Minnesota is often forgotten about because of its north-central location, “flyover status,” and small-town vibes. However, it’s the perfect place to relocate or steal away for a good mix of city life and a little peace and serenity – I know (and work with at VT) a bunch of folks who have relocated to Minnesota and have no plans to leave!
Though there are plenty of small towns where people can relax and enjoy nature, you can also find bigger cities with numerous activities for kids and adults in Minnesota. In Forest Lake, you get both.
It’s not so close to the Twin Cities that you don’t get a break from city life, and it’s close enough to St. Paul and Minneapolis so that you can easily access the cities should you desire.
Whether you’re a visitor or a resident looking for fun things to do in Forest Lake, we’ve got you covered. All activities on this list consider different budgets, ages, whether you’re alone or with a group, and much more. You’re sure to find something that will suit the interests of everyone.
Let’s get into this list of the best things to do in Forest Lake.
Show Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Forest Lake, Minnesota
- 1. Don Julio’s Mexican Restaurant
- 2. Lakeview Park
- 3. Clear Lake
- 4. Hardwood Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA)
- 5. Punchout Gaming
- 6. Splitrocks Entertainment Center
- 7. Forest Lake Community Pool
- 8. Arts in the Park
- 9. Living Well Boutique
- 10. Emagine White Bear Theater
- 11. Best Defense Armory & Range
- 12. Forest Hills Golf Club
- 13. Running Aces Casino, Hotel, & Racetrack
- 14. Hardwood Creek Regional Trail
- 15. Skydive Forest Lake
- 16. Carlos Avery State Wildlife Management Area
- 17. Tamarack Nature Center
- 18. Community Gardens
- 19. Dragon Boating
- 20. Inala Library
- 21. Keys Bakery and Cafè
- 22. The Old Log Cabin
- 23. Forest Lakes’ July 4th Parade
Things to Do in Forest Lake, Minnesota
Here are the top places to see and things to do in Forest Lake.
At the top of the list is one of the best locations to grab authentic Mexican cuisine in the heart of Forest Lake. Though simple and modestly decorated, Don Julio’s Mexican Restaurant is a favorite amongst locals and those driving through the town.
The Mexican restaurant has some of the best tacos and fajitas in Forest Lake, and it’s a great place to congregate with friends and family if you enjoy Mexican food.
You can always drop by during happy hour or Taco Tuesday when they have specials on the menu and a pleasant crowd. Some top items they sell are nachos, quesadillas, burritos, and more.
If you ever ask someone where to grab dinner, they’ll likely point you to Don Julio’s as the eatery has become a community staple for years. You can’t go wrong with tacos….ever!
See Related: Things to do in Minnesota
One of the primary elements that characterize Minnesota is its lakes. Near the northwestern edge of Forest Lake, Minnesota, there is Lakeview Park. It’s a spacious area perfect for families that want an outdoor adventure that doesn’t cost much and is great for kids.
You can access a gazebo, a grill, picnic shelters, benches, a children’s playground, and even a boat dock where you can reach the lake. Being outside and taking in the scenery promises a wonderful time for those who want to have an outdoor party for birthdays or even a simple barbecue.
Gather everyone together and take advantage of this low-cost activity with all the resources you need.
See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in Minneapolis
3. Clear Lake
Clear Lake is the city’s second largest lake, and a park is nearby. The open space is mowed so kids can run around and tire themselves out without worrying about the grass being too high.
You’re also likely to see children, teens, and adults playing sports here when the weather permits. Additionally, there’s a basket court and a playground with swings close to the lake.
What’s even more intriguing about this location is that Clear Lake is one of the best locations for Walleye fishing. The water quality is pretty good, and the area is well-structured. There aren’t too many Northern Pike or Hybrid Muskie, but you can also catch those and larger fish.
Clear Lake is a popular destination for those who like ice fishing, however, because of the springs, it can get dangerous. Guests are advised to be cautious when they travel across the ice.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Willmar, Minnesota
The Hardwood Creek Wildlife Management Area is a section of a larger complex of the native habitats that remain in the county. The space highlights include a maple-basswood forest and a tamarack bog spanning 60 acres.
There’s a wooded snap area that’s quite large, and it provides the opportunity to be by yourself and get a little privacy from the other hunters in the area. You can also enjoy snowshoeing or country skiing if you visit during the winter. There’s even a snowmobile trail that crosses the southern edge.
Hunters can pursue bears, deer, birds, and small game in the fall or explore the wooded wetlands, upland islands, or planted prairies.
See Related: Best Takeout Restaurants in Twin Cities
On Lake Street South, Punchout Gaming is a specialty venue that promises to fulfill all the wishes of your little one that loves gaming systems. You’ll find used and new games for Sega, Atari, XBOX, PlayStation, Wii, Gameboy, and Nintendo. What’s cool about this store is that they even have a virtual reality section for kids to try while they’re there.
