Greater Minnesota Hidden Gems

Bad Gopher

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I might have mentioned that last August, I and my friends took a circle tour around Colorado and had a heck of an adventure doing it. We were blessed to have scouted out, happened upon, and been directed to (by locals) a number of lesser-known attractions, establishments, and sites. It was the more obscure stuff that made the trip what it was.

We've been wondering what we could do to even equal that vacation, and on the strength of last year's success, we've asked the question: why not do the same thing again, but right here in our home state? And that is the concept for this year's trip: Minnesota circle tour. The problem with Minnesota compared with Colorado: more roads, more towns, possibly more hidden gems...all adding up to more options and more permutations. We need to first establish an inventory of all the stuff we've never seen and would like to, then try to string it together on a route.

So I ask the GopherHole community: help us fill in that inventory with your experiences...especially the more out-of-the-way and lesser-known things. What have you done and seen that most people wouldn't be aware of--that, when you were there and experienced it, you couldn't believe your find? Looking for literally anything: cultural and historical treasures, seedy dives, scenic vistas, redneck roadhouses, greasy spoons, distilleries, breweries, retail plums, places a guy could get in trouble, etc.

Thanks in advance for any ideas!
 

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I'm a big fan of the Gooseberry Falls, Palisade Head, and Black Beach in Silver Bay day adventure. All can be hit and discovered in one day if you get going early enough. Not so much hidden gems but doing them all in one day is a gem of a day.
 

GophersInIowa

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My dad talks about going up to the Crooked Lake Resort area near Finland during the winter for snowmobiling back in his younger days. There's a restaurant called the Trestle Inn right next door that's supposed to be great. I'm assuming there's plenty of hiking in the area during the summer.

Never been there, but always thought going to the Northwest Angle would be fun if you're willing to drive through Canada first to get there.
 

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I'm a big fan of the Gooseberry Falls, Palisade Head, and Black Beach in Silver Bay day adventure. All can be hit and discovered in one day if you get going early enough. Not so much hidden gems but doing them all in one day is a gem of a day.
I would 100% add a hike around Cascade River State Park to that day.
 





short ornery norwegian

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all depends on what type of stuff you like to do.

MN is varied enough that you could plan different types of trips or mini-tours based on your interests.

I believe the MN Dept of Tourism puts out an annual list of events and celebrations. There are festivals centered around music and the arts - and then there are the classic small-town celebrations, county fairs, etc.

If you like the outdoors, lots of places to golf, fish, etc. Plus state parks and a number of walking/hiking trails.

If you like alcohol, there are plenty of craft brewers and wineries around the state. You could go to New Ulm and see the statue of Herman the German.

if you're a baseball fan, there are a lot of really good town teams out there, with some fun local parks.

and then there is the more unusual stuff:
the Spam Museum
the world's largest ball of Twine
a statue of the world's largest crow
the Greyhound Bus Museum
the National Eagle Center
The Laura Engels Wilder museum (live performances in the Summer)

just about all of this info is available on-line.
 

Bad Gopher

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My dad talks about going up to the Crooked Lake Resort area near Finland during the winter for snowmobiling back in his younger days. There's a restaurant called the Trestle Inn right next door that's supposed to be great. I'm assuming there's plenty of hiking in the area during the summer.

Never been there, but always thought going to the Northwest Angle would be fun if you're willing to drive through Canada first to get there.
Thanks for the tip. There's a lot of interesting stuff in the Finland area including an abandoned rail tunnel you can explore. And there's a good deal of folklore surrounding an abandoned military radar installation nearby...some of which borders on the paranormal. A couple local ladies my wife and I talked to several years ago said we should go to the local bar there and start asking about it, and we'd find some stories and strong opinions about it. We were like, nope.
 



Bad Gopher

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all depends on what type of stuff you like to do.

MN is varied enough that you could plan different types of trips or mini-tours based on your interests.

I believe the MN Dept of Tourism puts out an annual list of events and celebrations. There are festivals centered around music and the arts - and then there are the classic small-town celebrations, county fairs, etc.

If you like the outdoors, lots of places to golf, fish, etc. Plus state parks and a number of walking/hiking trails.

If you like alcohol, there are plenty of craft brewers and wineries around the state. You could go to New Ulm and see the statue of Herman the German.

if you're a baseball fan, there are a lot of really good town teams out there, with some fun local parks.

and then there is the more unusual stuff:
the Spam Museum
the world's largest ball of Twine
a statue of the world's largest crow
the Greyhound Bus Museum
the National Eagle Center
The Laura Engels Wilder museum (live performances in the Summer)

just about all of this info is available on-line.
All these on the list...and this as our trip anthem:

 

BarnBurner

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The Lost 40 in northern Itasca County. Old growth trees never logged.
And, stop in the bar in Alvwood for the most boxes of pull tabs you have ever seen.
 

Bad Gopher

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all depends on what type of stuff you like to do.

MN is varied enough that you could plan different types of trips or mini-tours based on your interests.

I believe the MN Dept of Tourism puts out an annual list of events and celebrations. There are festivals centered around music and the arts - and then there are the classic small-town celebrations, county fairs, etc.

If you like the outdoors, lots of places to golf, fish, etc. Plus state parks and a number of walking/hiking trails.

