Minnesotans are an active bunch. Despite living in state known for ridiculously cold winters, these hardy folk spend their winters outdoors: skiing, skating, sledding and, of course, ice fishing.
When summer comes, they stay outside, delighting in mostly moderate temperatures and waterborne activities.
Last July we visited my brother and his family. They relocated to a suburb south of the Twin Cities in 2012 after many years near Denver. Following his first house-hunting visit, my brother reported back that every home has “bikes, boats and cross-country skis.”
Bikes and skis made him feel right at home. And, he quickly found that when living in a land of 10,000 lakes (and some say its closer to 15,000) it makes sense to have a boat (or several) and a fishing rod.
During our visit we took to the water as well, finding that many urban lakes have trails along their shores for running and biking, and when one tires of lakes there are recreational opportunities along the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.
Day Tripping: Thompson Falls
By happy accident, we stumbled upon the village of Thompson Falls, along the Saint Croix River that separates Minnesota from Wisconsin.
It was July 3rd and we were seeking fireworks. According a Minnesota friend, “our governor trusts us with beer, but not with explosives,” meaning that we had to go to Wisconsin to find firepower.
En route, we also found a perfect day trip, just 45 miles north of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area.
Thompson Falls is a village so cute, that even my husband describes it as cute. Tucked in a rocky river gorge, two natural attractions in the area are the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway and Interstate State Park.
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Part of a 252 mile river corridor along the Saint Croix and the Namekagon Rivers, the 27 mile Saint Croix Scenic Riverway offers endless opportunities for paddling and camping. According to the National Park Service, the Saint Croix Riverway is one of the few undisturbed floodplain rivers in the Upper Mississippi basin with signs of human use dating back 10,000 years.
If you need help deciding which stretch of river to explore, the NPS provides Ranger Recommended day trips, with basic logistics, information about the relative difficulty of each stretch of river and recommendations for turning day trips into overnight adventures. Interactive maps are also available on the NPS website.
Interstate State Park
Managed by the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, Interstate State Park is located in a deep, glacial gorge known as the Dalles of the Saint Croix. With stunning scenery and famous cylindrical potholes, some of which are up to 6 feet and 12 feet deep, the Dalles are a perfect place to hike, explore and cool off.
Flatwater sections of the river are popular with canoe-ers, while kayakers enjoy the rapids. Canoe and kayak rentals are available, or you can take an excursion boat tour if you prefer to relax and simply take in the scenery.
Camping and climbing are also popular park activities.
The Sweet Life
Back in the village of Thompson Falls, a good place for a casual meal or some sweet, cold refreshment is the Drive-In. A true throwback, the carhops wear poodle skirts, the burgers are hand-formed and fresh and the hot fudge malts can’t be beat.
The Kid’s Burger Meal bows to the 21st Century by offering kids a choice of carrots or french fries (really?), but as you listen to the 50s oldies over the speakers, channeling Happy Days reruns or perhaps scenes from Pleasantville, you’ll forget about the carrots.
Healthy options or not, the Kid’s Meal comes with a prize: 2 for 1 tickets to the leafy, cool Adventure Falls mini golf course adjacent to the Drive-In. Allow time for a round before driving home, or better yet bring your tent and stay the night.
Portions of this post originally published at Women’s Adventure as an Adventure Moms column on August 19, 2013.
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