Great Minnesota Vacations for Grandparents, Parents & Kids
By Alisa Blackwood
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Think back to your most cherished childhood memories and you’ll find most of them share a common thread: family. From peaceful mornings on the lake, sitting side by side with hands wrapped around a fishing pole, to summer evenings spent listening to stories and roasting marshmallows with grandma and grandpa—these are the moments your kids will remember most from your next Minnesota vacation.
Going on vacation with three (or more!) generations is becoming a popular way to travel, because it gives families a unique chance to bond. “Intergenerational time together strengthens the family,” says Niki Geisler, executive director of Camp du Nord near Ely. “Think about a kid seeing mom or dad on a paddleboard out on the lake—that’s cool. Then if they see grandma and grandpa on a paddleboard? That’s something to strive for. It’s phenomenal the bonding that happens. You break down age barriers.”
When planning your multigenerational trip to Minnesota, look for options that allow for both play and rest, alone time and together time, advises travel expert Lynn O’Rourke Hayes, editor of FamilyTravel.com. “It’s important to have that diversity because little kids need naps and snacks. And older people need rest and a break from the chaos associated with being around children they might not be used to,” she says.
Luckily, Minnesota’s great outdoors, historic sites, charming small towns and diverse lodging options offer something for all ages, ensuring every member of the family will go home with more than a few good stories to tell.
Fun For the Whole Family
Parks & Trails
Nature-loving families who gravitate toward outdoor fun will find endless options throughout Minnesota. Try the underground geological wonder of Mystery Cave State Park in Preston, perfect for those walking and those who need wheelchair- and stroller-accessible trails. And the nearby above-ground Forestville living history site offers a fun trip into the past.
Families who like to bike will find pedaling heaven on southern Minnesota’s 42-mile Root River State Trail, a flat, easy trail with many charming main streets along the way. Consider braking in Lanesboro for paddling or tubing on the Root River, boutique shopping or a scoop of well-earned ice cream.
Between central Minnesota’s Brainerd and northwest Bemidji, bike, hike or snowmobile any portion of the scenic, paved 115-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail. Fishing enthusiasts can cast a line in the region’s 400-plus lakes. Other family-friendly attractions in the area include mini-golf, an international speedway, wildlife park and Paul Bunyan Land, home to an amusement park and pioneer village.
At Itasca State Park, hop across the headwaters of the Mississippi River as it begins its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico, and snap the ultimate Minnesota family photo with the historic signpost. Other highlights of the state’s oldest state park include an interpretive center, bike and kayak rentals, a narrated boat tour and hiking trails.
Visiting a historic site during your family vacation is fun for inquisitive minds of all ages. While younger kids play with the site’s interactive elements, parents and grandparents can delve more deeply into the artifacts and uncover the stories they tell. Because each age group approaches the material with a different point of view, interpreting them together helps everyone gain new perspectives not only of the sites themselves, but of each other.
Immerse your family in the cultural history of Native American pipe makers at southern Minnesota’s Pipestone National Monument, where tribes from all over still use the soft stone to carve pipes for ceremonial smoking. The 301-acre monument now balances its role as both a natural and cultural resource, offering interpretive programs with traditional pipe makers, quarry pits, a waterfall and a paved 3/4-mile Circle Trail through the prairie and oak savannah (semi-accessible by wheelchair). Play and stay in nearby Blue Mounds State Park to view the roaming bison herd that grazes on the prairie.
Go back in time at Walnut Grove’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, where adults can reminisce about growing up with the books and TV series, and kids can discover the “Little House on the Prairie” for the first time. At Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River, take part in hands-on farm and kitchen activities reminiscent of 19th-century life and learn the story of food and agriculture in modern Minnesota in the visitor center.
You’re never too old—or too young—to learn something new, and there’s no better classroom than Minnesota. Learning getaways come in all shapes and sizes, but for multigenerational travelers, we recommend wildlife-focused treasures like Minnesota zoos, the International Wolf Center and North American Bear Center, both in Ely, or Wabasha’s National Eagle Center. Each offers naturalist-led programs, interactive exhibits and cultural and historical displays with plenty of handicapped accessibility.
Prefer learning with your hands? Intergenerational crafters can feed their creativity and enjoy the satisfaction of making something together at the Ely Folk School or Grand Marais’ North House Folk School. Think pine needle basket making, toy boat making or handcrafting a wooden paddle.
Large groups with a wide variety of needs understandably need a variety of loding options. Think about what suits your group best: Do you enjoy lots of togetherness with everyone sleeping under one roof? A family reunion cabin at a resort, a private vacation home rental or a houseboat may suit your group best. Need more room to spread out? Rent multiple cabins or townhomes at the same resort, or connecting rooms at a hotel, which offer both communal hangout space and space for alone time.
Resorts throughout Minnesota provide these options, along with on-site activities like kayaking, fishing, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, game rooms, golf courses, spas and more. Many offer specialty packages catered to family vacations and reunions and would be happy to host your multigenerational group.
Families who like to camp will also find plenty of options, ranging from tent campgrounds to RV parks to state parks with yurts and camper cabins, which offer a few more comforts like beds, kitchens and bathrooms.
Camp isn’t just for kids. The YMCA’s Camp du Nord nature immersion family camp near Ely offers both tent camping and modern cabins that sleep up to 16 people. Energetic, friendly camp counselors and staff make sure all physical abilities, ages and levels of comfort in the wilderness are catered to. It’s common to see three- and even four-generation families strolling the trails, doing arts and crafts, paddling and sitting by the campfire at Camp du Nord. Choose from a weeklong summer camp or three-night spring, winter or fall camps.
The faith-based Ironwood Springs Grandparent-Grandchild Camp brings families together for two nights of organized games, cookouts, swimming, wagon rides and more. Each intergenerational duo stays together in one room of the wheelchair-accessible Miracle Lodge, about 20 minutes south of Rochester.
Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland hosts a Grand Summer Adventure specific to grandparents and kids aged 6-11 who want to enjoy more time one-on-one. Participate in canoeing, high ropes course challenges, hiking and crafting at this three-night eco-camp in Minnesota’s north woods.
Alisa Blackwood is a St. Paul-based writer and editor whose writing has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Cooking Light and Health magazines. As a Floridian-turned-Minnesotan, she embraces her adopted state with a sense of wonder and adoration, especially outdoor adventures in the north woods, the Twin Cities live music scene and “avantouinti” (ice hole swimming).
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