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10 Best Scenic Drives in Minnesota

10 Best Scenic Drives in Minnesota

Seems like everybody has a destination they need to reach as fast as possible. That’s why interstates were invented. But scenic drives in Minnesota style are better than that. They are the whole point of taking trips in the first place!

In Minnesota, scenic byways roll along showing off the state’s panoramic views, recreational opportunities, culture, and heritage.

We took a look at all the best drives to take in scenic Minnesota as well as reviews. We also found hotel options for each byway.

What You’ll Need for your Minnesota Road Trips

Minnesota scenic byways are some of the best and easiest trips and getaways you can plan in the Midwest.

But if you’re taking an extended drive using the hotels we’ve mentioned, you’ll still want to think about buying travel insurance to fill in any gaps not covered by your car, homeowners, or emergency health insurance.

We recommend World Nomads. Check for the coverage you’re needing before you hit a Minnesota scenic byway. Next, you’ll need a car! Something comfortable that handles well on the open road, and can hold all your luggage.

If you need a car rental, you’ll find great availability and rates on Skyscanner. This is also an excellent website to check for the most direct and cheapest flights into Minnesota.

Now you can read our guide to find a great winding route through Minnesota. We think you’ll find it more useful and more detailed than searching for “scenic highway near me.”

Best for Driving a Scenic Byway in Minnesota

Take one of these road trips to see the best Minnesota scenery.

1. Avenue of Pines Scenic Byway

  • Where is it? Highway 46, starting in Deer River to Northome, MN
  • How long is it? 46 miles
  • What will you see? A Minnesota drive of 100-year old pine forests, along with the birches and aspens that make up Chippewa National Forest.

Along this scenic route, the forests will open to allow for panoramic views of glimmering waterways and marshes.

You’ll also see the natural beauty of Lake Winnibigoshish and the ecosystems of Island, Nature’s, Round, Cut Foot Sioux, and Little Ball Club.

Some of the wildlife you may encounter include eagles, raccoons, songbirds, and lots of squirrels.

Travelers can take advantage of the many hiking, biking, ATV, and snowmobile trails in the Chippewa National Forest.

In the winter, ice-fishing and cross-country skiing are superb. The route will have restaurants, shops, gas stations, attractions, and charming lodges.

But for convenient accommodations close to the byway and close to the city of Grand Rapids, the Timberlake Lodge, Grand Rapids features a bar, restaurant, fitness center, indoor pool, and whirlpool.

All rooms come with WiFi, air-conditioning, desk, and jetted tub. Some rooms have seating areas and all rates include breakfast.

The hotel is highly rated for its convenient location and choice of breakfast items.

See Related: Best Lake Towns in Minnesota

2. Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway

  • Where is it? Central MN
  • How long is it? 220 miles
  • What will you see? Forests, prairies, and farms

About 30,000 years ago, the land in Minnesota was covered in glaciers.

As they melted, the ancient glaciers left behind the lakes you’ll find in the hills and wide ridge along the drive that follows the trail of the Wadena Lobe. This byway is great for those who want to explore the countryside without sticking to one route.

When you search for “scenic highways near me,” this one will definitely be number one on the list. Each turn you take will give you different views of the scenery in Minnesota while providing different experiences.

These experiences will even change from season to season. There are so many possibilities for unique exploring just from this one drive. Scenic loops will take you through three parks; Glacial Lakes, Sibley, and Monson. In these gorgeous state parks, you can hike, fish, or go bird-watching.

The byway also has extensions for opportunities for a trip to Sauk Centre and Alexandria. AmericInn by Wyndham Sauk Centre is conveniently located on I-94 and is on the Sauk Centre extension of the byway.

Each room has Wifi, a desk, a microwave, and a fridge. Some rooms have jetted tubs. There is also a whirlpool tub, a sauna, and a fitness center.

Past guests rated it highly for the location and cleanliness.

Best for Scenic Drives Through National Forests

Minnesota’s National Forests are true treasures in this region. These byways with overlooks will let you make the most of them.

3. Edge of the Wilderness National Scenic Byway

  • Where is it? Start at US Highway 2 and trunk Highway 38 in the center of Grand Rapids, MN, up to Effie, MN.
  • How long is it? 47 miles
  • What will you see? The best views in Minnesota of hardwood forests, ancient pines, and gently rolling hills.

The Edge of Wilderness National Scenic Byway follows the route loggers and other travelers took through the amazing Chippewa National Forest – home to the largest number of bald eagles in the continental US.

The road is a smooth one and perfect for sightseeing. It’s particularly beautiful in the fall when the maple trees and aspens blaze with color.

