Top 10 Scenic Drives in Minnesota

Minnesota is a state full of natural wonders with a culture all of its own, in part developed by its rich Dakota and Ojibwa heritage along with the influence of Scandinavian and German settlers. Like its variety of people, there is a wide array of terrains as well. From shores along the Great Lakes to lush verdant forests, something striking to see awaits around every corner. The state also has some of the oldest rock formations known to man, and water is never far away. With so much natural beauty to behold, it can be difficult to decide where to begin exploring this state. If in doubt, try one of our favorite Minnesota scenic routes as a starting point, and don’t be surprised if – after completing one – you want to try them all:

No. 10 – Tour of Amish Country

Tour of Amish Country Minnesota
Flickr user: Jenni Konrad

Starting Location: St. Charles, MN
Ending Location: La Crescent, MN
Length: 85 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Take a peek at a simpler way of life and another culture often overlooked during this scenic drive through Minnesota’s Amish countryside. Near Harmony and Canton, you may share the road with a horse and buggy, see men working the fields, or spy women deftly doing necessary chores. Stop to see Schech’s Mill near Caledonia, which was built in 1875 and still operates to this day.

No. 9 – North Shore All-American Scenic Drive

North Shore All-American Scenic Drive Minnesota
Flickr user: Jim Liestman

Starting Location: Duluth, MN
Ending Location: Grand Portage, MN
Length: 147
Best Season to Drive: Summer, Fall, Spring See this drive on Google Maps

As it skirts the northern shore of Lake Superior, this scenic drive passes through an array of quaint towns overlooking the water, and passes through seven state parks to deliver natural beauty that may otherwise go unimagined. Stop at the 1910 Split Rock Lighthouse for unparalleled photo opportunities, the more metropolitan city of Duluth to tour the Great Lakes Aquarium, or cross the Aerial Lift Bridge.

No. 8 – Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway

Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Minnesota
Flickr user: Sharon Mollerus

Starting Location: Brainerd, MN
Ending Location: Jenkins, MN
Length: 26 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Whether toured by car or bicycle, this route through a popular vacation region full of resorts and cabins affords spectacular views. As legend tells it, the Pequod Lakes were formed by the massive footprints of Paul Bunyan himself, and the water tower has even been fashioned to look like his fishing bobber. Stock up on seasonal fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market in Crosslake, and the Uppgaard Wildlife Management Area is full of hiking trails.

No. 7 – Avenue of Pines Scenic Byway

Avenue of Pines Scenic Byway Minnesota
Flickr user: Brett Whaley

Starting Location: Deer River, MN
Ending Location: Northome, MN
Length: 48 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Travelers along this byway will see an array of natural scenes, many of which are unique to this northern region of the state. From towering red pines that seem to meet the asphalt, to wildlife-rich marshes, there is much to delight the eye. Take a break on Lake Winnibigoshish, the fifth largest lake in Minnesota and known to locals as “Lake Winnie,” where there are ample spots to fish or swim in the warmer summer months.

No. 6 – Edge of the Wilderness National Scenic Byway

Edge of the Wilderness National Scenic Byway Minnesota
Flickr user: stpaulgirl

Starting Location: Grand Rapids, MN
Ending Location: Effie, MN
Length: 58 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This winding route through hardwood forests and over rolling hills was once a logging trail but has been recently reconstructed to provide a smooth scenic drive. Stop in Marcell to try your luck with fishing or explore the region more intimately on a hiking trail. In Grand Rapids, consider visiting the Judy Garland Museum and her childhood home or take a gander at a reconstructed 1900 logging camp at the Forest History Center.

No. 5 – Ladyslipper Scenic Byway

Ladyslipper Scenic Byway Minnesota
Flickr user: Larry Bernauer

Starting Location: Black Duck, MN
Ending Location: Cass Lake, MN
Length: 44 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Enjoy the splendor of densely grown pines and hardwoods on this route that passes through the Chippewa National Forest. In late June, travelers will be treated with countless blooms of ladyslippers, earning this drive its name, and the loons can be heard virtually anywhere there is water. The byway also goes through the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, which holds pow wows open to all at various points in the year.

No. 4 – Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway

Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway
Flickr user: Lisa Nolan

Starting Location: Big Stone Lake, MN
Ending Location: Belle Plaine, MN
Length: 243 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Passing through a series of rural towns and farmlands dotted with patches of woods, this route through the Minnesota River Valley is an ideal way to leisurely spend a day or even weekend. Virtually any access to the river is a good spot to drop a canoe, and cyclists may want to get on the Sakatah Singing Hills Bike Trail in Mankato. Don’t hesitate to explore the various towns on the way, many of which are known for their antique shops full of hidden treasures and restaurants with comfort food.

No. 3 – Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway

Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway Minnesota
Flickr user: Stanley Zimny

Starting Location: Willmar, MN
Ending Location: Glenwood, MN
Length: 95 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This scenic byway can be extended into a 220-mile trip with the addition of side trips to Alexandra or Sauk Centre, but there’s plenty to see and do on the long way between Willmar and Glenwood. The terrain was shaped by the melting of glaciers that once covered the land, forming lakes tucked between ridges and hills. Lake Minnewaska presents travelers on this route with the best opportunity to partake in water sports, and the still-operational 1892 post office in Danvers is worth a look.

No. 2 – Apple Blossom Drive Scenic Byway

Apple Blossom Drive Scenic Byway Minnesota
Flickr user: Jordan Wilms

Starting Location: La Crescent, MN
Ending Location: Brownsville, MN
Length: 10 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Largely running alongside the Mississippi River at the top of a bluff, there is no shortage of panoramic views on the way. Much of the landscape includes rolling hills and farmlands, and apple orchards beckon to be picked. Take some time in Great River Bluffs State Park to see the region’s natural beauty up close, and Blue Lake provides the chance for anglers to drop a line or children to take a dip.

No. 1 – Superior National Forest Scenic Byway

Superior National Forest Scenic Byway Minnesota
Flickr user: Randen Pederson

Starting Location: Silver Bay, MN
Ending Location: Aurora, MN
Length: 63 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This scenic drive through the Superior National Forest is just what the doctor ordered to soothe and relax a cluttered mind. With absolutely no towns along the way, fuel up and pack the appropriate provisions, then just enjoy the natural beauty without any distractions. The Skibo Vista Scenic Overlook is an ideal spot for photographs of the Laurentian Divide below, and the Bird Lake Recreation Area has boat ramps, picnic areas, and plenty of hiking trails.


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