Scenic Summer Drives
A roundup of unforgettable driving destinations in the Midwest.
Distance from St. Paul to Hudson: 19 miles; 28 miles from Minneapolis
Appeal of the drive: This summer drive is all about taking back roads and driving with the windows down and the music up.
Driving tips: Drive through Afton to Hudson, traveling through the countryside on County Road 21 (exit 258), merging on to St. Croix Trail south all the way to Hastings, then crossing the tie-arch bridge at US 10 to Prescott, Wis. and heading north on County Road F. To get to downtown, you’ll need to get on I-94 and take Exit 1 (a continuation of Highway 35, which turns into Main Street).
Imagine yourself … Crossing the river and exploring Hudson in the St. Croix River Valley. Hike in Willow River State Park, stroll along the bustling riverfront, go shopping, dine al fresco, or navigate the St. Croix River before staying at a historic bed and breakfast inn or one of many comfortable lodging options in town.
Summer events/festivals: Booster Days July 2-6 and the North Hudson Pepper Festival (the Little Village Celebration with a Big Italian Flavor) from August 15-17.
Western Central Area
Distance From the Twin Cities to Alexandria: 130 miles
Driving time: Approximately two hours
Appeal of the drive: It’s quick and easy—all interstate.
Imagine yourself … Enjoying dinner and drinks at Arrowwood Resort’s outdoor Deck Bar & Grill, booking a massage at Darling Reflections Spa, golfing 18-holes on the Championship Golf Course, going horseback riding, or playing tennis. The kids love the massive indoor waterpark and swimming pool.
Want to explore the area? The Maritime Museum and Carlos Creek Winery are within a short drive of Arrowwood.
Summer festivals/events: The spectacular Star Storm Fireworks Display July 4, the Classic Boat Show July 12, the Master Gardeners Tour July 13, and Art in the Park July 26-27.
Inside tip: Arrowwood guests can request rooms with balconies or lakeside views for beautiful morning sunrises over Lake Darling. In addition to lodge rooms, accommodations include modern townhomes and spacious cottages.
Alexandria. Photo by Kenneth J. Petersen
Distance from Minneapolis to Lake Florida: 100 miles (on Lake Florida, in Kandiyohi County—6 miles west of Spicer, Minn.)
Driving time: Approximately two hours
Driving tips: Highways 55, 7 and 12 all lead to Lake Florida and Dickerson’s Resort.
Appeal of the drive: Gently rolling hills, lakes, and trees—without fighting the traffic of going Up North. Relax and enjoy the scenery.
Imagine yourself … in a cozy lakeside cabin at Dickerson’s Lake Florida Resort, watching the kids play on the sandy beach, fishing off the dock, or cruising the shoreline on a hydrobike, kayak, or paddleboat (free of charge to guests). Owners Bob and Connie Dickerson go above and beyond to ensure their guests have a welcoming, memorable vacation, complete with Sunday morning homemade donuts, Thursday night hayrides, Monday night pizza picnics, and beach bonfires.
Summer festivals/events: July Fourth celebration in nearby Spicer, and in the neighboring town of New London: Friday night Little Crow Ski Shows in Neer Park (throughout the summer), and the New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run August 9.
Celebrate good times: Dickerson’s Lake Florida Resort is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2014! The resort was started by Bob Dickerson’s great-grandparents and has remained a family-owned and family-friendly destination ever since.
Dickerson's Resort. Photo courtesy of Dickerson's Resort.
The North Shore Scenic Drive
Distance from Twin Cities to Two Harbors: 180 miles (about 20 miles north of Duluth)
Driving time: Approximately three hours
Appeal of the drive: Just beyond Duluth’s city limits, Scenic Highway 61 showcases pine, birch, aspen, and wildflowers on one side of the road; views of the world’s largest freshwater lake on the other.
Imagine yourself … At Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior, a luxury North Shore resort tucked away in 40 acres of private woods on Lake Superior. Activities include hiking, biking (complimentary bikes are offered to guests - Two Harbors is just a five mile ride away), paddling, and fishing. For guests who want to stay put and relax, there’s a family room with a deck, covered porch, fireplace, and full-service restaurant and bar, as well as a heated indoor pool, all-season outdoor Jacuzzi, and an old-fashioned, wood-fired Finnish Sauna.
