A journey to Minnesota, full of emotions, discovering and unexpected places.
A journey into the historic memory and into the generous and surprising nature in the most authentic America: that one everybody thinks about when we imagine landscapes where boundless prairies, buffalos, farms, starry skies, roads getting lost into the horizons and absolute space alternate.
Surprising Minnesota…people usually start to tell about it like that.
It was named after a word – Minisota – used by the tribes of the area Sioux-Dakota to indicate the lands of the water reflecting in the sky.
I don’t think there’s a better definition for what is known by everyone by now as the state of the 10.000 lakes (even though I think they are many more, almost 12.000), of the big and little streams (you try only to think about the Mississippi River), of the parks and the Northern Lights.
In few words and without be afraid of being contradicted, the most uncontaminated land in the United States.
For the welcome and the kindness that here seem to be a constant: it doesn’t matter whether you are a tourist, a visitor or a new arrival into the local communities.
For the distinctive and authentic small towns of lumberjacks, which were the background of some famous American TV series (do you know “Little House in the Prairie”?). And where you can find unexpectedly, maybe fit in between an emporium and an old saloon, surprising bookstores and little local antiques stores.
For the precious and charming Indian legends and reservations.
For the Mississippi sources, for the delicious soft fruits muffins (the best I have ever eaten in the United States) and the very huge buffalo hamburgers, without mention the several variety of local products sent daily to the supermarkets, to the emporiums and the kitchens of all restaurants (and snack bars, too) in the state.
That’s not so true in America people eat forever and ever bad. Trust me.
For the Scenic Highways – first among equals the Great River Road and the U.S. Hwy 61 – and for the events related to the pioneers and the barons of the first railways westward, for the gangster heroic deeds and their illicit trades during the notorious Prohibition.
And for the history, the art and the culture and at the same time for their technological development and the innovation of the Twin Cities, the beautiful, lively and so unlike Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
And then for characters of the calibre of Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, Charles M. Schultz (The Peanuts’ comic-strip writer) and the directors (and brothers) Joel and Ethan Coen… each of them was born and grew up in Minnesota.
Then add the nearness of other charming states of the American Midwest, as North and South Dakota, for example, and the direct access to what is defined and acknowledged by many people as the Real America. And then Wisconsin and Michigan to the east and to the south, and the Canada border to the north, through a series of forests, mirrors and streams apparently boundless.
Think to set out on a journey to Minnesota it means to prepare discovering, visiting and going along a variegate series of places and itineraries divided between the south and the north of the state.
Here under there are the most charming and curious legs and routes to enjoy an unforgettable road trip close to the Real America.
Minneapolis, Saint Paul and the Mall of America
A journey to Minnesota must begin from the tour of the Twin Cities – Minneapolis and Saint Paul – and from the exploration of the Mall of America in the near Bloomington neighborhood, the biggest mall in the United States (actually even more than this – click here for a rich indicative guidebook).
Twin, almost to show to be one the extension of the other, far little over 10km and both crossed by the Mississippi River.
And yet so unlike in the aspect and in the historic evolution: the Twin Cities – here there’s a useful informative guidebook – are easily reachable by the near international airport thanks to the non-stop runs of the efficient Hiawatha subway linking them also to the Mall of America.
A short itinerary of few hundreds km – it cannot miss during a journey to Minnesota – that, if you want, you can have by day from the Twin Cities, too.
First through the Hwy 36 towards the border with Wisconsin and then along the St. Croix River flow to discover the nice Stillwater: it’s a lumberjack small town built in the 1800s, with historic b&b and little surprising antiques bookstores where to find out rare texts and first editions that cannot be found. Then you can enjoy a relaxing cruise by steamboat on the river.Then along the Hwy 61 through the Mississippi River Valley, following the old river’s flow, to discover the little small towns of Red Wing and Wabasha, among suggestive view points, parks and naturalistic reservations, like the precious white head eagles’ one wintering on the area of the near National Eagle Center.
Valnut Grove, at Laura Ingalls’ Home
Valnut Grove, the famous town where the stories of The Ingalls are set in the very famous TV series of the 1970s – Little House in the Prairie – is about 200 km to the southwest of Minneapolis.
The small town keeps jealously the memory of the writer Laura Ingalls (she has lived really here for several time together with her family of pioneers) and of the series inspired to her novel – for a good part shot in California – with a museum dedicated to the relics related to the most famous characters and the many original locations of the book – The Ingalls house included.
On the official website you can find every necessary informations for the tour, according to the period and the stay.
Pipestone National Monument
It’s an ancient rocky reservation to the south-west of Minnesota (near the South Dakota border) where the Dakota Sioux Natives Americans, using a particular type of stone dig out their caves (the Red Pipestone or Red quartzite) have been created for centuries – and they still keep doing it today – the precious inlaid works of the so-called “prayer and peace pipes” for the Indians of the whole North America.
Organising in time it’s possible to do some specific trails and take part into special events like the holy ceremony of the magic and colored Pow Wow. Click here to plan your tour.Duluth and North Shore
Duluth is one of the most visited cities of the state, third for largeness after the Twin Cities, and it’s one of the busiest harbors of the Lake Superior, the boundless lake at the border among Canada, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Neighbored by parks and naturalistic reservations it is certainly one of the most coveted places for who wants to do outdoor activities.
Keep going northwards along the Hwy 61 you reach Two Harbors, a small town on the lake with an old lighthouse – The B&B Lighthouse – where it’s possible to stay overnight (it’s better to book well in advance).
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wildness is an amazing region little over southwards, in an uncontaminated area which has more than 1000 lakes linked by little streams that can be run by canoe.
Here from November until March it’s possible to see the Northern Lights, besides wolfs and other wild animals.
You can stay overnight camping or in lodge but however it’s always necessary to ask for a special residence permit in advance at the Visitor Center.
Voyageurs National Park
It’s the northernmost park in the state, the route that the fur hunters and the explorers used in the past to reach Canada and the region of the Great Lakes.
The Voyageurs National Park includes an incredible number of lakes, streams, trails and allows an infinity number of outdoor activities, from canoe to kayak, from trekking to excursions…
The visitor center (which is the main center of the park, too) is the Rainy Lake Visitor Center: it’s the ideal place where to ask for maps and every necessary information to organize the days inside the park. And maybe rent some houseboats, downright houseboats to sail among lakes and streams discovering the neighboring area.
Bemidji and the Itasca State Park
About 200km south-west and 250km north-west from Minneapolis, you run into the picturesque small town of Bemidji. It’s a little old small town of lumberjacks keeping with care the local traditions and the legends related to the figure of the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan and its blue ox Babe.
Little far there’s the Itasca State Park, the place where the Mississippi River sources rise: the old river of America that then flows unstoppable as far as New Orleans cutting the States literally in two parts.
A local legend tells that Paul Bunyan, a powerful lumberjack of Bemidji – 5meters high and even 2500kg weight – with the intention of loading the water supplies necessary to create a sheet of ice on the dirt roads to allow the old local carts to circulate during the Winter – pushed unintentionally his loyal blue ox Babe on the bigger tank causing a huge leakage.
People tell the water come out ran down unstoppable as far as New Orleans then ending its run into the Gulf of Mexico.
So – people tell – the Mississippi River was born.