45+ Exciting Places To Visit Within 3 Hours Of The Twin Cities With Kids

A young girl looks through a view finder at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, one of the best places to explore in the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Antonia Grant

From the bustling streets of Minneapolis to outdoor adventures near Northfield, the Twin Cities and surrounding areas boast a variety of activities and attractions that appeal to children of all ages! Whether you’re looking for adventure, education, or just some good old-fashioned fun, you’ll find it all in this kid-friendly Midwestern state. Within three hours of the Twin Cities, families can enjoy the outdoors, visit top-notch museums, and more! Certainly, history buffs will appreciate visits to numerous forts across the state or the excellent children’s museum in Minneapolis. And, of course, no trip to Minnesota would be complete without experiencing some of the delicious food the state has to offer, from tater to hotdish to freshly-caught fish! So, next time you’re planning a Minnesota itinerary, consult this list of Exciting Places to Visit within 3 Hours of the Twin Cities with Kids. Keep reading to learn more! 

Best Time to Visit Minnesota with Kids

A young girl wearing a bright pink vests looks across Lake Harriet, one of the best free things to do in Minneapolis.
Photo Courtesy: Antonia Grant

Wondering about the best time to visit Minnesota with kids? This largely depends on what you plan on doing and when you’ll be visiting. Summer is the best time to experience outdoor adventures across the state, whether swimming, boating, fishing, kayaking, etc. Fall colors are particularly stunning in Minnesota, especially if you’re staying along the river near Stillwater. Of course, there’s a ton to do in winter too, from ice fishing to snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, etc. Truly, there’s no bad time to see some of the best places to visit in the Twin Cities for families! 

Best Small Towns + Cities In/Near the Twin Cities for Families

Minnesota is filled with charming towns and fascinating cities, whether you’re visiting for a weekend getaway or an extended trip. If you need advice on which are family-friendly, check out this list of the best places to visit in the Twin Cities for families. It includes the best things to do in the Twin Cities with kids, Minnesota day trips, and so much more! 

Minneapolis 

Several people paddle colorful kayaks on Lake of the Isles, with the Minneapolis skyline in the distance.
Photo Courtesy: Lane Pelovski via Meet Minneapolis

Minneapolis is a great city for families with kids! From its trendy foodie scene to the endless museums, hikes, and other outdoor activities, you’ll find plenty to love in this bustling metropolis. Hikers flock to Minnehaha Regional Park, showcasing a unique urban waterfall, lush gardens, and on-site dining. Remember to check out the cascading Minnehaha Falls! For a more low-key stroll, be sure to check out one of Minneapolis’s many urban lakes. Kids will love kayaking and paddle boarding at Bde Maka Ska! Nearby, Lake Harriet and Lake Nokomis are also great options for family-friendly things to do in Minneapolis.

Other activities include seeing a play at Children’s Theatre Company or visiting the Mill City Museum. And if your kids are into sports, you can catch a game at Target Field or take them to the U.S. Bank Stadium to see the Minnesota Vikings play.

For some more outdoor fun in the Twin Cities with kids, take the kids to one of the city’s many parks, such as Loring Park. Of course, no trip to Minnesota would be complete without taking a picture in front of the iconic spoon and cherry installation at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

For more things to do in Minneapolis, check out these 18 Amazing Things to Do in Minneapolis Families Will Love

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St. Paul

People paddle kayaks along a river with the St. Paul skyline in the distance, one of the best places to explore in the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Visit St. Paul

Your family’s Minnesota itinerary should include a trip to St. Paul! Forming what’s known as the “Twin Cities” with neighboring Minneapolis, it’s home to several kid-friendly attractions. In fact, the city has countless museums that are perfect for little ones, like the Minnesota Children’s Museum, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and The Bell Museum. Children will also love the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, featuring exciting animals like orangutans, giraffes, polar bears, and gorillas. (It’s free, but donations are accepted and encouraged).

St. Paul also offers families multiple scenic hikes, whether at Hidden Falls Regional Park or Crosby Farm Regional Park. To explore the city, drive down Summit Ave to look at the huge, historic houses. Then, grab lunch on Grand Avenue, which is fantastic for shopping too. Don’t forget about Fort Snelling, a historical landmark nestled along the river on Dakota land. It provides families a chance to learn about the fort’s military history, local indigenous tribes, historic trade routes, and more.

Finally, to end your adventure in St. Paul, let everyone in your family channel their inner child at Can Can Wonderland. From pinball to min-golf, it’s truly a kid-friendly paradise! 

Plan your next Minnesota getaway to one of these 11 Exciting Weekend Getaways from Minneapolis for Families

Bloomington 

For a suburban experience just outside of Minneapolis, visit Bloomington to find fun things to do near Minneapolis with kids! Located around 10 miles south of downtown, this quaint destination offers families some of the best attractions near the Twin Cities with kids. From the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge to the Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park, there’s a lot for kids to do! Visit the Mall of America for a day of shopping and fun and be sure to stop inside the SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium.

Or, explore one of the many museums. The Works Museum is an interactive museum focused on engineering and technology, featuring exhibits that encourage creativity through coding, building, and engineering. The city also has a great selection of parks and playgrounds for visitors to enjoy, including the Hyland Play Area. Looking for an easy hike near the Twin Cities with kids? Head to Hyland Lake Park Reserve!