Distance from the Twin Cities to the Lutsen/Tofte area: 250 miles (80 miles from Duluth)
Driving time: Approximately 3.5-4 hours from the Twin Cities
Appeal of the drive: Wooded hills, coves, cliffs, waterfalls, and vistas of Lake Superior are all part of the scenery along Scenic Highway 61. Stop at Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls, Temperance River, or Tettegouche State Park on the way.
Driving tip: Try to avoid leaving the Twin Cities on a Friday afternoon and returning on a Sunday, as this drive is popular in the summer months.
Imagine yourself … Relaxing in Lutsen Resort’s Adirondack chairs along the expansive beach, admiring the beauty of Lake Superior. Unwind further at the on-site WatersMeet Massage and Wellness Center. If you want a more active experience, walk the trails along the shore, or take part in complimentary sea kayak instruction and tours, guided hikes, naturalist programs, yoga on the beach, campfires, fly-fishing classes, and children’s activities. Extra amenities include shuffleboard, and two swimming pools with hot tubs and saunas. If you want a romantic date, enjoy a nice dinner at the award-winning restaurant in the Scandinavian-style lodge, or a glass of wine in the Poplar River Pub.
After you get settled into your lakeside condo or suite at one of the Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts—Bluefin Bay, Surfside, or Temperance Landing, enjoy a cocktail and the spectacular view from the Bluefin Grille at sunset. Or, stroll along the lakewalk under the moonlight, dine in one of three award-winning restaurants, enjoy a late night dip in the outdoor heated pool, soak in the hot tub under the stars, or just relax by the fire. Bluefin Bay resorts are equipped with a host of complimentary equipment and activities so it is the perfect home base for your vacation getaway. Here you can hike, bike, kayak, fish, sail, attend a naturalist program on the beach, or unwind at Waves of Superior Spa. These award-winning Lutsen/Tofte resorts are all about the three R’s: romance, recreation, and relaxation, and the reason guests return year after year.
Want to explore the area? The Superior National 27-hole golf course is close, and Lutsen Mountains—with summer tram rides and an alpine slide—is just a few minutes away. Take a day trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (the closest entry point to the Lutsen/Tofte area is Sawbill Canoe Outfitters) or the town of Grand Marais, just 25 miles down the road. And of course the Superior Hiking Trail, a 300-mile hiking trail following the rocky ridgeline above Lake Superior, never gets old.
Summer festivals/events: The Lutsen 99er mountain bike race June 28, Small Town Fourth of July Celebration in Lutsen and Grand Marais, North Shore Dragon Boat Festival July 25-27 and Fisherman’s Picnic July 31-August 3 at Harbor Park in Grand Marais, and Rendezvous Days August 8-10 in Grand Portage.
Distance from the Twin Cities to Grand Marais: 260 miles
Driving time: 4.5 hours
Appeal of the drive: Stay along Minnesota 61 until the road leads you deeper into the wild boreal forest. With Lake Superior in the distance and the Sawtooth Mountains rising in the background, a trip to Grand Marais—the only North Shore community whose downtown is on the lakeshore—can feel like taking a trip to the seashore.
Imagine yourself … As a guest at Bearskin Lodge on the Gunflint Trail, a quiet sanctuary in the midst of the woods. Here, you’re “off the grid,” giving families, couples, friends, and solo travelers a chance to reconnect with nature. Reserve the private hot tub after hiking, fishing, or paddling. (You might even see a moose!) The four updated lodge rooms and 11 log cabins—spaced out around Bearskin Lake—are clean and comfortable.
When you want to stay on the edge of Lake Superior and within walking distance of downtown Grand Marais, consider East Bay Suites, a pet-friendly hotel resort in Grand Marais. (The pet-friendly rooms come with dishes, a dog bed, and a leash tie-out off the patio.) The rooms are modern, comfortable, and spacious, and the views are incredible. Leave the car parked and conveniently walk to the shops, restaurants, and Artist’s Point in downtown Grand Marais.
Summer festivals/events: Visit July 12 and 13 for the 24th Annual Grand Marais Arts Festival on the shore of Lake Superior, when over 70 and local regional artists showcase unique handcrafted work and provide insight into their artistic process. The Grand Marais Art Colony, the longest lived art colony in the state, is the perfect union between artists and the natural beauty of the North Shore. Today it’s a year-round cultural and arts organization for everyone from the novice to the pro, offering classes and workshops in a range of mediums.
