Fall creates a perfect chance to hit the road to enjoy stunning seasonal changes. Kristen Glazer, a Minnesota-based travel writer who loves exploring the state, offers recommendations for discovering a few hidden gems, places that offer sightseeing through the lens of unique small town charm.
Just 45 miles south of Minneapolis, Montgomery is a small town nestled among some of the richest farmlands in the state. “I love Montgomery because I feel like it’s the definition of a hidden gem,” Glazer says. She recommends a visit to the Montgomery Orchard to pick homegrown apples, taste fresh apple cider made on-site and enjoy eats from a local food truck, and kids get their kicks at the kid-friendly corn maze.
Don’t miss Franke’s Bakery, a traditional Czech bakery that has been around since 1914 and is run by a third generation brother and sister duo. The bakery features cookies, breads and doughnuts, but it’s best known for its kolacky—a Czech fruit-filled roll that comes in several flavor varieties. This treat takes center stage at the town’s annual Kolacky Days Festival, held annually during the last weekend of July. Glazer also recommends Pizzeria 201, known for its wood-fired pizzas. Thirsty? Montgomery Brewery is located downtown (near the bakery and pizzeria). Photo op tip: Take photos in front of the town’s painted mural (by Victor Garcia), which depicts the town in the late 1800s.
Home to world-famous Red Wing Shoes, the city boasts historic sites and an abundance of outdoor activities. When you’re making plans to stay, Glazer recommends the historic St. James Hotel. The building was built in 1875. The lower level has several shops and restaurants, and a rooftop bar overlooks the Mississippi River.
Glazer recommends hiking through Barn Bluff, along the Mississippi River. The bluff, she notes, is considered sacred by the Dakota tribe due to its many burial mounds. Hike to the top of the bluff, Glazer says, for an incredible view in every direction. In the fall, the river and changing colors of the leaves are a sight to behold. Also visit Levee Park that offers a trail system, large trees, seating and spectacular views of the Mississippi River. “I recommend having a picnic up there; you can either bring your own food or grab something from in town,” Glazer says. Main street offers plenty of food options. Also consider the Red Wing Brewery, known for its pizzas and calzones. If you prefer wine, head to Falconer Vineyards, which is only a 15-minute drive from downtown.
Given the popularity of Red Wing Pottery, it’s not surprising that the Pottery Museum of Red Wing has over 6,000 vintage pieces of artisan-crafted pottery with some pieces dating back to the 1800s. Bonus: Museum entry is free. Don’t leave town without a stop to the Uffda Shop, which sells authentic Scandinavian gifts and goodies.
Don’t let the 1,000 population fool you; there’s plenty to see and do. Glazer stayed at the Wannigan Point Cabins, located just outside downtown. Each unique cabin has an outdoor grill and deck.
Ready to hit the road? Glazer recommends the Interstate State Park, sitting along the St. Croix River. Paths go deep into the woods and over to sandstone cliffs and is a popular place for rock climbers. “With the river moving fast through this area, it’s just really beautiful,” she says. Visitors can enjoy riverboat rides with Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tour that’s been serving sightseers since 1906.
Glazer says there’s a whole lot of quirky in this town, including the seasonal Drive-In that has been around since 1956. The 1950s-style drive-in includes carhops, poodle skirts and nostalgic music. From burgers to root beer floats, enjoy dining right in your car. Consider Juneberry Café, which spotlights local, sustainable food with organic ingredients and is a great grab-and-go spot. (The state park is right across the street.)
Franconia Sculpture Park is only 11 minutes away and has 43 acres of rotating outdoor art installations. Glazer says there are usually about 120 sculptures by well-known and emerging artists. “I love it because it’s weird, funky and free. So, it can’t get better than that combo,” she says.
For more travel stories and resources, visit expeditionkristen.com.