Stillwater 

Families who want a charming riverside getaway can’t get enough of Stillwater! Set along the St. Croix River, this idyllic town is around thirty minutes away from Minneapolis, making it one of the best short road trips from Minneapolis for families. Explore the cute downtown area with a 45-minute narrated Stillwater Trolley tour. Or, see the area by water with an authentic paddlewheel riverboat tour or a gondola ride. Looking for something unique? Take a magical hot air balloon ride! Kids will love taking in the sights from the skies while enjoying one of the best things to do near the Twin Cities with kids. 

Then, don’t miss the chance to explore the whimsical Teddy Bear Park, where little ones will be in awe of the towering sculptures! Finally, take a stroll over the historic lift bridge into Wisconsin. Eat at Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop, Coffee Paw Cafe, and Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter. Certainly, Stillwater offers some of the best things to do within three hours of Minneapolis.

Northfield 

A young girl pokes a stick in the water on a sunny day in Northfield, one of the best places to explore near the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Antonia Grant

If you’re looking for one of the best day trips from Minneapolis for families, check out Northfield! Nestled along the Cannon River just 45 minutes south of Minneapolis, this charming town is a must for outdoor recreation. Of course, from boutique shopping to historic excursions, there’s more to discover too! 

Firstly, wander through the historic Main Street and peek into a few shops. Then, stroll the riverfront to see if kids can spot ducks or geese. When you’re hungry, enjoy a meal at Tandem Bagels, Hogan Brothers, or the Ole Store.

As one of the best Minnesota day trips, there are also several scenic hikes, including at The Cowling Arboretum, which has over 850 acres of preserved natural land. Alternatively, nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is another great option for kids. Here, you’ll find a lovely waterfall hike, as well as a train-themed playground. Let kids roam rustic trails in the lower arb or paved paths in the upper arm! Other local gems include an alpaca farm, a blueberry farm, and a Japanese Garden.

Red Wing 

A riderless bike rests on a trail with a scenic overlook near Red Wing, Minnesota.
Photo Courtesy: Visit Red Wing

Get an authentic Midwest experience in Red Wing! Showcasing sweeping views atop enchanting bluffs, this adorable city set along the Mississippi River offers an array of outdoor activities. Plus, it’s only about an hour from the Twin Cities, making it one of the best day trips in Minneapolis for families. 

Whether you want to go hiking or biking, you’ll find lots to do in this exciting destination. Set aside time to visit Frontenac State Park, only 15-minutes from Red Wing. Not only can you glimpse stunning views of the Mississippi River, but it’s also a great spot for bird watching too (challenge kids to spot local bald eagles)! Families can also learn more about the local ecosystem through interactive exhibits at the Red Wing Marine Museum (entrance is free!). Then, shop at Red Wing Shoes or the Scandinavian-inspired UFFDA Shop. For dinner, grab a meal at Staghead, The Smokin’ Oak Rotisserie & Grill, or Scarlet Kitchen & Bar.

Winona 

A winding, wooded path in the Great River Bluffs State Park, located in Winona, Minnesota.
Photo Courtesy: Tony Webster

If you’re in the mood for an epic outdoor adventure, visit Winona! Located in the bluff country along the Mississippi River (just 2.5 hours southeast of the Twin Cities), this southern Minnesota town is a haven for hiking, art, history, and more. In fact, it offers some of the best things to do within three hours of Minneapolis! 

From canoeing in the summer to ice climbing in the winter, expect lots of scenic fun with your family! In the mornings, head to Bloedow’s Bakery for old-fashioned filled donuts. Then, visit Great River Bluffs State Park for a scenic hike. Kids can also see pieces from world-renowned artists like Picasso and Van Gogh at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Looking for a cool way to get a closer look at the Mississippi River? Take a tour with Winona Tour Boat! These narrated tours will educate families about local history and wildlife. After a long day of exploring one of the best Minnesota day trips, treat kids with a trip to Nate and Ally’s Frozen Treat Creations

Reserve a homestay in Winona here with Vrbo!

Hastings 

Families looking for a quick weekend getaway from Minneapolis will love Hastings, just thirty to forty-five minutes away. From a historic downtown to thrilling outdoor recreation, this quaint destination offers fun for all ages near the Twin Cities with kids. No wonder it’s one of the best places to take a short road trip from Minneapolis! 

Explore the cozy town on foot or hop on a bike to cruise a path nestled along the Mississippi River, featuring plenty of biking and hiking opportunities. Don’t forget to visit one of the town’s best attractions, Vermillion Falls! After you’ve worked up a sweat, cool down with a sweet treat from Schoolhouse Scoop. Those looking to do a little shopping will also delight in wandering the riverfront and browsing boutiques and shops. Visiting Hastings in the fall? Add one of these nearby apple orchards to your itinerary! Afton Apple Orchard even offers a maze, playground, and petting zoo. Of course, parents will also enjoy tastings at the local vineyards or breweries

Best Outdoor Adventures within 3 Hours of the Twin Cities for Families

Outdoor adventures are a fantastic way to bond as a family while getting some exercise while exploring the Twin Cities with kids! From regional parks to nearby mountains, lakes, and more, keep reading to find out fun things to do near Minneapolis for families! 

Minnehaha Waterfall/Minnehaha Regional Park

A large urban waterfall spills over the edge, surrounded by green foliage in Minneapolis.
Photo Courtesy: Emily Beugen

Set aside a whole day to explore the wonders of ​​Minnehaha Regional Park! Located in Minneapolis, this fantastic park is home to an urban waterfall, lush gardens, and even on-site dining. It’s certainly one of the best unique things to do in Minneapolis with kids! 

