The Ultimate MN Bucket List

This is your summer, your year, your decade—however long it takes—to be a real Minnesotan, to do all those classic local things you’ve wanted to do but never have. Here’s our list of must-do’s, complete with everything you need to do them.


1. Hike all the way around Lake Superior (see sidebar below).

2. Find a Showy Lady Slipper, the state flower. Your best bet: Lady Slipper Scenic Byway, between Blackduck and Highway 2, in late June. •

3. Harvest wild rice. First, you’ll need to get a permit. Then, head to one of the 700 lakes boasting Minnesota’s state grain, concentrated in Aitkin, Itasca, Cass, and St. Louis counties. •

4. Watch the start of the John Beargrease sled-dog marathon.

5. Drive the Great River Road down to Iowa. •

6. See a moose (while you still can). Your best bet: Try the Gunflint and Arrowhead trails near Grand Marais in October—mating season.

7. Hike out to the Witch Tree in Grand Portage. Ask for a guide at the Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center. •

8. Visit the Northwest Angle, the surveying error that became the northernmost point in the Lower 48;  it’s accessable only by crossing Lake of the Woods or cutting through Canada.

9. Take a sauna in the Ely Steam Bath—one of only two family-owned saunas in the United States. Czech/Finn approved. • 127 First Ave. S., Ely; 218-365-2984

10. Canoe or Huck Finn the Mississippi River, from the headwaters in Itasca State Park all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Pack accordingly.

11. Run the Twin Cities Marathon. Love every uphill step of the final Summit Avenue stretch. •

12. Collect agates along the shore of Lake Superior at Good Harbor Bay.

13. Go dogsledding in Ely, the sled-dog capital of the world. •

14. Stay in cabin 26 at Burntside Lodge, located on a solitary point extending into Burntside Lake. •

15. Catch an eelpout during the International Eelpout Festival in Walker. •

16. Bike the full Root River bike trail through the limestone bluffs and rolling hills surrounding Lanesboro. •

17. See the Northern Lights. Get as far north and away from lights as possible and wait for midnight, when they tend to shine brightest.

18. Drive Highway 1. Begin in Ely, end when you hit Lake Superior. Accelerate through the curves.

19. Walk across the Mississippi River headwaters in Itasca State Park. •

20. See the Runestone in Alexandria (bonus: solve the mystery). •

21. Explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Stay in the Tall Pines Yurt on Hooker Lake and book a fishing trip with the Boundary Waters Guide Service. •;

22. Camp on Isle Royale and experience the solitude of one of the country’s least-visited National Parks. •

23. Visit the Lost 40, 114 acres of old-growth trees in the Big Fork State Forest overlooked by loggers in 1882. Find the 300-year-old white pine. •

24. Sink into an outdoor hot tub during a blizzard. Best place: beside Lake Superior, mere feet from the cozy Sweetgrass Cove Guesthouse near Grand Portage. Get a massage in your room the next day. •

WHAT IT’S LIKE: To hike all the way around Lake Superior

By author Mike Link of Willow River

My wife, Kate Crowley, and I were walking the Superior Hiking Trail one day in 2008, discussing our retirement. After running the Audubon Center for almost 40 years, we were wondering what comes next for us, when suddenly inspiration hit. Had anyone ever hiked around the entire shore of Lake Superior? As it turns out, we’re the only couple to do it. We started on April 29, 2010, hiking 1,555 miles on trails, the shoreline, and sometimes in the lake itself. We spent our days walking with the occasional stop in nearby communities to give presentations on keeping our largest resource of fresh water clean. At night we camped. On September 18, 2010—145 days later—we finished our full-circle hike around Lake Superior. The amazing thing is that neither of us ever had a day when we woke up and didn’t want to continue hiking. In fact, on the last day, I thought, “So what are we going to do next?

Garrison Keillor’s MN Bucket List

1. Walk across a frozen lake on a moonlit night with someone who is dear to you. Having done it once, you’ll want to do it again. Resist the urge to write a poem about this. Just do it.

