There are tons of things to see and do in Rochester, Minnesota, but the insatiable traveler will always be looking for something more. Whether you’re a Rochesterian or a visiting outsider raring to explore Rochester’s outskirts, going on day trips from Rochester, Minnesota is the best way to satisfy your wanderlust when you’re pressed for time.
Thankfully, Rochester has the strategic advantage of being just a stone’s throw away from charming towns, stunning natural areas, and exciting attractions. Add to that its lucky location in Southern Minnesota, and you’ll find dozens of rivers, bluffs, and wide-open spaces to explore.
Travel solo, bring your family, or tag a significant other along – no matter the headcount, a nearby city awaits with open arms. Check out Kwik Trip locations in Rochester MN and make sure you’re well-stocked with travel necessities as some of these trips are about an hour drive.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, it’s highly recommended to rent one from RentalCars, National, or Alamo to get the best experience, but bus trips from Rochester MN also allow easy access to any of these locations.
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Best Day Trips from Rochester, Minnesota
Without further ado, here are the best day trips from Rochester, Minnesota.
1. Harmony, Minnesota
Distance: 53 minutes
Great for: History buffs and culture vultures. You’ll find plenty of family fun here too.
A city that dubs itself the “biggest little town in Southern Minnesota” surely has plenty of things to offer, and travelers won’t be disappointed. Located in the southeast corner of Minnesota just a stone’s throw away from the border of Iowa, Harmony is big on parks and cultural attractions, which make it one of the best day trips from Rochester MN.
Take an Amish Tour. Minnesota’s largest Amish settlements consider Harmony their home when they moved to the area in 1974. They have grown to a population of over 1,000 people with over ten church districts and 10 one-room schools. You’ll also find over 100 Old Order Amish families in the countryside near Harmony.
Take a guided tour with the Amish Tours of Harmony and visit Amish Homesteads, drop by venues selling homemade goods and crafts, and learn more about Amish history and culture. You can even rent a narrated tour CD from Amish Backroads Tour and enjoy a day trip from the safety of your car.
Explore the parks. Are your kids tagging along? There are plenty of outdoor entertainment opportunities in Harmony, making it one of the best day trips from Rochester MN if you have children in tow. Harmony Park, which hosts Music in the park on Wednesday nights, features a state-of-the-art playground, gazebo, and shelter.
Trail Head Park, the start of the 60-mile long Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail, is very popular among joggers, bikers, and skaters for its scenic countryside views, rolling hills, wooded areas, and a spring-fed creek.
Go spelunking. As part of the Driftless Area of the Upper Midwest, Harmony features a landscape that is unique from the rest of the state. Springs, rolling hills, bluffs, sinkholes, caves, and creeks are commonplace, but the Niagara Cave is one of the most popular geological wonders in the area.
Take a guided tour in the area and discover 450-million-year-old fossils and unusual cave formations. The cave is 48 degrees year-round, so don’t forget to don a jacket!
See Related: 15 Minnesota Stereotypes You Need to Know
2. Lanesboro, Minnesota
Distance: 46 minutes
Great for: Couples, or travelers looking to relax and take it easy
Ah, Lanesboro! If you’re looking for a relaxed destination to put your feet up and while away time, this quaint city in Southeastern Minnesota is one of the best day trips from Rochester MN.
Time passes slowly in this charming little city, but that doesn’t mean it’s dullsville. Lanesboro, dubbed the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota, offers a handful of nature experiences, historical museums, art, and camping.
Explore the Root River State Trail. This paved, 42-mile trail runs through the picturesque rural communities of Lanesboro, Whalan, Peterson, Rushford, and Houston.
It’s one of the most aesthetically stunning paths in Minnesota, thanks to outstanding views of towering limestone bluffs of the Root River Valley. Stand a chance to spy on abundant wildlife, including deer, wild turkeys, hawks, and vultures.
Relax at the Stone Mill Hotel Suites. Situated at the center of historic downtown Lanesboro, the Stone Mill Hotel Suites features large double whirlpool baths, iron-claw fireplaces, and a host of unique amenities that guarantee a relaxing stay. Guests may also book an on-site massage and get discounts at local attractions.
Immerse yourself in history. The Lanesboro History Museum, located at the Root River Trail in the center of downtown, has three floors that showcase Lanesboro’s collection of genealogy, city history, and artifacts. Open May to October, browse through photography displays, and tinker with an interactive phone booth!