Of course, the first thing you should do here is to check out the waterfall, Minnehaha Falls. Start at the top and look down into the falls. Then, descend one of the two staircases that go to the bottom. Kids will surely delight in the sight of this stunning waterfall! Let them pass sticks under the bridge below the falls and see whose stick will win. Remember to snap a few family photos with the falls in the background too! Afterward, wander the hiking trails along the river, searching for sticks, squirrels, and other local flora and fauna. Finally, splurge on a cycle or surrey bike rental from Wheel Fun Rentals.

Feeling hungry? Grab lunch to-go from the nearby Dairy Queen. Or, indulge in some scrumptious seafood and craft cocktails from Sea Salt Eatery (open seasonally). Shrimp, catfish, clams, and other seafood will delight palates of all ages (specific kid’s options available). 

Pro Tip: Paid street parking and a paid parking lot flank the park, but you can find free street parking past the Dairy Queen along Nawadaha Blvd., in the neighborhood.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum 

A field of flowering tulips in hues of pink, yellow, and orange at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, one of the best places to explore near the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Families looking for a fun day trip from Minneapolis should consider the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Located in Chaska, about 40 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, this property managed by the University of Minnesota offers a lovely afternoon of exploring immaculate grounds and lush gardens. It’s certainly one of the best things to do near the Twin Cities with kids! 

Kids can seek out the various gardens on the ground and select their favorite, from the Chinese Garden to the Hosta Garden or the Rose Garden. Then, families can visit the Learning Center, featuring outdoor playgrounds made with natural materials (with dedicated areas for infants, toddlers, and preschool children). Be sure to visit the Farm at the Arb too, where kids can learn all about Minnesota’s agricultural history and current crops. You can even watch honey bee hives in action at the bee center! Finally, you can visit a gift shop, art galleries, and an on-site cafe.

Pro Tip: Be sure to check the activities calendar for a full list of incredible things to do near the Twin Cities with kids. 

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Animal lovers can’t miss a chance to visit the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge! Located just south of Minneapolis, this sprawling nature preserve encompasses over 14,000 scenic acres. With so much to do and see, it’s definitely one of the best fun things to do near Minneapolis with kids! 

First, start your exploration at the Visitors’ Center, which has many interactive exhibits that teach children about the wildlife and plants in the area. Of course, one of the best things to do is go on a nature hike and explore all the different plants and animals that call the refuge home. Another great activity is to go fishing in one of the many ponds and lakes on the property. You can also go for a swim, canoeing, or bird watching. Kids will love seeing many different types of birds, such as bald eagles, owls, and herons! There are also several educational programs aimed at little ones.

Lake of the Isles Park

Four people paddle colorful kayaks around Lake of the Isles Park, with the Minneapolis skyline in the distance.
Photo Courtesy: Lane Pelovski via Meet Minneapolis

Thanks to Lake of the Isles Park, families don’t need to venture far from urban Minneapolis for an outdoor lake adventure! Located three miles south of downtown, this city lake offers something fun to do no matter the season. Not to mention, one of the best things to do in Minneapolis for families!

Of course, no visit to the park would be complete without spending some time on the lake itself. In the summer, there’s plenty of space to run around and explore. Plus, calm waters are perfect for a leisurely swim or paddle around in a canoe or kayak. ​​If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are also biking and hiking trails that wind through the park. Kids will also love feeding the ducks in the pond! There are also picnic areas and playgrounds for children to enjoy. In the winter, you can go ice skating or sled down the hills. 

Lake Mille Lacs 

A grandpa and two kids play in the sand at Lake Mill Lacs, one of the best places to explore near the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Chelsey Knealing

In Minnesota, lakes aren’t only for summer fun! With numerous things to do in both the summer and winter, families love Lake Mille Lacs. Less than 2 hours north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, this Minnesota lake is one of the most exciting places to visit within 3 hours of the Twin Cities with kids.

It’s a fantastic destination for winter outdoor activities like ice fishing and spearing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing from December through March. Then, in the summer, this family-friendly lake in the Midwest offers families a chance to explore stunning beaches. Firstly, head to the king-sized beach located at Father Hennepin State Park. Along with many water-focused activities, plan time to hike or bike the Mille Lacs Soo Line Hiking and Biking trail, which has 11 miles of wide, family-friendly trails. For even more hiking excursions, check out Kathio State Park. Climb the observation tower, hike, camp, or slide down the sledding hill (when there’s snow!).  

Pro Tip: If planning a winter visit, rent an ice house to maximize your time on the water!

Search for a home rental at Lake Mille Lacs now using Vrbo!

Enjoy a lakeside escape to one of the Best Lakes in the Midwest for Families

Welch Village Ski & Snowboard Area 

A ski lift takes people up the ski hill at Welch Village on a wintery day.
Photo Courtesy: Welch Village

Experience one of Minnesota’s premier skiing and snowboarding destinations when you visit Welch Village Ski & Snowboard Area! Located on the northern edge of Minnesota Bluff Country near Red Wing, it offers dramatic views and a variety of activities for kids of all ages, from beginners to experienced skiers and snowboarders. It’s certainly one of the best places to visit within 3 hours of the Twin Cities with kids

For beginners, there’s a beginner’s slope with a Magic Carpet lift, perfect for first-timers. There’s also a Kids’ Adventure Zone, a wonderful place for kids to play and have fun while they learn about skiing and snowboarding. Experienced skiers and snowboarders can enjoy more challenging terrain, including half-pipe and mogul runs. In addition, several ski and snowboard schools offer lessons for kids of all ages, including a popular one in Welch Village. There’s also a tubing hill, ice skating rink, and sledding hill. 

