Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but the state has more than just water to offer. It’s also home to some breathtakingly gorgeous scenic routes which lead to waterways, campsites, or nowhere in particular. This all sounds good, but aside from the obvious scenery, how do you choose which byways to visit? The Minnesota Department of Transportation says, “These corridors offer an alternative travel route to our major highways and travel patterns, while telling a story about Minnesota’s heritage, recreational activities or beauty.” Their 20-plus byways cover 2,800 miles in Minnesota. Mobile professionals at AT&T stores in Minnesota suggest using your mobile device to get the most out of your experience. While some believe getting lost is half the fun, others will want to use the latest technology to plan the route. And no one will want to miss out on getting photos of all the wonderful sites you’ll see on the byways. Here’s a look at three that are especially worth your time.
This 28-mile route through the Chippewa National Forest will give you a good look at the less-populated northern portion of the state. Start on County Road 39 near the town of Blackduck, then head south. Along the way you’ll find fishing and hunting opportunities galore at sites like Webster Lake. History buffs should stop by Camp Rabideau, a well-preserved Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The CCC camps were designed to provide jobs for young men during the Great Depression. But these weren’t just any jobs. They did things such as plant trees and built roads as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The U.S. Forest Service offers guided tours of the site from Memorial Day through Labor Day. If you’d prefer to go it alone, seasonal self-guided tours are also available.
The route is named after lady’s slipper, the state flower of Minnesota. It blooms in late June and early July, but if you’re visiting later in the year, don’t worry. You’ll still find plenty of natural beauty. In fact, autumn is one of the prettiest times of year to travel the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway, as you’ll have the chance to view birch trees, maple trees, and conifers decked out in fall colors.
Head to the east-central portion of Minnesota to find the 150-mile Otter Trail Scenic Byway. The sparsely populated Otter Tail County is one of the state’s most productive agricultural regions, but there’s much more to it than simply farmland. Check out the Phelps Mill National Historic District to view a three-story mill built in the late 1800s.
At one point, the mill was so productive that the county was the largest flour-producing site west of Minneapolis. The mill shuttered in 1939, but you can still take a self-guided tour of the facility.
Fans of quirky roadside attractions should stop by the Nyberg Sculpture Park in Vining. The sculpture park got its start in 1989 when local resident Ken Nyberg decided to construct an enormous foot. By the time he was done in 1991, the foot stood 11 feet tall and weighed 1,200 pounds. The foot’s upturned toenail is designed for sitting, so feel free to get a picture of the kids sitting on The Big Foot.
Southeastern Minnesota’s 19-mile Apple Blossom Scenic Byway takes you through the Mississippi River Valley near the Wisconsin border. The view is nice any time of year, but be sure to take a special trip there in the fall. Why? The route is true to its name, because it offers plenty of chances to buy apples and apple cider around that time. Don’t forget the pumpkins, either.
You can take the cider and drink it during a picnic at Great River Bluffs State Park. The King’s Bluff trail provides a fabulous view of the river valley. The park is ideal for camping, but keep in mind that the site has no electrical hook-ups. You’ll need firewood, flashlights, and the desire to fully commune with nature for a few days.