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11 Best Things to Do in Lake City, Minnesota

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When you think about Lake City, activities like boating, fishing, and water skiing probably come to mind. But there are many other interesting things to do in Lake City. Check out this list to find out. 

Did you know Lake City was where Ralph Samuelson invented waterskiing in 1922? Besides the thrilling water sport, Lake City has become a paradise destination for outdoor lovers seeking a peaceful escape.

With its location along Lake Pepin, Lake City is one of the most scenic parts of the Midwest. From boating, hunting, hiking, and even golfing, there’s no shortage of outdoor fun while visiting Lake City. Similarly, you can indulge in winter sports in Lake City’s numerous parks during the holiday season.

Old Bank Bar & Grill, Lake City - Terracotta-hued brick facade, inviting eatery, and sidewalk view
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Apart from offering adventurous sports and outdoor excursions, the city offers serene natural beauty and tasty cuisine for those looking for a relaxing getaway. The countless great parks within the city are popular locations for families to hang out and enjoy quality time together.

With so many options, you don’t want to visit Lake City without a proper itinerary. To help you out, I have compiled this list of the best things to do in Lake City. So, let’s begin!

TL;DR

Things to Do in Lake City, Minnesota

1. Visit Lake Pepin

Aerial view of serene Lake Pepin with lush shoreline
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Lake City, Minnesota, is located on the beautiful shores of Lake Pepin. The natural lake is located within the Mississippi River and sits on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The lake is widely known as the ‘birthplace of water skiing’ since the sport was invented here by Ralph Samuelson back in 1922. Therefore, enjoying some water sports while visiting Lake City is a must. 

Even if you don’t want to indulge in water skiing yourself, don’t worry. You can watch the water ski competitions during the Water Ski Days in June.

In addition to waterskiing, the whole family can enjoy swimming, boating, kayaking, and sailing on the beautiful Lake Pepin. An amazing sandy beach in Hok-Si-La Municipal Park is perfect for spending the day splashing on the shores or relaxing on a beach chair. Lake Pepin offers some of the best boating on the Mississippi River.

For something more thrilling, head to Eagle Hang Gliding to experience flying 2,000 feet over the Mississippi River. Guests can enjoy a breathtaking 30- or 60-minute tandem flight with a certified instructor.

If all this fun in the sun increases your appetite, check out Kelly’s Lake House. This lakefront restaurant offers juicy burgers, house-made pizzas, and 30 beers on draught. The amazing views will make you remember your amazing time on Lake Pepin.

After a long day, you’ll be glad you booked this three-bedroom vacation home with stunning views of Lake Pepin. The sunrise views alone will make waking up in this beautiful small town much easier.

See Related: Best Scenic Drives in Minnesota

2. Sightseeing at the Pearl of the Lake

Mississippi River Cruise Flooding Casino Boat

Address: 100 Central Point Rd, Lake City, MN 55041

The Pearl of the Lake is a marvelous modern-day paddle boat reminiscent of the boats that cruised up and down the Mississippi in the 1800s.

If you’re in the mood for a relaxing excursion on the water, you can head to the Pearl of the Lake. Here, you can enjoy a 90-minute cruise while learning about the area’s history and enjoying the view. You might even see a magnificent bald eagle swoop down to catch lunch!

The boat features a full-service bar, snacks, and tasty beef hot dogs. It’s a fun and affordable way to enjoy drinks and a meal safely on the lake with your loved ones.

The upper deck is the best place to view the surrounding nature and wildlife. It has a 52-seat capacity, so make sure to get there early if you wanna snag the best seats. However, the lower deck is climate-controlled, which might be more comfortable on extremely hot or cold days. You can board up to one hour before departure. 

Due to the popularity, availability, and weather conditions, we recommend booking your tickets online. However, walk-ins are welcome. You can check the cruise calendar here.

After the enjoyable sightseeing cruise, wind down with a beer at Hoppy Girl Brewing. This microbrewery is located just 10 miles south of Lake City in nearby Wabasha. It comes highly recommended by locals and is a great find if you’re a fan of craft brews.

See Related: Things to Do in Forest Lake, Minnesota

3. Camping in Hok-Si-La Municipal Park

Address: 2500 U.S. Hwy 61, Lake City, MN 55041

If you’re visiting between May and October, camping is one of the best things to do in Lake City if you’re traveling with friends or kids. While Hok-Si-La Municipal Park is open year-round for day use, the park is also a fun place to camp in the warmer months.

There are two camping options in Hok-Si-La Park: tent camping and sleeping cabins. For tent camping, 31 sites can accommodate 2-4 adults (plus kids), and eight sites are available for larger groups. Two modern bathrooms feature flush toilets and showers, so you can camp comfortably. Reserve your campsite early to get the best views of the Mississippi River.

The six sleeper cabins can each accommodate six people and are ADA-accessible. Each cabin also has a fire pit and picnic table outside, making great fireside memories for the whole family.