Best State Parks within 3 Hours of the Twin Cities for Families

Visiting a state park is certainly one of the best ways to entertain kids in Minnesota. Not to mention, one of the best ways to enjoy day trips from Minneapolis for families. As a plus, a visit to these state parks near the Twin Cities with kids boasts some incredible scenery too! So, whether you’re in the mood for hiking, fishing, or boating, check out these outdoor adventures near the Twin Cities with kids! 

Interstate State Park

Three kids meander a hiking path along the river during the spring at Interstate State Park.
Photo Courtesy: Explore Minnesota

There’s a reason Interstate State Park ranks as one of the best places to visit in Minnesota for families! Nestled on the St. Croix River, the park straddles both the Minnesota and Wisconsin border to create a diverse landscape. No wonder it’s one of the best day trips in Minneapolis for families! 

During the summer, families can hike over 4 miles of trails and explore the glacial potholes that make this park so special. Try the 2.3-mile Walter F Mondale River Trail, which follows tall bluffs overlooking the river. Kids will love seeing the unique geology of the park, which comprises 10 different lava flows, two glacial deposits, and traces of old streams, valleys, and faults. Visitors can even climb the cliffs of the St. Croix River Dalles! Canoeing, kayaking, or simply taking a boat tour is another option. Remember to stop for lunch in one of the large picnic areas. 

Great River Bluffs State Park

A lovely view over a bluff looking out onto a lake in the midst of fall foliage at Great River Bluffs State Park.
Photo Courtesy: Explore Minnesota

Some of the best “goat prairies” in Minnesota are in Great River Bluffs State Park! Perched on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, this scenic state park offers plenty of chances to soak in this unique scenery. Not to mention, one of the best day trips from Minneapolis for families. Even if you don’t feel like hiking, there are scenic overlooks right near the parking lot, as well as a Drive-By Overlook. The East Overlook is the most famous, offering an excellent view of the Mississippi River. You may even see an eagle flying above you!

Of course, if you’re up for some walking, don’t miss one of the most popular trails in the park. The 2.5-mile Kings Bluff Overlook Trail leads to the stunning Kings Bluffs Overlook! There’s also the 3.5-mile Great River Bluffs Trail, which ends with a scenic view. 

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

A young girl kneels in the snow, while pointing at an open area in the flowing river at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.
Photo Courtesy: Antonia Grant

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is a great destination for a short road trip from Minneapolis. Located in southern Minnesota, the centerpiece of the park is the Nerstrand Big Woods, which is a large tract of forest that is excellent for hiking and nature-watching. Hiking trails range from easy to difficult, so there is something for everyone, like the 2.5-mile Nerstrand Beaver Loop. You can also see many different types of wildlife in the park, including deer, turkeys, and eagles! In the summer, kids will jump at the chance to visit the swimming beach. The park also has a lake where you can fish, canoe, or just relax. There are also a few playgrounds spread out throughout the park. Plus, every year, it hosts many events for kids, such as arts and crafts classes, movie nights, and even a Halloween festival! 

Fort Snelling State Park

A naturalist gives a lecture to several children during a winter hike at Fort Snelling State Park.
Photo Courtesy: Explore Minnesota

Fort Snelling State Park is the perfect complement to a visit to nearby Fort Snelling. Located in St.Paul, the park offers stunning views of the Minneapolis skyline and the Mississippi River. As one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities for families, there are also many kid-friendly activities available, including hiking, biking, and picnicking.

Start at the Visitors’ Center to learn about the history of the park and see some of the exhibits. Then, you can go on a hike or bike ride on one of the trails. Take the Pike Island Loop, which runs between the convergence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Or, you can go fishing in one of the ponds. Fort Snelling State Park also has a swimming beach when kids need to cool down. Plus, there’s a playground and a variety of picnic areas. 

Mille Lacs Kathio State Park

Someone throws rocks into Lake Mille Lacs, while two kids swim nearby, on a sunny, summer day.
Photo Courtesy: Mille Lacs Lake Tourism

Learn more about the indigenous tribes that once inhabited Minnesota at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. Located on Mille Lacs Lake, this state park, also known as Kathio Site, preserves ancient mounds dating back thousands of years. Kids can climb a 100-foot fire tower overlooking the rolling forests and see Lake Mille Lacs from above. They’ll love hanging out with the eagles and feeling like Paul Bunyan did back in the day! Then, families can hike through 30-plus miles of trails. The 1.2-mile Tower Trail is an easy option the whole family can enjoy. In addition, the park also has a playground and a swimming beach. For an extra fun outing, rent kayaks or canoes at the visitors’ center and explore via the water! Fishing is also available in the summer, plus sledding or cross-country skiing in the winter. 

Blue Mounds State Park

A bison walks through high grasses during the fall at Blue Mounds State Park.
Photo Courtesy: Explore Minnesota

See American bison in their natural habitat when you visit Blue Mounds State Park! While technically closer to 3.5 hours from the Twin Cities, this state park is located in Rock County near the town of Luverne. Plus, it’s worth the drive, as this family-friendly state park is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise, offering anything from hiking to biking and rock climbing. Of course, children love the views from the bison prairie, where you’ll spot over a hundred bison grazing. To see the one-of-a-kind landscape up close, families can also take the 2.1-mile Upper Cliffline Trail from the interpretive center to the top of the historic quarry. Along the way, you’ll encounter a unique kind of pink rock, Sioux quartzite, which is sure to dazzle your kids! Families can also check out Eagle Rock, where you’ll be able to see South Dakota and Iowa from your high vantage point. 

