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18 Free Things to Do in Minnesota

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Family at the polar bear exhibit, Como Zoo
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18 Free Things to Do in Minnesota

By Erica Wacker

Going on vacation doesn't have to mean spending a lot of money. In Minnesota, there are plenty of attractions and activities that are completely free to visitors. From gardens and trails to museums and monuments, here are 18 free things to do in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Bemidji and beyond.

  1. Stop & Smell the Roses at Munsinger Clemens Gardens
    Fountain and pond at Munsinger Clemens flower garden

    With origins dating back to 1890, the Munsinger Clemens Gardens are a must-visit in St. Cloud

    Stop & Smell the Roses at Munsinger Clemens Gardens

    This well-known, beautiful garden park is located along the Mississippi River in St. Cloud. With origins dating back to 1890, the gardens have been a popular respite for close to a century. Stroll the Munsinger Gardens to see annuals, perennials and shrubs shaded by 90-year-old Scotch and Norway pines, then visit the Clemens portion to see the rose garden, formal garden, white garden and several fountains. During the summer, come for free concerts every other Sunday and the annual art fair in July.

  2. See the Swans at the Swan Park
    See the Swans at the Swan Park

    Every winter at Swan Park, over 2,000 trumpeter swans gather along the Mississippi River in Monticello. Late November to March is the best time to see them; the park has a viewing deck overlooking the river and is wheelchair accessible. Come spring, the swans return to Minnesota's many lakes as the water begins to thaw.

SPAM museum exterior

Visit the SPAM Museum in downtown Austin for a free history lesson (plus SPAMples)

  1. Have a SPAM-tastic Time at the SPAM Museum
    Have a SPAM-tastic Time at the SPAM Museum

    The new and improved SPAM Museum in downtown Austin features interactive exhibits and galleries dedicated to the infamous canned ham's history, popularity and place in modern life, as well as SPAM-inspired artwork and a kids play area. Try a SPAMple, served on pretzel sticks by friendly SPAMbassadors, and don't leave before buying a few cans of hard-to-find flavors at the gift shop.

  2. Visit the Headquarters of Marvin Windows and Doors
    Visit the Headquarters of Marvin Windows and Doors

    Experience the history of Marvin Windows and Doors at the Wm. S. Marvin Training and Visitor Center in Warroad, the biggest town on Lake of the Woods. Exhibits include company artifacts and interactive presentations to create a memorable experience for visitors of all ages. The museum and gift shop are open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 1-4 p.m. on weekends.

  3. Learn About the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers
    Giant Native American pipe statue in Pipestone

    The Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers is a free museum and shop in Pipestone / Mick Myers

    Learn About the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers

    The southwest Minnesota town of Pipestone is named for the area's soft red rock that has been sacred to Native Americans for centuries. The old Rock Island Depot, on the National Historic Register and one of very few buildings made of yellow brick, houses the Pipemakers gift shop, Indian art gallery and displays of Indian items. Open year-round and a worthy stop before or after a visit to Pipestone National Monument.

  4. Go Disc Golfing
    Go Disc Golfing

    Combine golf with Frisbee and you get this fun sport! Players throw discs at a series of "holes," with the lowest number of "strokes" winning the game. Minnesota has around 200 disc golf courses, and most are free to play. For a complete list of courses in Minnesota, go to pdga.com.

  5. Cast a Line at the National Trout Center
    Cast a Line at the National Trout Center

    An environmental learning center in Minnesota's beautiful Driftless Area, the National Trout Center in Preston is a one-stop shop for all things fly fishing, cold water ecology, geology and local fishing information. Trout anglers should be sure to check out the nearby nine-hole fishing course on the Root River, home to brook, brown and rainbow trout.

  1. Tour the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway
    Tour the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway

    As the only urban national scenic byway, Minneapolis' Grand Rounds showcases the exceptional qualities of Minnesota's biggest city. The byway is in the heart of Minneapolis, with many impressive views of the downtown skyline combined with the green, lush shorelines of the city's famous Chain of Lakes. Drive, bike, run or Rollerblade (invented in Minnesota!) along the 50-mile route, with highlights including lakeside parks, beautiful gardens, and the famous Minnehaha Falls.

  2. Get Artsy at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
    Spoonbridge and Cherry at Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

    Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden / Dana Hernandez

    Get Artsy at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

    One of the country's largest urban sculpture parks, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden features more than 40 works of art and the Cowles Conservatory. The garden was recently renovated, bringing back the iconic "Spoonbridge and Cherry" sculpture, 18 holes of artist-designed mini golf and several new works, including a giant blue rooster known as "Hahn/Cock."