Distance from the Twin Cities to Cook County (communities of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail, and Grand Portage): Anywhere from 3.5 to Lutsen/Tofte and 5 hours to Grand Portage (near the Canadian border)
Appeal of the drive: This is the tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead and the northernmost run of legendary Scenic Highway 61. There’s a reason it’s “legendary.”
Imagine yourself … Exploring the gateway to a million acres of pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, appreciating the folklore and natural wonder of the 57-mile Gunflint Trail, or voyaging into the rich history, art, and culture that built a region and define its people. It’s all in Cook County, the only place where you can enjoy the world’s largest freshwater lake, visit Minnesota’s tallest mountain peaks and highest waterfall, and enjoy its longest scenic biking trails.
Lutsen Resort. Courtesy of Luten Resort.
Distance from St. Paul to Biwabik: 200 miles
Driving time: Approximately three hours
Appeal of the drive: A drive on the nearby Superior National Forest Scenic Byway is a breathtaking experience.
Imagine yourself … Staying at the Villas at Giants Ridge, swimming in the outdoor pool, playing tennis, and enjoying the private lakefront beach and scenic walking trail along Wynne Lake. Rent skates or bikes from Giants Ridge Rental Shop, play a round at one of the state’s finest disc golf courses, or rent a canoe, kayak, paddleboat, or fishing boat for the complete vacation experience. The villas and suites overlook Wynne Lake and connect to Sabin Lake, making it convenient to fish, swim or go boating right from your doorstep.
Golfers, take note: There are two beautiful 18-hole championship golf courses available at Giants Ridge. The Legend, which has been rated among the top golf courses in the country by Golf Digest magazine, has earned its name. The Quarry, added in 2003, is another top-notch golf course. Both capture the beauty of the rolling hills and wooded terrain of northern Minnesota.
Distance from the Twin Cities to Bemidji: Approximately 235 miles
Driving time: Four hours
Driving tips: The most scenic route to Bemidji is also the most direct—follow US Highway 10 northwest out of the Twin Cities area to Motley, then take Highway 64 north to Akeley.
Appeal of the drive: If you want to see the famous statues of Paul and Babe, go through the Kabekona State Forest to Highway 200, follow Highway 71 north, and take a left on Bemidji Avenue (County Road 21),
then follow it down to the lakeshore.
Pick up a map of other interesting sites at the Tourist Information Center.
Imagine yourself … Vacationing at Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge on the northwest shore of Lake Bemidji. The air is cleaner, the red pines grow taller, and life is more relaxed here. Enjoy a lovely dinner on the patio with a glass of wine, while the kids play 15 feet away on the sandy beach. Watch twilight fall over the lake while making s’mores. Throw a Frisbee in the shade of the trees. The resort offers boat and bike rentals, a free childrens’ recreation program, complimentary canoes and kayaks, and a variety of well-appointed lodging options.
Want to explore? Go swimming, fishing, or boating at Lake Bemidji State Park or step across the Mississippi headwaters at Itasca State Park, attracting visitors from around the world.
Distance from the Twin Cities to Leech Lake: About 200 miles
Driving time: Approximately 3.5 hours
Imagine yourself … Fishing for musky, walleye, pike, or panfish—the Leech Lake area is an angler’s paradise. It’s so much more than a fishing destination, though. It’s also a great place for hiking and biking on scenic wilderness trails, playing a round (or three) of golf, exploring state parks and forests, and checking out the town of Walker.
Want to explore? Forestedge Winery and Farm, Leech Lake Brewing Company, Cass County Museum, and Northern Lights Casino are all nearby.
Distance from the Twin Cities to Northfield: 38 miles south
Driving time: Approximately 45 minutes
Appeal of the drive: Driving past farm fields in all of their summer glory, from the first green shoots to the final golden harvest—this is rural southeastern Minnesota farm country at its best.
Driving tips: Take US 52 South for 22 miles from St. Paul. At Hampton, take County Highway 47 (Northfield Boulevard) 12 miles to Minnesota 3. Turn left on Minnesota 3 and drive two miles to a stoplight at 2nd Street. Take a left on 2nd Street, a right on Division Street, and go straight ahead two blocks to Riverwalk Market Fair on Bridge Square. Street parking available.
