The Great Minnesota Bucket List: Woodsy Weekends

Load up on bug spray, bait, and bungee cords, lash the canoe to the car roof, and head into the wild.

Test Your Boundaries

carrying a canoe through the BWCA

When National Geographic Traveler included the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in its “50 Places of a Lifetime” issue, we couldn’t help but smile smugly. As part of our birthright, we’ve inherited 1.1 million acres of pure wilderness and more than 1,000 pristine lakes, adjacent to another million-plus acres on the Canadian side.

For minimum exposure to tourists and mosquitoes, and maximum exposure to fish, visit between mid-August and September. Be sure to enlist a local outfitter, who can help you plan your trip, secure permits, arrange transportation, and provide all the requisite niceties and necessities.

Bike, Hike, Ride, Slide

Moose in the Minnesota wilderness

Despite its rugged name, the Gunflint Trail is actually a well-planned National Scenic Byway. Beginning in Grand Marais, the paved two-lane road meanders and marches for 57 miles through Superior National Forest. Depending on the season, you can traverse the area’s many trails on foot, mountain bike, horseback, snowshoes, skis, dogsled, or snowmobile.

Park It

Itasca State ParkHere, the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

If you haven’t waded in the shallow headwaters of the Mississippi River, you’re not a full-blooded Minnesotan. Located 2,552 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and 23 miles from Park Rapids, Itasca State Park, home of the headwaters, is Minnesota’s oldest state park and the second oldest in the United States after Niagara Falls. Highlights include the Itasca Indian Cemetery, the Itasca Bison Kill Site, and the Wilderness Sanctuary (one of Minnesota’s seven National Natural Landmarks).


Laura Ingalls Wilder meets L.L. Bean in Douglas Lodge, a rustic but comfortable setting with views of Lake Itasca. Stay in the main lodge, take a suite in one of two modern sixplex buildings, rent one of a dozen log cabins (some more remote than others), or bring a group and stay in the clubhouse. Park Rapids, 218-699-7251

Dive In

Quarry Park in St. Cloud

The Boundary Waters isn’t the only Minnesota getaway that offers extreme outdoor adventure. Quarry Park in St. Cloud, featuring the remains of almost two dozen St. Cloud Red Granite quarries, presents thrilling surprises as you explore one quarry and then the next. From rock climbing to scuba diving, mountain biking to hiking, outdoor enthusiasts can live dangerously in the 680-acre section of postindustrial landscape transformed into a public park.

The most popular quarry, the swimming quarry, allows visitors to dive from the rock ledges into clear water that’s as deep as 116 feet in places. With no lifeguard on duty, you swim, dive, climb, and hike at your own risk—but trust us, the view alone makes it well worth it.

Trace the Roots of Paul's Family Tree

Now that Paul Bunyan has retired from his illustrious logging career, here’s where to find him and his entourage.

Map of Paul Bunyan landmarks

{1} PAUL BUNYAN'S GRAVE Pay your respects at Paul’s headstone in Kelliher, which reads, “Here lies Paul, and that’s all.’’

{2} PAUL BUNYAN AND BABE THE BLUE OX  Paul and Babe were built in 1937 on the shores of Lake Bemidji. Check out Paul’s toothbrush, his fishing pole, a pencil, a pair of scissors, and his baby moccasins at the visitor center.

{3} PAUL BUNYAN'S BIRTHPLACE Stop in Akeley to see Paul’s cradle and his 28-pound minnow.

{4} PAUL BUNYAN'S SWEETHEART Visit Hackensack to meet Lucette Diana Kensack, Paul’s 17-foot sweetheart, and their son, Paul Bunyan Junior. Lest you’re wondering about the love child, the couple’s marriage license was discovered in 2001.

{5} PAUL BUNYAN THE SMALLER At only 13 feet tall, this pocket-sized Paul in Pequot Lakes is small by lumberjack standards.

{6} PAUL BUNYAN TRAIL Explore 110 miles of paved trails between Brainerd/Baxter and Hackensack, all dedicated to Paul.

{7} PAUL BUNYAN THE YOUNGER In 1950, a 27-foot-tall Paul Bunyan statue was installed in Brainerd, which began promoting itself as Paul Bunyan’s Playground. In 2003, Paul, his 23-foot Babe, and Sport the Reversible Dog moved out of town to Paul Bunyan Land, where Paul winks, speaks, and calls visitors by name.

{8} PAUL BUNYAN SCENIC BYWAY Drive 54 miles of county roads through northern Crow Wing
County and explore his legacy.


Drive 54 miles of county roads through northern Crow Wing County and explore his legacy.


When Paul’s faithful companion needed a Babe-alicious watering hole, Paul created the Great Lakes.

Get to Know Grand Marais

Grand Grand

Grand Marais, as the name suggests, is a “big swamp” of culture and creativity. Whether you use the charming town as an amuse-bouche before your trip through the BWCAW or as a reward for trekking the Gunflint Trail—or both—you’ll find plenty to amuse and restore yourself.

Highlights include the world’s best donuts at (where else?) World’s Best Donuts, live music and microbrews at the Gun Flint Tavern , pizza at Sven and Ole’s, and a locavore’s feast at the Angry Trout CafĂ©.

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