Hok-Si-La Municipal Park, MN

If you don’t want to camp overnight, the park also features picnic areas and screened shelters that you can rent for the whole day or half a day. The park has lovely features, including a sandy beach, hiking trails, a playground, and cross-country skiing trails in the winter.

I also recommend checking out the park’s Interpretive Center to learn more about the flora and fauna found along the Mississippi River and the surrounding bluffs.

Located just outside Hok-Si-La Municipal Park, AmericInn by Wyndham Lake City is a great hotel with an indoor pool and free Wi-Fi. Plus, I’m a sucker for a hotel breakfast that includes waffles.

Looking to explore more in Minnesota? Check out our posts on Rochester, Red Wing, and St. Paul.  

See Related: Things to Do in St. Paul, Minnesota

4. Hike Through the Beautiful Nature Parks

Frontenac State Park Hiking Trail

Address: 29223 County 28 Blvd, Frontenac, MN 55026

Regarding hiking, the Frontenac State Park is a go-to destination for most tourists in Lake City. It’s just five miles north of Lake City and features 13 miles of hiking trails. Additionally, you will find a mile-long handicap-accessible path in the park.

Along with the spectacular views of the natural landscape, hiking through Frontenac State Park lets you experience beautiful wildlife, including deer, raccoons, foxes, woodchucks, and beavers. At certain times of the year, Frontenac State Park becomes a great place to go mushroom foraging! 

Make sure to take your camera along to capture magnificent migrating birds, including eagles and several species of warblers. More than 260 species of birds can be spotted in the park!

Frontenac Minnesota view of Lake Pepin

The trails of Frontenac State Park range from easy to difficult. The easiest trail is the Riverview trail, between the picnic and campground areas.

Other highlights include a one-mile wheelchair-accessible trail, a 0.75-mile self-guided trail that features scenic views of Lake Pepin, and Sand Point Trail, which is mostly flat and is great for bird-watching.

If you plan to enjoy a full day (or more) of hiking, carry the right gear, such as sturdy hiking boots and trekking poles, before starting your journey. The park is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 pm, but camping overnight is allowed during certain times of the year.

See Related: Reasons to Visit Franconia Sculpture Park

5. Lake City River Walk

Lake Peppin Boats
image by France1978 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

If you’re looking for a peaceful way to wind down after a long day of fun or a great way to start your morning, head to the Lake City River Walk. The river walk spans the entire length of the city and is open to pedestrians and cyclists. It is one of the most popular biking trails in the town.

The Lake City River Walk can be entered at several points, so it’s easy to choose one that is most convenient for you. The two endpoints are Roschen Park in the south and Hok-Si-La Municipal Park in the north. The river walk is 2.5 miles one way.

Didn’t you bring your bike with you? No worries! Lake City has a wonderful free community bike-sharing program for anyone over 18. The bikes can be found at the Lake City Marina, and the program runs every day from April to October.

In the evening, I recommend Port 104, which offers guests daily specials, mouthwatering burgers, and fresh seafood. The restaurant is open from 11:00 a.m. every day. However, if you plan to visit between June and September, stop by the Lake City Market by the Lake, which is held every Thursday.

It’s just one of many lively street markets in the area from Memorial Day until late summer. Visitors can find fresh produce, food trucks, and live music.

See Related: Things to Do in Minneapolis

6. Fishing on the Lake

Fishing on the Lake

Besides waterskiing, Lake Pepin is best known for boating and fishing. There are multiple opportunities for amateur and professional fishermen to spend a fun day out. 

You can enjoy the peaceful waters while reeling in several different fish species. The most common fish in Lake Pepin are walleye and Northern pike. You may even catch Smallmouth bass, Largemouth bass, catfish, perch, and sunfish.

Many boating guides are available for hire across the shore who can help you identify the species to make for an educational experience. Hiring a professional fishing guide is a great option if you’re fishing with kids or are a fishing novice.

You can fish from a boat or on the shore of Lake Pepin. Either way, don’t forget to purchase your fishing permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources!

The Lake Pepin region hosts fun competitions, including the Officer Shawn Schneider Memorial Fishing Tournament and the Frontenac Sportsmen’s Walleye & Sauger Classic, where fishing enthusiasts from all over the country can participate.

You can try your luck in one of the competitions or watch the participants bring in astounding game fish. Either way, fishing in Lake City makes for a well-spent day. 

See Related: Best Things to Do in Hastings, Minnesota

7. Bird Watching

Wilson's warbler at Hok-Si-La Park in Lake City, Minnesota
image by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

If activities like fishing or boating are not your piece of cake, don’t worry. As we’ve mentioned throughout this piece, Lake City and the entire Lake Pepin region are wonderful places for bird-watching. 

Over 200 species of birds, including several migratory birds, can be found in the area. The town sits along the Mississippi Flyway, a major bird migration route. The best places to go bird watching in Lake City are the parks, with the top three being Hok-Si-La Municipal Park, Ohuta Park, and Roschen Park. 

