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There are rides galore at Valleyfair family amusement park, plus Knott's Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America; the renowned Children's Theater Company, and the Minnesota Zoo, where hundreds of animals roam in large, naturalistic environments. Around the state, there's Ely's International Wolf Center, Grand Rapids' Forest History Center, or the underground mysteries of Preston's Mystery Cave or Soudan Underground Mine.
Minnesota's abundance of magnificent woods and waters is legendary. You can stand on a rocky cliff overlooking the largest lake (Superior) in the world, paddle the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or step across the crystal-clear source of America's mighty Mississippi. Beyond this, vast portions of northern Minnesota are carpeted by countless lakes, streams, rivers, and forests of evergreen and hardwood. In southeastern Minnesota are the Mississippi's lush hardwood bluffs and cool tributary streams. The state's western horizons are quilted with golden fields and prairies, and ribboned with riverside woodlands.
The best of Minnesota's country ski trails are the envy of much of the nation, as are the state's 15,000 miles of snowmobile trails. Minnesota is also home to the largest and highest downhill ski area in the Midwest, and many Minnesota resorts and other accommodations offer special packages for winter fun lovers.
Minnesota's hundreds of miles of well-maintained hiking trails wind quietly along lakes and rivers, near enough to breathe the morning mist rising from the water, and through the heart of virgin prairies and stands of ancient white pine. Cyclists get nearly as close, with paved trails along old railroad beds far from well-traveled road -- at 250 miles, Minnesota has more paved rail-to-trail bikeways than any other state. And rugged logging roads and forest trails make for challenging mountain biking.
If you're in the mood for romance, or just to pamper yourself for a weekend, Minnesota has lots of high-style lodging to make you feel like royalty. The Twin Cities metro area is dotted with luxury hotels featuring fine dining (in-room or out), whirlpools, saunas, magnificent suites and more. For the homier side of luxury, stay at a historic inn or bed and breakfast, many of which have rooms with fireplaces and whirlpools. For luxury in the wilderness, some of Minnesota's grander resorts and lodges can be mighty posh as well, with the famous Minnesota woods and waters just beyond the picture window.
For some of us, life is at its best when we're out exploring, paddling, trekking, climbing and splashing through the natural wonders of the world around us. There's wilderness canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area; sea kayaking along Lake Superior's North Shore; rock climbing along the North Shore or the rocky gorges of the St. Croix River; whitewater rafting along the St. Louis River; scuba diving for shipwrecks in Lake Superior. Winter adventurers might travel by snowshoe, ski or dogsled. Trip outfitters are available for all of these activities, providing as much assistance, training and equipment as you require.
Minnesota's state park system was founded more than a century ago when 32,000 acres of pine-studded wilderness surrounding Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi River, were set aside for future generations to enjoy. Today Minnesota's 68 state parks are the envy of the nation, preserving large expanses of Minnesota's varied landscapes: forests of ancient pine and oak, pristine lakes, cold, clear waterfalls crashing into Lake Superior, tall grass prairies, Mississippi bluff country and the "big woods" of southeastern Minnesota. Camping, hiking trails, interpretive nature programs and every kind of outdoor recreation await you.
Minnesota's 10,000-plus lakes and countless rivers and streams offer a boundless variety of fishing experiences: taking limits of walleye or panfish from border to border or trophy-sized pike in the cold northern waters, fly-fishing on the southeastern streams, and wresting lake trout on Lake Superior. Try your luck on your own, or hook up with a fishing guide or launch service to learn the local tricks and hot spots.
Imagine yourself in a cabin on the shore of a beautiful northern lake, lighting the fireplace, and a loon's solitary cry breaks the evening silence. Your day's catch is frying on the stove, and you're wondering why life can't be like this all the time. The classic Minnesota resort vacation has been bringing folks back to the north country for decades, and it can be yours. Or enjoy the same blessings beneath the stars, as a camper. The more developed campgrounds and resorts offer most of the comforts and amenities of home, while others pride themselves on rustic simplicity.
There's lot's to do besides fishing on Minnesota's countless lakes and waterways. Water skiing was invented here (on Lake Pepin, the widest point on the Mississippi River), and then there's yachting or sea kayaking on Lake Superior, renting a houseboat in Voyageurs National Park, paddling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, motorboating on the Mississippi, inner tubing on the Red Lake River, or a pontoon picnic party on one of our 10,000-plus lakes.
At the undisputed top of the list of Minnesota shopping attractions is the Mall of America, with over 400 specialty stores, Knott's Camp Snoopy and Underwater World, all anchored by Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Nordstrom and Sear's. There are also the four "Dales", including Edina's Southdale, the nation's first fully-enclosed, climate-controlled shopping center when it was built in 1956. On a charming smaller scale is antique shopping the Mississippi River towns of southeastern Minnesota, or the lovely small shops of Stillwater or St. Paul's Grand Avenue. For brand-name bargains, check out the factory outlet center in Medford.
While you're in Minnesota, it's easy to get swept up in the excitement of the seasons. Professional sports seasons, that is. Rain, shine or snow, the Twins play baseball and the Vikings play football in the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves play basketball in Target Center, in Minneapolis' warehouse district. And minor league teams like the St. Paul Saints and Duluth-Superior Dukes play baseball in the sun for their loyal fans.