If you like alcohol, there are plenty of craft brewers and wineries around the state. You could go to New Ulm and see the statue of Herman the German.

if you're a baseball fan, there are a lot of really good town teams out there, with some fun local parks.

and then there is the more unusual stuff:
the Spam Museum
the world's largest ball of Twine
a statue of the world's largest crow
the Greyhound Bus Museum
the National Eagle Center
The Laura Engels Wilder museum (live performances in the Summer)

just about all of this info is available on-line.
OK, on the subject of local civic celebrations... The tone setter for the awesomeness of our Colorado trip was the drive out there, which included drunken rampaging through eastern Nebraska. We stopped at nine bars between Sioux City and our overnight in Grand Island, and it was nothing short of epic and wondrous. You will not find nicer people on Earth than Nebraskans. There are too many stories from that one day to tell in this space.

One, though: our third stop was in Wakefield...Sidelines Bar & Grill to be specific. They were particularly inspired by the concept of six guys drunkenly road tripping across the middle west. The owner of the bar gave me a t-shirt for leading my charges to his establishment, and he and all his patrons invited us back for their civic celebration: Wakefest, which sounds like a hoot. At minimum, it sounds delicious, with a BBQ cookoff. Well, I and my guys are going to be on our Minnesota circle tour at the time of this year's Wakefest, but all y'all Gopherholers: to quote the Beatles, a splendid time is guaranteed for all. If you can get to Wakefest, by all means, do it.
 

Bad Gopher

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The Lost 40 in northern Itasca County. Old growth trees never logged.
And, stop in the bar in Alvwood for the most boxes of pull tabs you have ever seen.
Fuck yeah! I I've had the Lost 40 on the list, but we are definitely spending all our wages at the bar in Alvwood. Thank you, BB!
 
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tikited

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Thanks for the tip. There's a lot of interesting stuff in the Finland area including an abandoned rail tunnel you can explore. And there's a good deal of folklore surrounding an abandoned military radar installation nearby...some of which borders on the paranormal. A couple local ladies my wife and I talked to several years ago said we should go to the local bar there and start asking about it, and we'd find some stories and strong opinions about it. We were like, nope.
The hike to Section 19 on the Superior Hiking Trail is in Finland. Great overlook and a few campsites if you want to stay a while.
 

GophersInIowa

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Thanks for the tip. There's a lot of interesting stuff in the Finland area including an abandoned rail tunnel you can explore. And there's a good deal of folklore surrounding an abandoned military radar installation nearby...some of which borders on the paranormal. A couple local ladies my wife and I talked to several years ago said we should go to the local bar there and start asking about it, and we'd find some stories and strong opinions about it. We were like, nope.
Are you talking about the old Air Force base? As of February it’s for sale.

 

Bad Gopher

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Swastika Beach in northern Jackson County. Actually not much to see, but that name….
 

Nokomis

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Niagara Cave in Harmony is impressive if you swing through far SE MN, named as such because of a big waterfall in the cave. You could stop by Rockfilter Distillery in Spring Grove, and Lanesboro has a charming historic downtown.
 


Ski U Mah Gopher

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Niagara Cave in Harmony is impressive if you swing through far SE MN, named as such because of a big waterfall in the cave. You could stop by Rockfilter Distillery in Spring Grove, and Lanesboro has a charming historic downtown.
Don't forget the Whalen Pie Shop:)
 

Bad Gopher

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Niagara Cave in Harmony is impressive if you swing through far SE MN, named as such because of a big waterfall in the cave. You could stop by Rockfilter Distillery in Spring Grove, and Lanesboro has a charming historic downtown.
How does Niagara Cave compare to Mystery Cave? My daughters and I visited the latter a number of years ago.

The feedback I've gotten from my travelers is that southeast Minnesota might be out of scope of this loop, just because theres so much to do down there, we have a limited number of days, and looping around southeast before heading west might blow a realistic timeline. I think it's likely we'll extend next year's Mid West Music Fest trip to do a southeast loop.

My wife and I did Harmony with another couple many years ago (before we had kids), and we've always talked about going back. We stayed at a B&B that was part owned by a former Amish man, and he took us on a non-official Amish country tour that gave us some inside access to a few farms and people. It was so interesting! Memorable trip.
 



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Trylon Cinema in Minneapolis is a cool little theater if you wanna catch an old film.

Getting some walleye in Bemidji is amazing too. One of the restaurants there told me they get their stock from Red Lake, just north. Some of the best I've had in the state.
 

Bad Gopher

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Trylon Cinema in Minneapolis is a cool little theater if you wanna catch an old film.

Getting some walleye in Bemidji is amazing too. One of the restaurants there told me they get their stock from Red Lake, just north. Some of the best I've had in the state.
Is there a particular spot you recommend for Walleye in Bemidji? Where did you get yours?
 

tikited

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Trylon Cinema in Minneapolis is a cool little theater if you wanna catch an old film.

Getting some walleye in Bemidji is amazing too. One of the restaurants there told me they get their stock from Red Lake, just north. Some of the best I've had in the state.
Big Trylon fan.
 



coolhandgopher

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Trylon Cinema in Minneapolis is a cool little theater if you wanna catch an old film.

Getting some walleye in Bemidji is amazing too. One of the restaurants there told me they get their stock from Red Lake, just north. Some of the best I've had in the state.
Damn, how long has the Trylon been around? I was just perusing their website and I am aching inside that I either wasn’t aware of it or it started operations after I moved away.
 

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Damn, how long has the Trylon been around? I was just perusing their website and I am aching inside that I either wasn’t aware of it or it started operations after I moved away.
It started at least 8-10 years ago I'm guessing. It was just around the corner for the first location. I first went to it to see a Bruce Lee flick. There was one other guy besides my group. The other guy was sitting on some folding chair contraption. It broke in two right away. I remember it sat 30 to begin. They continuously worked on the space and it was pretty sweet by the time they moved to the current spot. The new space isn't big but it is much nicer.
 




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