In Hok-Si-La, you can often find migratory warblers, tiny, adorable birds that come in various colors. If you’re lucky, you could also spot Barred owls, Cooper’s hawks, and Pileated woodpeckers.

Merganser Duck

At Ohuta Park and Beach, visitors can get a treat by seeing bald eagles swoop down and fish along the shores. You might even see a Red-throated or Yellow-billed loon, which is extremely rare.

Roschen Park is great if you’re looking to spot various species of shorebirds and ducks. The Lake City Chamber of Commerce provides a wonderful brochure guide to bird-watching in the Lake Pepin area.

This lovely rental home is just outside Hok-Si-La Park, so you can be close to all the action. It also features a shared pool, a great place to relax during the day.

8. Golf at The Jewel Golf Club

Golf Ball That is Closed to a Hole

Address: 1900 Clubhouse Dr Lake City, MN 55041

Five golf courses are located in the surrounding area of Lake City, two of which are located in Lake City. The Jewel Golf Club offers an 800-acre course against the stunning backdrop of the grand bluffs of the Mississippi River Valley. 

Hale Irwin, a three-time winner of the US Open, designed the 18-hole course. Playing a round on this course will be a memorable experience if you’re a golf lover. In 2021, it was voted one of Golfweek’s best public courses.

The course includes five sets of tee boxes, accommodating various golfing abilities. Additionally, The Jewel Golf Club offers lessons to golfers of any level and makes for a beautiful place to improve your golf game.

You’ll probably work up an appetite after a round of golf, so it’s best to head over to Bluffside Grill & Bar after your game. The restaurant offers delicious lunch and dinner entrees that you can enjoy while taking in the panoramic views from the terrace. 

See Related: Things to Do in Wabasha

9. Shop at Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co

Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co, Minnesota Building
Jonathunder, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 226 S Washington St, Lake City, MN 55041

One thing I love doing when visiting a new place is picking out a unique souvenir that will remind me of my trip for years and years. If you like to do the same, check out Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co. 

The store offers visitors a fun mix of clothing, home decor, collectibles, and gifts. It is housed in an old Victorian building in downtown Lake City. It got its name from the pearl harvesting industry, booming in this Mississippi River area over a hundred years ago.

Lake Pepin Pearl Co often gets new items with a nautical or seasonal theme. Many hats, shirts, and pillows found here have adorable sayings that will transport you back to lake life every time you read them. You can also often find unique vintage items that are perfect if you’re a collector.

The store is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm. If you’ve shopped til you dropped, head across the street to Big Bear Pizzeria for some of the best pizza and ice cream in town.

10. Pepin Heights Store

Address: 1775 Hwy 61 S, Lake City, MN 55041

We’ve got you covered if you’re looking for fresh, local produce! The adorable Pepin Heights Store is known as the cutest store on the river. All local product essentials, including fruits, baked goods, and more, are stocked here!

Pepin Heights Orchard is home to over 400,000 apple trees, so you know they’ll be fully stocked during the apple-picking season (the best season). Varieties include Honeycrisp, SweeTango, Pazazz, and Riverbelle.

In addition to these delicious locally-grown apples, you can find other seasonal fruits and vegetables, apple cider, freshly baked pies, crafts, jellies, salsas, and so much more! I would buy the whole store if I could. One could easily spend almost an hour browsing all their fun and fascinating products.

The store is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and should definitely be one of your stops in Lake City.

11. Winter Sports in Lake City and Nearby Wabasha (Coffee Mill Ski Area)

Man Enjoying Winter Sports

Address: 99 Coulee Way, Wabasha, MN 55981

Winter is a magical time in Lake City. Though the town is known for its summer water sports, it transforms into a magical winter wonderland in the winter months.

You can enjoy ice skating, ice fishing, ice sailing, cross-country skiing, and fat tire biking within the town. Hok-Si-La Park and Frontenac State Park offer many amazing cross-country and snowshoeing trails. Along the bluffs, you can find hundreds of miles of maintained trails perfect for snowmobiling.

However, if you want to partake in more thrilling sports like skiing and snowboarding, the nearest option is Coffee Mill Ski Area in nearby Wabasha. The ski area is less than 20 minutes south of Lake City, so it’s an easy and fun day trip.

Coffee Mill Ski Area offers affordable lift ticket rates and season passes. You can also rent ski and snowboard gear for the day at affordable prices. Private and group lessons are available for snowboarding and skiing if you want to improve your skills.

FAQ

What is Lake City, Minnesota, known for?

Lake City is known as the birthplace of waterskiing, invented in 1922 by Ralph Samuelson. It remains an amazing place for water sports, swimming, and fishing.

How far is Lake City from the Twin Cities?

Lake City is just under 1.5 hours away by car from Minneapolis and St. Paul.

What is the best time of year to visit Lake City?

The best time of the year to visit Lake City is in the summer and winter. During the summer, visitors can enjoy swimming, boating, and fishing. The area comes alive in the winter with winter activities, including skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and cross-country skiing.

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