Frontenac State Park

A path extends into a heavily wooded area during the summer at Frontenac State Park.
Photo Courtesy: Explore Minnesota

A fun day trip from the Twin Cities awaits at Frontenac State Park! Take a scenic drive along the Mississippi River to this family-friendly state park around an hour away, which showcases hiking, swimming, and lots of other outdoor activities. The easy hiking trails are perfect for little ones, and the fishing pier is a great place to try and catch a fish or two. Looking for something a little more exciting? Take kids canoeing or kayaking! There’s also a great picnic area if you want to just relax and enjoy the scenery. If you want to learn about the history of the area, there are also many nearby sites to visit, including the Frontenac Historical Society and Museum.

Best Animal Encounters in Minnesota for Families

If your kids love animal encounters, you’re in luck! Minnesota has plenty for families, from standard city zoos to unique wildlife safaris. So, if you’re looking for unique things to do in Minnesota with kids, keep reading for the best animal encounters in Minnesota for families! 

Minnesota Zoo 

Families could easily spend an entire day exploring the Minnesota Zoo! Located in Apple Valley, south of the Twin Cities, this sizeable nature preserve features both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Inside, there are two aquariums, a touch tank, penguins, several bird species, and a trial specifically designed to highlight Minnesota wildlife like cougars and beavers.

Outside, kids will love running wild in the splash pad and insect-inspired playground! (Remember to pack your swimsuits on warm days!) Along the trails, you’ll also encounter bison, farm animals, camels, tigers, and more. Then, be sure to take a ride or two on the wildlife carousel. Kids will delight in finding and riding their favorite creatures. Finally, a gift shop, as well as indoor and outdoor dining is available at the Minnesota Zoo (outdoor dining includes local craft beers). Certainly, this is one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities for families!

Pro Tip: If you have a local zoo membership, check to see if the Minnesota Zoo offers reciprocity or reduced admission.

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory 

One of the best things to do in St. Paul with kids is the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory! From orangutans to giraffes, polar bears, and gorillas, this free zoo lets kids get up close and personal with a variety of animals. (Donations are accepted and encouraged.) Children can also explore the lush conservatory, a great indoor activity for rainy days. Find everything from a room full of curated bonsai trees to an orchid house to a unique sunken garden.

Then, Como Town is a children’s amusement park that flanks one side of the park. Here, kids can delight in over 15 thrilling rides. Outside, you can also ride the on-site carousel and explore several gardens. Finally, a gift shop and dining options are also available at Como Park. 

The Reptile & Amphibian Discovery Zoo

A yellow snake wrapped around a tree branch in an exhibit at RAD Zoo.
Photo Courtesy: RAD Zoo

Minnesota’s ultimate reptile destination is The Reptile & Amphibian Discovery Zoo! Located in an outlet mall in Medford, it’s definitely one of the best fun things to do near Minneapolis with kids. Children can learn about alligators, crocodiles, snakes, lizards, turtles, and other animals from around the world. Maybe, they’ll even get the chance to touch some in the special hands-on area! In addition, there are educational shows and a playground for kids to run around. Other fun activities for kids include painting reptile eggs, playing in the sandpit, or going on a scavenger hunt. Finally, there is a gift shop where kids can buy souvenirs. After a day at this zoo, little ones are sure to have a new appreciation for these amazing creatures! 

International Owl Center 

Nothing says a unique animal adventure near the Twin Cities with kids quite like visiting the International Owl Center, the only of its kind in the United States. Located in Houston, the center teaches kids all about owls and even gives them a chance to see some up close. It’s particularly popular for hosting the International Owl Festival on the first weekend in March annually.

However, there’s still a ton to do with kids the rest of the year. Learn about all the different species, their habitats, and how they’re mostly nocturnal. Children will love seeing the owls and will probably want to take home a cute owl plushie from the gift shop. Families can also embark on a one-of-a-kind “Owl Prowl,” during the fall or winter. Go on a hike at night and listen to owls. Who knows, you might even see one on the hunt! Certainly, the International Owl Center is one of the best things to do within three hours of Minneapolis.

National Eagle Center 

A staff member holds an eagle during a lecture at the National Eagle Center.
Photo Courtesy: Seth Vreeman via the National Eagle Center

Learn more about the United States’ iconic living national symbol at the National Eagle Center! Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Wabasha, this environmental and educational museum is dedicated to the protection of the symbolic eagle. It’s also a wonderful place to teach kids about all the different types of eagles, including their importance in American history, and see them up close. They’ll learn about their biology, habitat, and diet, as well as have the opportunity to meet one up close in a program. Not to mention, the chance to view wild eagles flying right outside the windows! 

Hands-on exhibits are great at getting them engaged in the material, like building their own nest. They can use binoculars to find eagles in the wild, and then record their observations in a journal. The Center also offers many fun activities for kids, such as crafts, games, and educational programs.

Best Museums in/near the Twin Cities for Families

Kids who love art, history, and culture will never be bored with the selection of museums in Minnesota. With options for young kids and teens alike, these are great for keeping occupied on rainy or hot days. Here are our favorite museums in Minnesota for families, including the best places to visit within 3 hours of the Twin Cities with kids

Walker Art Center/Minneapolis Sculpture Garden 

Three kids stand in front of the Spoon and Cherry art installation in Minneapolis, one of the best places to explore in the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Emily Beugen

Creative kids will love wandering around the iconic Minneapolis Sculpture Garden! As one of the best things to do in Minneapolis with kids, this free attraction is a must when exploring the city. First, take a picture with the famous Spoon and Cherry – one of the most recognizable sights in Minneapolis! Then, challenge your kids to find their favorite statue throughout the garden. They’ll love the huge blue rooster, the wind chime tree, and the hare jumping over the bell!

