Starting from Bemidji, only a few hours of driving can take you to the fun, sights and activities of Duluth, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, and other popular Minnesota vacation destinations.
Minnesota is home to so much beauty and nature, as well as impressive attractions from the southern border all the way to Canada.
And Northern Minnesota is home to more than just the beautiful lakes and forests. From Duluth on Lake Superior to International Falls, northern Minnesota offers unique experiences for everyone.
Since Bemidji is already such a popular starting spot for Minnesota vacations, we’re using it as a starting point for these 5 Northern Minnesota Day Trips.
Northern Minnesota Day Trips
Just about a three-hour drive from Bemidji on Highway 2, Duluth offers a full day of interesting and fun activities. From a walk along Canal Park to a cruise on Lake Superior, a visit to Duluth offers a change of pace. Canal Park, which hugs the shoreline of Lake Superior, offers a boardwalk to take a stroll, as well as a small beach, where you walk barefoot, letting the sand play between your toes.
The rocks along the beach offer great spots for selfies and group photos. Stand alongside the canal as giant ore ships pass beneath the aerial lift bridge on their way along the Great Lakes to their ultimate destination. With plenty of green space, you may want to buy a bag of popcorn or bird seed and feed the gulls that hang out at the park.
Learn about the history of Lake Superior and what it takes to navigate it at the Lake Superior Maritime Museum, where you can also explore life-size replicas of pilot houses. With about 200 types of fish, birds, and other animals, the Great Lakes Aquarium offers a look at life in the Great Lakes. It also features exhibits from around the world, including the Amazon River.
Offering daily cruises May 1-Oct. 18, the Vista Fleet takes you through the Duluth harbor, beneath the aerial lift bridge, and on to Lake Superior for a cruise that takes between 75 minutes and up to just under two hours, based on the cruise you choose. With an enclosed lower level, you can enjoy a drink during your tour, or enjoy the breeze and view topside on the open-air deck.
Architecture and history enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the Glensheen mansion. Built in the early 20th century, the 12-acre estate offers beautiful landscape views, including Lake Superior. The mansion consists of 39 exquisitely designed rooms, each furnished with era-appropriate furniture and accessories.
Grab dinner at the home of Duluth’s best burgers at Fitger’s Brewhouse before you head home. Known for its beer-battered onion rings with your choice of dipping sauce, such as bleu cheese dressing or horseradish sauce. Enjoy one of Fitger’s outstanding burgers, such as the elk or poutine. You may want to sample the vegetarian burger that is made with wild rice. The menu also features impressive salads and sandwiches, as well as vegetarian options.
Find more family fun in our post about 16 Things to Do in Duluth with Kids.
The big draw to Orr, about 2.5 hours from Bemidji, is the Vince Schute Wildlife Sanctuary. Home to dozens of black bears that come in daily for dinner, you’ll be amazed at how they just mosey in and make themselves at home.
The daily routine has been going on for decades, since Schute decided to start feeding the bears after three decades of killing bears that came near the camp. Following the smell of food, black bears would come to the camp, creating issues.
The lumberjacks controlled the situation by shooting the bears. As he grew older, Schute decided it was wrong, so he decided to feed the bears to help keep them away from the camp. It paid off, as the bears’ routine changed.
Today, that tradition continues as the sanctuary’s staff spreads food around the grounds in time for the black bears to wander in for a little relaxation and dinner. While the bears may look cute, especially the cubs that may play and climb trees, remember that they’re not Yogi and Booboo. You’ll be safely positioned in an overlook area where you’ll have impressive views of the wildlife.
Closer to town, you can enjoy a walk along the Mickey Elverum Bog Walk, a half-mile-long boardwalk that takes you through several areas of wetlands and bogs. You can enjoy nature views of trees stretching toward the sky, flowers, plants, and lily pads, as well as animals such as ducks, birds, river otters and shrews.
Voyageurs National Park is about 35 minutes north of Orr, and offers visitors an opportunity to visit a series of islands, as well as enjoying beautiful views. You’ll want to bring your own boat or reserve one with the national park service. You can also skip both and enjoy a ranger-led boat tour.
