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8 Best Day Trips From Rochester, Minnesota

8 Best Day Trips From Rochester, Minnesota

There are tons of things to see and do in Rochester, Minnesota. Sights like Silver Lake Park, the Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial, Peace Plaza, the Quarry Hill Nature Center, and the Rochester Art Center. But the insatiable traveler will always be looking for something more.

Thankfully, Rochester has the strategic advantage of being just a stone’s throw away from charming towns, stunning natural areas, and exciting attractions.

From its lucky location in Olmsted County, in Southern Minnesota, you’ll find dozens of rivers, bluffs, and wide-open spaces to explore. You can discover interesting cities, cultural and historical sites, world-class shopping, and more.

Travel solo, bring your family, or tag a significant other – no matter the headcount, this area offers a diverse range of experiences nearby. If you don’t have your vehicle, renting one from RentalCars, National, or Alamo is highly recommended for the best experience.

There’s also a regular bus schedule that allows easy access to any of these locations. Without further ado, here are the best day trips from Rochester, Minnesota. Get ready to enjoy some Midwest nice!  

Day Trips from Rochester, Minnesota

1. Harmony, Minnesota

Amish Tours in Harmony Minnesota
  • Distance: 47.1 miles
  • Great for: History buffs, cavers, and nature lovers.
  • Stay at: If you’d like to spend the night in Harmony, try this spacious home, perfect for families.

A city that dubs itself the “biggest little town in Southern Minnesota,” Harmony is famous for having the largest Amish community in the state.

Take an Amish Tour

Minnesota’s largest Amish settlements are to be found in Harmony. Since 1974, they have grown to over 1,000 people, with ten church districts and ten 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, visit homesteads, drop by venues selling homemade goods and crafts, and learn more about Amish culture and history. You can even rent a narrated tour CD from Amish Backroads Tour and enjoy a day trip from the comfort of your car. 

Explore the Hiking Trails

The Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail is an 18-mile hiking, biking, and rollerblading route. Popular for its scenic countryside views, it’s also perfect for cross-country skiing when in season. The route connects Harmony and Preston to the wider network of the River Root Trail.

Located behind the Harmony Visitor Center, the Trail Head Park offers access to around 60 miles of hiking routes in the region. Strap on quality hiking shoes and enjoy the rolling hills, wooded areas, and spring-fed creeks.

Go Deeper Underground

Harmony is part of the Driftless Area of the Upper Midwest and features a unique landscape of springs, rolling hills, bluffs, sinkholes, caves, and creeks. The Niagara Cave is one of the most popular geological wonders in the area. 

Take a guided tour of the area and discover 450-million-year-old fossils and unusual cave formations. Remember that you’ll be underground, and the cave is a chilly 48 degrees. Don’t forget a warm jacket!

See Related: Minnesota Stereotypes You Need to Know

2. Lanesboro, Minnesota

Building with parked cars in Lanesboro, Minnesota
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
  • Distance: 40 miles or under an hour drive
  • Great for: Couples, or travelers looking to relax and take it easy.
  • Stay at: Lanesboro has been dubbed the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota. The Coffee Street Inn is a charming option. Alternatively, you can look at this article on the best hotels in Lanesboro.

If you’re looking for a relaxed destination to put your feet up during your time away, this quaint city in Southeastern Minnesota is famed for its laid-back vibe and creative community.

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 fully paved and well-maintained, suitable for all ages and fitness levels.

One of Minnesota’s most aesthetically stunning paths, the trail offers outstanding views of towering limestone bluffs of the Root River Valley. You’ll also have a chance to see wildlife aplenty, including deer, wild turkeys, hawks, and vultures. 

Immerse Yourself in History

The Lanesboro History Museum is located just off the Root River Trail. Here, you’ll find three floors showcasing a collection of artifacts, photographs, and models relating to the town’s rich history.

Open April to October, it offers scavenger hunts for kids and a comprehensive research library if you wish to delve deeper into the past. One of the best things to do in Lanesboro, an educational trip to the museum, is perfect for the whole family.

Grab Some Treats

Give in to your sweet tooth with one 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 one of the best breakfasts in Minnesota. Another Time Ice Cream Parlor offers many tasty flavors for chilly treats, including their most popular vanilla, chocolate, and chocolate chip cookie dough. 

3. Spring Valley, Minnesota

Spring Valley downtown
  • Distance: 28.7 miles
  • Great for: Wine lovers and travelers who want a mix of laid-back activities and exciting escapades.
  • Stay at: The historic Broadway Guest House offers a magical stay in the heart of the bluff country.

Spring Valley features prairies meeting soaring bluffs around 15 miles north of the Iowa border. Known for its natural environment and beautiful scenery, it’s also the ideal destination for grape lovers.

Sample Fine Wines

If you only have a day to spend in Spring Valley, a trip to the Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery is essential. This winery, cidery, and restaurant is on a sprawling estate with a large production area, a tasting room, and a six-acre vineyard. 

Established in 2015, its notable status was cemented 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. Four Daughters is a great stop during a day exploring the area.