To better navigate one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities for families, use the self-guided tour sheet to help you find all of the on-site sculptures and art installations. Families will also find benches throughout the grounds to rest and reflect upon the art. Interested in seeing more art? Visit the nearby Walker Art Center, featuring different galleries to enjoy.

Mill City Museum 

​​Spend an exciting day of learning at the Mill City Museum, one of the best museums in Minneapolis for kids. What was once the world’s largest flour mill is now an educational center offering a unique tour. Families can learn more about one of the area’s first industries inside a moving elevator! At the top, enjoy gorgeous views of the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls. Kids can also explore the hands-on exhibits, learn about the history of the city, and see how flour is made. Dress up in period clothing, play games from the past, and see what it was like to live and work in a mill. Other fun activities include making your own pizzas and participating in the museum’s scavenger hunts. Be sure to check out the Baking Lab to taste some deliciously fresh cookies or bread! 

Minnesota Children’s Museum

Several kids play and enjoy an exhibit at the Minnesota Children’s Museum, one of the best places to explore in the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Bruce Silcox via Visit St. Paul

Young kids who want an interactive experience can’t get enough of the Minnesota Children’s Museum! Located in St. Paul, there are three floors of exciting spaces to explore, including exhibits featuring opportunities to get creative through art, build with imagination, and splash in the water tables.

In fact, kids can explore a four-story climber with a giant catwalk! Let them feel like a superhero as they climb, jump, and race through The Scramble. Then, meander through the exhibit of Our World, featuring a fun pretend town. Here, kids can learn about different occupations and roles within our community at the fire station, post office, and more. Tiny travelers can splash and learn at Sprouts. This sensory play area is perfect for infants to toddlers. Kids will love also playing pirates as they let their imaginations run wild in the shipwreck adventure room. Finally, when the weather is nice, be sure to head to the Tip Top Terrace and The Backyard to immerse yourself in outdoor play.

Minnesota History Center  

Two kids look into a museum case at the Minnesota History Center.
Photo Courtesy: Willette Photography, Inc. via Meet Minneapolis

Minnesota History Center is a great place to learn about the state’s history as a family. Located in St. Paul, it features kid-friendly exhibits focused on various topics, such as Native American history, the settlement of Minnesota, and the economy. There are also interactive exhibits that allow families to experience what it was like to live in Minnesota during different periods of history. Kids will have the opportunity to explore exhibits about local communities and weather, climb through a model grain elevator, and learn about extraordinary Minnesota women! The center also has a kids’ activity area where they can dress up in period clothing and play games from the past. Outside of the museum, families can enjoy the beautiful grounds, take a walk or bike ride on the nearby trails, or picnic in the park.

Minneapolis Institute of Art

A family with young kids enjoy an art exhibit at Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Photo Courtesy: Jayme Halbritter for Minneapolis Institute of Arts via Meet Minneapolis

Kids who love art can’t miss a chance to visit one of the oldest museums in the United States, the Minneapolis Institute of Art! With a collection of over 90,000 works, there are ​​many different exhibits and activities that will be enjoyable for kids of all ages. One highlight is the “Art Carts,” filled with games and materials for kids to create art projects. There’s also a special “Family Backpack” available at the front desk with activities and information about various pieces in the museum, including a fun scavenger hunt! Younger kids will especially love the “Art in Action” exhibit, where they can watch live demonstrations of art techniques.

For the older kids, there’s the American Wing, where they can see paintings of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They can also explore Native American art and see how different cultures represent nature and animals. Finally, the Minneapolis Institute of Art also hosts many family-friendly events held throughout the year.

Science Museum of Minnesota 

People explore a dinosaur exhibit with huge dinosaur fossils at Science Museum of Minnesota, one of the best places to explore in the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Meet Minneapolis

One of the best things to do in St. Paul with kids is to visit the Science Museum of Minnesota! There are plenty of interactive exhibits to keep them occupied and learning, from scientific concepts like physics and chemistry to information on cool animals, like snakes and spiders.

One popular exhibit is “Ultimate Dinosaurs,” where kids can see life-sized dinosaurs and learn about their habitat and diet. They can also see some of the fossils that have been found. Another exhibit, “The Human Body Gallery”, lets kids explore the human body through hands-on activities. There’s also an exhibit specific to the Mississippi River. Any kids who love space can’t miss the museum’s planetarium! Plus, the museum also has an IMAX theater that shows educational films about science and nature. 

The Works Museum

Kids play at a hands-on exhibit with legos and chalk at The Works Museum.
Photo Courtesy: The Works Museum

The Works Museum offers families a fun day trip from the city. Located just south of Minneapolis in Bloomington, this interactive museum is focused on engineering and technology. It also features hands-on exhibits for kids, whether they’re interested in coding, building, engineering, or something else entirely. Kids will love these hands-on opportunities to engage their imagination and build their investigative skills. Certainly, families with kids who like to tinker will love this museum offering pop-up engineering activities and family STEM events.

Note: The Works Museum is currently closed as they renovate exhibits. They will reopen in January 2023.

The Bakken Museum 

Children will be filled with wonder when they explore The Bakken Museum! Located on the shore of Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis, this newly renovated museum gives families a unique perspective on science, technology, and innovation. It’s also one of the best things to do in Minneapolis as a family and a wonderful way to enjoy time in the Twin Cities with kids.

