Add these destinations to your summer bucket list.
Going into 2023, I started thinking about how to be more intentional with my time—and for me, that means traveling. Luckily for us, Minnesota and Wisconsin have beautiful landscapes all around, so we don’t have to travel far for beautiful sights and great food.
Taking this theme of travel into mind, I then began thinking about how I can immerse myself in local sights and sounds by exploring each community in the St. Croix Valley. Here, I’ve broken down how to spend a day in each area of the Valley—starting at the top and ending at the bottom—including a sight to see, a place to eat and something to do. Happy travels!
Sight to See: The popular Franconia Sculpture Park in Schafer draws close to 200,000 visitors each year and features up to 70 outdoor exhibits and sculptures. Founded in 1996, the nonprofit organization supports local artists through its active artist residency program, which serves more than 40 artists each year. Visitors can expect to see several types of work and engage in art classes, guided tours, summer camps and more. 29836 St. Croix Trail N., Shafer; 651.257.6668; franconia.org
Place to Eat: For a spot known for bringing together community—and a timeless Wisconsin supper club—go to Dalles House Restaurant and Lounge in St. Croix Falls. The atmosphere of locals and tourists, plus live music, create a unique and welcoming environment that’s hard to miss. It’s about community as much as it is American fare at Dalles House, which encourages diners to enjoy time with loved ones over a glass of wine and a great meal. 720 S. Vincent St., St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin; 715.483.3246; dalleshouse.com
Something to Do: With just over 1,000 residents, Taylors Falls is a quaint town, perfect for a relaxing getaway. Interstate State Park along the St. Croix River features several hiking trails, including the 1.25-mile River Trail, ideal for families, and other trails through forests and rock formations that cater to varying levels of ability. Its unique geological formations make it stand out against other state parks, including the world’s deepest glacial potholes. (It’s not quite what you’re thinking!) 307 Milltown Road, Taylors Falls; 651.539.4500; dnr.state.mn.us
Sight to See: For a complete view of the St. Croix River, go to Lakefront Park in Hudson. Walk down the Hudson Pier Bridge to Hudson Pier Beach on a sweltering summer day, or go to the neighboring park for its outdoor concert series. It’s also home to a boat launch, picnic shelters, a playground area, sand volleyball courts, paved trails and more. First St., Hudson, Wisconsin; 715.386.4765; hudsonwi.gov
Place to Eat: For a taste of Wisconsin, go to Post American Eatery in Hudson. A classic fish fry is served on Mondays and Fridays, plus an entire menu dedicated to American and Italian flavors. The restaurant is located inside of a historic post office building, which once also housed a coffee shop and the Postmark Grille. 225 Locust St., Hudson, Wisconsin; 715.377.4699; posthudson.com
Something to Do: Outdoor adventurers and families looking to get into nature should go to Willow River State Park in Hudson. The oft-visited park features the stunning Willow Falls and 2,800 acres of countryside. The park also includes areas to bike, boat (including canoeing and kayaking!), fish, hunt, picnic and swim, plus campgrounds for tents and trailers. I recommend hiking the Willow Falls Hill Trail (0.4 miles) in the summer months. The trail goes from the north parking lot directly to Willow Falls. The Nelson Farm Trail (3.7 miles) is especially beautiful in the fall and offers a wider view of the park; this trail includes several habitats, such as wetlands, prairies, a mature oak forest and more. 1034 County Highway A, Hudson, Wisconsin; 715.386.5931; dnr.wisconsin.gov
Sight to See: For a slice of history, visit the Stone House Museum in Marine on St. Croix. History buffs and area residents alike will enjoy the museum, which features photos and crafts, plus articles from daily life that trace the history of the area’s first settlers. It is housed in what was once the jail and township hall for Marine on St. Croix. Admission is free, though donations are appreciated. 241 Fifth St., Marine on St. Croix; 651.430.1239; marineonstcroix.org
Place to Eat: Summer is the time for sweets, and Selma’s Ice Cream Parlor in Afton is the perfect spot for an afternoon snack. Featuring more than 30 ice cream flavors, this century-old, time-tested ice cream parlor has a flavor for all. My choice? For a sweet scoop, I’ll go for Brownie Cascade; for something on the fruity side, Blueberry Cheesecake. 3419 St. Croix Trail S., Afton; 651.436.5131; selmasicecream.square.site
Something to Do: Head to downtown Stillwater for a day of window shopping. Stillwater’s historic Main Street has something for everyone and features several antique shops, specialty stores and boutiques—plus area businesses, such as spas and salons, bars and restaurants, and more. For a flavor of Minnesota, pop into Minnesota Made, a locally owned boutique featuring state apparel. For a little something sweet, Tremblay’s Sweet Shop offers homemade fudge, brittle, chocolate and more. Main Street, Stillwater; discoverstillwater.com
Sight to See: Vermillion Falls Park in Hastings is a beautiful 35-foot waterfall surrounded by a historic limestone ravine and ruins from Old Mill Park. It showcases the 59.6-mile Vermillion River in a stunning landscape. Head to the Vermillion Gorge Bridge for an overlook of the river, or hike the 10-mile loop leading past the banks of the Mississippi River. Here’s a tip: This is a great spot for senior photos—I even had my own senior photos taken here back in the day! 215 21st St. E., Hastings; 651.480.6175; visithastingsmn.org
Place to Eat: For breakfast fare, visit The Kitchen Table in Prescott. This hidden gem features Midwestern influences in comfortable classics and has a vintage atmosphere. Local favorites include the Loaded Hash (hash browns, onions, jalapenos, tomatoes, choice of eggs, cheddar cheese and hollandaise sauce) and the Biscuits & Gravy (house-made sausage gravy, two biscuits and choice of eggs)—my go-to pick! 211 Broad St., Prescott, Wisconsin; 715.262.2223; thekitchentablewi.com
Something to Do: Kinnickinnic State Park, settled at the confluence of the St. Croix and Kinnickinnic rivers in River Falls, has 10 miles of hiking trails, opportunities to fish and hunt and a sandy beach for warm summer days. The park is open year-round, so there are plenty of opportunities to visit in all seasons—cross country skiing or snowshoeing, anyone? W11983 820th Ave., River Falls, Wisconsin; 715.425.1129; dnr.wisconsin.gov