Watch a Race

The Deer Creek Speedway is a state-of-the-art race track complex with a campground. Races here are varied and exciting, and one of the most fun things you can do on a day trip from Rochester, MN. In addition to its adrenaline-pumping weekly shows, the establishment hosts several special events throughout the season.

During Saturday afternoons, there’s racing action on its smaller 1.5-mile track. Kids can race safely, and Deer Creek hosts a kid’s club program. 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 State Park, one of the most fascinating caves in Minnesota. It’s the longest, with over 13 miles of passages leading 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

View of Downtown Red Wing, Minnesota
  • Distance: 46.4 miles or under an hour’s drive
  • Great for: Art lovers, history buffs, and those who enjoy the great outdoors. 
  • Stay at: For a touch of luxury with an on-site spa, hang your hat at the historic St. James Hotel.

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 one of Minnesota’s great destinations.

Immerse Yourself in Culture and History

Red Wing began as a tiny settlement along the Mississippi River during the 1850s. The city’s historic sites, museums, and authentic buildings display decades of history. Visitors will glimpse 19th-century architecture anywhere, and the historic main street has a story to tell.

Visit the Goodhue County Historical Society to learn more about the southeastern county. Try a spooky ghost walk for local hauntings.

Or visit Hobgoblin Stoney End to play locally-made folk and acoustic musical instruments. For something a little more whimsical, the Red Wing Shoe Store & Museum houses the world’s largest boot! 

Explore the Outdoors

Getting into nature is one of the best things you can do in Red Wing, and the city is perfect for outdoor adventures. Red Wing sits on the sharpest bend of the Mississippi River and offers stunning views of the water and towering bluffs.

Memorial Park is a great place to start in town, but Frontenac State Park is one of the best state parks near Rochester. A short distance outside Red Wing, it’s popular for hiking and observing wildlife, with mountain biking paths, cross-country skiing trails, and pristine golf courses. 

Get Inspired by 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. Browse the galleries at Red Wing Arts. Whatever you decide to do, there’s plenty to inspire your creative juices.

5. Bloomington, Minnesota

Bloomington Minnesota best day trips from Rochester MN
  • Distance: 82.7 miles or approximately an hour and a half drive
  • Great for: Shopaholics, amusement park enthusiasts, the young, and the young at heart. 
  • Stay at: The Radisson Blu at the Mall of America. Where else?

Located 10 miles south of downtown Minneapolis, Bloomington is a family-friendly destination that boasts a variety of indoor and outdoor activities for people of all ages. But there’s one huge thing in particular that makes it famous.

Get Some Retail Therapy

If you’re heading to Bloomington just once, don’t miss its main tourist attraction: The Mall of America. This popular mall features more than 50 restaurants, 500 shops, and department stores and is one of Bloomington’s best things to do.

The largest mall in the US also has a movie theater, an aquarium, a flight simulator, escape rooms, and miniature golf. Give your kids a day they won’t forget with the mall’s most popular indoor amusement park, Nickelodeon Universe. Sealife Minnesota will also be a big hit with the family.

Go Wildlife Spotting

The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a string of protected lands and ecosystems that run through the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. This 14,000-acre park is a must-visit for anyone interested in animals, nature, and the great outdoors.

Two educational centers are available to help visitors learn about the surrounding environment. The refuge offers multiple trails for hiking, biking, and snow-shoeing in season. It also recognizes the environmental importance of fishing, hunting, and foraging, which it allows on its grounds. 

Get Fresh at Bloomington Farmer’s Market 

Everyone loves a good market, and the one in Bloomington is worth visiting. Operating every Saturday from June through to October, you can rub shoulders with locals and pick up something fresh simultaneously.

From organic vegetables to cut flowers, meats, and cheeses to handmade crafts. There’s a reason the Bloomington Famer’s Market draws in the crowds every season. Enjoy dozens of stands, all while listening to live music and sampling local delicacies.

6. Winona, Minnesota

Winona Minnesota
  • Distance: 45.5 miles or less than an hour drive
  • Great for: Kayakers, art lovers, and those looking for the best Missisppi views. 
  • Stay at: Located in the heart of Winona, the Carriage House Bed & Breakfast has a vintage feel and is great for couples. Go here for more of the best places to stay in Winona.

A balance of natural beauty, cool urbanity, and old-world charm make Winona one of the best day trip options. It is blessed with natural sights to the delight of the outdoorsy, but there are more than just geographical wonders here. 

Get Cultural

A day trip to Winona’s artistic, cultural, and historical sites is a great way to spend time in the city. The Marine Art Museum is undoubtedly the highlight and one of the best museums in Minnesota. It houses an eclectic and impressive collection of art inspired by water.  

Visit the Polish Cultural Institute and Museum for some Polish and Kashubian art, history, and culture. Winona Country Historical Society has some wonderful exhibits and hands-on educational displays about Winona’s past.

Explore the Great Outdoors

With its location near the Mississippi River, getting outside is one of the best things to do in Winona. Hike the trails at Gavin Heights for the best scenic views of the town, or head to family-friendly Lake Park for bike trails, boating, fishing in summer, and skating in winter. Kayaking on the Mississippi is also popular.