2. Go to Sunday morning service at Boe Chapel at St. Olaf College and sit in the middle of the crowd and sing, blending your voice with the voices around you. Learn “The Frozen Logger,” “Girl from the North Country,” and “Children of the Heavenly Father,” and sing those, too.

3. The foundational Minnesota experience is to do a hard job for no money—visit the sick, tutor children who are struggling, help the homeless, build a dyke to save a town from flooding—which connects you to reality and lifts you up from narcissism. Minnesota is not for narcissists.

4.  Paddle a canoe down a small river, such as the Cannon, the Crow, the Rock, the Rum—watch out for barbed wire—or the upper Mississippi just below Lake Bemidji, and when you come to a shallow, still pool, lie in it naked and let the minnows nibble on you. Make sure you’re not easily visible from a road or house, lest you be subjected to public humiliation.

5. An hour or two before sunset, ride a bike down a county road out on the prairie, somewhere up between Thief River Falls and Moorhead. Stop now and then and feel the light fade toward gloaming.

6. Go to a church supper in a small town—a spaghetti dinner, fish fry, bean feed, barbecue, or potluck—and and offer to help with the cleanup. They won’t let you, but it’s a good way of meeting good people.   

7. Read Winter Dreams by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, and Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers. Reread Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on Plum Creek. Read Louis Jenkins.

8. Load up a manure spreader by hand and get on the tractor and broadcast it on a field of corn stubble. Remember to head into the wind.

9. Put a pot of water to boil on the stove. When it’s boiling, go out and pick sweet corn in the field. Husk it, boil it, and sit down and eat it, slathered with butter—15 minutes from the stalk to the table.

Keillor is hosting A Prairie Home Companion’s Radio Romance Tour.

What’s on your bucket list? We’d love to hear at #mnmobucketlist.


25. Snag one of the 14 stools at the counter of Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown for a buttermilk pancake as big as its plate. Scooch down when the waitress tells you to. • 413 14th Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-331-9991

26. Enter the Izzy’s Ice Cream People’s Flavor Contest, or at least attend the every-other-year lick-off and vote for your favorite creation. •

27. Sample stuffed chicken wings, spicy papaya salad, and tricolor dessert at the Hmongtown Marketplace. •

28. Make a walleye shore lunch. City slickers, catch your dinner in the trout pond at Jax Cafe. •

29. Tour the Spam Museum in Austin. •

30. Eat everything on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair. •

31. Take a pie tour of the North Shore: order the triple berry at New Scenic Café, raspberry cream at the Rustic Inn, coconut cream at Lemon Wolf, and chocolate coffee toffee at The Pie Place. •,,,

32. Indulge in the Grand Tasting Menu at La Belle Vie, 13 courses of bliss. •

33. Pick up a few pounds of the nationally famous cracked-black-pepper bacon at Thielen Meats in Pierz. •

34. Tap a tree for maple syrup.

35. Attend the American Swedish Institute’s annual lutefisk feed. (If you can’t stomach the lye-cured fish, try a booya feed instead.) •

36. Order whatever Lake Superior fish is freshest—cisco, whitefish, lake trout—at the Angry Trout Café in Grand Marais. •

37. Learn to make lefse at Ingebretsen’s—or at least stock up on the feather-light Norwegian flatbread. •

38. Have a drink with iconic artist Scott Seekins at Café Maude at Loring. Every Thursday night he descends from his studio above the restaurant to hold court. •

39. Order a Danish cream dessert in the Technicolor Native American splendor of the Naniboujou Lodge dining room. •

40. Camp out for Surly Darkness Day at the Brooklyn Center brewery. •

41. Share a Bubbly Sex Pot punch at Prohibition, the onetime study of Wilbur Foshay on the 27th floor of his namesake tower. •

42. Buy a share of the Fisher’s Club on Middle Spunk Lake in Avon; the supper club was once co-owned by Garrison Keillor and is the closest thing you’ll find to Lake Wobegon. •

