Located about an hour northwest of the Twin Cities, Saint Cloud may be Minnesota’s best-kept secret. With a population of only about 66,000, it sometimes feels like a small town. People are friendly, the food is delicious, and there are enough attractions to merit a three-day weekend or longer stay.
From kayaking the Mississippi River to watching some of the best college hockey in the country, Saint Cloud offers a wide range of fun activities. Here are just a few great things to do in the area.
1. Explore The Quarry Park And Nature Preserve
Saint Cloud was once home to a number of granite quarries, and its red granite was popular for homes and public buildings. The Hundred Acres Quarry operated in the area from the early 1860s until the mid-1950s. In 1992, Stearns County purchased the site and transformed it into the Quarry Park and Nature Preserve.
Today, visitors enjoy nearly 700 acres of hiking trails featuring oak and aspen trees and wetlands full of wildlife, including deer and great horned owls. The quarry pits offer swimming holes for area residents as well as dynamic views with reflections of the stones in the dark water. Artifacts and old equipment are located throughout the park, so you’ll get a dose of history along with some good exercise.
2. Learn About The Area’s History At The Stearns History Museum
At the Stearns History Museum, you can learn about the area’s history through exhibits on everything from the evolution of nature to the history of toys. You’ll also learn about the role prominent families have played in the development of Saint Cloud. If the building looks familiar, that’s because scenes from the movie The Mighty Ducks were filmed inside.
The museum is situated in Heritage Park, so you can enjoy a walk through 70 acres of nature after your museum visit.
3. Enjoy Time On The Mississippi River
Explore the Mississippi at the water level by kayaking the country’s most famous river. Bring your own boat or rent one; either way, you’ll enjoy taking in the nature that surrounds you. As you navigate, you might see loons or herons along the shoreline.
Located about 20 minutes south of Saint Cloud, Clear Waters Outfitting is the place to go to rent kayaking equipment.
4. Stop To Smell The Roses At The Munsinger And Clemens Gardens
Hugging the shoreline of the Mississippi River, the Munsinger and Clemens Gardens provide a beautiful spot to enjoy a walk, take in the views, and smell the roses. The area actually consists of two separate botanical gardens.
Opened in the 1930s, Munsinger Garden features 14 acres of flower paths underneath scores of pine trees. Munsinger is also recognized for its well-groomed grass and flower island beds that reflect the shape of the nearby river.
The 7-acre Clemens Garden was founded in the 1990s and is located on a hilltop overlooking Munsinger Garden. With smaller gardens including roses and perennials, Clemens also features a series of water fountains and ironworks displays.
During the summer months, the gardens host a series of outdoor concerts featuring local musicians.
5. Catch A Show Downtown
Offering outstanding community theater and concerts, the Paramount Center for the Arts is a throwback to the days when people flocked to downtown theaters to catch Vaudeville acts, silent movies, or other performances. Today, the Paramount remains the place to go to enjoy community theater performances. The theater also hosts live concerts, primarily starring local or regional musical acts. As a community arts center, the Paramount offers workshops and classes on a variety of subjects, including painting and pottery.
Originally opened as an Elks Lodge in 1913, Pioneer Place on Fifth is now an intimate setting for concerts, typically tributes to performers such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Janis Joplin; Queen; and the Carpenters.
6. Stroll Through Lake George Park
Located a short walk from downtown Saint Cloud, Lake George Park offers a variety of activities, from hiking to paddleboarding to kayaking. Bring a picnic basket and enjoy a nice meal under the shade of the trees. A veterans memorial near the lake pays tribute to the men and women who have served in the military.
During the summer, the park is filled with the sounds of outdoor concerts and special events such as the Middletown Market, which features food trucks and other vendors.
7. Hike The Beaver Island Trail
Running 5 miles from Saint Cloud State University to downtown, the Beaver Island Trail features views of the Mississippi River from a paved trail through wooded areas. During your walk, you may see some of the area’s wildlife.
Traveling through River Bluffs Regional Park, the trail eventually leads to the Saint Cloud River Walk, a half-mile trail near the River’s Edge Convention Center. While on the river walk, stop at the giant picture frame for a fun photo to remember your visit to the area by.