Grab some treats. Give in to your sweet tooth with some of Lanesboro’s most popular dessert destinations! Lanesboro Pastry Shoppe offers an extensive menu of pastries, including waffles, blueberry scones, and fluffy pancakes. It’s the perfect spot to grab breakfast if you’re visiting early!
For chilly treats, Another Time Ice Cream Parlor offers a myriad of tasty flavors, including their most popular vanilla, chocolate, and chocolate chip cookie dough.
3. Spring Valley, Minnesota
Distance: 34 minutes
Great for: Wine aficionados, travelers who want a mix of laid back activities and exciting escapades
In Spring Valley, prairies meet soaring bluffs, creating a natural environment that serves as the perfect backdrop for a myriad of adventures. Located on the western edge of Southeast Minnesota, Spring Valley is one of the best day trips from Rochester MN for visitors of all types, whether you’re the active adventurer or the laid-back type.
Sample fine wines. Looking for wineries near Rochester MN? If you only have a day to spend in Spring Valley, a trip to the Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery is a must. This winery, cidery, and restaurant is situated in a sprawling estate, complete with large production areas, a tasting room, and a 6-acre vineyard.
While it’s been around since 2015, the establishment’s rise to fame began when it was asked to be the Official Provider for the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Taste locally made wines, order a cider flight, or nibble on a charcuterie board. This is a great spot to spend an hour or two after exploring the area!
Watch a race. Looking to turn up the adrenaline? Watch a race at Deer Creek Speedway, a 62-acre race track with a campground. It sits approximately 4,000, with 24 VIP suites and 36 exterior decks.
Races here are varied and exciting, with up to four weekly classes and several special events to keep you entertained and coming back for more. During Saturday afternoons, there are lots of racing action in its smaller 1.5-mile track, with kids even allowed to safely race (Deer Creek hosts a kid’s club program that keeps younger fans engaged throughout the season).
In addition to its adrenaline-pumping weekly shows, the establishment hosts several special events throughout the season. Tickets to races are offered online, and discounts are available if you book in advance.
Explore Minnesota’s longest cave. For natural wonders, take a trip to Mystery Cave, the longest known cave in Minnesota. A maze of interconnecting passages leads you to caverns with stalactites, stalagmites, gorgeous underground pools, and flowstone.
The cave is located in Mystery Cave State Park, so if exploring hidden depths isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other things to do like hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and camping.
4. Red Wing, Minnesota
Distance: 53 minutes
Great for: Art lovers, history buffs, and those who enjoy the great outdoors
If you’re looking for the best day trips from Rochester MN, Red Wing is a city that has something for everyone. A combination of natural beauty, history, and small-town charm made this city a nationally acclaimed tourism area, so if you’re looking to experience some of the best Minnesota has to offer, this city is among the best options.
Immerse yourself in culture and history. Red Wing began as a tiny settlement along the Mississippi River during the 1850s. Decades of history are displayed in the city’s historic sites, museums, and authentic buildings. Visitors will get a glimpse of 19th-century architecture anywhere they look, and its historic streets always have a story to tell.
Visit the Goodhue County Historical Society to learn more about the southeastern county, or Hobgoblin Music to try out various locally-made folk and acoustic musical instruments. The Red Wing Shoes Museum houses the world’s largest boot!
Explore the outdoors. If you’re looking for hiking near Rochester MN, Red Wing is the place to go to. The city sits on the sharpest bend of the Mississippi River, which offers stunning views of the water and towering bluffs. Frontenac State Park is one of the best state parks near Rochester MN, and is incredibly popular for hiking and observing wildlife, with mountain biking paths, cross-country skiing trails, and pristine golf courses.
Get inspiration from the arts. Red Wing is an art lover’s paradise. The city’s world-class culture and entertainment began with the humble development of its pottery industry in 1861. Today, Red Wing dabbles in a plethora of art forms.
Watch a show at the Sheldon Theater, purchase handcrafted pieces at Featherstone Pottery or browse the galleries at Red Wing Arts. There’s plenty to keep your creative juices flowing! Treasure Island Resort & Casino, one of the most popular casinos near Rochester MN, is located here as well!
