Discover These 7 Outdoor Adventures in Southern Minnesota



This article is supported by the Southern Minnesota Tourism Association.
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From the birthplace of waterskiing in Lake City to sleeping under the stars in a teepee in Blue Mounds State Park outside of Luverne, your next adventure awaits in southern Minnesota! Get your adrenaline pumping with these seven activities, then wind down in the charming towns along the way and recount your adventures.

1. Climb to the Top

Nestled in the bluffs of southeast Minnesota along the Mississippi River, Winona’s Sugar Loaf bluff tempts everyone from new to expert rock climbers to reach for the summit. Sitting 600 feet above Winona, Sugar Loaf is an iconic landmark that can be seen from miles around. Bring your own gear, or get in touch with Big River Climbing for some professional rock climbing assistance.

Blue Mounds State Park, outside of Luverne in the southwest corner of the state, is a popular destination for rock climbing. The extreme Sioux quartzite cliffs have peaks up to 100 feet high that offer spectacular views of the prairie and bison herd below. Want to take a closer look? Schedule a ride through the park on a Prairie and Bison Tour.

2. Chase the Waterfalls

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Minneopa Falls near Mankato / Pei Ketron

The soft trickles and loud roars of waterfalls can be found throughout southern Minnesota. Hike through Nerstrand Big Woods State Park near Northfield where you will stumble across the Hidden Falls, a tranquil cascade in the middle of the woods. Or travel to Pipestone National Monument in the southwest, where Winnewisa Falls flows from the red stone of Pipestone Creek.

In the Minnesota River Valley, Redwood Falls (known as the “Little Yellowstone of Minnesota”) is home to the majestic Ramsey Falls in Ramsey Park, which can be viewed from the thrilling swing bridge. Minneopa Falls at Minneopa State Park in Mankato is another waterfall (and bison!) destination.

3. Get On the Water 

Get on the water in one of southern Minnesota’s many lakes. The 10 lakes surrounding the Faribault area are known for great bass fishing, boating and relaxation at lakeside resorts. The Chain of Lakes in Fairmont connects five lakes for hours of summertime fun fishing, boating, waterskiing and swimming. Rent a canoe or kayak at the public rental station near the launch on Albert Lea Lake.

Paddle your way through the region on the Minnesota River Water Trail. The Minnesota River flows 318 miles from Big Stone Lake in Ortonville to its convergence with the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Views along the way range from steep granite bluffs to marshy lowlands.

Lake Okabena in Worthington offers some of “the best wind in the Midwest,” making it ideal for windsurfing. The Lake Okabena Windsurfers host the annual Windsurfing Regatta & Music Festival in June for visitors and residents to enjoy along the waterfront.

4. Bike the Trails

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Root River Trail, Lanesboro

Bike your way through southwest Minnesota to Marshall, where Camden State Park offers views of the rolling prairie on one side of the trail and the Redwood River flowing along the other. Ride east to St. James where the Watline and St. James trails offer 9 miles of paved riding around scenic St. James Lake.

Looking for a longer ride? Hit the 41-mile Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail from Faribault to Mankato. This route meanders around dozens of lakes and through the villages of Madison Lake, Elysian, Waterville and Morristown.

Head further east to discover the 42-mile Root River State Trail, where cyclists cross over a dam, rail bridges and through the Driftless Area and bluffs of southeast Minnesota. The Root River Trail connects to the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail for 60 miles of uninterrupted riding through the quaint towns of Lanesboro, Whalan, Peterson, Rushford and Houston.

5. Go Underground

Venture underground to see stalactites, stalagmites, waterfalls and pools in the Mystery Cave or Niagara Cave, both in southeast Minnesota. Mystery Cave outside of Preston is Minnesota’s longest known cave. Guided tours are offered daily April through November. Drive just a few miles south to Harmony to see the 60-foot underground waterfall at Niagra Cave. Visitors can mine for real gemstones and fossils at the cave, and a one-hour educational tour is offered April through October.

6. Soar Above the Valley

Kerfoot Canopy Tour, Henderson

Find yourself zip lining through the trees at Kerfoot Canopy Tours near Henderson in the Minnesota River Valley. Explore a suspension bridge, multiple spiral staircases, incredible views and deep ravines on these tours, which feature more than three hours of activities and over a mile of zip line.

In southeast Minnesota’s Bluff Country, take to the Summer High Ropes course at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning. Challenge yourself on the zip-lining course, soaring from tower to tower while enjoying the scenic views of the bluffs and prairies from 30 feet above.

7. Play in the Snow

Visiting southern Minnesota in the winter? Braap along 140 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in Martin County near Fairmont or enjoy a brisk 400 miles through Cottonwood County near Jackson.  

Thrill seekers can try downhill skiing or snowboarding at Welch Village near Red Wing, or take the whole family to Mount Kato Ski Area outside of Mankato to enjoy snow tubing. Make the most of a calm winter’s night on a candlelit cross-country ski excursion at Flandreau State Park in New Ulm or the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center in Austin. Skis and snowshoes are both available for rent.

Get out on a frozen lake and try ice fishing this winter. Enter the Ice Fishing Derby on Sleepy Eye Lake the first Sunday in February or the Annual Ice Castle Classic on Lac qui Parle Lake near Watson for a chance to catch a big fish or some big prizes!

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