3 Summer Days of Lakes, Food & Beer along Minnesota's I-35
By Miranda Jerabek
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Looking for the ultimate summer road trip in Minnesota? Follow this three-day travel guide to see, eat and drink all the best things between the North Shore of Lake Superior and the state's southern border.
With gorgeous lakes, delicious and unique food selections, and a hopping brewery scene, Minnesota is a true summer paradise. But with so much to see and do, knowing where to begin can feel a little intimidating.
To make your life easier (and breezier), we put together this three-day road trip guide so you can see, eat and drink all the best things between the North Shore and the southern prairie. Whether your perfect vacation means epic waterfalls, big city bustle or small town charm, this is the Minnesota road trip for you.
This tour loosely follows Interstate 35 from north to south, but feel free to start wherever you choose and create your own adventure.
Day 1: Up North Adventures on the North Shore & in Duluth
If you’re starting your trip in Duluth (the north end of I-35), drive about an hour up the shore to begin your day on Lake Superior. (If you can’t wait to eat, stop at the Duluth Grill and order a hearty plate of corned beef hash and eggs to fuel up.) Hike or bike along the Gitchi Gami State Trail and catch a view of landmarks like Split Rock Lighthouse and the spectacular waterfall at Gooseberry Falls State Park. Snap some pictures and soak in as many beautiful hiking opportunities as possible as you make your way down the shore; the gorgeous and lengthy Superior Hiking Trail connects with the Gitchi Gami at both of these sites.
You’re going to need some hearty food to make it through the rest of your adventurous day along the North Shore. Fuel up at the Rustic Inn Cafe, a local favorite with menu highlights that include the cranberry and wild rice waffle and the Logger’s Skillet, a hash-brown assortment of Italian sausage, cheese, a full side of pancakes and more. And be sure to save room for pie!
After brunch, continue down the shore to Castle Danger Brewery and kick back in the taproom surrounded by the beauty of the area. The brewery hosts a variety of live music performances and allows outside food to be brought in while you sample the beer selection. Try the summer seasonal Summer Crush ale to get the full “summer” effect.
Lastly, venture back to Duluth’s harbor and rent a watercraft to explore the greatest of the Great Lakes. Be adventurous and kayak, canoe or even take a sailboat excursion along the harbor to discover why it’s Instagrammed so often. Sunset cruises can be booked via Moon Shadow Sailing and Vista Fleet.
If you’re in the mood for a nightcap, head to Fitger’s Brewhouse for some food and beer to reward yourself after an epic day. Other options include Canal Park Brewery (try the Pils Popper), Bent Paddle (try the Paddle Break Blonde) and Thirsty Pagan Brewing (try the Stoned Surf IPA).
Day 2: Lake Vibes & Skylines in Minneapolis-St. Paul
After checking out of your hotel, head about two hours south for a day of urban exploration. Start in the capital city of St. Paul with brunch at Saint Dinette or "Top Chef" Justin Sutherland's Handsome Hog in the hip Lowertown neighborhood.
Next, cross over to Minneapolis for a combination of gorgeous skylines and sunbathing on the calming Lake Harriet. There are walking and biking paths around the lake and other areas to explore, including a rose garden and a mysterious elf who allegedly lives in a tree on the south side of the lake and replies to letters left for him (just look for the tiny door).
Lake Harriet also features a band shell for concerts in the park, food at the Bread & Pickle and lots of rentals, including paddleboards, pedal boats, double-kayaks and single and tandem bikes. Another popular spot nearby is Minnehaha Park and Falls; be sure to grab lunch at the Sea Salt Eatery if you go.
End your day with a visit to Sociable Cider Werks in the eclectic Northeast neighborhood. Sociable specializes in cider that even beer lovers will love. Varieties named after biking accessories—Fat Bike, Freewheeler and Spoke Wrench—flood the tap list, and while each has unique flavors they all remain crisp, refreshing and not full of sugar.
Day 3: Small Town Charms in Southern Minnesota
Before hopping back on the highway to venture south, have a hearty breakfast at The Buttered Tin back in Lowertown. This quaint and cozy restaurant has all your breakfast favorites and some great new tries, such as the huevos rancheros Benedict and falafel burger.
Once you’re fed, head about 45 minutes south to the charming town of Northfield. Best known as the site of the defeat of the notorious Jesse James Gang, it’s now a shopping destination as well. Highlights include The Rare Pair, A Bag Lady, Eclectic Goat and Swag.
From Northfield, continue south to Faribault, home to the historic Faribault Woolen Mill, where throws, scarves, clothes and even puppy blankets are for sale. Tours are also offered every Friday and second Saturday of the month.
After you’ve picked up some local flair, pay a visit to 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers to enjoy Minnesota-made whiskey, gin and rum cocktails in the lounge or on the patio.
We can’t forget the lake on this leg of the trip, so we saved Albert Lea, dubbed “the land between the lakes,” for your last stop on the journey. Experience Fountain and/or Albert Lea Lake and all of the activities on them: fishing, boating, waterskiing, or just relaxing and taking a dip.
Be sure to soak up the natural landscape around these lakes at Myre Big Island State Park and Edgewater Park. There are also special events like the Bayside Water Ski Shows on Thursday nights, June through August. The Pelican Breeze II offers guided boat cruises from June to October, with themes nights and other surprises. Or bike along the Blazing Star Trail for a memorable end to your trip.
Miranda Jerabek is a communications pro, middle child, and knows all the inside jokes on "Seinfeld." In her spare time, she attempts to be outdoorsy by exploring Minnesota's different trails and parks or urban exploring at local sites in the metro area, especially those with music or food.
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