Fun in the Sun (and Shade): Things to Do
The Mississippi River Boulevard is a key link on the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a 51-mile loop composed of parkways, boulevards, trails and lakes. It’s the only scenic byway in the country located entirely within an urban area.
Visitors and locals alike descend on the many parks along the river for some good old fashion frolicking. Chief among these options is Fort Snelling, located at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, the keystone of what eventually became the settlement that is the Twin Cities. The fort is now a historic landmark and designated national treasure. The $12 adult admission fee ($10 for seniors, veterans, active military personnel and students, $6 for children ages 5-17) gives access to information on the fort’s two centuries of history and 10,000 years of human habitation on the site before that through tours and demonstrations.
Minnehaha Regional Park
Extremely popular Minnehaha Regional Park is best known for its modest, yet highly photogenic 53-foot falls. There are numerous playgrounds, picnic areas and trails, some of which go right down to the river where people sunbathe and fish. There are wacky four-person bike-carts available for rent, a wading pool for kids, a disc golf course and occasional live music. The notably long lines at Sea Salt Eatery (open seasonally) are an indication of its flair with fast-casual seafood and the appeal of its inviting patio. Across the river is the less busy Hidden Falls Park, which dates back to 1887 and has additional trails, grassy expanses and places to picnic.
If you need a fascinating place to cool off on a hot day, the Mill City Museum is Minneapolis’ wonderfully designed history museum, highlighting the flour milling industry that defined the early years of the city.
Just down the street is the crown jewel of the Twin Cities’ distinguished theater community, the Guthrie Theater. Founded in 1963 and relocated to its current site in 2006, the Guthrie stages performances year-round in its three-theater complex. The public can access the conspicuous 178-foot cantilever known as the “Endless Bridge” for photo opportunities. Nearby is the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center for more information on the history of the river.
The only paddle share program in the Western Hemisphere is developing on the east side of the river on Boom Island. Simply reserve a kayak on their website, pick it up at one of the stations and hit the water.
Or, try out Mpls Water Taxi and cruise downstream to the Upper Lock and see, hear & feel the energy and power of St. Anthony Falls. You can also venture upstream to the Lowry Ave. Bridge & see the amazing Blue Heron Rookery! Returning downstream you will see an incredible seldom seen view of the city from the river.
For an active option, embark on a 2.5-hour out-and-back guided paddle on the Mississippi River through the historic heart of the city with Paddle Bridge Kayak Tours. You'll begin the tour at the Boom Island marina, a railroad tie factory-turned green space just northeast of downtown. Then, you'll head upriver, under bridges old and new, the old industrial Port of Minneapolis on the Northside. On the way back down, enjoy the current and one of the most distinctive skyline views from anywhere in town.
If it’s Instagram wins you’re looking for, there are several places where the photo opportunities are heart-worthy. The aforementioned Boom Island Park (which is not on an island, by the way) has nice views of the river’s west bank and the distant downtown skyline. However, the hands-down best view of the downtown Minneapolis skyline is from the east side of the Stone Arch Bridge. The bridge is also an excellent place to capture fall colors and the Guthrie Theater. The pleasing snarled metal and concrete backdrops at Ruins Park, below the Stone Arch Bridge, are a popular place for wedding and prom photo shoots. Views from Gold Medal Park on the west side, near the Guthrie, are also nice.
Sure, you can get pretty good photos from just about any bridge crossing the Mississippi, but the thickly wooded shores on both sides of the river around the Lake Street Bridge make for epic views of fall colors. You can also get shots of the bountiful greenery in summer and the surreal blanket of white after heavy snowfall in winter. If you descend down to the shoreline in this area, apart from the bridges, you can barely tell you’re in the middle of a city.
In addition to its many other enticements, Fort Snelling is just plain pretty. To get far enough away to capture its beauty, you need to cross the river on Highway 5, get on Shepard Road, then pull off and park on either South Prior Road or Crosby Farm Road in order to get the shot.