If you’re looking for a vacation destination that gives you that suburban feel and a village-like life, visit Willmar town in Minnesota. Beautiful lakes, rolling hills, and rich farmlands surround it, and notable economic growth in medicine and technology gives the area a metropolitan feel.
The town has many top attractions to explore; from parks to islands, beaches, biking and hiking trails, and campgrounds you may need to stay for an extended period to explore all of them.
Keep reading to explore exciting things to do in Willmar, MN.
Table of Contents
- List of the Best Things to Do in Willmar, Minnesota
- 1. Walk or go ice skating on the Glacial Lakes State Trail
- 2. Watch a Play at Barn Theater
- 3. Visit the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center
- 4. Play at the Willmar Destination Playground
- 5. Attend a Bike Powered Scavenger Hunt
- 6. Visit SeaQuest Roseville
- 7. Go for Wine Tasting at North Ridge Winery
- 8. Visit the Big Kahuna Water and Adventure Park
- 9. Go on a Cruise at Lake Waconia Cruises
- 10. Take a Trip to History at Kandiyohi County Historical Society and Museum
- 11. Take a Dive at Dorothy A. Olson Aquatic Center
- 12. Watch Willmar Stingers Play Baseball
- 13. Watch the Little Crow Ski Team Showcase its Talent
- 14. Enjoy a Cup of Well-Crafted Beer at Foxhole Brewhouse
- 15. Visit the Schwanke Car Museum
- 16. Discover Treasure at West Central RockHounds
List of the Best Things to Do in Willmar, Minnesota
1. Walk or go ice skating on the Glacial Lakes State Trail
If your idea of going on vacation involves nature walks, by beautiful lakes visit Glacial Lakes State Trail. The 22-mile trail winds through part of Willmar, New London, Spicer, and Hawick, with an additional 7.5 miles of trail from Roscoe to Cold Spring.
The topography developed as a result of glaciers dating 10,000 years ago. Most of the area is cultivated, but some parts remain wetlands and scattered woodlots.
If visiting during the summer months, you get to enjoy lots of activities while exploring the trail. From hiking and biking to horseback riding, there’s plenty to do here. Just remember that you will need a horse pass if you want to go horseback riding and a license to go fishing!
Winter visitors, on the other hand, enjoy winter in Minnesota by cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowmobiling.
You also have a chance to see reptiles, the whitetail deer, birds, and lots of small mammals.
2. Watch a Play at Barn Theater
This kid-friendly theater began to provide affordable entertainment for the Willmar community and opportunities for growth for volunteers. The theater has managed to provide just that since its inception in 1964.
Its volunteer board of directors bought a barn and a lot nearby while the community provided labor and supplies required to transform it into a theater. It was the beginning of ‘The Barn Theater.’
Today, Barn Theater provides cultural and artistic entertainment, including recitals, plays, an orchestra, and drama for adults and kids. The theater has gone through several renovations to expand its entertainment offerings over the years.
Initially, the theater produced three to five summer productions every year, but after renovations, it added a winter season to showcase six shows.
The theater showcases live performances and an art gallery space for regional artists to display their work. A Children’s workshop was also incorporated in 1991 to allow kids to participate in concerts and other aspects of the theater for six to seven weeks.
See Related: Best Indoor Activities in Minnesota
3. Visit the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center
A ten-minute drive outside Willmar leads you to Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, a famous educational and outdoor recreational center.
Kids learn about nature, preservation, and the land’s history while indulging in a range of hands-on activities. They also engage in outdoor activities like hiking, attempting the rope challenge course, climbing rock walls, and going canoeing. Additional options include:
- Team building for kids, youths, and adults
- Going for cross country ski trails
- Hiking and rolling on glacial terrain
- Learning shooting at the Gary Westby Educational Shooting Sports Range
Initially, the center resided on a 200-acre piece of land, but it has since expanded to 500 acres. The Kandiyohi County bought the land to preserve some parts of the forest, prairie, and water while teaching residents about conserving the environment.
Since the expansion, new buildings provide more space to host more visitors, host educational programs, weddings, and receptions.
In 2015, the County raised money to erect a pavilion that can host up to 300 people and house a portable rock-climbing wall to allow kids to engage in the activity even when it’s raining.
Here’s a pro tip: You must call 24 hours in advance if renting canoes, kayaks, tire bikes, snowshoes, kicksleds, and cross country skis.
4. Play at the Willmar Destination Playground
You can never run out of activities to do in Willmar, even when traveling with kids. Thanks to the vast range of activities here, Willmar Destination Playground is a great place to spend the afternoon or day.
Known as the largest playground in the five-state area and the third-largest in the country, Willmar Destination Playground attracts visitors from far and wide.
Following its renovations in 2017, the playground has everything you can imagine to keep your child busy an entire day. It has monkey bars, swings, slides, a spider bouncer, a zip line, and misters to keep kids cool on hot days.