The Prairie Island Campground offers tent camping and cabins at its recreational campsite. You can rest between yoga sessions, rock climbing, live music, canoeing, and themed weekend parties.

The beach at Michael LaCanne Park will keep the kids happy. And the beautiful Great River Bluffs State Park is only 20 minutes from town.  On your way, you can also make a pit stop at Whitewater State Park, one of the most underrated state parks in Minnesota.

Take 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, it’s the perfect base for a drive along US Highway 61. This road trip offers outstanding views of bluffs, beautiful river towns, and the mighty Mississippi.

Part of the 2,069-mile Great River Road, the drive can be as long or as short as you like. One of the best road trips in Minnesota. Sometimes, a day trip’s fun can be the drive itself.

See Related: The Best Road Trips in the Midwest

7. Wabasha, Minnesota

Wabasha Minnesota
  • Distance: 46.7 miles or less than an hour drive
  • Great for: Wildlife enthusiasts, anglers, and outdoor types.
  • Stay at: This charming cabin in the heart of Wabasha sleeps five and is surprisingly affordable.

Located near the Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers, Wabasha offers sweeping views of natural sites, historic streets, and plenty of active and outdoorsy activities, making it a great option for winter sports.

Go Barmy for Birds

Wabasha’s National Eagle Center is one of the best things to do in Southern Minnesota. If planning day trips from Rochester, visiting this non-profit educational establishment is a must for ornithologists, young and old.

Established in 1989, the National Eagle Center lets you see bald and golden eagles close up. Expert handlers will teach you everything you need to know about these beautiful birds. The center also features interactive exhibits and a souvenir store that offers cute eagle-themed gifts, toys, and apparel. 

Hook a Fish or Two

Wabasha boasts several first-class fishing spots with the opportunity to catch bass, panfish, perch, and walleyes. You’ll find plenty of rivers, streams, creeks, and reservoirs to throw a line in. The fun doesn’t stop once winter arrives. The Mississippi freezes over, becoming a premium spot for ice fishing.

Pick yourself up a pair of these Kastking gloves and get out there. Check out this article for more of the best things to do on the Mississippi.

Get Your Skis On

Day trips from Rochester, Minnesota, don’t always happen in summer. The Coffee Mill Ski Area in Wabasha offers some of the best winter activities in the region. Featuring ten trails and three lifts, the extra-long slopes ensure the fun lasts as long as possible.

You can also stay at the Coffee Mill Inn & Suites just down the road from the ski area. One of the best ski resorts in Minnesota, Coffee Mill, will help you get your winter sports fix.

8. La Crosse, Wisconsin

Overview of River and Forest in La Crosse, Wisconsin
  • Distance: 73 miles
  • Great for: Families, travelers wanting to bag a new state, cheese lovers, and social butterflies.
  • Stay at: A renovated candy factory built in 1898. The Charmant Hotel is a classy establishment right in the heart of downtown La Crosse.

Located just over the Minnesota-Wisconsin border (what’s the difference, anyway?), La Crosse is a college town with a young vibe, excellent outdoor scene, and plenty to see and do for all the family.

Explore the City Parks

Sitting on the banks of the Mississippi, La Crosse boasts plenty of outdoor green space and parks for visitors to explore. Riverside Park is part of the downtown area and a focal point for the city. Festivals and events are held here, including the 4th July fireworks and La Crosse’s famous Oktoberfest.

Steamboat paddlewheel cruises depart from the park in season and are as popular with locals as they are with visitors. There’s the Riverside International Friendship Gardens with landscaped features and gazebos.

Pettibone Park has beaches and a swimming area. Further afield, Grandad Bluff Park offers spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Visit the Children’s Museum

Specially designed for ages 1 to 10, the La Crosse Children’s Museum makes a great day trip with kids. With adult companions, of course. In a hands-on museum, you’ll find three floors of thrilling exhibits, games, puzzles, and immersive experiences to educate and entertain your little people.

Attractions include a child-sized bank to learn about money, a dinosaur maze, and a farm-themed area for pre-schoolers. Highly recommended by kids and parents, a visit to the Children’s Museum is one of the best things to do in La Crosse.

Sample Some Food & Drink

Wisconsin is known as the dairy state and has some of the best breweries in the country. If you visit La Crosse on a day trip, you can sample delicious cheese curds, ice cream, and beer. Although maybe not all at once.

The Crow boasts some of the best cheese curds in town. Try the Pearl Ice Cream Parlor for 1930s-style sweets and treats. The Pearl Street Brewery makes award-winning beers and offers brewery tours. And you can visit the world’s largest six-pack at the City Brewing Company.

FAQS

What are the best day trips from Rochester, Minnesota?

The best day trips are to several small towns, including Harmony, Lanesboro, and Spring Valley. Head to Bloomington, Red Wing, or La Crosse for more of a city vibe.

How far is Rochester from Minneapolis?

Rochester is 87.5 miles from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul—just under 1.5 hours drive.

What are the best weekend trips from Rochester, Minnesota?

If you want to extend your stay overnight, I suggest Minneapolis as a great weekend trip from Rochester, Minnesota. But if you want to go further, Duluth, the North Shore, and Lake Superior have much to see.

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