Rochester – Looking to get out of the house for a summer day trip, but don’t want to spend too much money on gas? Here are five destinations in southeast Minnesota that are cheap or free, offering getaway choices for nearly every budget.
Ohuta Park, Lake City
The birthplace of water skiing is only 40 miles from Rochester. In addition to great downtown shopping and dining, the newly renovated Ohuta Park, located three and a half blocks north of downtown, offers a new children’s wading pool and upgraded playground equipment, as well than some of the most scenic views on the lake. Seed. The park and all of its amenities are free to all visitors and are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Other free parks for Lake City visitors include Hok-Si-La, Roschen, and Gold Star Parks. Or simply stroll along the footpaths along Lac Pépin.
LARK Toys, Kellogg
About 50 miles from Med City is one of the Midwest’s most famous toy stores and museums, LARK Toys. Located in Kellogg, LARK Toys is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and offers a variety of options to keep any visitor entertained for a day.
From their museum exhibits to their mini golf course, carousel, bookstore and cafe, a whole day of fun can be filled with any visit to LARK Toys.
In addition to these options are the handmade toys that LARK Toys have been producing for over 30 years with at least one new toy design appearing every year. The majority of these toys are carved from wood and safe for use by children of all ages and visitors can witness the making of these toys in the LARK workshop.
Go outside and meet Irving, George, Meg and Calvin, a quartet of miniature llamas, on the observation deck.
Memory Lane Antique Toy Museum tours are free for all visitors, carousel rides are $3 each way, and cafe menu items are $6.50 combined with a carousel ride.
Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo, Byron
Just north of Byron – watch out for construction detours – and less than 20 miles from Rochester is one of southeastern Minnesota’s hidden gems: Oxbow Park and the Zollman Zoo. Open year-round except for certain holidays, Zollman Zoo is free to all visitors and features over 45 different species of animals in their exhibits.
No food and drink are allowed in the zoo, nor any recreational vehicles. There are also programs at the park throughout each season. All programs are also free to the public.
In addition to the Zollman Zoo, Oxbow Park has campgrounds open May 6 through October 23 that can be reserved on their website. There are also several trails that run through the park, picnic areas, and playgrounds throughout the 634-acre park. The park itself is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Shooting Star Trail, LeRoy to Austin
Fancy a nature day away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life? Shooting Star Trail may be the place to go.
Stretching from the town of LeRoy on the Minnesota/Iowa border to Austin, this trail covers 30 miles of southern Minnesota that can be hiked in a day. The trail is free and the only payment needed is parking at Lake Louise State Park north of LeRoy, if people choose to start their hike or bike from there.
The trail passes through other towns such as Taopi, Adams, and Rose Creek with food options available in downtown Adams and Rose Creek for those who need to catch their breath.
Forestville State Park and Mystery Cave
Just 47 miles south of Rochester, Forestville State Park has a bucket list of things to do in a day for any traveler. The most notable parts of Forestville State Park are Mystery Cave and the ghost town of Forestville.
Mystery Cave is the longest known cave in the state of Minnesota, covering 13 miles of known passageways. There are many types of Mystery Cave tours that people can sign up for, the most popular of which is the Panoramic Tour, which tours start as early as 10 a.m. and run until 4 p.m. on weekdays and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. . week ends.
The scenic tour lasts about an hour and costs $15 for ages 13 and older, $10 for ages 5 to 12, and free for children under 5, but a ticket is still required. The panoramic tour is also accessible to people with disabilities.
The past two summers for Mystery Cave had restrictions on tours available to people due to COVID-19. This summer there are more tours to offer as lantern, geology and wild caving tours are available again.
Already making the trip to Mystery Cave later in the week? Why not also take the time to visit the nearby ghost town of Forestville.
The Minnesota Historical Society operates the abandoned town which still resembles its original 1800s appearance. Guided tours are available from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and until 3:00 p.m. Sunday, but visitors can also embark on their own self-guided ghost town explorations. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children, students, and seniors.
Not interested in a tour and want a real ghost town experience? This is also an option since visitors are encouraged to explore Forestville at their own pace at dusk or dawn. If visitors wish to take the night tour, no buildings are open outside of visiting hours.
The ghost town of Forestville will be open for tours on July 4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.