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Minneapolis to Decorah Road Trip:  A Back Roads Adventure with Kids

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My mom and sister were in town in this past weekend, and I was excited to take them on a Fall adventure.  The weather in Minnesota has been gorgeous this October.  Coats and hats have stayed packed away, and I had convinced myself that winter would hold off until Christmas.  Yeah, right…we woke up to snow on the ground.  Why, Minnesota, why?!

Despite my cursing the snow and two grouchy kids, we packed up the car and headed south.  I am so glad we didn’t let the weather or the bumpy start stop us, as I was reminded that adventures least expected are often the best ones.

The map below charts our course and marks our stops.  We also got off on a few dirt roads along the way.  This adventure was definitely as much about the journey as the destination.  I hope to share some ideas on how to plan a kid friendly overnight trip from the Twin Cities and show you how affordable it can be!

Road trip, Minnesota, Iowa, Decorah, bluff country, Lanesboro

As I mentioned earlier, we set out on our trip with snow on the ground.  I was NOT happy about it at first, but I got over it once I realized the combination of autumn leaves and white snow makes for spectacular views.

Our first stop was in Red Wing, MN.  Everyone in the car has a sweet tooth so naturally we headed straight to a bakery.  If you are in the area, Hanish Bakery & Coffee Shop is a must.  The baked goods are yummy and the prices are great.  Everyone picked out the treat of their choice which included two cookies and three pastries.  My sister also treated my mom and me to coffee, so either bring along your sister or plan on an extra $1.50 per cup of Joe;). 

Red Wing Shoe Store & Museum is a block and a half from  Hanish Bakery.  Stop in if you have the urge to see the world’s largest boot.  My two-year old was so impressed that I had to drag her out of the store kicking and screaming; either that or she was crashing from her Hanish cookie sugar high.  Tip:  If you purchase a pair of $300+ Red Wing boots, you have blown the budget friendly aspect of this trip😜.

About 45 minutes farther south on scenic Hwy 61, we came upon Lark Toys.  This isn’t just any toy store!  Within the store, there is a hand carved carousel, a​ café and a “Memory Lane” toy collection.  A ride on the carousel is $2; kids 3 & under are free with a paying adult.  The kids and Granny took a ride for a grand total of $4.  We also snacked on sweet potato fries, hummus with pita triangles, popcorn and ice cream cones.


Back in the car, the kids enjoyed a nap while the adults enjoyed views of the Mississippi. We decided to make a stop at the Historic Pickwick Mill 40 minutes later and have a late lunch with the picnic we brought with us.  As much as we tried, we just couldn’t live on sweets alone!

There  are picnic tables that overlook the dam and falls beside the mill that would be great to use on a warm day.  We opted for a car picnic since there was a bite in the air during our visit. After we ate, we explored the grounds and the volunteer working at the museum, housed within the mill, was nice enough to let us take a peak at the water wheel and look around the museum without charging us the $5/pp entrance fee.

We pressed on to our final destination for the day, Decorah, Iowa.  We easily found the house we had rented via Airbnb.  It was a two bedroom, two bath home that was recently renovated.  It was just blocks away from Water Street (the main drag) and fit our needs perfectly.  The total cost for one night was $126.

Since we had an action packed day, we decided to stay in for the night and grab takeout.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the restaurant we tried.  If I could do it over, I would have brought food from home and cooked at the house.  Tip:  If you are visiting Decorah without kids, check out Rubaiyat Restaurant.  My husband and I ate here on a previous trip.  The food is exceptional.

We walked to Water Street in the morning and were drawn into Ruby’s Restaurant by their “world-famous” cinnamon and pecan rolls.  The food was tasty and the servers were friendly.

Falling leaves made our after breakfast stroll through the picturesque town even more delightful.

Before heading back towards Minneapolis, we made two kid friendly stops in Decorah. Our first stop was the Decorah Fish Hatchery.  The girls loved feeding the trout in the tanks.  Don’t forget to bring some quarters for the food dispensers!

Our second stop was Dunning’s Spring Falls.  You can drive right up to the falls.  There is a short path along the water’s edge and kid-friendly stairs that take you to the top.  You will also get a view of the spring coming out of the hillside.

We set our GPS for Lanesboro, Minnesota and headed north.  Along the way, rolling hills and beautiful farmland made us want to get off the highway.  We made several detours off of US 52 onto dirt roads.  My sister and I had lots of giggles stopping the car and taking photos on the back roads!

We ate lunch in the charming town of Lanesboro at Pedal Pushers Café.  We had our best meal of the trip here.  I highly recommend the blackened chicken grain bowl.

Back in the car, we stayed on the road a bit longer than our typical 45 minutes to let the girls get a nap.  We saw a sign for a covered bridge in Zumbrota and decided to check it out.  It was a nice place to stretch our legs. img_2917We made one last stop in Cannon Falls at Schoolhouse Scoop before heading home. What better way to end an adventure than with an ice cream cone?! Just don’t tell my two-year old about this stop as she was sleeping.

We had a fantastic adventure for five people for just over $300…less than a pair of Red Wing Boots;)!  Our spending spreadsheet is below.  As you can see, a lot of our spending was on food and this cost could be reduced greatly by bringing your own food and picnicking and/or using the kitchen.  Also, the costs are cut tremendously when you are splitting expenses with others (my mom and sister in this case).  So, don’t let a tight budget stop you from an adventure.  Call some friends or family and ask them to join you on an exciting journey!    Adventure awaits!


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