Skip to Content

Franconia Sculpture Park: A Perfect Twin Cities Day Trip

Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota is a unique outdoor sculpture park and educational institution that provides an unparalleled outdoor experience that combines art, industry, and nature. Here is everything you need to know to plan your visit, including things to see and do and nearby places to visit.

About Franconia Sculpture Park

Sculpture of a table, lamp, and balloon.

Franconia Sculpture Park is an intelligent, artist-forward outdoor gallery in the St. Croix River Valley in Minnesota. With 50 acres of open sculpture garden space and vibrant artist residency, Franconia Sculpture Park offers community arts programming.

It also pulls visitors from around the world who come for bold, creative themes and thought-provoking installations. Admission is free, making this park family-friendly, although donations are always accepted.

Visitors can explore winding trails and enjoy exhibitions, classes, studio residencies, monthly events, and more. As one of the Midwest’s largest public sculpture parks, you will have plenty of exciting opportunities to engage with the impressive collection of art and nature while enjoying breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.

Hours of Operation

The grounds are open every day of the year, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Leashed dogs are welcome. Franconia Commons is open:

  • Apr. 15 – Nov. 14: Daily, 9 am-5 pm.
  • Nov. 15 – Apr. 14: Friday-Sunday, 10 am-4 pm.
  • Closed on National Holidays.

How to Get There

Man writes at an outdoor desk.

Located on more than 50 acres of rolling meadowland in Franconia Township, the park features over 60 monumental sculptures by visual artists from around the world set against a backdrop of scenic beauty. The location makes it easily accessible via a reasonably priced flight from all corners of the U.S. too.

Now for the best fares to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is the closest airport to the Franconia Sculpture Park, check Kayak for the best flight prices to MSP. Upon landing, you can pick up your rental car at the airport and take I-35 North until you exit US 8 E to Shaler. It’s about an hour’s drive.

The interstate is your typical freeway with not much to see except for a fantastic Swedish coffee pot water tower in Lindstrom along Highway 8. But once you get to the St. Croix River Valley where Shafer is, you can explore more scenic roads in your rental car.

The valley is dotted with sweet main streets, comfortable lodges and homes, locally-owned restaurants, and the prettiest scenery bordering Wisconsin. Historical houses are fun to rent for the whole family and they are usually within walking distance of towns or lakes in this area.

St. Croix River Valley

They’re also many reliable, brand-name hotels and motels, with pools and fitness centers, throughout the valley. With all the options available to you, why not make planning travel easier with one-stop shopping for all your needs on Expedia?

Things to Do at Franconia Sculpture Park

1. Take in the Sculptures

Franconia Sculpture Park in snow.

The Franconia Sculpture Park holds all sorts of sculptures, from contemporary to strangely whimsical. Be greeted by a giant rabbit and a melting, concrete Oldsmobile positioned close to the gates.

If that’s not wonderful enough, the stereo wall will definitely win you over. There are around 120 art pieces over 50 acres. Touching, playing, and interacting with the sculptures is encouraged.

This makes the park an excellent way to introduce younger children to the arts and is so much fun for adults to visit as well. The flat gravel pathways are accessible for visitors who use wheelchairs and there are a couple of golf carts available to rent for others with limited mobility. A wonderful inside gallery is also available with special artist guests and rotating exhibits.

See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in Minneapolis

2. The Artists

Three artists wearing face shields at Franconia Sculpture Park hand in hand.

The active artist residency program is dedicated to developing a diverse artist roster. With its close proximity to Minneapolis/St. Paul, the park is able to attract creators who want to be a part of a thriving arts community.

In its collaborative environment, you can experience land art, modern crafts, art to move you into activism, and other expressions from exciting, new artists.

Each year, nine up-and-coming artists are selected from a pool of applicants to live and create in the campus farmhouse. Women, artists of color, LGBTQIA+, and indigenous artists are prioritized to ensure diversity and inclusiveness in the residency program.

3. Art Classes

Students take an art class.

Franconia Sculpture Park events draw art lovers and students of all ages where they can express their creativity and discover a talent for sculpting. One of the missions of the park is to take the mystery and aloofness out of art to make it more accessible for everyone.

The park offers a variety of small group classes you can take either one at a time or purchase the entire series at a discount. They also offer summer camps for small children, ages 13 and younger to learn sculpture and other installation art.

