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Minnesota’s claim to fame is that above all other states, its citizens know how to have fun. A bold statement, to be sure, but when you consider that its nickname is “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” as well as the fact that it’s the home of the Minnesota Vikings, the world’s largest ball of twine and the SPAM Museum, it’s not difficult to believe. A trip through Minnesota will definitely take you on a relaxing, yet offbeat adventure through an awesomely scenic part of the Great Lakes region.
Setting out on the road, our starting point of Prior Lake is just 20 miles south of Minneapolis, and surrounds the upper and lower shores of Prior Lake itself. This city gives you a chance to get off to a relaxing start by venturing out and enjoying over 60 miles of hiking and jogging trails, or any of the nature resource parks specifically designated by the city for outdoor fun. There are casinos on hand for gaming and entertainment, and who doesn’t enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet? There’s also no shortage of RV hookups, so take advantage of the locals’ friendly hospitality and start your getaway the Prior Lake way.
Getting out on the road, it’s a 70-mile cruise down the southbound US-35 to your next stop, Albert Lea. This is a great place to pull over for a stretch and maybe grab a bite – the downtown district has many eateries and shops that cater to all tastes. Albert Lea is a laid-back, quiet town situated between Albert Lea Lake and Fountain Lake, and as such it’s an excellent place to enjoy kayaking, biking, boating or camping all year round. The skiing is great around here once winter comes along, and the toasty fires in the lodges are even better!
The city of Rochester is about 60 miles away, best accessed by taking the eastbound I-90 for 50 miles, at which time you’ll merge with the northbound US-63 and stay on it for 6 miles before taking the exit for the US-52-N the remaining 4 miles into town. It’s interesting to note that Money Magazine named Rochester the “Best Small City in America.” The town has a blend of small-town hospitality combined with an urban sophistication that gives it a truly unique character all its own. For the history buff, check out the Chateau Theater, a fully-restored old-style movie palace originally built in 1927. If you’re looking for an escape into nature, the Quarry Hill Nature Center sprawls across nearly 300 acres and 5 miles of hiking trails take you on a winding tour through forests and meadows; there’s even a massive 1,700 gallon aquarium filled with fish indigenous to the area.
Leaving Rochester, take Highway 14-W for a little more than 12 miles, then merge with the northbound Highway 42, which takes you the remaining 35 miles into Wabasha. Remember when we talked about how Minnesotans like to have fun? Well…upon entering the city you’ll see a sign that says “Welcome to Wabasha, Home of Grumpy Old Men,” in reference to the films Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men, both of which were set in Wabasha, the oldest city in Minnesota. This quaint community has plenty of shops and buildings dating back to the “good old days,” and no shortage of parks for your outdoor amusement. In winter, bring an ice saw and drop your line into a frozen lake for some ice fishing!
Your final stop of Apple Valley is reached by taking the US-61-N for 52 miles until you come to the westbound Highway 55, which takes you the remaining 8 miles into Apple Valley. Apple Valley is the home of the Minnesota Zoo, which showcases more than 400 different species of animals in natural habitats. Walking trails meander through various sections of the zoo, and a variety of shows give birds, dolphins and other critters the spotlight to strut their stuff. It’s a great place to spend a day and get a good look at some of the most majestic and rarely-sighted animals on the planet.
It’s only 11 miles to get back to your origin point of Prior Lake. Maybe hit that buffet at the casino one more time, “for the road?”