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Outdoor Activites in Minnesota Connect Residents to Nature

Learn how outdoor recreation in Minnesota revolves around four distinct seasons.

By Gary Wollenhaupt on October 29, 2015

Minnesota River Road
Minnesota / Courtesy of Patrick O’Leary

Minnesota might be best known for its winters, but this is actually a state for all seasons.

That’s because the outdoor fun doesn’t melt away along with the snow and ice. “No matter what you want to do outdoors, we have a place and a season for it,” says Amy Barrett, spokesperson for the Parks and Trails Division at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Sure, winter garners much of the attention, and rightfully so. Minnesota offers a flurry of snow-covered activities, with plenty of places to ski, snowboard, ice skate and even ride on a dogsled.

There are also more than 20,000 miles of well-groomed trails for both snowmobiles and snowshoeing. Then the weather warms and the ground thaws, and suddenly the ski trails become hiking trails. Snowmobiles are parked in exchange for four-wheelers. The snowshoes are put away, and the golf clubs come out. And the fishing, well, the fishing remains spectacular year round.

“No matter which season you’re in, you can do all these amazing things and really take advantage of the outdoor aspect of each one of them,” says Andrea Baumann, marketing director for the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life, and one of the things I love most is you get to experience the full beauty of every one of the four seasons.”

A Water Wonderland

All those lakes (and rivers) means there is also a lot of fish. As a result, fishing is one of the state’s most popular outdoor activities. “Minnesota is one of the top states in the country for outdoor recreation, and fishing is a big reason why,” says Tom Neustrom, who has been a professional fishing guide operating out of the Grand Rapids area for the past 35 years. “There’s probably nowhere else in the country that has the diversification of specifies of fish like we do in Minnesota.” The official state fish is the walleye, but Neustrom says the region also is good for catching pike, musky, trout and bass. In addition to the area around Grand Rapids, Neustrom says some of the best fishing can be found at Lake Bemidji and along Lake Superior. And the fishing doesn’t stop once the water freezes. Thanks in part to the increasing availability of heated huts and wheel houses, Neustrom says ice fishing is the largest-growing segment of the industry, having expanded by more than 60 percent over the past five years.

State Parks and Resort Recreation

Minnesota boasts 76 state parks and recreation areas, and admission to any of them is only $5 per day or $25 for a yearly pass. Once in the park, visitors often have free access to equipment such as fishing kits (pole and bait), birding kits (binoculars and bird lists) and children’s discovery kits (a backpack full of activities). Bison herds can now be seen at Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County, and additional herds are being introduced to Minneopa State Park in Mankato. But Barrett says one of the most enjoyable things to see at any of the state parks is the landscape, from the tall pines in the northeast to the maples and oaks in the central region, to the prairie grass in the southwest. Minnesotans enjoy the state parks year-round, but autumn– with its bright foliage – is a time of particular beauty. Meanwhile, for those who like their outdoor experience tinged with a resort feel, head to the Brainerd Lakes region. There are more than 100 resorts in the area, and most of them are located on either a lake or river.

“You can get everything from a small mom-and-pop resort that has five cabins, all the way up to the full all-inclusive package at place like Madden’s,” Baumann says. “A lot of our resorts have meeting places as well. You can have your event, and then take a dinner cruise on the lake.” Minnesotahas close to 500 golf courses, and 17 of them are within a 25-mile radius of Brainerd. And Baumann says the nearby city of Nisswa “is what you would dream of when you think about small-town shopping.”

All these places offer a variety of outdoor opportunities, which John Edman – the director of Explore Minnesota, the state tourism agency – wants people to know about through the hashtag #OnlyinMN. “There is incredible outdoor diversity in this state, and we want people to share their experiences,” Edman says. “The type of experiences they can find only in Minnesota.”  

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