Operate an Excavator @ Extreme Sandbox
(14 & up)
It’s showdown time, kid versus keeper, at this 10-acre sandbox just outside Hastings. Roughly zero of your commuter miles give you the upper hand in excavator operation, so don’t get cocky, alright?
As the brains sitting inside 19 tons of brawn, there’s more required of you than you might think. The stick control in each of your hands moves in four different directions. Honestly, it’s hard enough to recall which part of the giant arm is the boom or the stick, let alone how moving your right to the left, or your left to the right, affects either one of them. For now, just focus on the repetitive movements needed to dig that hole like it’s your job. Then, fill it back up. Easy enough.
The instructor talks you through things via headset, on a channel all of you share. This three-way communication could prove doubly helpful, should you be forced to use parental insight into your young competitor’s psyche for rattling purposes. It could come to that as you carry out side-by-side challenges, both meticulous and crude, such as nudging tennis balls off traffic cones, one by one, and relocating a car. This is gonna shake out one of two ways: You’ll either emerge the winner, or find out whether you’ve raised a graceful one.
Tame the Flying Trapeze @ Twin Cities Trapeze Center
(6 and up)
Nevermind that it’s plenty challenging to hook your legs over the stationary practice bar, hanging mere feet above floor. No matter that the ladder you’re using to climb up toward the old Hamm’s Brewery’s steel ceiling beams is not much wider than your iPad.
So what if class started 10 minutes ago, and here you are, two stories up, clutching a hanging nine-pound steel bar while leaning off the edge of a dining-room-table-sized platform; Olaf’s grip the only thing between you and the net below? That was his name, wasn’t it? Olaf?
Point is, you’re here. Now. Forget tomorrow’s sore muscles. Forget everything. Breathe. Focus. Listen. Trust what’s-his-name. When he says Ready!, bend your knees. When he yells, Hep!, jump.
Just like that, you’re doing it. Flying through the air with a quality that could be mistaken for ease. Commands issue sharply from below. Legs up! Hands off! Hands up! Listen. Trust. Do. And finally, thankfully, flop into the net below, and let it sink in. You did it, Big Top. You flew.
As long as your body and brain cooperate, you’ll make it to the class finale, trying for a catch. Translation: You’ll swing by your knees, then reach your hands out to grip those wrists swinging toward you, attached to your kind-eyed, head-to-toe muscle of an instructor. Straighten your legs, abandon your own trapeze, and you’re wrist-to-wrist swinging, feeling just a sparkly outfit away from circus-ready. It’s hard to say which is cooler, the feeling you get from seeing your kid land that catch, or from landing it yourself. Seriously. You two will be talking about this one for, like, ever.
Meet Some Beasts: Three ways to get (safely) intimate with wild animals
Snorkel with the Fish @ the Mall of America’s Sea Life Minnesota
(9 & up)
Get some coral reef action here in our landlocked state, no SCUBA license or airline ticket required. You don’t even need to be a super swimmer, either, since you’re plenty buoyant thanks to a neoprene suit and a tank full of salt water. You’ll be floating in the aquarium exhibit among sea turtles, stingrays, porcupine puffer fish and others from the cast of Finding Nemo. Sharks, too. Sure, they’re bottom feeders uninterested in human flesh, but you still get bragging rights.
Animal Encounters @ the Minnesota Zoo
(some 4 & up, others 8 & up)
Why just look through the glass when you could go around it? This special zoo program gives visitors a chance to experience life on the other side of the enclosure. Choose an experience with one of five different types of animals, then see where they eat, sleep, and hang out when not being gazed at by hundreds of humans. You may even get to help set up a sea otter’s play station, toss a grizzly bear carrot sticks, or discover what a penguin’s slick-looking tuxedo feels like. Finally, right?
What’s For Dinner? @ the International Wolf Center in Ely
You never know if you’ll actually see a wolf when you visit the International Wolf Center, but your chances are best if you attend this regular Saturday evening program. Wolves pace their glass-walled enclosure as you learn about how they hunt and pack dynamics at mealtime—which you can then experience firsthand. (Their dinner is roadkill.) Other programs, including a wolf howl and family overnights, are for kids 6 and up.
Zip Through the Trees @ Trollhaugen Zip Line Adventures & Aerial Adventure Park
(7 & up at park, 70–270 lbs. on zip lines)
Zip lining acts as a fast tap into your latent superhero dreams. At Trollhaugen ski resort near Dresser, Wisconsin, it’s as simple—or as hard, depending on your personal issues—as hooking your trolley onto the line, then walking until your feet just float. Relax back into your harness. Enjoy the wind and view. By the time you settle in, the line’s auto-brake steals your speed and your toes touch solid ground.
This six-line course is just long, fast, and tall enough to feel like a true adventure, yet short, slow, and low enough to be accessible to most. Perhaps the coolest part is the tandem zip—the fifth and, at 1,000 feet, the longest—which lets the two of you lock eyes, do a “Ready, set, go!,” then speed off into the countryside.
Another Trollhaugen draw: the Aerial Adventure Park. Think of it as a floating, multilevel playground built among the treetops out of rope, wood, rubber tires, and zip lines. The higher up you go, the harder it gets. And truly, it does get hard. Especially if you’re trying to keep up with your monkey of a young’un and aren’t, in fact, still 20.
Word to the wise: If you plan to pair the park with the zip lines, do the park first. Then head next door to hook in, sit back, and enjoy the ride. Slower than a speeding bullet, super nonetheless.
More MN zip lines…
Towering Pines Canopy Tour on the Gunflint Trail
Breeze between 300-year-old white pines on eight zips, just outside the Boundary Waters.
Kerfoot Canopy Tours in Henderson
Soar among—and even above—the Minnesota River Valley’s lush treetops on 14 zips, which run as high as 175 feet.
Vertical Illusions in Wisconsin Dells
A favorite for its super-scenic Chimney Rock Park location, abundance of lines (15!), and the total absence of an age minimum.