You’ll also find many opportunities for hiking too. One trail even takes you to the famous Joyce Estate which was once a vacation home to a wealthy family.

Hiking will give you the best wildlife viewing with eagles soaring overhead and deer grazing in the grasses.

Another fun thing to do on the byway is to look for marked Discovery Sites that give you more interesting facts on the culture and natural history of the area.

Be sure to stop at the Edge of Wilderness Discovery Center in Marcell. It’s a visitor center with exhibits about the byway and surrounding environment.

Free naturalist programs are given in the summer. They also have an outdoor amphitheater and a pier for fishing and wildlife viewing.

I M Hotel by Timberlake is a popular hotel in Grand Rapids, where the byway originates. They offer both a restaurant and room service, as well as WiFi.

There’s free parking too which is kind of important when you’re on a road trip. Couples rated it highly for its great location.

While you’re in Grand Rapids, visit the Judy Garland Museum and her childhood home.

You should also see the Forest History Center where you can see a reconstructed logging camp circa 1900 and learn more about the forestry industry.

4. Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway

Empty Road with Road Sign
  • Where is it? County Road 12 via Highway 61 in Grand Marais in Northeast MN
  • How long is it? 57 miles through Superior National Forest
  • What will you see? Pine, birch, and aspen forestland

The Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway starts from the harbor town of Grand Marais and takes you through the spectacular Superior National Forest.

You won’t see any towns along the byway as it winds through the Superior National Forest. But you will find small roads to resorts and campgrounds along the way.

In the summer, you can visit one of the many canoe outfitters since this is Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Fishing, skiing, hiking, and wildlife spotting are great here too.

In fact, these woods are home to deer, bears, moose, very shy wolves, and many species of birds. The road ends at Trail’s End Campground with the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center.

Also, look for the Laurentian Divide where it crosses the trail. This is some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth.

East Bay Suites, Grand Marais, will put you close to the byway’s origin. You may even get to see a moose! This highly-rated hotel offers free WiFi and parking too.

Each room has a seating area, dining area, and full kitchen with a microwave oven. Onsite, guests have use of an outdoor grill and can take advantage of nearby skiing and biking.

See Related: Best Honeymoon Destinations in Minnesota

5. Lady Slipper Scenic Byway

Road Leading to a Forest
  • Where is it? Between Blackduck, MN, and US Highway 2, east of Cass Lake, in Northwest MN.
  • How long is it? 28 miles
  • What will you see? Chippewa National Forest and lakes

Travel through picturesque hardwood, birch, aspen, and pine forests and look for Minnesota’s state flower, lady’s slippers, blooming in late June.

The showy lady’s slipper is a pink and white orchid that grows along the roadsides and is celebrated at festivals in both the cities of Blackduck and Cass Lake.

The region offers great overlooks, fishing, and other water activities. There is also a crossing of the Mississippi River close to where it originates and still a stream.

Plan a stop at the Rabideau Civilian Conservation Corps Camp; a fascinating piece of history and the most intact CCC camp in the country. It’s even a national historic landmark.

Eagles, herons, pelicans, and ducks live here in abundance. You can also hear the chilling sounds of loons calling across the lakes.

Dunrovin Resort, Blackduck, is a classic lakeside family resort with a private beach and children’s playground. It’s in picturesque Blackduck which is the northern point of the byway.

All rooms have a full kitchen, free WiFi, and are air-conditioned. Guests enjoy area fishing and other water sports.

See Related: Best Hotels in Minneapolis

Best for Historic Scenic Drives

These byways are for the history buffs. Learn about Minnesota’s past and natural history as you take in its spectacular scenery.

6. Historic Highway 75 “King of Trails”

  • Where is it? Starting on the border between Iowa and southern Minnesota, along Highway 75, up to Winnipeg.
  • How long is it? 414 miles
  • What will you see? Rolling prairies and picturesque farms

The entire Highway 75, nicknamed the King of Trails, extends from Winnipeg in Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, Texas.

But along this portion, you’ll hit dozens of historical sites, recreation areas, and festivals celebrating Minnesota’s heritage.

Highway 75 started as a trail used by Native Americans. Settlers began using it and eventually, it became a paved road so it could be used by vehicles.

Now, it’s mostly a lesser-traveled way for people to see Minnesota’s treasures. Visitors will find opportunities for canoeing and hiking, as well as art galleries and theaters.

There are also interesting small cities and towns all along the road with antique stores, delicious food, and markets which is especially fun during their marketplace day of the second Saturday of September.