In addition, children can climb a fantasy castle, play musical instruments, and pretend to be locomotive conductors, among other escapades. The playground is also fully accessible for kids using wheelchairs and is fully rubberized to prevent injuries.
It has a designated area called the Liberty Swing to allow them to swing. The playground has play areas for specific age groups with fun themes like Castles and a Barn.
5. Attend a Bike Powered Scavenger Hunt
For an even more thrilling experience, attend a bike-powered scavenger hunt hosted by the Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Willmar Bikes to celebrate bike month.
A new search location is posted on the Willmar Bikes Instagram page every day in May, and participants must ride to the spot, take a photo, post it on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and tag the page.
Every time you post a picture and tag the Willmar Bikes page, you receive one entry. They award additional prizes at the end of the challenge.
6. Visit SeaQuest Roseville
This is a great place for people visiting with families and those hoping to celebrate events in style. SeaQuest takes you on a journey to five continents to see different animals, including sharks, iguanas, the giant pacific octopus, among others.
Kids can also discover many reptiles, mammals, and bird varieties. For a more endearing experience, go snorkeling in the waters full of tropical fish, reef sharks, and stingrays.
7. Go for Wine Tasting at North Ridge Winery
You may have to leave the kids behind, but this is one activity you must try when visiting Willmar. North Ridge Winery is a family-owned business, established in 2013 when it first planted vines.
Five years later, it started cultivating 21 different grape varieties as well as berry bushes and fruit trees bearing pears, apples, apricots, plums, and more. The premise was to grow all the ingredients required to produce rich wine varieties.
Today, North Ridge Winery produces various types of wine, from lush dessert wines to dry red blends and sweet, citrusy whites. During events, the winery offers one or two take-home bottles of wine to groups of two or four people, respectively.
8. Visit the Big Kahuna Water and Adventure Park
If you’re big on water-based thrills, then the Big Kahuna’s Water Park is the place to be. Among other things, it has big and small water slides for adults and kids and multiple attractions that will get your heart racing.
The great layout of the park makes it easy to get from one attraction to another in a few steps. It’s best to arrive early to get the most out of this park’s interests which include:
- Jumanji: This slide plunges you in complete darkness allowing your body to slide through it at a terrific speed.
- Kowabunga racer: You’ll need a friend when sliding on this one. The Kowabunga racer features a long sliding tunnel with race plunges. The race kicks off alongside other racers, but you branch off to take several turns and twists before ending in an exhilarating splash.
- Tropical mini golf: It might not be your idea of fun, but they’re likely to enjoy the activity if you visit with your old folks. The golf course has a breathtaking view, nestled between some mysterious caves, waterfall, and wooden bridges. It has 54 holes allowing your folks to flaunt their golf skills.
- Humunga river: This isn’t a regular river; it leads you to Crocodile Flats while lounging in a tube. It also gets a little turbulent, with currents and rivers ebbing off. If you enjoy mild water thrills but aren’t ready to take on the park’s dreadful water slides, the Humunga river is the best spot to visit.
Before you plan your trip, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the park doesn’t allow visitors to bring food or beverages, but you can buy snacks at the park’s food court or cafe. Alternatively, exit the park and eat at the fast-food restaurant a few miles away and go back to the park (re-entry is free).
It’s best to rent a cabana if visiting during peak hours because it’s challenging to find places to relax near the river. If you plan to use the park’s lockers, carry some extra money because the fee is separate.
See Related: Ideas for Weekend Getaways in Minnesota
9. Go on a Cruise at Lake Waconia Cruises
With so many lakes surrounding Willmar town, it’s only fair to explore some of the city’s best spots in a boat. Lake Waconia Cruise provides the perfect way of exploring Willmar’s vast waters from May to October. It gives different boating options, and all of them have a welcoming tiki atmosphere.
The boating options have varying rates, but they include a weekly morning cruise from 10:00-11:30 a.m. and a Happy Hour Cruise from 4:00-5:30 p.m. The tour guide provides a brief history of the island nearby, and guests receive lemonade, water, and ice tea.
Lake Waconia Cruises has exclusive Family Sunset Cruises every Wednesday from 7:00-9:00 p.m., complete with beverages.
10. Take a Trip to History at Kandiyohi County Historical Society and Museum
This very museum complex is the perfect place to learn about Kandiyohi’s history and locals. It is also among the wonderful museums to visit in Minnesota.
The museum has six buildings and several other parts: the Sperry House, Schoolhouse, Museum depot, Endreson Cabin, Grandpa’s Shed, and an agricultural building.
The main museum houses the exhibit area and the research library, showcasing local and family history resources.