8. Watch A Huskies Game
If you visit during the college hockey season, you can watch Saint Cloud State’s men’s and women’s teams take on some of the best teams in the country. At the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, the teams compete as members of the best leagues in college hockey -- the men in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the women in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Huskies have been the top-ranked team in men’s hockey in recent seasons, while the women continue to build their program. Several former players have gone on to play in the National Hockey League, and Saint Cloud State has become a popular team for players who dream of playing professionally. On the women’s side, the Huskies have produced Olympians for both the United States and Canada.
9. Visit Saint John’s University
Home to one of the world’s largest stained glass windows, Saint John’s University in nearby Collegeville, Minnesota, provides an opportunity to take in beautiful scenery while exploring cultural and religious attractions. The stained glass window at Saint John’s Abbey Church stands about 65 feet tall and stretches almost 200 feet wide. As you stand inside the church viewing the stained glass, you’ll notice the size and beauty of each pane. The nearly 50-year-old concrete church is designed in a semicircular fashion and seats up to 1,500 people.
Standing in front of the windows, the bell tower is more than 100 feet tall and can be seen for miles. As the bells sound, they create music to your ears.
A short walk from the church is the Saint John’s Bible Gallery. It’s home to the Saint John’s Bible, which features beautiful calligraphy and illustrations completed over a 10-year period beginning in the late 1990s. The exhibit includes folios of the Saint John’s Bible as well as other Bibles from around the world. The museum also features Bible-related artifacts and artwork.
10. Enjoy A Cold One At A Local Brewery
A hop, skip, and a jump from the Mississippi River in downtown Saint Cloud, Beaver Island Brewing Company produces great-tasting craft beer. Once a home-brewing operation, Beaver Island still produces its beer on-site. As you sample a flight of core and seasonal drinks from a serving tray that resembles a canoe oar, you can watch the brewmasters at work. Beaver Island also sells cans for home enjoyment.
Next door to Saint Cloud in Saint Joseph, Minnesota, Bad Habit Brewing Company also features locally brewed beer. From ale to dark beer, there’s something for everyone on tap. Bad Habit also makes its own soda.
11. Appreciate The City’s Culinary Scene
Saint Cloud’s culinary scene is second to none. With its outstanding restaurants that rival those in the Twin Cities, you could spend your entire visit sampling the local cuisine.
The Pickled Loon will delight your taste buds with its fried Brussels sprouts tossed in a housemade maple honey sauce and topped with sliced almonds. You may want to skip the entrees and just keep ordering more Brussels sprouts, but you’d be depriving yourself of even more amazing tastes. From the sriracha barbecue meatloaf to the fish tacos, you’d swear you were dining at a high-end eatery in the Twin Cities instead of a bar and grill in downtown Saint Cloud.
Not to be outdone, Anton’s challenges you to walk away hungry. The restaurant’s decor resembles that of a lodge (it’s actually in a log cabin and is located next to the Sauk River, which you can view during your meal). You can enjoy its famous oversized popovers as bread with your meal (try the honey butter on a warm slice) or as an entree. The menu also features items such as maple-glazed roast duck, fresh fish, and steaks, and the portions are huge and filling.
For a truly impeccable breakfast, head to the Nelson Brothers Restaurant inside the Clearwater Travel Plaza. Not many people would recommend a truck stop for a dining experience, but after one visit to the travel plaza, you’ll be a fan. With a bakery recognized for its head-sized pastries, the restaurant offers a menu with sizable portions. From pancakes that cover the plate to omelets that run the length of a dish, breakfast at Nelson Brothers needs to be on your Saint Cloud bucket list.
Where To Lay Your Head
Several chain hotels call Saint Cloud home, and they are reasonably priced and centrally located. The Best Western Plus and Kelly Inn is located adjacent to the Mississippi River and convention center and features impressive artwork in its lobby area, as well as outstanding suites and rooms. The GrandStay Residential Suites Hotel is located downtown and offers outstanding accommodations and amenities.
If you prefer a bed and breakfast experience, The Estates Bed and Breakfast in Saint Joseph features three elegant suites. Is there anything better than a home-cooked meal at a bed and breakfast?
From exploring nature on the trails and the Mississippi River to enjoying great food, a visit to Saint Cloud provides adventure, culture, and culinary delights. You’ll leave excited to tell others about this Minnesota hidden gem.