Little ones will love exploring the hands-on exhibits and learning new fun facts, from Frankenstein’s Laboratory to Benjamin Franklin’s Electricity Party. One of the most popular is the Spark exhibit. In this room, parents and kids can make music, find secret codes, and learn about innovations in prosthetics. After exploring the depths of the museum, head outdoors for a bit of fresh air along the lake.

Bell Museum 

One of the best things to do in St. Paul with kids is to visit The Bell Museum. Managed by the University of Minnesota, this natural history museum and planetarium lets little ones learn about science and nature in an intimate setting. From deep inside the human brain to the starry cosmos, planetarium shows and interactive exhibits have enough to keep all ages entertained. Children will also love roaming through their favorite wildlife dioramas! Journey through space and time in the permanent exhibit, Minnesota Journeys, or dive deep into Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend, the Smithsonian traveling exhibition on view at the Bell Museum on October 22. Be sure to stop by the Touch & See Lab, where kids can get their hands on 10,000-year-old fossils, living plants and animals, and more!

Fort Snelling

Several guests walk through the gates into the Historic Fort Snelling, one of the best places to explore in the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Historic Fort Snelling

Soak up some history in St. Paul when you visit Fort Snelling! Located along the river on Dakota land, also known as Bdote, this National Historic Landmark familiarizes families with the fort’s military background, local indigenous tribes, historic trade routes, and more. It’s also one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities with kids.

One of the most popular attractions is the Fort Snelling Visitor Center, which offers a variety of interactive exhibits to teach kids about the history of the fort and its role in the settlement of Minnesota. Kids can also explore the grounds of the fort itself, and visit the on-site museum. Several trails around Fort Snelling are perfect for exploring with kids, and several playgrounds and picnic areas where families can relax and enjoy the outdoors. Group tours are also available (book in advance of your visit). 

SPAM Museum and Visitor Center

The exterior entrance to the SPAM Museum.
Photo Courtesy: SPAM Museum

Searching for a free and fun activity in Minnesota? Take a short road trip from Minneapolis and visit the SPAM Museum in Austin! This interactive museum will teach kids about the origin of the SPAM brand and its parent company, Hormel Foods Corporation. They can learn all about the history of the SPAM brand, how it’s made, and why it’s so popular.

There are also interactive exhibits that kids can enjoy, like the SPAM canning game where they can compete with other family members as to who cans SPAM the fastest. Kids will also love the play area where they can show their recipe creativity in the play kitchen or run off some energy in the jungle gym. A SPAMbassador will bring around trays of our multiple varieties whether you love SPAM or are trying it for the first time. The museum also has a gift shop where families can buy souvenirs like SPAM brand T-shirts and other fun merchandise. 

Franconia Sculpture Park

A young girl runs toward an art installation at the Franconia Sculpture Park, one of the best places to explore near the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Antonia Grant

Get kids inspired and immersed in nature at the Franconia Sculpture Park! Located in Franconia just outside of Minneapolis, this 50-acre outdoor museum showcases a sprawling green space with all kinds of cool contemporary sculptures. Several of the structures are designed specifically for kids to interact with, so you won’t have to worry about them getting too touchy. Children will love running around in the open space, climbing on the sculptures, and playing in the nearby creek!

As one of the best things to do near Minneapolis for families, this is also the ideal spot for a family picnic when the weather is nice. Kids can even visit the pond to feed the ducks! There are also many events and programs that kids can participate in during the summer, such as art classes, music concerts, and movie nights.

Best Fairs, Water Parks, & Amusement Parks in Minnesota for Families

Nothing says family fun like visiting water or amusement parks! Whether you’re in the mood for an adrenaline rush or to cool down on a hot day, we’ve rounded up the best water parks and amusement parks in Minnesota for families. Stay tuned to learn more about the best places to visit within 3 hours of the Twin Cities with kids

Valleyfair Amusement Park

Soak City at Valleyfair, featuring a huge zero depth pool area, cabanas, and amusement rides, one of the best places to explore near the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Valleyfair

Looking for one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities with kids? Visit Valleyfair Amusement Park for a day filled with family fun! Here, you’ll find a variety of rides for all ages, including some for little ones (36 inches minimum). Most feature a Peanuts theme (think Charlie Brown and Linus)! Older kids (42 inches minimum) will love thrilling roller coasters like the Wild Thing, Corkscrew, and High Roller. Or, enjoy rides meant for the whole family, like the carousel or bumper cars. Families can also spend a hot summer day at Soak City, a special area with water slides, a wave pool, and a splash station. 

There are plenty of rest areas and dining throughout Valleyfair if little legs get tired. Frugal families can also keep a cooler in the car for lunch. There are tables located outside Valleyfair and reentry is possible (with a ticket and hand stamp). Valley Fair is also fantastic during the fall season when it converts to the Tricks and Treats event!

Nickelodeon Universe 

Mom and daughter stand with two characters, Dora the Explorer and Boots, at Nickelodeon Universe in the Mall of America, one of the best things to do with kids in Minneapolis.
Photo Courtesy: Nicole Ross Peirce

Kids who are Nickelodeon fans can’t get enough of Nickelodeon Universe, a unique theme park filled with all their favorite characters! Located within Bloomington’s Mall of America, this is certainly one of the best places to visit in Minnesota for families. From the Spongebob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge to the Fairly OddParents Tea Party Cup Spin, there are countless rides for all ages. Kids will also love the variety of games and attractions, like the Rugrats Reptar Carousel and the Blue’s Clues Safari Adventure. Plus, they’ll be so happy to meet SpongeBob, Patrick, and all their other favorites! Kid-friendly shows, like the PAW Patrol Live Show, provide fun for the entire family as well. When little ones are hungry, don’t forget to check out fun places to eat, like the Bikini Bottom Cake Shop and the Double Dare Snack Bar! 