Plan a stop at Split Rock Creek State Park for swimming in the lake, horseback riding, camping, hiking, and wildlife spotting. In the winter, you can sled.

You’re also invited to experience the art life at the Coffey Contemporary Arts space in Luverne. The facility hosts artists-in-residence for 90-days at a time.

The hosted artists create the works that are shown in the adjacent Lord Grizzly Gallery. Visitors can hear lectures on art at the gallery which are always interesting.

Courtyard Fargo Moorhead on the Minnesota side of the border with North Dakota is a highly rated hotel that’s close to Highway 75.

The property offers an indoor pool and whirlpool tubs. The warmly decorated guest rooms have WiFi, a desk, and a fridge.

7. Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway

  • Where is it? Along Highway 16 between La Crescent and Dexter, MN
  • How long is it? 88 miles
  • What will you see? Bluffs, woods, the Root River, pastures, and delightful villages

Wind your way through the incredibly picturesque Root River Valley on this prettiest scenic drive Minnesota has to offer. Along the byway, you’ll see many historic and natural points of interest. Discover small towns each with its own distinct quaintness offering restaurants, historic homes, and galleries.

Make a stop to bike or hike on the Root River Trail making a stop for lunch at one of the towns on the trail.

Kayak or canoe the Root River and see the trail and bluffs from the water. You can also enjoy skiing, fishing for trout, and horseback riding. There are miles of trails for recreation opportunities on and off the river and great river views.

Best Western Plus at La Crescent Event Center offers travelers a bar and restaurant right on the property. You’ll also find free parking and WiFi throughout the hotel. Past guests rated this one highly for its location in the town center within walking distance of downtown. Laundry facilities are onsite.

See Related: Best Hikes Near Minneapolis, Minnesota

Best Scenic Drive to see the Mississippi River

The greatest river in North America originates in Itasca State Park. These are the best Minnesota drives for exploring it.

8. Great River Road Trip

Car on the Road with Mountains and Skyline Backdrop
  • Where is it? Starting at its head in Itasca State Park, it follows the river south through the Twin Cities.
  • How long is it? 565 miles
  • What will you see? The amazing beginnings of the river’s journey from a stream at its head to the wide iconic river.

The entire Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the river across ten states to its end in Louisiana.

This portion is a set of linked roadways spanning 43 communities and cities and six destination areas resulting in a river exploration experience unique to Minnesota.

The Best Western Plus Kelly Inn is located on the river in Saint Cloud. It offers an indoor pool and has an onsite restaurant and bar.

All guestrooms have WiFi, a microwave oven, and a fridge. The property also has a fitness center and a whirlpool tub. Saint Cloud State University is less than a 10-minute walk.

Warth YouTube video of Great River Road Trip for a travel visual guide.

Great River Road Trip Tour | Minnesota & Wisconsin [4K UHD]
Watch this video on YouTube.

9. Apple Blossom Drive Scenic Byway

  • Where is it? It follows county roads from La Crescent north to Highway 61 in south Minnesota.
  • How long is it? 19 miles
  • What will you see? The Mississippi River valley, bluffs, apple orchards, and farmland

Drive far above the river for sweeping views of the river and towering bluffs that line it.

Along the way, you’ll see many orchards with varieties of apples for picking. The trees are in blossom from early to mid-May and it is especially pretty to experience them by bike.

Summer and fall are nice here for a trip too.

Fairfield Inn & Suites Winona is located just off of Great River Road and is close to Winona’s cultural sites and the river. Parking is free and they also offer WiFi.

This pet-friendly hotel is highly rated for its location.

See Related: Best Waterfalls in Minnesota

Best for Scenic Drives Minneapolis

Minneapolis is a stunningly beautiful and vibrant city rich in cultural and natural resources. It even has its own scenic drive Minneapolis proper.

10. Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway

  • Where is it? Downtown Minneapolis
  • How long is it? 46 miles
  • What will you see? Minneapolis scenic drives that take you around an urban lake chain, the Mississippi River, the skyline, and tree-lined boulevards.

Offering fantastic scenery, art, history, dining, shopping, this scenic route is made of paved paths along roadways and parks.

Follow the routes around the Chain of Lakes, past Minnehaha Creek, and along downtown’s portion of the river.

If you drive to Minneapolis from out of town, stay at the Royal Sonesta Minneapolis Downtown for an elegant overnight stay.  It’s within walking distance to many city attractions.

They also offer an excellent restaurant that uses locally sourced ingredients in the farm-forward entrees. An onsite lounge serves craft cocktails.

It’s a great base to explore the amazing Twin Cities.

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