Different media are introduced and critical thinking is encouraged. Another innovative program offered is Art in Rural Places. Children from the surrounding area can take guided group tours and classes.

Class programming includes boat sculpting, robots that spin, art and ecology, and how to scale large installations. This is an incredible opportunity for rural kids to get hands-on experience in the creative process of art at no cost to their families or schools.

4. Film @ Franconia

Two women in white dresses and a tall figure in black.

Each summer, the park offers Film @ Franconia, which is an evening screening of art movies in the outdoor amphitheater. In inclement weather, films are relocated to the commons.

They are free to attend, but parking is $5 per vehicle. Snacks and beverages are available to buy.

5. Picnic Tables

Outdoor picnic tables on a green lawn.

This is also a lovely place to bring a picnic or purchase their “take and go” options. Picnic tables are scattered throughout the grounds. Children are free to run and play among the art and leashed dogs are also allowed.

Let the wonderful sculptures inspire your conversations over lunch any day of the year. After your picnic is put away, stroll the property and let your imagination fly.

See Related: Best Things to do in Alexandria, Minnesota

6. Franconia Art & Farmers Market

Tomatoes and flowers

Recently, the park added an agricultural twist to its outdoor gallery. On the first Sunday of each month, May through October, area growers bring their fresh fruit, vegetables, and crafts to the park to sell.

On the first Sunday of each month, May through October, area growers bring their fresh fruit, vegetables, and crafts to the park to sell at the farmers market.

Buyers come to meet local farmers and craftspeople, enjoy the large-scale art, and choose delicious produce to take home. It’s a great way to connect with the people who have a dedication to bringing wholesome food to our tables.

See Related: Best Things to do in Southern Minnesota

7. Dinner & Discussion Lectures

Sculpture next to an oversized speaker.

On Tuesdays, visiting artists talk about their processes and what inspires them in these casual events. The goal of these workshop programs is to show how such big pieces come to be from inception to installation.

The artists present their portfolios and answer audience questions about how the pieces were made. Current projects are also up for discussion. It’s a fun way to get to know the resident artists and their creations.

8. Music @ Franconia

Mandolin

Local, national, and international bands entertain visitors in outdoor concerts throughout the summer. You might even get to catch the bluegrass festival act among other performances such as salsa, reggae, and other world music genres.

The concerts are free and parking is $5 per vehicle. Food trucks are onsite to sell local favorites and alcoholic beverages are also available for purchase. Bring a lawn chair and enjoy the sounds of summer.

9. Performance Art

Person with a horse mask faces a man hanging upside down.

During the summer, Franconia Sculpture Park comes alive with drama. Experience performance art inspired by current events.

Or, take in some culture with a Shakespearean play. Prices will vary, but often the performances are free.

10. Yappy Hours

Golden labrador

Dogs are always welcome here and the park’s famous yappy hours are fun for pets and their humans. Each Friday yappy hour features people cocktails and dog-tinis, creator spaces, and contests.

You don’t even need a pooch to participate, because rescues are brought onsite by Ruff Start Rescue for adoption. Proceeds from the events benefit the rescue group.

See Related: Best Museums in Minnesota

11. Gifts

Quartz crystal earrings hang from a tree branch.

Exit through the gift shop? Of course. There, you’ll find one-of-a-kind gifts and souvenirs to commemorate your Franconia Sculpture Park visit. Support the artists with each purchase and help fund the classes and experiences for area school kids.

Clothing, jewelry, beautiful note cards, art books, and unique home decor are for sale to benefit the park and its programming. Don’t miss the honey lovingly made by the park’s bees-in-residence or hand-roasted artisan coffee beans.

See Related: Best Restaurants in Minneapolis

12. Beautiful, Remote Location

Yellow and pink wildflowers

This is a vibrant arts community, but it is also a peaceful, natural retreat. Many of its visitors are people from the Twin Cities who like to wander the grounds, enjoy a picnic, and escape the hustle of the city for a day.

The park is located where four biomes intersect–northeastern Tallgrass Aspen Parkland, western Prairie Grassland, northern Coniferous Forest, and southern Deciduous Forest.

The Saint Croix River, which runs through the valley between Wisconsin and Minnesota, was once part of the historic North American trading network.

Colonizers from Europe established towns, forts, and trading posts along rivers like the Saint Croix. The park is named for one of these settlements–a town established in 1858 called Franconia.

