It’s that time of year again – time to choose a reunion destination. So where will you go? Ay, there’s the rub. Planning a reunion in a national park is natural. The scenery – the space – the mystique. Unfortunately, the sheer distances involved can make it unfeasible; hauling groups to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon isn’t an option for many of us. Before you give up the idea altogether, consider some alternatives that are closer to home. In the Midwest, Minnesota’s national parks fit the bill.
Like most of the Upper Midwest, Minnesota gets the bum rap of having a flat landscape that just can’t compare to the beaches of the Southeast or mountains of the West. Even fellow Midwesterners’ knowledge of the North Star State may be limited to its fabled 10,000 lakes. Do a little research, however, and you’ll find that Minnesota’s parks and landscapes can compete with the best of them. And that doesn’t even take the state’s historical and cultural activities into the equation.
There are at least five reasons to look north when it comes time to schedule your next reunion trip, and we’re here to tell you all about them.
How Can I Find the Best Choice for my Minnesota National Park Reunion?
Depending on your group, your schedule and the length of your stay, consider the following factors in choosing a Minnesota national park for a reunion:
- Is there lodging, including camping, either onsite or nearby?
- What attractions will my group most want to see?
- What travel time can I expect? For example, a three-hour car trip may be too much for a family group with lots of little ones, but it could suit a scenic-minded adult group just fine.
With these in mind, let’s look at a selection of Minnesota’s national parks as potential reunion travel destinations.
For History Buffs: Grand Portage National Monument
Located about 150 miles from Duluth, Grand Portage National Monument is really more about journeying back in time rather than to the tip of northeastern Minnesota. Along the shores of Lake Superior, groups can learn about the fur traders and Ojibwe peoples that carved out the story of these woods and plains. Here you can see eagles, woodpeckers, and other wildlife in their native woodlands and waterlands, go hiking through ancient paths, or visit reconstructed buildings and Heritage Center exhibits to understand more about the past. The area’s big annual event is the Grand Portage Rendezvous and Powwow, which celebrates the area with music, games, workshops and craft demonstrations.
Right in Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Backyard: Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
If your group is staying in or near Minneapolis, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is the place to go. The Visitor Center is situated on the ground floor of the Science Museum of Minnesota, but there are also plenty of interesting asides along the 72 miles of river that make up this popular park. Along the way, your group can camp, boat, canoe, fish, hunt or picnic at designated spots. However your group chooses to explore this area – hiking, biking, walking or riding in a car – a copy of the Mississippi River Companion is an invaluable guide.
A True Explorer’s Destination: Voyageurs National Park
Near International Falls, Voyageurs National Park gives your group another opportunity to experience history – this time, in a more interactive fashion. Seen from the perspective of the area’s early travelers, called voyageurs in French, this national park gives groups a good idea of how these northern woods and lakes appeared hundreds of years ago. And you really can’t get much further north in the USA – Voyageur National Park’s northern limit doubles as Canada’s southern boundary. Here groups can leave the car behind and travel via waterways – the original highways – or camp in rustic splendor. (The Visitor Centers are accessible by car, but the park is best experienced by boat.) Don’t worry if your explorers have a less-than-ideal sense of direction; guided tours are available.
A Protected Place: Pipestone National Monument
This monument doesn’t just commemorate natural beauty or ecological diversity, although those are present here too. It protects an area of great importance to Native Americans: a quarry that produces red pipestone, which traditionally was used to manufacture pipes and effigies. Today, the quarrying is restricted to American Indian tribes, but visitors can come to observe the process, learn about its cultural and historical significance, and appreciate the natural sights of the area. For groups, a picnic at the Three Maidens and a stroll along Circle Trail, complete with views of unique quartzite rock formations and Winnewissa Falls, is a memorable experience for anyone staying near the southwestern corner of the state.
For Groups Who Love to Fish: Saint Croix National Riverway
The Saint Croix National Riverway straddles two states (Wisconsin and Minnesota) and combines two rivers (St. Croix and Namekagon) to deliver over 250 miles of fishing, camping, and hiking paradise. As you cruise down the river, either by boat, canoe or car via the nearby roads, you’ll have the chance to fish, hike, camp, stop at historic towns and see wildlife along one of the Midwest’s most unspoiled scenic stretches of river. Please note that you may need to get camping permits before you set up for the night. And don’t worry if your group didn’t pack all its gear: outfitters and rental places are on hand to be sure everyone has what they need to have fun.
A memorable vacation, complete with fun times and great views, doesn’t have to mean trekking way down south or way out west. It can be much closer to home, in a part of the country that’s still rich in history and natural beauty.
Have you been to one of Minnesota’s national parks or had a reunion getaway in the state? Tell us how it went by leaving a message in the comments section below. Thanks!