43. Satisfy your carnivorous cravings with the Silver Butter Knife steak at Murray’s or the Bludgeon of Beef at Manny’s. •,

WHAT IT’S LIKE: To crowd surf with Mayor R.T. Rybak

By Duluth Mayor Don Ness

Last year, Trampled By Turtles had just come out with their new album and had a show at First Avenue. R.T. came up the idea that we would make a duel proclamation, declaring it “Trampled By Turtles Day,” which we did. So earlier that day, I was at R.T.’s State of the City address in north Minneapolis. He came to me and said, “We gotta stage dive at the Turtles show!” I’m like, “I’m not sure if that’s a great idea.” He’s an old pro at it. But I’m a lot bigger than he is. And sure enough, at my first true crowd-surfing attempt, I didn’t even crowd surf! I stage dived, but I didn’t surf. I just took out the first three rows of concertgoers.

Cathy Wurzer’s MN Bucket List

1.  Pipestone National Monument.

2.  Mystery Cave/Forestville State Park. The cave looks really cool. In fact, it is cool: 48 degrees all year.

3.  Ice fish in an honest-to-God icehouse on Lake Mille Lacs, the tricked-out kind with beds, lounge chairs, a kitchen, and an entertainment center.

4.  Eat at Valentini’s Supper Club in Chisholm, the Holy Grail of Italian food on the Range. Get the penne with homemade Italian sausage.

5.  Take the Empire Builder train from St. Paul to Glacier National Park.

6.  Ride on an iron-ore carrier—a laker like the elegant Edward L. Ryerson or the old Arthur M. Anderson—as you go under Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge.

7.  Visit Split Rock Lighthouse in November, when the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is commemorated. (The beacon is lit and the lighthouse bell is rung 29 times.)

8.  Tour the former National Farmers’ Bank in Owatonna, designed by Louis Sullivan in 1908. It’s a great American building.

9.  Bloedow Bakery in Winona, at the southern end of Highway 61. Mondays are Bavarian Cream. Tuesdays: Lemon. Wednesdays: Apple. And that’s just the filled doughnuts.

10.  Go fishing. “Still” fishing, not trolling or fly-fishing. Get a rod and bobber, and just sit on a dock or the banks of a lake or in an anchored boat. Put a worm or minnow on the hook, cast, and let the bobber sit there. It’s meditative until that bobber drops.

Cathy Wurzer is the host of Morning Edition for MPR News and the author of Tales of the Road: Highway 61. She also rides, trains, and shows horses, and fly-fishes for trout.

What’s on your bucket list? We’d love to hear at #mnmobucketlist.


44. Attend all 12 days of the Great Minnesota Get Together. •

45. Crowd surf at First Avenue with R.T. Rybak (see page 54). •

46. Attend the St. Olaf Christmas Festival at the college in Northfield. •

47. Have sex at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden—beware the surveillance cameras. •

48. March in the May Day Parade (bonus points: wear a kale bikini). •

49. Enter the crop-art competition at the Minnesota State Fair. •

50.  Get a photo with Kim Lardashian and Kris Hamphries, the St. Paul Saints’ porcine mascots.  •

51. Get on the kiss cam at a Twins game. •

52. Tour the exemplary Prairie School architecture of the Purcell-Cutts House in Minneapolis. • Open to the public the second weekend of every month, 2328 Lake Pl., Mpls., 612-870-3000

53. Instagram a Prince sighting.

54. Be an extra in a Coen brothers film.

55. Enter a show in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. •

56. Dance the polka at New Ulm’s Oktoberfest. •

57. Attend a powwow. One of the most scenic and historic events takes place beside Lake Superior in Grand Portage the second weekend in August. •

