5 Minneapolis Parks to See on Vacation

Relax like the locals within the nation’s best city park systems.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Minneapolis Parks to See on Vacation

Lake Harriet Bandshell at dawn

Catch free music performances at the picturesque Lake Harriet Band Shell.(Getty Images)

Green (and blue) spaces abound in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Indeed, for the past two years, nonprofit group The Trust for Public Land found that the Twin Cities have the two best city park systems in the country. With more than 22 lakes in the metropolitan area, green space along the Mississippi riverfront, walking trails and bike paths, Minneapolis-St. Paul makes it easy to find a fast escape from the urban world. U.S. News asked local experts for the top parks they'd recommend to visitors. Here's what they said.

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park(Courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

"The Chain of Lakes is really something that makes Minneapolis unique and a place where residents thrive – and really live their lives," says Lisa Heath, W insider at the W Minneapolis - The Foshay.

Located in the southwest part of the city, the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park encompasses more than 1,500 acres along the shorelines of Brownie Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, and includes the trails connecting them as well. The largest link in the chain is Lake Calhoun Park – also referred to by its original Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska. At the park, visitors can enjoy three sandy beaches, a fishing pier, a picnic area and more than 3 miles of walking and biking paths. A pavilion on the east side of the lake offers watercraft rentals and houses The Tin Fish, a popular restaurant and takeout eatery.

Duygu Andrews, guest experience manager at the Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown, says, "Lake Harriet Park in the Chain of Lakes is my favorite, especially in the summer." That's when Lake Harriet's picturesque band shell draws crowds with its free music performances and when the nearby Lyndale Park Rose Garden bursts into full bloom.

In winter, Lake of the Isles Park offers an ice skating rink and warming house, with free loaner skates available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden(Gene Pittman/Courtesy of the Walker Art Center)

A joint project of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the adjacent contemporary Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is the largest urban sculpture garden in the country. "The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden has lots of green open spaces and breathtaking works of art throughout," Heath says. "It’s a place where kids can run off some of their energy, and parents can enjoy a little culture.”

After a recent major reconstruction, the garden added 18 new pieces to its collection – which includes the iconic "Spoonbridge and Cherry" sculpture, long a symbol of the city. The original Cowles Conservatory was renovated into an open-air gathering space, and the adjoining popular mini-golf course had four new holes added to its 14 goofy favorites. A pedestrian bridge connects the garden to Loring Park. The park is open year-round, and admission is free.

Como Regional Park

Once home to a workhouse where inmates grew crops, the more than 380-acre Como Regional Park in St. Paul now serves as an urban respite. Visitors can play tennis, soccer, football, baseball, golf and mini-golf on the park's grounds. The park also features an outdoor swimming pool (with an admission fee), fishing piers on Lake Como, and walking and biking paths. Ponds, picnic areas and shelters, playgrounds, a waterfall and a labyrinth can all make for a relaxing day. But there are more lively family attractions, too. Besides the resident-favorite Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, free and open year-round, there's a small amusement park and classic carousel.

At the Como Lakeside Pavilion, visitors can rent water sports equipment when the weather is warm. And Como Dockside, the New Orleans-inspired restaurant in the pavilion, hosts free outdoor summer concerts.

West of Como Dockside, the 1915 Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is one of a handful of remaining Victorian-style glass-domed gardens in the United States. "It's beautiful," says Liisa Soulak, director of guest services at the Radisson Blu Mall of America, "even in the middle of winter."

Minnehaha Regional Park

Minnehaha Regional Park(Courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Famous for its 53-foot waterfall that inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Song of Hiawatha," Minnehaha Regional Park is one of Minneapolis' oldest and most popular parks. Originally purchased in 1889 to become a state park, the land, with its falls, limestone bluffs and river overlooks, is now part of the city parks system.

"They have disc golf, they have bicycle rentals, they have biking and hiking trails, they're easy to get to right off the train line, and the falls, of course, are beautiful all year round," Soulak says. "And you can actually walk to the Mississippi River from the falls."

Andrews says visitors can hear free musical performances in the bandstand and enjoy the seasonal Sea Salt Eatery right by the top of the falls. "They serve a lot of local beers, and you get a chance to have walleye – something that is very Minnesotan."

Mill Ruins Park

Mill Ruins Park(Courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Kristen Montag, senior public relations and communications manager at Meet Minneapolis, the city's tourism association, says, "Mill Ruins Park and all the area around there is one of my favorite parks to recommend. It's part of the history of how Minneapolis came to be."

Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, the park showcases remains from the city's old flour milling industry. It sits beside the 1883 Stone Arch Bridge – now a pedestrian and bike path popular with locals who love to walk, run and bike there. For visitors, it offers a great place to view St. Anthony Falls, the only major waterfall on the Mississippi River.

On the nearby cobblestone Main Street in St. Anthony Main, a stroll can take you by buildings dating back to the 1850s. Now home to numerous restaurants and bars (many with patios), these buildings offer unsurpassed Minneapolis skyline views.

To experience more of what Minneapolis-St. Paul has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

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