Imagine yourself … At Riverwalk Market Fair, a cup of coffee in one hand, a fresh baked treat in the other as you spend the day (or weekend) in Northfield. Select fresh local produce and flowers, and browse among watercolors, prints, fused glass, wearable art, hand-crafted jewelry, leatherwork and other fine crafts by local artists. The Fair is on Saturdays from June through October, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
While you’re in Northfield … Check out the retail shops in historic downtown for boutique clothing, home décor, kitchenware, jewelry, unique gifts, and a variety of fresh extra virgin olive oil from around the world, found at Northfield Olive Oils and Vinegars. (Try the authentic Traditional Style Balsamic Condimento, made in Modena, Italy from the highest quality Tebbiano grapes). Customers can sample any product from the stainless steel dispensaries before having it freshly bottled. This charming mom-and-pop shop, owned by Joe and Sherry Morgan, is located near the Northfield Historical Society.
Summer events/festivals: Cannon River Roots Festival July 26, Vintage Band Festival August 2, and the Defeat of Jesse James Days September 3-7.
Quick Escape: Minneapolis
Courtesy of Radisson Blu
Become a tourist in your own city by staying a night or weekend at the iconic Radisson Blu Minneapolis.
This completely transformed hotel offers stylish upscale rooms, fitness center, free wi-fi and room service. Top off your stay with breakfast, lunch or dinner in FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar serving deliciously fresh and local food. This four star hotel is so luxurious you may not want to leave.
When you choose to explore the city there is so much so close! The Minnesota Twins at Target Field, performances at the Orpheum and State Theaters, shopping, museums and dozens of restaurants and bars.
This award winning four star hotel received the 2014 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor signifying that this hotel is in the upper echelon of businesses listed on the website. Call 800-333-3333 today to book your fun!
Great River Road National Scenic Byway (SOUTH)
Distance from St. Paul to Winona: 108 miles
Driving time: Approximately two hours
Driving tips: Cross the Mississippi River on Highway 10 to Prescott, then follow Highway 35 south, crossing back over on Highway 63 into Red Wing, where you pick up Highway 61 South again. This route keeps you as close to the river as possible all the way to Winona.
Appeal of the drive: This is one of the prettiest parts of Minnesota, with panoramic views of the Mighty Mississippi on one side, and towering bluffs on the other as you meander through historic river towns and by pastoral scenery.
Once you arrive, be sure to check out … The Minnesota Marine Art Museum, where you’ll find world-class works by greats like Picasso and Renoir inside, and a spectacular river view from the outdoor mezzanine. Take a “walking tour” in the historical district, abounding with antique stores and gift shops. End your day with a root beer from Lakeview Drive Inn, a Winona institution for more than 75 years.
Summer festivals/events: Both the Great River Shakespeare Festival, June 25-August 3, and the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, June 29-July 20, bring professional talent to the area. On the weekends, there are often free concerts on the green.
Fountain City, Wis
Distance from the Twin Cities to Fountain City, Wis.: 105 miles downstream (six miles north of Winona)
Imagine yourself … staying in an enchanted two-story treehouse at Hawks View Cottages, overlooking the Mississippi River and historic Fountain City. The five luxury bluff-side cottages feature a master suite, full kitchen, decks, porches, and whirlpool tub for two. Each cottage is located in a wooded site with dramatic views of the river.
Inside tips: Bird-watching hotspots are abundant in the area. Look for bald eagles, pelicans, and arctic swans. Bike down the Great River State Trail, or check out Merrick Park along the river.
Want to explore the area? Seven Hawks Vineyards, just a mile away, offers wine tastings. The Frontenac Reserve won a silver medal in the Minnesota Grape Growers Association International Cold Climate Wine Competition.
Distance from Winona to Lanesboro: 38 miles
Driving time: About an hour and 45 minutes
Driving tips: From Winona, go south on Highway 61 to Highway 16, then go west and drive another hour to Lanesboro.