On the other hand, the exhibit area displays a range of features, including the railroad, Civil War, transportation, Willmar 8, among other exhibits related to the County’s history. Here’s a brief overview of what you will find at Kandiyohi County Historical Society and Museum:
- The Schoolhouse: People brought this building – originally constructed in 1880 – to the museum in 1971. It demonstrates what the one-room schoolhouses of the time looked like.
- The Sperry House: It was built in 1893 by Jennie and Albert Sperry, the first settler, Civil war soldier, businessman, and farmer. This house provides a glimpse of the County’s life at the time. There are guided tours at the Sperry House on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
- Grandpa’s Shed: Constructed between 1905 and 1910 as a playhouse, it later became a guest cottage. In 1971, it moved to the museum to showcase the County’s outdoor life.
- The Guri Endreson Cabin: The cabin is a little far north of Willmar but is a great place to reminisce about the events of the famous Dakota War. It was constructed in 1858 by Lars and Guri Enderson and has remained one of the few buildings standing since the war.
11. Take a Dive at Dorothy A. Olson Aquatic Center
If the slides at Big Kahuna Water Park are too scary, the slides of the Dorothy A. Olson Aquatic Center are a great alternative. The first is fully enclosed and the other open, leading into a pool at the bottom.
You can also go swimming at the six-lane, 3-5 feet deep recreational pool or climb the Poolside Climbing Wall. This recent addition allows swimmers to climb up to 12 feet and make a splash into the blue waters 10 feet below.
There’s a mini slide for kids too. It has interactive play features and a shallow entry pool of 18 inches.
12. Watch Willmar Stingers Play Baseball
William Stingers provides great entertainment for baseball fans and visitors exploring the town in the summer. The team plays a 35 home game schedule at Willmar’s Bill Taunton Stadium, where locals throng to cheer their favorite players.
The stadium provides plenty of food and drinks to avoid missing out on the game.
The team and Northwoods League have already announced its schedule, so if Willmar is your next vacation destination, be sure to check it out.
13. Watch the Little Crow Ski Team Showcase its Talent
This famous ski team has been showcasing its prowess since 1979. It boasts countless titles, including 16 Regional and two National Championships. Little Crow Ski Team hosts a show every Friday night from June (7. 30 p.m.) to August (7.00 p.m.).
The shows attract large followings of anywhere from 500-4,500 people, and tickets are available for adults and students. Preschoolers enter the show for free.
See Related: Best Skiing Resorts in Minnesota
14. Enjoy a Cup of Well-Crafted Beer at Foxhole Brewhouse
Your trip isn’t complete without trying crafted beer at Foxhole Brewhouse. Nested between a performing arts theater on one side and a Bar and Grill on the other, it’s easy for visitors to miss it.
The Brewhouse has had some of the best beer in town since 1899 and the variety of beers is pretty satisfying for a small beer-crafting house.
The beer is authentic, beating most of the mass-produced varieties in the area, and the flavors are so rich you won’t miss making a trip to original beer crafting companies. If you’re a German native, you probably know the difference between well-crafted homebrew and regular beer.
It’s rich, smooth, and well-balanced. And if you’re a sucker for the Old English Ale, you won’t be disappointed; it has noticeable notes of toffee, caramel, and a dark, fruity, boozy aroma.
15. Visit the Schwanke Car Museum
Located in large metal buildings at 3310 First Street South, Schwanke Car Museum is home to a unique collection of large and small farm equipment. It has 85 cars, 175 tractors, 24 trucks, and eight fire trucks.
The late Virgil Schwanke, the founder, began collecting antique farm equipment and vehicles in 1957. He traveled all over the country collecting equipment at auctions. He then decided to make the collection available to the public by opening a gift shop and a storefront entrance on one end of the shop.
One fascinating item is the 1917 International Harvester, a rare cultivator whose lifespan was short because of its price, bulky nature, and habit of regularly tipping over.
The Schwanke Car Museum also houses a giant steam engine, a source of massive controversy during World War II. Kandiyohi County residents wondered if they needed to donate the derelict engine to the war’s metal collection campaign or preserve it as a piece of history. They decided to preserve it – hence the controversy.
A few odd-shaped cars are preserved, including the small one-cylinder, one-passenger car called the HM Vehicles Free-way, built in Burnsville; a three-wheeled, high-mileage car, which only 700 were built between 1979-1982.
The museum is open from mid-May to September but may open to special guests for purchases.
16. Discover Treasure at West Central RockHounds
Although it’s a recently established store, RockHounds’ operations have gained momentum fast. The founder’s fascination with rocks led her to open the store here.
RockHounds has a mining sluice that helps customers discover fascinating gems and stones, so this may be a fantastic stop for gem hunters of all ages.
The store also sells a wide range of gem-and-stone-related items like carved animals, individual stones, home decor, wine toppers, and geodes. It has a Pebble Puppy Club, where the rock of the month is selected, and a party room for hosting birthday and private parties.
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