campground is another great option if you need a bit more space.