Midwest Vacation Guide

Vacation season is right around the corner, and you definitely deserve a break. Order out, sleep in, explore a part of the Midwest you’ve always wanted to explore. Don’t think about the pressures of work, don’t think about the stresses of everyday life, don’t think about those never-ending “to-do” lists. Just get out of town and have fun.



Distance from the Twin Cities: 120 miles south along the Great River Road Scenic Byway 61.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Spectacular beauty. Remarkable arts and culture.

Popular for: Top-notch festivals like the Great River Shakespeare Festival and Minnesota Beethoven Festival, fun events, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (with pieces by Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh) and theaward-winning Winona County History Center. Great hiking along the bluffs and trails, fishing, road and mountain biking, wildlife-watching, golfing, disc-golfing, and downtown architecture.

Insider tip: Winona’s Park and Recreation offers free canoeing/kayaking, and visitors can try stand-up paddleboards. One of the best panoramic views of the river valley is from the Garvin Heights Overlook. While you’re up on the bluffs, stop at Garvin Heights Vineyard.


Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 40 miles south.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Arts, history, nature. Cannon River. 

Popular for: Being home to both Saint Olaf and Carleton liberal arts colleges, culture, outdoor recreation, history, nature, wining, dining, relaxing, fun festivals and events.

Insider tip: On Sept. 7, 1876, the brave Northfield townspeople defeated the infamous James-Younger Gang when it attempted to rob the town’s First National Bank. From Sept. 5-9, witness the re-enactment of the bank raid and see an informative show that includes live horses, gunshots and townspeople during the Defeat of Jesse James Days, voted “Best Re-Enactment of the West” by True West Magazine.


Arrowood Resort

Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately two hours west in the city of Alexandria.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Waterpark, spa, golf, beautiful scenery.

Popular for: Big Splash Indoor Waterpark, Darling Reflections Spa, 18-hole golf course, cruises on Lake Darling, Camp Arrowwood childrens’ activities, wacky Olympics, horseback riding, evening bonfires. 

Insider tip: Arrowwood is near Carlos Creek Winery and the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum.

Willmar Area

Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 100 miles west.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Thriving arts, historical attractions, lakes.  

Popular for: 35 neighborhood parks, Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center, Robbins Island, Ridgewater College, bison ranch, alpacas, museums, theaters, wineries, hiking, biking, fishing, golfing, bird watching, water recreation, shopping, and dining.  

Insider tip: Willmar’s largest park, Robbins Island, is a 55-acre island located between Willmar and Foot Lakes, hosting seven shelters, a soccer field, Frisbee golf course, swimming beaches, shore fishing, and a public boat access.

Wilderness Resort Villas

Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 140 miles northwest on the shore of Middle Cullen Lake, Pequot Lakes.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Secluded, sandy beach, star-gazing, luxury.   

Popular for: Family-friendly atmosphere, secluded lakeshore with private sandy beach, lake recreation, boat launch, jet ski rentals, paddleboats, swimming docks, waterskiing, fishing, hiking, golfing, near Nisswa’s upscale boutiques. Beautiful villas with Jacuzzis, fireplaces, and private patios, main fitness center and game room in lodge.

Insider tip: Pets are allowed in the four-bedroom, four-bath lake home villa No. 12.

Good Ol’ Days Resort

Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 120 miles northwest in Nisswa.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Lifetime memories are made here.

Popular for: Location in the heart of the Brainerd Lakes resort area, on Lower Cullen Lake, wonderful beach, 10 modern, comfortable cottages and an 8-unit lodge, close proximity to the Paul Bunyan Trail, six blocks from shopping in downtown Nisswa, organized kids’ activities, close to great golfing and dining options and fun attractions.  

Insider tip: Kayak, canoe, and paddleboat rentals are included. Rent a fishing boat or pontoon for an additional fee.


Bert’s Cabins

Distance from the Twin Cities: 200 miles northwest in Itasca State Park.  

Describe your destination in five words or less: An oasis in the wilderness.   

Popular for: Great location on the edge of Itasca State Park (boasting some of the finest scenery in the area), 73-year history, 12 clean, comfortable cabins, heated outdoor pool, direct access to 16-mile bike trail, great hiking, bird watching, canoeing on Lake Itasca.

Insider tip: The Headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River—a famous cultural (and natural) landmark— is within walking distance.

The Lodge on Lake Detroit

Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 200 miles (about 2.5 hours) in the city of Detroit Lakes.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Eco-friendly lakefront hotel, affordable luxury.

Popular for: Fun events (Murder Mystery weekends, Mother’s Day Wine Tasting, Father’s Day Beer Tasting and Shrimp Boil), beautiful sunsets, beach/lake activities and outdoor fire pits, focus on green living (rain gardens, organic wine, sustainable products), and wonderful day spa services on-site.

