Taking a Day Trip in Minnesota: Exploring for Relaxation and Recovery

Left to right/top to bottom: Great River Bluffs (Explore MN); Itasca State Park fire tower (Kvidt Creative / Explore MN); Bison at Minneopa State Park (Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway)

Are you looking for a unique destination to explore that’s within easy reach? Consider taking a day trip to discover the hidden gems in your backyard. With Minnesota and our neighboring states brimming with a wealth of experiences and attractions, you’re bound to find something that suits your interests.

Embarking on day trips and experiencing the adventures they bring is something I truly relish. Day trips not only provide a refreshing break from daily routines, but they also promote overall well-being. According to Oxford University Press (2023), a day trip is a “short outing or excursion completed in one day, especially for pleasure or recreation.” With this flexibility, you can travel as far or close to home as you like. Essential factors to consider when planning your day trip include the destination, transportation, food options, activity level, stops along the way, and travel companions.

Day trips offer an affordable way to get away without the need for expensive accommodations or airfare. You can further reduce costs by choosing a nearby destination to save on gas and packing your meals and snacks instead of eating out. Many parks, museums, and attractions offer free or discounted admission, and traveling with friends or family allows for shared expenses. With a little planning, you can have a fun and budget-friendly day trip. You could always consider extending your day trip to a weekend getaway if your budget and schedule permit.

Supporting recovery through excursions

Getting out for an excursion with a change in environment, especially in nature, helps to support our recovery on multiple levels. There is empirical evidence to support the Attention Restoration Theory and that getting outside in nature can help to increase directed attention, decrease mental fatigue, enhance cognitive restoration, and help with overall stress management (Ohly et al., 2016; Selhub & Logan, 2012).

Wiess (2018) states that addiction is an intimacy disorder that requires healthy attachments and intimate, ongoing connection to support recovery. Dingle et al. (2021) suggest that loneliness is a “potential antecedent to substance use.” (p. 522). By exploring new places and reconnecting with others, one can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness while creating lasting memories and deepening existing relationships. Taking a day trip with friends, family, or even colleagues, can also provide extra encouragement when trying out new things.

If you’re striving for personal growth by conquering your fears and expanding your comfort zone, you may need to seek out specific destinations to help you achieve your goals. For example, if you’re afraid of bats or enclosed spaces, visiting the Mystery Cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park can provide a safe environment to confront these fears. In addition to the personal accomplishment of pushing your boundaries and discovering new places, you’ll also be rewarded with breathtaking views of the underground Turquoise Lake. And while you’re there, don’t forget to add a hike or take a tour of Historic Forestville to make the most of your visit.

Fire towers, scenic overlooks, and hikes

Experience breathtaking views by hiking or driving to scenic overlooks or climbing fire observation towers. Minnesota state parks have five different fire towers open to the public, with some others located throughout the state. The 100-foot fire tower in St. Croix State Park, Minnesota’s largest state park, provides a thrilling adventure. Climb through the shrub layer, understory, and tree canopy to learn about forest stratification, and when you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular 360-degree view of the park. For an educational trip, stop by the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids and climb their 100-foot fire tower to learn about the history of Minnesota’s forests and lumbering. If you’d like to head down south, you can visit the Elba Fire Tower which is just a 5-minute drive from Whitewater State Park. Don’t forget to check that the fire towers will be open before visiting.

Discover a fun and rewarding way to explore Minnesota’s state parks by joining the Hiking Club and Passport Club. You can join the Hiking Club for around $15 and get a book with detailed descriptions of designated trails and passwords to find. Hike a certain distance to earn rewards like patches and free camping nights. The Passport Club allows you to collect stamps from each park as well as rewards. Whitewater State Park has great trails and overlooks like Inspiration Point, Chimney Rock, and the Coyote Point Trail. Frontenac State Park offers accessible and beautiful views of Lake Pepin. Stop in Red Wing and hike the He Mni Can – Barn Bluff trail for an overlook of the Mississippi River. For a foothills-like experience, hike the Kings Bluff Trail at Great River Bluffs State Park.

If you’re craving an adventure, the north shore is the perfect day trip destination. Take a drive along Lake Superior and soak up the stunning scenery, stopping to explore charming towns and hitting the hiking trails along the way. For a sensory experience like no other, visit the fully accessible Rose Garden in Duluth, where you’ll be treated to sweeping views of Lake Superior, a rainbow of vibrant colors, and the sweet scent of blooming flowers. If you’re looking for an ocean vibe, head to Park Point Beach and let your imagination run wild. Then, channel your inner explorer and hike through the Minnesota Point Pine Forest SNA to the historic Minnesota Point Lighthouse – Duluth’s first lighthouse. Feeling ambitious? Set your sights on hiking sections of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), starting with the short but sweet out-and-back trail at the southern terminus on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border near Jay Cooke State Park, perfect for a day trip.


Looking to add some active fun to your day trip? Consider a round of golf at one of Minnesota’s top-rated courses, like The Quarry at Giants Ridge, which was named one of the top 100 courses in the country by Golf Digest. If golf isn’t your thing, grab your camera and capture the beauty of the course and your friends’ swings. You may even be greeted by a friendly fox during your round. Want to stay closer to the Twin Cities? Rent a bike and explore the trails around Minnehaha Falls, or catch a St. Paul Saints or Minnesota Twins game if you’re a baseball fan.

Prefer water activities? Try boating, paddling, or swimming on Lake Minnetonka, with charter and public cruises available. In Taylors Falls, take a scenic paddlewheel boat tour along the St. Croix River, hike the Hiking Club trail at Interstate State Park, and witness the world-famous glacial potholes. Cross over to Wisconsin to visit their Interstate State Park and swim at Lake O’ the Dalles. Outfitters in the area offer kayak and canoe rentals for river paddling.


