From rock climbing and windsurfing to fly fishing and stargazing, visitors will be surprised to discover all there is to do just beyond the next Interstate 90 exit.
Southern Minnesota has all the variety and beauty you are looking for in your next adventure along I-90. Travelers have a chance to experience some of the best outdoor adventures that the Upper Midwest has to offer.
Bison & Rock Climbing at Blue Mounds State Park
Blue Mounds State Park, just north of Luverne in the southwest corner of the state, is distinguished by its 1,500 acres of ancient prairie and one of the last remaining herds of purebred bison in the world. The landscape, which includes a small piece of America’s once vast tallgrass prairie, is home to hundreds of wildflowers, big bluestem grasses up to 7 feet tall and prickly pear cacti. Birders should be on the lookout for dozens of species, including the blue grosbeak and rare Brewer’s sparrow.
This picturesque spot sits on top of a massive, dramatic cliff of Sioux quartzite, making it a popular destination for rock climbing. Spend a day hiking or biking on the trails, or stay overnight in your tent, RV or the on-site tipi.
Go Windsurfing in Worthington
Staking its claim to “the best wind in the Midwest,” Worthington is located near Buffalo Ridge in southwest Minnesota. Lake Okabena is a 975-acre lake in the heart of this quaint town and benefits from the strong prairie winds, often at speeds of 15 or more knots, making it ideal for windsurfing. The Worthington Okabena Windsurfers host the annual Windsurfing Regatta & Music Festival in June that draws many fans and spectators, and has hosted the U.S. Windsurfing National Championships, too.
Interested in learning to windsurf yourself? World-renowned instructors offer lessons for all ages, providing equipment and instruction on land before getting in the water.
Explore Lakes & Parks in Fairmont
Just beyond exit 102 is one of the best-kept secrets in southern Minnesota. Home to a chain of five lakes inside the city limits, Fairmont offers a new perspective on outdoor enjoyment. Fairmont’s diverse system of city parks offers a variety of opportunities for travelers of all kinds to get out, stretch their legs and enjoy the scenery. From the wooded trails of Cedar Creek Park to the sandy beaches of Gomsrud Park and hidden historical gems like the Sylvania Park Bandshell, the options are endless.
Find Small Town Charm & Big Time Lakes in Albert Lea
Albert Lea is known as the “Land between the Lakes” for its location between Fountain and Albert Lea lakes. Take a cruise on Albert Lea Lake aboard the Pelican Breeze II, a 60-foot riverboat replica complete with two smokestacks and a paddlewheel.
Rent a canoe at the Brookside Boathouse on Fountain Lake and paddle down the Shell Rock River State Trail, which begins at the headwaters of Fountain Lake, meanders through Albert Lea and into the Shell Rock River for 20 miles before ending at the Iowa border.
The Jay C. Hormel Nature Center in Austin began in 1927 with a single tree, planted by Jay, the son of Hormel Foods founder George A. Hormel. Today, this 507-acre nature center features hardwood and pine forest, wetlands, a restored prairie, walking trails and 10 miles of hiking.
Visit at night to see the planets, stars and constellations through the 12-foot ash dome of the Sola Fide Observatory’s 10-inch refractor telescope, open on select weekends. The main building features hands-on activities and live displays including snakes and salamanders. Naturalists offer programs from wildflower hikes to monarch tagging, bird banding and more. Make sure to stop by the newly opened interpretive center.
Soak Up the Scenery Near Rochester
Just 20 miles east of Rochester is the charming community of St. Charles. Play a round on the 18-hole golf course or explore Whitewater State Park, which features six scenic overlooks and excellent trout fishing. The spring-fed Whitewater River and Trout Run Creek feature brown, brook and rainbow trout. The park is also home to a variety of hiking trails along the river and up to the bluffs. Other activities at the park include a swimming beach and a year-round visitor center.
Journey just 2 miles north to climb approximately 500 steps to the top of the 110-foot Elba Fire Tower. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the fire tower was used regularly in the early years to detect fires and today serves as an interpretive site.
Summit Mississippi River Bluffs for Stunning Sights
Great River Bluffs State Park boasts breathtaking bluff-top vistas of the Mississippi River Valley near Winona. Located in the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest, the park has hardwood forest, pine plantations, "goat" prairies and fields that support an abundance of rare and diverse species. Don’t miss the view from the King's Bluff Trail.
Southern Minnesota has plenty of other fun indoor attractions, tons of upcoming festivals and events, and countless places to dine. And if you’re looking to stay overnight, there are plenty of affordable lodging options. Plan your southern Minnesota escape today.
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