Insider tip: Enjoy live music at the Lodge every Thursday during the summer months.



St. Croix Falls/Taylors Falls

Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 50 miles northeast

Describe your destination in five words or less: Breathtaking nature and inspiring culture.

Popular for: Hiking the bluffline and Ice Age trails, excellent biking, and paddling down the river. Quaint small town festivals (Taste of the Valley), music events (Music on the Overlook), Kentucky Derby party, art crawls and galleries, historic sites, farmers’ markets, and dining al fresco.  

Insider tip: Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls are home to Interstate Park and the headquarters of the National Park Service unit, serving the St. Croix River. There are hundreds of acres of natural scenic beauty to explore. The wildflowers and waterfalls are amazing in spring, and in the summer months the lush hiking trails of the river valley are abundant with a variety of flora and fauna.


Best Western Superior Inn  

Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 250 miles (about 4.5 hours) in downtown Grand Marais.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Lakefront lodging on Lake Superior.

Popular for: Convenient exploration of the shops and restaurants in the quaint town of Grand Marais, short walk to Artist’s Point, exceptional cleanliness and service, well-equipped, comfortable, affordable lakefront rooms and luxury suites overlooking Lake Superior, 100 percent smoke-free hotel, complimentary hot breakfast, hiking and biking on nearby state trails. Pets allowed in designated rooms.

Insider tip: Rejuvenate in a Renewal Steam Suite, featuring a luxurious walk-in steam shower.

Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior

Distance from the Twin Cities: About 4.5 hours in the Lutsen/Tofte area.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Upscale accommodations with spectacular views.

Popular for: Breathtaking spring waterfalls, miles of hiking and biking trails (from easy trails to the high adrenaline single-track of Pincushion Mountain), in-land lake canoe launches, chartered fishing or sailboat excursions on Lake Superior, kayak adventures. Guests enjoy kids’ activities, naturalist programs, free use of canoes, kayaks, and bikes, swimming pools, and an outdoor hot tub.

Insider tip:  From spa treatments at Waves of Superior Spa, to fun Friday night BBQs, to lakeside dining, to beach bonfires, every aspect of the resort draws inspiration from its close proximity to Lake Superior.  

Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior

Distance from the Twin Cities: About 4.5 hours in the Lutsen/Tofte area.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Relaxing. Romantic. Relaxing.  Fun.  Relaxing.

Popular for: History dating back to the 1800s, in-room Jacuzzis and fireplaces, the WatersMeet Massage and Wellness Center, the natural beauty of Lake Superior and the Superior National Forest, Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and a strong music and artist community.  Great restaurants, lodging options, galleries, and outdoor activities like hiking, sea-kayaking, golfing, pedaling, and paddling.  Guests enjoy guided hikes and sea kayak tours, nature programs on the beach, fly-fishing classes and kids’ camp.  

Insider tip:  It doesn’t matter what season you come, the favorite activity seems to be “watching the lake.” If you haven’t sat on a Lutsen Resort deck, or relaxed in an adirondack chair on the beach, or sat along the shore and listened to and watched Lake Superior, add it to your bucket list.


Hudson, Wis.

Distance from the Twin Cities: 19 miles from St. Paul; 28 from Minneapolis.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Historic, scenic, culture, dining, shopping.   

Popular for: Natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley, river cruises, biking, swimming, sailing, golfing, fun festivals, camping and hiking in Willow River State Park, car shows, free lakefront concerts.  
Insider tip:  After a day of exploring, stay at a charming bed and breakfast inn, or any number of comfortable lodging choices perfect for families, girls’ weekends, or romantic getaways.

Canoe Bay

Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 120 miles (about a two-hour drive) in Chetek, Wis.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Ideal prescription for relaxation, romance.

Popular for: Canoeing, hiking, and exploring the gardens on 280 acres of rolling, wooded countryside, phenomenal prix-fixe dining, the quality of the quiet (Canoe Bay was designed exclusively for couples).

Insider tip:  Add $125 to your springtime visit (prior to June 21) and enjoy dinner with sparkling wine, flowers, and breakfast in bed. Ask for the spring romance package.

Madeline Island

Distance from the twin cities: About four hours to Bayfield, Wis., then a short ferry ride to the island.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Lake Superior and Mother Nature.

Popular for: Idyllic setting, fun Madeline Island Ferry ride to the island, Lake Superior adventures (sailing, kayaking, charter fishing, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding), nature trails, mini golf, Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve, art adventures, biking, mopeds, independent shops, peaceful “island time.”

Insider tip:  Bring your golf clubs and play a round at the Madeline Island Golf Club, one of the only signature Robert Trent Jones Sr. courses in the Midwest.            

