Minnesota seems perfectly designed for family fun. It's pretty easy to find a great place for a good time with the kids. Here are a few favorite places to get you started.
Meet Paul Bunyan
Legendary, 26-foot-tall lumberjack Paul Bunyan has been greeting kids by name in Brainerd for more than 55 years. He has moved from his original location in town to Paul Bunyan Land, an amusement park 7 miles east of Brainerd on Hwy. 18. But kids are still amazed when the big guy greets them by name, just like their parents and grandparents were. And it's a "don't miss" photo op. This Old Farm, a pioneer village of several old buildings, is part of this complex. It all adds up to a few hours of family fun.
Canal Park in Duluth
This city at the tip of Lake Superior has become a family magnet, because it offers so much to do on a short getaway. There's the Lake Superior Zoo, the Great Lakes Aquarium, boat tours and boat trips, train excursions, Adventure Zone and Vertical Endeavors indoor rock climbing facility. Tons of fun things. But Canal Park is on everyone's "go to" list for Duluth. Kids stare in awe at the massive sea-going vessels that enter the harbor through the canal, and get a kick out of watching the landmark Aerial Lift Bridge go up for them. And then there are all those friendly seagulls to feed!
LARK Toys Is a Lark
This little complex at Kellogg, a town on the Mississippi River between Red Wing and Winona, is big on fun. The marvelous carousel at LARK Toys is populated by an array of hand-carved, whimsical creatures, and is a work of art that's fun to ride. There's a large antique toy display, miniature golf, a children's book store and an ice cream shop. And it's a great toy shop with lots of special things you don't find just anywhere, including wooden toys and puzzles made on-site. Extend your trip with a stop at the National Eagle Center up the road a few miles in Wabasha, where the kids can get an up-close view of our national bird.
Como Park Is a Classic
Generations of families have come to Como Park on the northern edge of St. Paul for special times. The Como Zoo offers intimate looks at lions and tigers and monkeys, and other animals ranging from flamingos to massive gorillas. (Zoo admission is free, though a $2-$3 donation is suggested.) Right next to it, Como Town Amusement Park has a dozen rides for youngsters, from spinning teacups to a freefall tower. Cafesjian's Carousel, with 68 horses to ride, was built in 1914 and meticulously restored 20 years ago. Kids will also get a kick out of the stingrays, leaf-cutter ants and banana trees at the Tropic Encounters exhibit in the conservatory.
Laura's Life in Walnut Grove
From around the world, fans of the "Little House on the Prairie" TV show have traveled to the little town of Walnut Grove in the farmland of southern Minnesota. The show was based on the popular children's books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her pioneer childhood. Each summer, the Wilder Pageant dramatizes scenes from her 1870s childhood in Walnut Grove in performances at a hillside amphitheater along Plum Creek. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in town is housed in an old depot, chapel, schoolhouse and other buildings from the past.
Go-Kart Fun on Wheels
There's a pile of fun at Evergreen Park, part of the World of Christmas complex at Park Rapids. Top on the list for many are the go-karts: the ultra go-karts on a quarter-mile track of curves and hills (minimum driver height is 58 inches); the rookie track (at least 50 inches tall); and electric power wheels for smaller kids, beginning at age 3. Go-karting has been a favorite among generations of youth, and today's kids are no exception. Evergreen also offers a climbing wall, train rides, mini-golf, bumper boats, batting cages and water wars. Look for an amusement park near your vacation destination for go-karts and other kid thrills.
Resorts, for a Simply Good Time
A family vacation at a lakeside resort is a long-standing Minnesota tradition, with good reason. It's a great way to get away from routines and schedules and simply enjoy time together. It's also a lot of fun. If it's too cold to get out on the water, .check for swimming pools, playgrounds and game rooms, depending on your kids' interests. Many resorts also offer organized activities for children, from nature walks to crafts. Almost all Minnesota resorts are on a lakeshore. Hundreds are small, family-operated places with about five to 10 housekeeping cabins or cottages. Others are larger complexes, with townhouses or hotel suites.