New Ways to Explore 3 Classic MN Destinations

From Fort Snelling to the North Shore, check out this summer’s technological updates to historic and wild Minnesota places

There are new ways to experience familiar Minnesota destinations this summer.

You might be looking to bask in the piney nature of a wildlife refuge—and with a new app, you can discover which animals are scuttling around which habitats surrounding you.

You might be looking to head up along the North Shore—and with a new program through the historical society, you can uncover the region’s deep history.

You might be looking to revisit a Twin Cities landmark—and with Historic Fort Snelling’s expanded exhibits, you can relive centuries previously untouched.

Wherever you choose to go, here’s how to get started:

1. For those who want to immerse themselves in nature without straying far from the Twin Cities:

Bald eagles, coyotes, warblers, trout, and so many migratory waterfowl: The reason the metro is home to an abundance of animals is the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It was established in 1976 to preserve these animals’ habitats from commercial development. Different sections include one in the Louisville Swamp (near Carver), a Rapids Lake unit, and a Bloomington unit. With a new app, now you can learn the secrets of these lush, watery urban oases while out and about.

The Discover Nature App, available via iTunes or Google Play, puts you on three game-like quests, each 1.5 hours long per unit. Expert staff have identified “points of interest” starring the diverse wildlife and ecosystems. Earn virtual badges, round off your trek with trivia, and take photos for social media. The app developer has already set up similar games across the country, in such places as Florida, Georgia, and California. This is the first in the Midwest, so you get to share the country’s northern beauty with nature lovers on the coasts—while checking out their own exotic snapshots.

Event: On May 12, the Bloomington Education and Visitor Center will hold World Migratory Bird Day, where festivities include assistance with the Discover Nature App from rangers and volunteers at the refuge (plus a program by the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, bird-themed arts and crafts, bird banding, and more).

2. For those who love history, road trips, and northeastern Minnesota:

Cook County, covering the northeastern tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead, contains a rich history with a culture driven by Native Americans, French fur traders, and Scandinavian settlers.

The new Passport Program through the Cook County Historical Society gives tourists a chance to uncover the history of 20 locations, seen on an online interactive map here. You already feel a sense of haunting when you venture up there; learn why on your next road trip.

Bally’s Blacksmith Shop/Photo Courtesy of the Cook County Historical Society

In Grand Marais, sites include the Chippewa City Church, a Catholic church that stood as the central hub of Chippewa City in the late 19th century, as well as the Grand Marais Lighthouse and keeper’s residence near the peninsular Artist’s Point. Elsewhere, you can learn about the history of Cook County’s ghost towns (mostly the remains of mining and logging camps), Sugarloaf Cove, Lutsen Resort (the state’s oldest), and the Gunflint Trail, a walking path used by Native Americans before it became a wagon road and then a scenic highway.

Chippewa City Church/Photo Courtesy of the Cook County Historical Society

3. For those looking to rediscover a classic Minnesota landmark:

St. Paul’s Historic Fort Snelling sits on Dakota homeland. Thus, the history of the site goes way back—think 10,000 years—massively predating the early 19th century, which is the era that the Minnesota Historical Society has focused on until now.

Now, you can discover what else went down in this region known by the Dakota as Bdote. Look deeper into stories of the Dakota, the Ojibwe, and the enslaved and free African Americans who crossed paths here, along with the traders and soldiers.

Eleven interpretive stations cover topics such as immigration and healing from military trauma across the years, granting that “soldiers are not the only people who lived and died here,” the Historic Fort Snelling website says. “The stories of the thousands of others who were here before and alongside those soldiers need to be told as well.” The fort tells those stories “through use of archaeology and oral tradition.” From June 30 to Sept. 3, that includes a look at Japanese Americans in the Twin Cities around WWII.