58. Settle into a concert at the Minnesota Zoo as dusk falls. •

59. Read all of Louise Erdrich’s novels.

60. Attend every county fair in Minnesota—in one summer.

61. Photograph the Gold Medal Flour sign from the Guthrie Theater’s “endless bridge” at sunset. •

62. Swing dance in St. Paul’s famous gangster haven, the Wabasha Street Caves. •

63. Watch the parade of low-rider cars at the Cinco de Mayo festival in St. Paul. •


64. Own a pair of Red Wing work boots (bonus points: actually use them to do the labor for which they were built). •

65. Have a suit made to order at St. Paul’s 90-year-old Heimie’s Haberdashery. •

66. Get yourself some Ely-made mukluks, named after explorer Will Steger. Never be cold in winter again. •

67. Get a straight-razor shave from Mustache Mike at MidNorth Mercantile. •

68. Tour the revived Faribault Woolen Mill Company. Snuggle up with one of the Backseat Blankets they created from a Pierrepont Hicks design. • Mill tours can be scheduled for any Friday.  E-mail;

69. Wear Zubaz. In public. •

70. Master the art of layering, such that you can survive Minnesota’s infamous 50-degree temperature swings.

71. Slip into the soft suede (or deerskin) of Minnetonka Mocs. Celebrities will copy you. •

72. Outfit your shower with Aveda’s Rosemary Mint shampoo. •

73. Get a haircut from Jon English. •

74. Commission Joy Teiken to make a one-of-a-kind dress, just for you. •

75. Own a Room & Board couch and a Blu Dot Real Good Chair. •;

76. Shop at the modern-day Dayton’s: Askov Finlayson. •

77. Survive Black Friday at the Mall of America. •

WHAT IT’S LIKE: To be the butt of an Al Franken joke

By Eden Prairie orthopedic physician Robby Bershow

Shortly after Franken wrote Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot in ’96, my friends and I—all in the Democratic Elves student club at the Blake School—wanted to hear him speak at Macalester. One of us called Al’s mom, who finagled us in. Afterward, there was a Q&A session. Now, Al doesn’t talk a lot about Blake—he’s kind of guarded about his personal life—but someone asked him about going to Blake. So he says, “Well, in the 1950s, they started letting in Jews to raise the SAT scores.” And then, very quickly, he points to me and says, “Which is how you got in.” I felt extremely honored to be the butt of the joke. The next year, I was interviewing at Harvard and I happened to mention the book signing. Turns out the person I was interviewing with was Al’s roommate at Harvard and was actually at that book signing. He remembered me, so the joke probably helped me get into college.

Wing Young Huie’s MN Bucket List

1.  Stand beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge in Canal Park in Duluth. At night. While it rises.

2.  Eat a Spam sushi roll at the United Noodles deli in Minneapolis’s Seward neighborhood.

3.  Compete in one of the public Ping-Pong games frequently held by community organizer Matt Barthelemy in parks, plazas, and the basement of his home in Minneapolis’s Whittier neighborhood.

4.  Browse the photography section at Midway Used and Rare Bookstore in St. Paul.

5.  Feast at the Hmongtown Marketplace food court in St. Paul. Afterward, watch Hmong videos (bullfighting!).

6.  Learn a new stitch at the knitting mecca of StevenBe on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis.

7.  Stroll in a neighborhood you’ve avoided.

8.  Order three coneys with everything and a pitcher of beer at the Gopher Bar in St. Paul.

Wing Young Huie is a Minneapolis photographer whose gallery, The Third Place, regularly hosts salons, performances, karaoke, darts, and, yes, Ping-Pong.

What’s on your bucket list? We’d love to hear at #mnmobucketlist.



78. Find the St. Paul Winter Carnival medallion. •

79. Enter your baked goods in the Minnesota State Fair. •

80. Buy a cabin.

81. Get Garrison Keillor to blurb your novel.

82. Have Dessa sing “Happy Birthday” to you. (Sorry, we can’t facilitate.)

83. Play in a curling match. • Find everything you need to know, starting with what those brooms are for, at

84. Play one-on-one against homegrown Lynx star Lindsay Whalen.

85. Swim with the sharks in the SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium at the Mall of America. (You just need to be SCUBA-certified and unafraid of sharks.) •

86. Invent an Ole and Lena joke.

87. Do the polar plunge. And no, not alone—you want credit, don’t you? Do it for a good cause (Special Olympics Minnesota). •