To rent the sections, visitors can pay a small fee of $15 for 30 minutes of gameplay. It’s a short activity that doesn’t take much time but can still be fun if you have little ones in tow and you’re looking for something to do.
Collectors will also appreciate this establishment, where they can purchase limited edition sports cards. They have complete sets and single cards as well. This place is perfect for those that love vintage gaming and collectibles.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Prior Lake, Minnesota
The Splitrocks Entertainment Center is about four miles north of Forest Lake, but it’s worth the short trip. Splitrocks is the best destination near Forest Lake for indoor entertainment for everyone.
They have an arcade where children and teens can play video games to their heart’s content and other activities like laser tag and bowling. You can host an event here for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and so on, and the staff is always helpful and courteous. The arcade is recently renovated and has updated prizes, a trendy layout, and plenty of fun for the whole family.
See Related: Best Indoor Activities in Minnesota
If you’re near Southwest Junior High School, there’s a community swimming pool inside that you can access all year round. It’s good for children and adults because the shallow end has a depth of 3.5 feet, and the deeper end is 6-10 feet deep.
The pool has six swimming lanes, and each one is 25 yards. An adult must accompany children less than 50 inches tall, and adults must also pay a small entrance fee. There are locker rooms available that have showers for rinsing, restrooms, and lockers to store your clothes. This activity is perfect for those looking to burn extra time by having fun in the water, no matter what time of year.
One thing that Minnesota is known for is having short summers. They are generally glorious, and the locals know how to make the most of them!
If you’re in town on a Tuesday night from June to August, stop by Lakeside Memorial Park in downtown Forest Lake. The community hosts this event that offers a free weekly concert, a wide variety of baked goods and produce from the Farmer’s Market, and more than 50 food trucks.
This event is perfect for families because Arts in the Park has something for everyone to enjoy. In addition to the food and music, there are also children’s activities, a craft fair, games, and other performances.
See Related: Best Minnesota State Parks
Lake Street South has Living Well Boutique, a unique shop that has special gifts for women. It’s a cool destination to visit if you want to find elegant jewelry, candles, clothing, drink mugs, home decor, and more. Some of the proceeds from every purchase go toward charities worldwide.
If you’re not too busy, go in there and look around! It’s one of the more popular boutiques in Forest Lake, woman-owned, hospitable, and high-quality. Plus, you’ll likely find items that you can’t find elsewhere, which is best when you’re looking for that special gift for yourself or someone else.
A favorite pastime for many people is enjoying a good movie at the theater. The Emagine White Bear Theater is one of the best cinemas less than 15 minutes from Forest Lake. Unfortunately, the two theaters directly in the city have since closed, but this option isn’t too far away.
Locals and guests that visit the city always comment on the fantastic service, comfy chairs, and affordable prices. If you’re visiting Forest Lake and looking for something to do, it’s worth catching a flick at the Emagine Theater.
Don’t forget to grab the family and enjoy the food and snacks from the concession stand, including pizza, hot dogs, candy, nachos, popcorn, and more!
One cool activity to do if you like to hunt or target shoot would be to visit the Best Defense Armory & Range. The facility is brand new, with a standard gun range open to the public with seven lanes. The maximum distance is 25 yards, and you can also enjoy three tactical shooting lanes for advanced shooting skills.
The facility has a virtual reality arena where you can practice digital firing in real-world situations or take down zombies. It’s a refreshing experience to do alone or with friends, and the admission fee isn’t too expensive. Ideal for travelers who are on a tight budget and travelers who want to save money.
The Forest Hills Golf Course is the perfect place to have a relaxing afternoon of golf. This golf course offers 18 beautiful holes for golfers of all levels to enjoy.
What’s more, there’s a golf shop that you can stop by to buy some new clubs or even an outfit to enhance your golfing experience. You can expect to see top golf brands such as Ping, Titleist, Callaway, and more!
Running Aces Casino, Hotel and Racetrack is a state-of-the-art, Las Vegas-style card room. It even has summer horse racing to boot. The facility features a full-service restaurant and year-round Simulcast wagering.
The casino has many popular games, such as blackjack, Texas Hold ’em, and baccarat. Furthermore, it’s open 24 hours and 7 days a week, serving food and drinks with live entertainment for the guests. Live horse racing takes place Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays weekly at 6:05 pm from mid-May through mid-September.
The Hardwood Creek Regional Trail is ideal for hikers, in-line skaters, bikers, and skiers alike. Trails are specifically designed for horses in the summer or snowmobiles in the winter.