  3. Lose Yourself in the Minneapolis Institute of Art
    Atrium gallery at Minneapolis Institute of Arts

    Just south of downtown, the Minneapolis Institute of Art is one of the best free art museums in America / @vevoviolin

    Lose Yourself in the Minneapolis Institute of Art

    Called Mia for short, this impressive attraction is regularly ranked among the top 10 comprehensive art museums in the country. With more than 90,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years and six continents, it will take multiple visits to see it all. Admission is free, with special exhibits for an additional fee.

  4. Take the Kids to Como Zoo & Conservatory
    Flowers in the Marjorie Mcneely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul

    Marjorie Mcneely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul / Perrine Dailey

    Take the Kids to Como Zoo & Conservatory

    St. Paul's most-visited attraction, Como Zoo features indoor and outdoor exhibits, including large cats, an ape house, polar bears, giraffes, and a crowd-pleasing sea lion named Sparky. The adjacent Marjorie McNeely Conservatory has tropical and seasonal plants and flowers, as well as a Japanese garden. Donations are accepted for both attractions.

  5. See the Ships at the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center
    Ship passes beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth

    Watch ships pass beneath Duluth's iconic Aerial Lift Bridge from the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center / Jackie Scherer

    See the Ships at the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center

    Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this is the most-visited marine museum on the Great Lakes. Overlooking Lake Superior and beneath the shadow of Duluth's iconic Aerial Lift Bridge, the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center has exhibits on the region's historical and present-day role as a major port city. Check the website to find out when the next 1,000-foot freighter will pass right outside the building. Open daily throughout shipping season.

  6. Trek the Superior Hiking Trail
    Female hiker at the top of Honeymoon Bluff in Grand Marais

    Hike to the scenic lookout point of Honeymoon Bluff near Grand Marais / Roy Son

    Trek the Superior Hiking Trail

    This storied 310-mile trail follows the rocky ridge line above Lake Superior, offering unparalleled views of the expansive lake and craggy shoreline along the way. Great for both day hikes and backpack camping, the Superior Hiking Trail runs from south of Duluth to the Canadian border. There are parking lots every 5 to 10 miles, and an information center in Two Harbors where you can buy the official guidebook.

  7. Pedal the Gitchi-Gami State Trail
    Bicyclist rides across a bridge on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail

    Ride the winding and beautiful Gitchi-Gami State Trail along the North Shore of Lake Superior / Waqar Ahmad

    Pedal the Gitchi-Gami State Trail

    The Gitchi-Gami connects Two Harbors to Grand Marais along the North Shore of Lake Superior. This 86-mile trail will eventually connect five state parks, several communities, four Scientific and Natural Areas and numerous historic sites, and provides beautiful vistas of Lake Superior. The longest completed segment is from Gooseberry Falls State Park to Beaver Bay for over 14 miles of uninterrupted riding.

  8. Climb on the Art at Franconia Sculpture Park
    Couple at Franconia Sculpture Park

    Get interactive with the giant outdoor artwork at Franconia Sculpture Park / Roy Son

    Climb on the Art at Franconia Sculpture Park

    Open 365 days a year, this quirky artists' residency in the St. Croix River Valley features more than 100 large-scale sculptures scattered across 25 acres. Free guided tours are offered on Sundays in summer and fall. Other nearby attractions include Interstate State Park, Wild Mountain ski area and water park, and boat tours of the river.

  9. Dance a Polka at the New Ulm Glockenspiel
    Dance a Polka at the New Ulm Glockenspiel

    This 45-foot-tall carillon tower, or Glockenspiel, in downtown New Ulm, Minnesota's most German town, plays programmed music three times a day, when the clock's animated figurines come to life. The characters are replaced by a nativity scene during the holiday season.

  10. See the World's Largest Boot at Red Wing Shoes
    The world's largest boot

    Visit Red Wing Shoes in southern Minnesota to see the world's largest boot, size 638.5 / Lisa Meyers McClintick

    See the World's Largest Boot at Red Wing Shoes

    Located inside the flagship store in downtown Red Wing, the Red Wing Shoe Company Museum features brand memorabilia, a chance to dress like an iron worker and displays about how the famous shoes are made. But the biggest (pun intended) draw is the giant boot in the lobby, clocking in at size 638.5.

  11. Strike a Pose with Paul & Babe
    Snow-covered Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues

    Visit the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues just outside of downtown Bemidji / Weston Holland

    Strike a Pose with Paul & Babe

    Snap a photo with folklore's favorite lumberjack and his trusty steed, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. The pair pictured above can be found in Bemidji, but other statues stand tall in Brainerd, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Akeley and elsewhere throughout the state.

Erica Wacker

Erica Wacker is a Midwesterner through and through, growing up in Illinois, going to college in Wisconsin, and settling down in Minnesota. She loves to run, travel with her family, and go to concerts to relive her youth.