Temperance River State Park aerial car driving

Kid-Friendly Road Trips from Minneapolis

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Driving up the North Shore is an unforgettable Minnesota experience / Micah Kvidt

Kid-Friendly Road Trips from Minneapolis

By Lorena Armstrong-Duarte

Pack your suitcase, buckle up the kids and make family memories on a Minnesota road trip.

Back before we had kids, my husband and I loved a good, long road trip. No real plans in hand, we’d set off with overnight bags and spend the weekend meandering through historic towns, discovering new restaurants and perusing antique shops.

Car family road trip

Road trips are the perfect vacation for close-to-home adventures your kids will love / Micah Kvidt

Fast-forward a few years and a few kids, and these days our family road trips go at a decidedly different speed. “Meandering” has been replaced by “chasing after,” and restaurants that don’t offer chicken nuggets are off limits. But road trips are still our family’s favorite way to travel—especially here in Minnesota, where winding scenic roads and family-friendly things to do are never in short supply.

Here are a few of our family’s favorite road trips from Minneapolis. Whether you're flying into MSP Airport from afar for a family vacation in Minnesota, or seeking close-to-home adventures as a local, the memories made on these kid-friendly road trips will stay with your kids—and you—forever.

Before heading out, just remember to consult Minnesota's latest COVID-19 guidelines and check with individual attractions about their safety protocols and availability. 

Taylors Falls scenic boat tour

Scenic boat tours on the St. Croix River are a memorable part of any road trip to Taylors Falls / Lucy Hawthorne Photography

Take a Scenic Getaway to Taylors Falls

One of our favorite quick road trips is Taylors Falls, just an hour and a half from our home in Minneapolis. Taylors Falls is close enough that we could easily drive home at the end of the day, but staying for a night or weekend makes the outing a real adventure for the kids and gives us more time to explore. For the best scenery, drive east from the cities until you hit Stillwater, then point your wheels north and follow the St. Croix River to charming downtown Taylors Falls.

Stunning glacial formations and abundant outdoor opportunities make Interstate State Park on the St. Croix River an absolute must-see. The park is best known as the home of the world’s deepest glacial potholes, and your kids will love exploring the park's unique rock formations and panoramic river vistas. In the summer months, you can also take a scenic boat tour of the river and grab a meal at The Drive In, an old-school drive-in restaurant with picnic table seating, burgers, root beer floats and a mini-golf course.

Another must-visit in the Taylors Falls area is Franconia Sculpture Park. The 43-acre park features an “ever-changing exhibition of monumental sculpture” created by a rotating cast of artists-in-residence. As a family-friendly destination, Franconia encourages kids to play on its 120+ sculptures and run through the surrounding prairie. And because the exhibits change every year, trips to Franconia make for a wonderful annual tradition.

Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth

Duluth's iconic Aerial Lift Bridge peeks through a gap in the tree line / Pinkbike

Go 'Up North' to Duluth & The North Shore

For kid-friendly attractions and activities, few cities in Minnesota can rival Duluth.

My family loves visiting Split Rock Lighthouse, a state historic site and a National Historic Landmark offering historic exhibits as well as beautiful hikes in the adjacent state park. There is also the impressive Great Lakes Aquarium, a fantastic collection of interactive exhibits, live aquatic animals and educational displays. Or if you want to spend a day on the water, you can charter a sailing or fishing boat as a family.

In downtown Duluth, Historic Union Depot houses four museums, including the world-class Lake Superior Railroad Museum, one of the finest railroad collections in the country, with interactive exhibits as well as history from the region. And while there, you can book a train ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad!

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s the Lake Superior Zoo, the Duluth Children’s MuseumGlensheen Mansion, the Armed Forces Museum (which offers a working flight simulator for the kids) and so much more. Truly, there are so many ways to do Duluth you could spend a week there and not see half of what’s available for kids and families.

Girls at Barn Bluff overlook in Red Wing

Barn Bluff overlook in Red Wing is your ticket to an unforgettable view of the city and the Mississippi River / Manda Baldwin

Find Big Boots & Bigger Smiles in Red Wing

Situated on a wide, scenic section of the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota, Red Wing and its historic downtown offer breathtaking natural vistas and an abundance of kid-friendly activities that make it an excellent destination for families.

Of course the Red Wing Shoe Company Museum is a must-see. There, you can see the world’s largest boot (size 638-D), explore a variety of displays chronicling the company’s 110-plus years in business and shop for your next pair of Minnesota-made boots or shoes.

There’s also LARK Toys in the nearby town of Kellogg. Not only is LARK one of Minnesota’s largest and most unique toy stores (they make wooden toys and puzzles on-site!), it also houses a large antique toy display, a full-sized, wood-carved carousel, a miniature golf course, children's book store and ice cream shop. Other family-friendly highlights in the area include the National Eagle Center in Wabasha and the Cannon Valley Trail between Red Wing and Cannon Falls, a popular choice for bicyclists.

Lorena Armstrong-Duarte

Lorena Armstrong-Duarte is an El Salvadorian raised in Minnesota. She graduated from Harvard University in 1998 with a degree in romance languages and literature and has worked as a journalist, poet, playwright, editor, blogger and spoken-word artist. She and her husband live in Minneapolis with their two boys.