If you’re contemplating what to do on the trail, you can walk, rollerblade, or even ride your bike as you enjoy all the trail has to offer. The paved path runs a length of 9.5 miles from north to south, and it goes through the middle of Forest Lake.
You never have to worry about parking, thanks to the fact that there are three parking lots for you to park your vehicle. So, hop out of the car and take a nice walk on the trail as you enjoy the spectacular foliage at Forest Lake.
Skydiving is on almost everyone’s bucket list, and if you have yet to do so, you must head to Skydive Forest Lake. Whether you’re a novice or a pro, Skydive Forest Lake offers a comprehensive experience. Their expertise and experience will give you all the tools necessary to safely and successfully jump out of a plane.
If you’re a thrill-seeker, this is simply a no-brainer. The instructors are more than competent and will explain to you exactly what to expect and how to go about properly jumping out of a plane. If you have a friend or a partner, you should consider doing the tandem dive together.
Carlos Avery State Wildlife Management Area is the ideal destination for bird watchers. This place boasts some of the best sightings of some of the most exotic birds. The park spans over 20000 acres of marshland, uplands, and wetlands. As if that wasn’t enough, there are beautiful lakes throughout the massive park, which adds to the spectacle nicely.
As an observer, the best time to visit the park is during migration because the land is likely to be overrun with exotic and vibrant birds. You can expect to see species such as the Bald Eagle, Song Bird, Golden-winged Warbler, Sedge Wren, and Sandhill Crane.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Southern Minnesota
The hustle and bustle of everyday life can become quite monotonous after a while, and escaping to a serene and beautiful environment for some peace can be just what the doctor ordered.
Thanks to its woodland trails and floating boardwalks, the Tamarack Nature Preserve can be a place of escape for those looking for a change in scenery.
The site has tremendous biodiversity of birds, other wildlife, and marsh plants. Besides being an essential place for both flora and fauna to flourish, it also allows people to connect with nature on a deeper level unimpeded by city life. As you venture on the boardwalks and trails, you’ll have access to forests, prairie ponds, a play area, and more!
Forest Lake’s Community is in Tower Park, behind the Forest Lake Senior Center. The garden features 20 garden 10 x 10 garden plots. Each plot gets leased out on an annual basis. The cost of each garden plot is $30.00 per season.
The garden beds are prepared during the spring by the city, and they will mark the boundaries of each plot with water being available onsite.
Be sure to review the rental agreement and be prepared to submit your application online or in person at the Forest Lake City Center. The Garden plots are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
19. Dragon Boating
You can join the open session orchestrated by the Lakes District Dragon Boat Association. Typically there are trial sessions where anyone can come and indulge in the activity for free. Visit their website for information on when and where to join their sessions.
Dragon boating as we know it began in 1976. Furthermore, the Lakers (Lakes), established in 2006, are a member of Dragon Boat Queensland. This organization is always looking for new up-and-coming talent. So if you’re interested, it won’t hurt to apply for the team if you’re relocating long-term.
See Related: Best Lakes in Minnesota (Ranked!)
20. Inala Library
The Inala Library can be a welcomed retreat from outside activities. Here you can enjoy all kinds of activities, usually free; however, you must book a time before arriving. Here are a few upcoming events to be on the lookout for at the Inala Library: BYOB (Bring Your Own Baby) Book Club (May 2), and Meet David H Earley (May 3).
Keys Bakery and Café is a Minnesota favorite and a busy establishment full of people looking to grab a plate of some good comfort food. Service is excellent, if sometimes a little slow, which is a side effect of its extreme popularity among the locals – and I mean extreme popularity. This small, family-owned chain is beloved statewide.
Keys is famous for their salads, soups, breakfast, grilled sandwiches, and sweet treats. This restaurant serves classic American cuisine, cookies, pies and cakes, and many huge breakfast options.
The food is always prepared to order and fresh. The staff is warm and inviting, making the dining experience much more enjoyable. At Keys Bakery and Café, you can get huge portion sizes for a great price!
A family-favorite restaurant serving classic American fare in a cozy setting, the Old Log Cabin is a top local hangout.
Come for the beers and stay for the bear, (carved out of wood, sat on a bench. The guy is just adorable). The Old Log Cabin also features a charming patio area for al fresco dining.
Visiting Forest Lake during July? Then get your dose of patriotism at the Forest Lakes’ 4th of July Parade. It’s not the largest 4th of July parade in Minnesota (that honor goes to Delano – which is also the oldest), but it’s definitely worth watching the parade wind around the Lake Street roundabout. Stick around to enjoy the fairground rides and the fireworks.
- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a seasoned traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers find their next adventure, whether it’s exploring new places or revisiting old favorites.
He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wonderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). He loves listening to people’s stories from around the world as well as sharing his own experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.