Hawks View Cottages & Lodges

Distance from Lacrosse, Wis.: 45 minutes north of Lacrosse in Fountain City, Wis.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Lovely little treehouse for grown-ups.  

Popular for: Solitude and beautiful surroundings, amazing views of the Mississippi River Valley, eagle-watching, tasting room and wine bar at Seven Hawks Vineyards (with wines made from 100 percent locally grown grapes), close proximity to the Monarch Irish Pub, historic sites in town, and the cities of Alma, Nelson, and Wabasha.

Insider tip: Hawks View Cottages may not be suited for children. The grounds are very steep, heavily wooded, and wild.



Okoboji, Iowa

Distance from the Twin Cities: 225 miles (about three hours southwest).

Describe your destination in five words or less: Iowa’s No. 1 vacation destination!

Popular for: Affordable family fun, exciting recreation. The glacier-carved chain of lakes provides water recreation for boating, fishing, jet and water skiing, and kayaking, miles and miles of trails—attracting cyclists from all over the Midwest, the Coney Island-like Arnolds Amusement Park. Unique shopping, dining, nightlife.

Insider tip: West Lake Okoboji is considered one of three blue water lakes in the world. The other two are in Canada and Switzerland.


Rapid City, South Dakota

Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 600 miles.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Black Hills scenery, fun adventures.

Popular for: Location in the Black Hills National Forest, five national parks and monuments (including the inspirational Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the visionary Crazy Horse Memorial), private wildlife attractions, family amusement parks, historic gaming towns.

Insider tip:  Meet and greet past presidents of America on The City of Presidents walk, view the Norwegian Stavkirke Chapel, capture Rapid City from atop Skyline Drive at Dinosaur Park, learn some of the 2.5 billion years of Black Hills and Native American history at The Journey Museum, or visit the Dahl Arts Center, which houses Cyclorama, a 200-foot narrated mural of American History.


Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 240 miles.

Describe your destination in five words or less: Legendary, authentic, vibrant, adventurous, friendly.

Popular for: Birding in the Prairie-pothole region, riding horseback in the Killdeer Mountains, canoeing the Pembina River, biking the Maah Daah Hey trail, hiking the Lewis and Clark trail, motorcycling the Sheyenne Valley National Scenic Byway, or golfing the challenging Hawktree Golf Course. Fun artfest, rodeo, outdoor concerts and kite festival.

Insider tip:  Whether you choose to follow the legendary trails of Lewis & Clark, Sitting Bull, George Custer, Sakakawea, and Teddy Roosevelt, or if you favor the more established trails of state parks, city streets and shopping malls, a visit to North Dakota is an adventure.

Upcoming Events

  • Winona’s Mid West Music Fest: April 19-21
  • Bluff Country Studio Art Tour: April 27-29
  • Annual Bluefin Bay Food and Wine Lovers Weekend: May 4-5
  • Kentucky Derby Party at Paradise Landing: May 7
  • Minnesota Potters of the Upper St. Croix Studio Tour: May 11-13
  • Yellowstone Trail Heritage Days (100th anniversary of the trail) in Hudson, Wis: May 11-13
  • The Lodge on Lake Detroit Mother’s Day Wine Tasting:
    May 12
  • Cellar Masters Weekend at Chateau St. Croix Winery: May 13  
  • Fargo, North Dakota Marathon: May 17-19
  • Lutsen Resort Wine Lovers Weekend: May 19
  • Black Hills Fat Tire Festival, a mountain biking extravaganza, Rapid City, SD: May 25-28
  • Nisswa Turtle Races, Wed. evenings June through August – starting June 6
  • Happy Harry’s Ribfest at the Fargodome: June 6-9
  • Nisswa Stamman Scandinavian Festival: June 8-9
  • Winona Steamboat Days: June 13-17
  • The Lodge on Lake Detroit Father’s Day Beer Tasting and Shrimp Boil: June 15
  • Crazy Horse Stampede Rodeo: June 15-17
  • Grandma’s Marathon: June 16
  • Willmar Fests (Aqua Fest, International Fest, Kaffee Fest): June 20
  • Northfield’s JuneBug music festival: June 27-30
  • Great River Shakespeare Festival: June 20 – August 5
  • Smoke on the Water BBQ Competition in Okoboji, Iowa: June 22-23
  • The Lutsen 99er Ultra Mountain Bike Race: June 23
  • Minnesota Beethoven Festival: July 1-22
  • A Day on the Green: Madeline Island Celebrates Independence Day: July 4
  • Willmar Sonshine Music Festival: July 11-14
  • Grand Marais Arts Festival: July 14-15
  • Northfield Crazy Daze: July 26
  • North Dakota State Fair: July 20-28
  • 17th Annual Fargo Blues Festival: July 27-28