Imagine yourself … Staying at the Historic Scanlan House Bed and Breakfast Inn, a restored Queen Anne Victorian home-turned-bed-and breakfast after pedaling or paddling in Lanesboro, named one of the “Top 20 Best Small Towns to Visit” by Smithsonian magazine. (Guests staying at the Scanlan House B&B can rent bikes or canoes from the Little River General Store for a discounted rate.) For a romantic stay, book a room with a two-person whirlpool and fireplace and personalize the experience with hand-dipped chocolate truffles, fresh roses, massage therapy, dinner for two at the Old Village Hall Restaurant and Pub, a bottle of bubbly on ice, and/or aromatherapy with turndown service. Extra touches include a delicious five-course breakfast, a 24-hour butler’s pantry stocked with coffee, tea, and gourmet cocoa, beautiful Victorian-era décor and antiques, and a welcoming and informative staff.
Lanesboro summer festivals/events: Regular performances at the Commonweal Theatre, activities at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, and the “Summer Dreams” exhibit at the Lanesboro Art Center. The citywide Buffalo Bills Days festival is August 1-3.
Distance from Minneapolis to Sleepy Eye: 110 miles
Driving time: About two hours
Appeal of the drive: If you’re a fan of Little House on the Prairie, thenyou’ve heard of Sleepy Eye. It was the little city near Walnut Grove. From the east, take Historic Highway 14, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, and you’ll get there.
Imagine yourself … Staying in this charming little city (named after Chief Sleepy Eye) and exploring the local hotspots and numerous Brown County structures on the National Register of Historic Places.
Summer festivals/events: Street dance and fireworks July 3 and 4, and the Buttered Corn Days festival August 15 and 16.
Canoe Bay. Courtesy of Canoe Bay
Distance from the Twin Cities to Chetek, Wis: 120 miles
Driving time: About two hours
Appeal of the drive: Take Highway 36 east into Stillwater and follow it across the St. Croix River into Wisconsin, then take 64E through little Wisconsin towns until you get to the northwestern part of the state. Once you get close (just south of Rice Lake), trust the GPS coordinates provided by Canoe Bay, a beautiful Northwoods retreat. The secluded location is part of the draw.
Inside tip: When you book, ask for the “country drive” directions, and watch out for deer!
Imagine yourself … Enjoying Canoe Bay’s crystal clear glacier-created private lake from your private deck, a dock, the shore, or a canoe. Stay in a guest room, lakeside cottage, or 2,000-square-foot villa and disconnect from the world at Canoe Bay, a member of the prestigious Relais and Chateaux collection of lodging properties.
Summer festivals/events: If you care to leave the property, the Barron County Fair is July 16-20 in nearby Rice Lake, and the Northland Mardi Gras in Ladysmith is July 17-20. Odds are, though, that you’ll want to stay at Canoe Bay, enjoying the peaceful surroundings, delicious food and wine, and chance to reconnect with your loved one.
Distance from Minneapolis to Trump International Hotel, Chicago: 409 miles; from Milwaukee – 92 miles
Driving time: Approximately 7 hours from Minneapolis, 1.5 hours from Milwaukee
Driving tips: Avoid arriving during the busy morning and evening rush hour, and always check event schedules for high-traffic before sporting events, concerts, and festivals. Also? Bring change for the tolls.
Appeal of the drive: Crossing through the Midwest provides an assortment of beautiful sites in big cities. Once you approach Chicago, the larger-than-life skyscrapers and sparkling lake let visitors know they’ve arrived. As the second tallest building in the city, Trump International Hotel and Tower stands out as a beacon.
Imagine yourself … On the Terrace at Trump on the 16th floor. With stunning views of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and the city’s architectural icons, as well as a specially-crafted seasonal menu, this Chicago rooftop restaurant and bar is the ultimate summer destination.
And don’t miss … Chicago’s world class shopping, exhilarating nightlife, and clean, sandy lakefront beaches (26 miles, to be exact). For guests staying at Trump Hotel Chicago, Luxury Beach Services are available, complete with custom tote bags, deluxe beach towels, sunscreen, toys for the kids, and more.
Unwind in the luxurious on-site spa, with treatments specifically designed for women, men, and couples.
Summer festivals/events: Lollapalooza August 1-3 in Grant Park, and Chicago Gourmet, featuring more then 150 of Chicago’s finest restaurants and chefs, in Millennium Park September 26-28.
Inside tips: The hotel offers signature programs for kids, pets, and the Trump Card® privileges program for loyal Trump guests. A stay at this hotel should be on everyone’s bucket list.