Enjoy hiking any of the park’s trails, which can range from a quarter-mile long to 2.5 miles, and enjoy some of the most beautiful views in Minnesota.
Enjoy a comfortable dinner at The Dam restaurant. The casual eatery features comfort food in a cozy environment.
Minnesota may not be known for mountains, but don’t tell anyone in Detroit Lakes. Detroit Mountain Recreation Area is a winter sports enthusiast’s haven, with downhill and cross country skiing, tubing, snowshoeing, and fat tire biking popular. From spring through fall, the area is perfect hiking and biking trails.
Detroit Lakes’ public beach is a perfect spot for spending the day enjoying the sun on the beach or splashing around in the water.
Several years ago, artists created fiberglass sunfish figures that found their way around the community. Today, visitors are encouraged to go on a self-guided scavenger hunt to find the 4-foot colorful “Sunny in DL” fish sculptures.
You may want to stroll Detroit Lakes’ downtown and take in the local shops and boutiques, looking for a souvenir or home accessory.
With a menu guaranteed to satisfy anyone’s appetite, Brygge Taps and Tastes is the perfect spot to stop for a bite. From tasty appetizers such as the Monte KreesTo, featuring turkey, ham, cream cheese, gouda cheese, powdered sugar, inside an egg roll and served with chipotle jam, to the Three Amigos burger, with chorizo, guacamole, pepper jack cheese, and pico de gallo atop a burger, Brygge will challenge your palate.
It may be best-known as the coldest city in America – the city prides itself as the “Icebox of the Nation” – but International Falls offers a fun day trip excursion.
Smokey Bear Park invites visitors to check out the 26-foot tall statue of the venerable bear asking people to prevent wildfires. You may want to bring a picnic basket and enjoy lunch near Smokey and his friends.
Voyageurs National Park is a short drive from International Falls. Take a ranger-guided boat tour of the area or hike any of the trails, and you’ll enjoy some of the most beautiful nature areas in Minnesota. Pack a lunch and enjoy a meal in the wild. Be on the lookout for wildlife, such as deer. Enjoy a guided boat tour to Kettle Falls at the national park.
As you spend time in downtown International Falls, browsing stores and shops, you may find some interesting gift ideas or home accessories. Maybe find some fresh meat to take home for dinner.
Whether you prefer a walleye filet sandwich or an entrée combo featuring steak, ribs, or shrimp, the Chocolate Moose Restaurant features a menu offering an eclectic menu of good food.
Brainerd is the perfect spot for a day trip in northern Minnesota. Visit Paul Bunyan Land amusement park, where you can be greeted by a 26-foot tall Paul Bunyan statue. Spend the day on the rides and attractions at the amusement park and tour Pioneer Village.
From a climbing wall to the Tilt-o-whirl, you’ll have a fun experience at Paul Bunyan Land. As you stroll through Pioneer Village, you can visit the water wheel as well as the log camp.
You can talk to the animals (though, they probably won’t reply), or you can visit the Safari North Wildlife Park and appreciate the view of animals, such as tigers, bears, mountain lions, alligators, and parakeets and macaws. With a combined 50 years of experience in the exotic animal arena, the owners bring their love for animals to the Brainerd area. They want to share their love of animals with visitors, so they offer a variety of zoo experiences, including feeding giraffes, camel rides, and a parakeet encounter, where you can mingle with about 100 of the colorful birds.
Open Memorial Day through Labor Day, the Soo Line Depot Museum showcases the area’s rail history. Featuring logging and mining tools, photos from past years, and a replica of a capsule flown into the stratosphere, the museum offers a look into Brainerd’s history.
Dinner at the Sawmill Inn may seem like visiting Grandma’s. With a downhome atmosphere, the Sawmill Inn offers comfort food, such as burgers or chicken sandwiches, as well as dinners featuring chicken fried steak, fried chicken, chopped beef steak, even liver and onions. After dinner, you’ll be tempted to try a handmade malt. It’s doubtful you can go home hungry.
Northern Minnesota is home to a lot of interesting attractions, from lakes and trails to unique parks and a look at history. One thing is for sure, when you take a day trip, you’ll find some of the best food in the state.
Do you have a favorite Northern Minnesota Day Trip that we missed? Tell us about it!