Maximize the enjoyment of your business trip by incorporating some leisure activities during your downtime. Not only will this help you unwind and recharge, but it can also enhance your work performance. As a clinical aromatherapist, I’ve discovered that visiting lavender farms for work can be a fantastic way to boost focus and creativity. Although lavender farms may not be as prevalent in the Midwest, there are still a few gems that you can visit on a day trip from the Twin Cities, such as the ones in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The Lavender Barnyard which is located in Farmington, Minnesota, is the only lavender farm in the state that is fully dedicated to growing lavender. Between May and October, you can schedule a farm tour or even a photo session if you’re a photographer. During the harvest season, you can also participate in an instructional session with Marie, the owner, and learn how to create your personalized bouquet of heavenly-scented lavender.

Volunteering and service work

Day trips can also involve volunteering or doing service work to give back to the community. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers various opportunities for volunteers, such as monitoring rainfall, lake levels, and trails. You can participate in the Adopt-A-WMA program, which has three different levels of involvement and duties, by committing to two years of caring for Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). By doing so, you can ensure future enjoyable day trips for yourself and others. If you prefer to volunteer your time serving people, HandsOn Twin Cities can connect you with suitable opportunities based on your skills and availability.


Art festivals and pottery tours offer a fun and engaging way to explore local art and connect with artists. Discover different art styles, techniques, and mediums while enjoying a lively atmosphere with food, music, and activities for all ages. I had an unforgettable experience attending the Art in the Park festival in Lanesboro with my art teacher friend. En route, don’t forget to stop by the Rochester Art Center. If you’re a fan of pottery, check out the Cannon River Clay Tour, where you can visit professional ceramic artists in their studios in the Northfield area.


Minnesota is a food lover’s paradise with a vast array of dining and dessert options to choose from. Local farms offer fresh produce and local fare, making it a must-visit destination for food enthusiasts. For a delicious sweet treat, head to MN EIS Ice Cream & Sweets Shoppe in downtown New Ulm. In Stillwater, The Oasis Café offers breakfast and burgers, while MN Nice Cream will satisfy your sweet tooth with their specialty cones, including lactose-free and vegan options. While you’re there, pick up some fresh local produce and products at the River Market Community Co-op. If you’re a fan of herbal teas, Sacred Blossom Farm’s offerings at your local co-op or Whole Foods Market are a must-try with the Angel blend being a personal favorite. During an annual open house, Farmer Tony offers a tour of his small-scale Wisconsin farm. Seed Farm in Northfield hosts a monthly Dinner at the Farm event with local music and a farm-fresh menu. Located in River Falls, Wisconsin, White Pine Berry Farm is a perfect destination for seasonal events, like their strawberry shortcake socials, sunflower celebration, and fall family days. The farm’s picturesque barn serves as the perfect backdrop for a day of berry picking and it is the ideal destination for anyone looking to enjoy a fun-filled day in the great outdoors. Check out the Minnesota Grown website for a variety of farms that allow visitors to pick their own berries, apples, pumpkins, and more.


A day trip to Como Park Zoo & Conservatory or the Minnesota Zoo can bring great joy to animal lovers and watching animals can be a meditative experience. The Minnesota Zoo partners with the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd and you can see these magnificent animals at five locations around the state. The Bison Prairie at the Spring Lake Park Reserve in Hastings is home to a small herd. Viewing platforms provide better views of their bison herd at Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo. Say hi to the other animals, many of whom have injuries preventing them from being released back into their natural habitats. Is it buffalo or bison? Biologists prefer the term bison, which is used interchangeably with buffalo in North America. At Hemker Park and Zoo, visitors can enjoy tram tours and the opportunity to feed animals, including otters, budgies, a giraffe, and Tio the Rhino, the only rhinoceros in Minnesota.


Planning a day trip requires doing your due diligence by checking websites and maps for directions, hours, and potential stops. Having a backup plan in case of unexpected changes such as weather, flooding, road closures, or a change in mood can also be helpful. While it’s frustrating when things don’t go as planned, it’s important to remain flexible and adapt to new circumstances. Rather than feeling resentful, approach these situations with a sense of hope and gratitude. Unexpected detours can often lead to new experiences and adventures, so keep an open mind and embrace the journey. Remember, flexibility is key to making the most of your day trip and discovering hidden gems along the way.


Dingle, G. A., Ingram, I., Haslam, C., Kelly, P. J. (2021). Taking social identity into practice. In D. Frings & I. P. Albery (Eds.), The handbook of alcohol use: Understandings from synapse to society (pp. 511-530). Academic Press.

Ohlya, H., Whitea, M. P., Wheelera, B. W., Bethelb, A., Ukoumunneb, O. C., Nikolaoub, V., Garside, R. (2016). Attention Restoration Theory: A systematic review of the attention restoration potential of exposure to natural environments. Journal Of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 19(7), 305–343. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10937404.2016.1196155

Oxford University Press. (2023). https://www-oed-com.ezproxy.hclib.org/view/Entry/47522#eid116309638

Selhub, E., Logan, A. (2012). Your brain on nature: The science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness, and vitality. John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.

Weiss, R. (2018). Prodependence: Moving beyond codependency. Health Communications Inc.

Jen Shepherd, MSW, LICSW, CCA is a clinical aromatherapist and clinical social worker. She works as an aromatherapy educator, consultant, and wellness coach at Shepherd Wellness. She’s also co-publisher and community relations director for The Phoenix Spirit. 

Last Updated on May 11, 2023

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