For a great escape, set a course for the pretty lakes, small towns, prairies and woodlands of central Minnesota’s Glacial Ridge Scenic Byway. The byway is packed with attractions including lakes, resorts, parks, historic sites, shops, wineries and restaurants. Plan to visit some highlights, and keep your eyes open for more along the way.
The Alexandria area, on the northern end of the byway, boasts over 300 lakes and plenty of water-related recreational opportunities. Kick things off at the annual Awake the Lakes festival over Memorial Day weekend. Select from numerous resorts, B&Bs, hotels and campgrounds, including sites at Lake Carlos State Park, just north of Alexandria.
In downtown Alexandria, look for Big Ole, a 28-foot tall Viking statue built in 1965 for the World’s Fair. Don’t miss the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum, which exhibits an impressive collection of antique and classic boats, plus resort and fishing memorabilia. Explore antique shops and specialty boutiques in the historic downtown district or catch a show at one of the performing arts theaters.
Just outside of town, Carlos Creek Winery offers free tours, weekend music and festivals, including the popular fall Grape Stomp. Visitors of all ages can take wagon rides and explore a giant maze.
About 20 miles south of Alexandria is the 7,000-acre playland of Lake Minnewaska. Both Glenwood and Starbuck hug its shores with parks and great beaches. Go for Glenwood's Waterama the third week in July or cheer on the racing teams at Starbuck's Dragon Boat Festival in August.
South of Glenwood, visit the century-old Terrace Mill and take a tour. Enjoy outdoor seating with a view at the Mill restaurant. The surrounding historic district features a log cabin, heritage cottage with Norwegian folk art, and general store.
On the Glacial Ridge Byway’s southern end, visit tiny New London. Shop for beads, knitting and quilting supplies, and art. Get a ticket to see the spectacular pyramids, jumps and tricks of the Little Crow Water Ski Team, performing most weekends throughout the summer.
At Sibley State Park north of New London, enjoy a great beach or take an easy hike up Mount Tom to a historic stone tower with 360-degree views.
Explore artists’ studios, wares and demos during the June Studio Hop through New London, Spicer and Willmar.