Per capita, Minnesota and the Twin Cities offer one of the liveliest arts scenes in the country. Our dozens of theaters run from the acclaimed Guthrie Theater and Theatre de la Jeune Lune to light fare at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres or a number of summer theaters around the state. You can even see a big Broadway show on tour at the Ordway Music Theatre. Classical music offerings in the Twin Cities include the Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Opera; there's also an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, rock, country and dance clubs in the area. Around the state are music celebrations for every taste, such as Detroit Lakes' country star-studded WE Fest, and Duluth's Bayfront Blues Festival on the shores of Lake Superior.
The traditions of the Ojibwe and Dakota Indians -- the adventures of the "voyageur" fur traders -- the trials and triumphs of the early pioneers -- the important contributions made by immigrants from all over the world. These, and the stories of all who came before, come to life at many intriguing historic sites and museums throughout the state. Visit them for a glimpse into the people and the times that wove the fabric of life in Minnesota today.
The wide variety of natural scenery here appeals to travelers and makes for a range of things to see and do. Minnesota is a crossroads for three distinct environments -- the western plains and prairies, the northern coniferous forest and the eastern hardwood forest. These three lands meet in the northwest third of the state, where deep pine forests and wilderness lakes gradually give way to a tapestry of rich farmland to the west and rolling woods of aspen, birch and maple in the vacation lakes area to the south. It's a land with tales to tell -- of Vikings, voyageurs, Paul Bunyan, and Charles Lindbergh. But the real focus is its lakes, noted for their fine fishing.
With a population of more than 2.2 million, the Twin Cities metropolitan area is a lively urban center with a wide range of entertainment, including what is widely regarded as the most active theater scene between the east and west coasts. Neither is there any shortage of fine museums, galleries, night clubs and classical music and dance. Minneapolis is an attractive city of lakes and parks, tree-lined streets, and a thriving downtown -- the kind of city where a contemporary skyline can be viewed from a shady lakeshore. As the capital city, St. Paul has a strong historical feel, with an abundance of architectural gems both old and new. Bloomington, a "suburb" which has grown to become the state's third largest city, is home to the vast shopping and family entertainment center known around the globe as the Mall of America. The countryside bordering the Twin Cities offers many parks and preserves and smaller towns to explore on day trips. With the support of a strong economic base and a creative artistic community, the Twin Cities have become the undisputed cultural center of the upper Midwest.
Minnesota's state parks provide the best places to experience the natural and cultural heritage of Minnesota. From windswept prairies to majestic pines to hardwood forests, state parks are lands set aside to perpetuate significant resources and to provide recreational and educational opportunities. Recreational facilities in parks include more than 4,000 campsites with semi-modern (showers and flush toilets) or rustic facilities (with water and pit toilets), 38 swimming beaches, naturalist programs, and over 1,000 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, skiing, and snowmobiling. Every park has picnic facilities ranging in character from remote and rustic to enclosed shelters with electrical service. Minnesota's park system is recognized as one of the most outstanding in the country.
Minnesota is fortunate in that almost one-third of its total land area is covered with forests providing recreational opportunities, wood products, timber, watershed protection and homes for countless plants and animals. It is the sixteenth most forested state in the nation.
Minnesota's 57 state forests are managed by law to produce timber and other forest crops, provide outdoor recreation, protect watershed values and provide habitat for wildlife and plants. State forests are multiple-use areas that are managed to perpetuate balanced ecosystems, while providing economic and aesthetic benefits to society.
Minnesota's forests were not always managed. When the vast pine forests were first logged in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the intent was to clear the land for agriculture while providing lumber for a developing region. Only later did homesteaders discover that much of the forest land was not suitable for growing crops. Undesirable land was then abandoned and returned to public ownership. This land, along with lands that were never transferred from public ownership, make up a significant portion of Minnesota's forest areas. Around the turn of the century, the state hired its first people to manage its forests and protect them from fire.
Wood-based industries provide a significant portion of the state's non-farm income and employment. The forest products industry directly employs over 50,000 people. Value added processing and related trades and service industries contribute over 100,000 additional jobs. The forest products industry accounts for about $3.8 billion in economic activity, thus making it the state's third largest manufacturing enterprise.
Minnesota's forest provide much more than economic benefits derived from timber resources. The forest industry statistics, as important as they are, do not reflect the importance of the forests to tourism, another of the state's largest industries. It has been estimated that 25 percent of all outdoor recreation activity takes place in townships with state forest land. The total contribution to outdoor recreational experiences and wildlife habitat that state forests make is significant but almost impossible to measure.
State trails offer something for everyone, in every season of the year. These trails are perfect for a close-to-home workout in an outdoor setting, for a fun day trip, or for an adventurous weekend getaway exploring Minnesota's remote reaches. These trails link urban places and country spaces, and let you explore all the beauty of Minnesota at your own pace. Historic sites, parks, forests, lakes and creeks, and charming small towns are waiting for you to discover.
You can trek through Minnesota's snowy north woods on hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails, or bicycle across sunlit prairies and rolling pastoral landscapes in central Minnesota. If you haven't yet enjoyed the limestone cliffs and caves, sparkling trout streams, delicate spring wildflowers, and flashy fall colors of Minnesota's southeastern blufflands, you are in for a treat!
Small towns along the trails have put out the welcome mat for visitors to their cafes, bed-and-breakfast inns, resorts, and campgrounds. Equipment rental is available in many trail towns. Special events are held on the trails year-round, such as the candle-lit cross-country ski outings or the unique "stationary parade" in tiny Whalan on the Root River Trail. Three-day bike tours for charitable causes use parts of the Willard Munger State Trail. Other trail towns sponsor marathons, bike tours, and trail festivals.