Minnesota State Fair 

A crowd of people enters the gates of the Minnesota State Fair.
Photo Courtesy: Minnesota State Fair and Meet Minneapolis

No family vacation to Minnesota would be complete without experiencing the Minnesota State Fair! Also known as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” this annual event is one of the largest state fairs in the country and takes place every summer in St. Paul. For 2022, the fair will be running from August 25th to September 5th, giving families a chance to experience fun rides, carnival games, delicious food, and so much more! One of the most popular attractions is the Giant Slide, which kids can go down again and again. There are also several educational exhibits, including the Miracle of Life exhibit and the Agriculture Horticulture Building. Of course, younger kids can’t miss The Kidway, a great section with rides and games designed just for them. For more thrilling adventures, visit The Mighty Midway and test your skills at carnival games and win prizes! 

Kids can also pet the animals at the Petting Zoo, or watch them in the livestock barns. And of course, they’ll want to eat lots of fair food! From cotton candy to deep-fried cheese curds, there’s something for everyone at the Minnesota State Fair. Without question, this is one of the best things to do in the Twin Cities with kids!

Cascade Bay Waterpark

An aerial view of the large pirate-shaped water park area at Cascade Bay Waterpark.
Photo Courtesy: Cascade Bay Waterpark

Cascade Bay Water Park is a great place to take the family for a day of fun! Located in Eagan, right outside of Minneapolis, there are plenty of things to do to keep everyone entertained here. Everyone in your family will be impressed by the number of fun things to do near Minneapolis with kids! 

In fact, the water park has many different rides, ranging from gentle ones for small children to more intense ones for older kids and adults. Young ones can splash around in the kiddie pool or play in the water features designed just for them. Meanwhile, older children and adults can enjoy the exciting slides and thrilling rides that are available. There are also several pools to choose from, so families can find the perfect one for their swimming level. And, there’s even a lazy river for those who want to relax and float along! On the land, there are volleyball courts, a playground, and a picnic area. 

Bunker Beach Water Park 

An aerial view of the Bunker Beach Water Park with surrounding lazy river on a sunny, summer day at one of the best places to explore near the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Bunker Beach Water Park 

Experience the thrill of Minnesota’s largest outdoor water park at Bunker Beach Water Park! Located in Coon Rapids, this seasonal water park is just north of Minneapolis and offers fun things to do near the Twin Cities with kids. Enjoy the lazy river, go down one of the many slides, or brave the wave pool. There are also several kiddie pools for the little ones to play in, and, of course, plenty of rides! If you’re looking for something more active, you can try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding or sailing. Or, for a more adrenaline-pumped experience, try bungee jumping or zip lining! And, when you need a break from all the fun in the sun, parents can relax in the shade with a good book. There’s also a cafe on-site so you can refuel after a day of fun. 

Great Wolf Lodge Minnesota

Escape the city for a day and take the kids to Great Wolf Lodge! Located in Bloomington just outside of Minneapolis, this indoor water park is the perfect place for kids to splash no matter the season. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the best fun things to do in Minneapolis for families! 

Here, little ones can take advantage of endless rides and attractions, including the famous Fort Mackenzie. This interactive, four-story water treehouse showcases multiple slides and play stations! Together, families can enjoy the River Canyon Run or Alberta Falls, an exhilarating tube ride for four people. Or, sit back and take it easy on the Crooked Creek, a fun lazy river. There are also a variety of kiddie swimming pools for little ones just learning to swim. In addition to these main attractions, families who stay at Great Wolf Lodge can also enjoy amenities like arcade games, bowling, mini-golf, and more. 

Grand View Lodge Spa & Golf Resort 

Families looking for an epic day of fun in Minnesota can’t get enough of Grand View Lodge Spa & Golf Resort! Overlooking Gull Lake in Nisswa, it’s home to one of the best indoor water parks in Central Minnesota. As one of the best places to visit within 3 hours of the Twin Cities with kids, this makes it a popular spot for kids who want to splash or cool down from the heat! 

Little ones can take advantage of a 110-foot indoor water slide, alongside multiple swimming pools. There are also three sprouting fountains that are sure to delight your little ones, plus two water gun stations for some extra fun! In the meanwhile, parents can relax in the hot tub or even join in on the fun. Plus, with the extra perks of staying at the resort, you’ll also have access to other fun activities like tennis, pickleball, basketball, cornhole, volleyball, horseback riding, and more. 

Plan your next stay at one of these 13 Best Summer Resorts in Minnesota for Families

Happy Travels!

A young girl holds onto the railing while she peer at Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, one of the best stops in the Twin Cities with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Antonia Grant

We hope you liked this article on Exciting Places to Visit within 3 Hours of the Twin Cities with Kids! From boat rides to hiking, biking, historic sites, and so much more, this is surely a fantastic state to visit as a family. Enjoy these wonderful places near the Twin Cities with your kids!

*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the attractions, accommodations, or things to do on this list may be closed. Please ensure availability before making your decision. 

*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.

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Families Love Travel Team

The Families Love Travel Team has a zest for life and an even bigger passion for globetrotting! Comprised of real-life travel professionals, we work hard behind the scenes to provide dynamic solutions for adventuring with children. Our enthusiastic team understands the challenges that often accompany traveling with kids and is committed to making Families Love Travel an inclusive space to convey these experiences.