88. Get mentioned in C.J.’s Star Tribune column. (See sidebar.)

89. Ghost-write Michele Bachmann’s next memoir.

90. Run off the end of your dock on Memorial Day (no sticking your toe in first).

91. Enter the Walker Art Center’s Internet Cat Video Festival. •

92. Be the butt of an Al Franken joke. (See page 56.)

93. Stargaze while lying on a pontoon in the middle of a lake.

94. Find the Ruby Slippers. Yes, the pair stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids in 2005, insured for a million dollars, are still at large. A search warrant served on a San Diego collector in 2011 turned up some mysterious ruby slippers, just not the stolen ones.

95. Have the DIY Network’s Rehab Addict Nicole Curtis remodel your home (and that doesn’t mean just add a man cave). •

96. Learn how to drop a ski on Lake Pepin, the birthplace of the sport. •

97. Flood your backyard in winter and skate on it. Here’s a how-to:

98. Plant a University of Minnesota–developed Honeycrisp apple tree in your backyard. You’ll need at least two, assuming you actually want apples. • Find a nursery at

99. Take in the St. Croix River’s gorgeous vistas from a hot-air balloon. •

100. Build your own casket at the North House Folk School. It’s the most popular class at the Grand Marais center for practical skills and about as pragmatic and self-sufficient as, well, Minnesotans. •

101. Reserve your eternal resting place at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, home to Hubert Humphrey, Paul Wellstone, Carl Pohlad, the Daytons, the Pillsburys, and, perhaps…you? Plots available. •

WHAT IT’S LIKE: To appear in C.J.’s column

By Tim Gihring

You’re never surprised to appear in C.J.’s Star Tribune column. Not because of the flagrancy of what you’ve done, but because of what C.J. does just before she hangs out your laundry: she calls you. “Hi, this is C.J.,” she says, and then she does the last thing you’d expect from a gossip. She tells you exactly what she’s about to print. She’s old-fashioned that way. She lets you know not just when she’s going to pull down your shorts, but how. It’s so upfront, so not behind your back—like she’s simply double-checking the announcement you want to place in the church bulletin—that you roll with it. We’re Minnesotans, after all, and figure that if someone is going through this much trouble to question our judgment, we probably deserve it. It can be galvanizing. I’ve made three appearances in C.J.’s column, and each time I’ve felt my ego be stripped away like old paint; pretense eviscerated. What grows back is new, thicker skin.

Keri Noble’s MN Bucket List

1.  I’ve never been to Valleyfair. What? How have I lived in Minnesota for 12 years and never been?

2.  The Guthrie offers acting classes. I used to be in theater in high school, and the Guthrie seems like a pretty perfect place to jump back in.

3.  Skydiving—if I think about it too long, I get super nervous. But there’s a great place called Westside Skydivers, based in Winsted, and if I decide I’m going to do it,  I’d probably do it there.

4.  I don’t know why I want to take an improv class, but I do, and it’ll be at the Brave New Workshop.

5.  If you can’t beat winter, join it, right? Well, snowshoeing (is that even how you say it?) looks like the perfect winter activity, and I’ve heard it’s a good workout.

6.  The Twin Cities PedalPub. It looks totally stupid. Which is why, at some point, I really need to do it.

7.  I’ve also never really been to the Minnesota Zoo. I’ve performed there, I’ve watched movies there, but I’ve never spent an afternoon hanging with the animals. Time to change that.

8.  I’d love to hike and maybe canoe the Boundary Waters. I just can’t get with the whole camping part. Are there hotels nearby?

9.  Going up in a hot-air balloon seems like a perfectly romantic thing to do, if you pick the right day.

10.  I haven’t visited any wineries in Minnesota, which, if you know me, would seem kind of surprising.

Keri Noble is a singer, a songwriter, a piano player, and co-host of the Cities 97 Morning Show.

What’s on your bucket list? We’d love to hear at #mnmobucketlist.