Immigrants from Scandinavia, Germany, and Ireland settled here and, unfortunately, displaced many Dakota and other indigenous people.

Today, the park acknowledges that the land where it sits was taken. On the website, they declare their solidarity with Dakota, Ojibwe, and other indigenous people.

13. Viewing Sculptures is Good for You

Franconia Sculpture Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Seeing art at Franconia Sculpture Park will affect everyone differently. Yet, no matter what emotions or insights you get, your brain will be better for it. Your brain is constantly analyzing patterns and forms trying to make sense of what you’re seeing.

Looking at sculptures stimulates your mind as it searches for the meaning behind them. This kind of activity actually increases blood flow to the brain. Research shows that your brain is also turning the movement and energy of art into emotions.

With sculpture, you might imagine how the piece was constructed, what the materials felt like, and the weight of holding them together. For a good brain exercise, look at a sculpture, and try to describe it, and what the artist may have been thinking when they were creating it.

Or analyze how the piece makes you think about your own life experiences. Start discussions with the people you’re with to get their perspectives.

All these wonderings are great exercises for your brain, keeping it active and healthier longer.

People play with their dogs.

Creating art is also a powerful brain strength. Take one of the classes offered and explore your imagination. You’ll come away with a better outlook on life and a new piece of art that’s all yours. Making art is one of the best stress relievers around.

In fact, visiting Franconia Sculpture Park is good for your whole body. Being outdoors, surrounded by nature and art, is like taking a giant vitamin pill. Your mood and focus will certainly improve while your stress levels and blood pressure are lowered. Your immunity system will also get a boost.

Walking around the sculptures while in the fresh air will fight depression and anxiety too. And, you’ll get an amazing night’s sleep after your visit.

See Related: Best Things to do in Red Wing, Minnesota

Things to Do Near Franconia Sculpture Park

Taylors Falls

Bridge over St. Croix River

Along Highway 8, you’ll see many towns with signage naming their sister cities in Sweden in a nod to their ancestral ties. One town you should check out while you’re visiting Franconia is Taylors Fall. On the town’s edge, along the St. Croix River, is Interstate State Park, which is one of Minnesota’s best state parks.

The River Trail inside the state park is an easy hike that’s great for families. Kids will love to explore the large glacial potholes carved into the ancient rocks.

Another great trail is the Railroad Trail that’s 1.5 miles long and follows an old railroad track. Canoe and kayak rentals are available for paddling out on the St. Croix and finding some of the sandy beaches along the banks.

If you’d rather have someone else do the paddling, take a scenic boat tour and see the rock formations and rock climbers on the cliffs. Wild Mountain, popular with snow skiers, has Alpine slides and a water park. For shopping, check out downtown Taylors Falls’ boutiques and galleries. Be sure to check out these top things to do in Taylors Falls.

Take a high-quality tent along and camp at Interstate Park’s campground. Or find a house or cabin to rent close to town and the park.

See Related: Best Day Trips from Rochester

Spend a night in the Twin Cities

Minneapolis at night

Franconia’s convenient location in Minneapolis means you can also take advantage of all this fantastic midwest city has to offer. This artsy city offers museums and cultural events. But it also has great breweries and an amazing music scene too that inspired Bob Dylan and Prince. Visit Prince’s famed home and studio, Paisley Park. Also, see Instagrammable street murals.

Minneapolis has its own sculpture museum and garden outside the Walker Art Center where you’ll find Claes Oldenburg’s iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry. Even the University of Minnesota has artistic flair in its Frank Gehry architectural design of the Weisman Art Museum.

Minneapolis is also called the “City of Lakes,” and has 13 lakes in its borders. Enjoy kayaking, sailing, paddle boating, and swimming throughout the summer. The Mississippi River provides amazing views and the Stone Arch Bridge offers bike and pedestrian-only access.

Mississippi River with snowy bank

Take in a concert or a Viking game at U.S. Bank Stadium. It’s within walking distance of the Mill District and breweries. Citizens of Minneapolis love their outdoors and the city has almost 200 parks with arts, waterfalls, and gardens.

The population of Minneapolis is diverse as well which explains the incredible international cuisine found there. Food stalls operated by Somali, Indian, Vietnamese, Palestinian, and Mexican immigrants serve deliciously spiced dishes.

You’ll also come across neighborhoods with roots in Germany and Poland With all these friendly faces around, you can always find good conversation, food, and beer.

Related Resources