PRO TIP: Don’t have your own itinerary? Taking a guided tour of Red Wing is the best way to experience the city.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Rochester, Minnesota
5. Bloomington, Minnesota
Distance: 1 hr and 21 minutes
Great for: Animal lovers, amusement park junkies, the young and the young at heart
Located on the Minnesota River just 10 miles south of downtown Minneapolis is Bloomington, a family-friendly paradise that boasts a variety of indoor and outdoor activities for people of all ages. The keyword here is ‘family-friendly’ – if you’re looking for the best day trips from Rochester MN when your kids tagging along, there’s a long list of things to do here that will fill your itinerary.
Get some retail therapy. If you’re heading to Bloomington just once, visit its main tourist destination: The Mall of America. This popular mall features more than 50 restaurants, 500 shops, and department stores but apart from shopping, there’s a movie theater, an aquarium, a flight simulator, and miniature golf.
Give your kids a day they won’t forget with the mall’s most popular indoor amusement park, Nickelodeon Universe – a massive 7-acre theme park with spine-tingling rides and retail shops.
For undersea wonders, visit the Minnesota Sea Life Aquarium, which houses green sea turtles, seahorses, stingrays, octopuses, and a variety of other marine creatures.
Spy on wildlife. Another kid-friendly destination, the Minnesota Zoo houses 500 species of animals, including apes, monkeys, exotic reptiles, and big cats. You’ll also find more familiar creatures, including beavers, moose, prairie dogs, and wolves. The zoo also runs educational programs and classes for kids who want to learn more about wildlife.
If you’d rather see wildlife in its natural habitat, forego the zoo and jump straight to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge – a string of protected lands with varied ecosystems that runs through the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. Apart from spying on wildlife, the refuge offers various trails that are open for hiking, cross-country skiing, fishing, and hunting.
PRO TIP: Spending the night instead? Rack up points when you book a room at Radisson Blu Mall of America with your Amex Platinum card!
6. Winona, Minnesota
Distance: 58 minutes
Great for: Roadtrippers, art lovers, and those looking for the best scenic views
A balance of natural beauty, cool urbanity, and old-world charm make Winona in Minnesota one of the best day trips from Rochester, Minnesota.
From its towering bluffs to the mighty river, lakes, and trails – Winona is blessed with natural sights to the delight of the outdoorsy, but there are more than just geographical wonders here.
Plenty of festivals happen throughout the year, from Shakespeare to Bluegrass, Indie, and Beethoven – all of which show how the people of Winona know how to have fun.
Go on a road trip. Winona is located just two hours south of the Twin Cities. If you’re looking for the best road trips from Rochester, Winona serves as the perfect base for a drive along the Great River Road Highway 61. This road trip offers outstanding views of bluffs, beautiful river towns, and a chance to see several eagles!
Learn more about Winona’s culture. Spoil your creative sensibilities with a day trip to any of Winona’s cultural and historical sites. The Minnesota Marine Art Museum offers self-guided tours of significant marine artworks in the Midwest.
Visit the Polish Cultural Institute and Museum for a dose of Polish art and decor from 100 years ago. The kids will have plenty of fun in the Winona Country Historical Society, which offers hands-on educational displays about Winona’s logging history.
Take in the beautiful outdoors. With its location near the Mississippi River, Winona has plenty of outdoor sites for the rugged adventurer. Hike the trails at Gavin Heights for the best scenic views of Winona, or head to family-friendly Lake Park for boating, fishing, and skating during the winter.
The Prairie Island Campground offers tent camping and cabins at its recreational campsite so you can rest in between sessions of yoga, rock climbing, live music, canoeing, and themed weekend parties.
7. Wabasha, Minnesota
Distance: 54 minutes
Great for: Wildlife enthusiasts, anglers, and the outdoorsy
Don’t let Wabasha’s small size fool you – there are plenty of things to do in this charming city where only 2,500 locals live. Located near the Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers, Wabasha offers sweeping views of natural sites, historic streets, and plenty of activities for the active and outdoorsy, making it one of the best day trips from Rochester MN.
Learn about eagles. Wabasha’s National Eagle Center is one of the most popular tourist spots in the area. If planning day trips from Rochester MN, a visit to this educational establishment will give you your fill of wildlife. Established in 1989, the National Eagle Center allows you to see bald and golden eagles close up, interactive exhibits, and a souvenir store that offers cute eagle-themed gifts, toys, and apparel.
Go angling. Wabasha is studded with first-class fishing spots with plenty of catches throughout the year including bass, panfish, perch, and walleyes. Once winter arrives, the Mississippi River turns to ice, making it a premium spot for ice fishing.