Scenic Drives in Minnesota: 6 Stunning Byways in The North Star State

scenic drives in minnesota

The best thing about traveling is not the destination, but the journey itself. Each journey is an adventure with its own breathtaking views, attractive stops on the roadside, different types of wildlife, and natural scenic beauty. So whether you’re going on an adventure or a quiet car ride, a scenic drive can always uplift your mood.

These amazing scenic drives in Minnesota are possibly some of the best drives in the region. The state of Minnesota is full of undiscovered routes with marvelous views and some amazing landscapes. To help you travel on the most stunning byways in Minnesota, I have compiled a list of all the places you should visit on your trip!

Let’s get into it!

Superior National Forest Byway

Located in northeast Minnesota, the Superior National Forest Byway takes you on a relaxing drive with natural wilderness all around. The journey starts from the North Shore till the Iron Range, while stretching over a distance of 61 miles. While traveling on this route, you’ll see different lakes, rivers, streams, but you also get to experience Minnesota’s cultural history.

You can make pit stops at numerous places. Most travelers stop at the Hoyt Lakes or the Cadotte Lake Recreation Area where you can conduct numerous outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, and much more.

The backdrop for this lake is especially beautiful during the fall season. You can even hike at the White Pine Trail and see the iconic pine trees along the way. If you’re someone who enjoys the wilderness, then this route also offers opportunities for birdwatching. With luck, you can see the rarest birds over here.

The route is not only scenic but is also full of cultural and historical landscapes such as the one-room Toimi schoolhouse. This schoolhouse was responsible for educating many Finnish children who had immigrated to America. There are also different communities on the way you can explore. You can grab a quick bite at the famous The Hive Coffee and Bakehouse as well.

The Superior National Forest route remains open all year long, even during snow so you get to witness all seasons along this beautiful route.

Route length: 61 miles

Scenic Highway 61

Scenic Highway 61 - Best Scenic Drives in Minnesota
Iona’s Beach, by Justin Meissen, CC BY-SA 2.0

Rich with historic and scenic beauty, the US highway 61 stretches from the Wisconsin border to the Canadian border near the Pigeon River. This route allows you to witness scenic beauty in all its splendor, ranging from pine trees to the north shore of Lake Superior. Also known as the Blue Highway, this route also has parts that lie on the Mississippi blue trail. This route also inspired Bob Dylan’s famous album called “Highway 61: Revisited”.

The route can be divided into three parts, each part having its own beauty.

  1. First up, we have the section between the Canadian border and Duluth. The drive on this section covers the best views of Lake Superior’s incredible North Shore. This part of the drive is filled with different parks and recreational spots where you can enjoy all the tourist attractions.
  2. Next, we have the section from the port city of Duluth to Wyoming. You’ll see small towns throughout this section and can stop to watch the historic and culturally significant landscapes.
  3. Then, we have the section from Wyoming to La Crosse. This section goes through the suburbs where you’ll see the historic river towns including Red Wing, Hastings, and so on.

While on US Highway 61 in Minnesota, you will pass by the beautiful Good Harbor Bay, Seagull Rock, as well as Grand Marais. All three stops are extremely picturesque where you can make a pit stop and enjoy the amazing views. You can even have a picnic on the Cut Face Creek Wayside. The route offers many recreational stops on the way which allow you to connect with nature.

Route length: 120 miles

Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway

Gunflint Trail - Best Scenic Drives in Minnesota
The Gunflint Trail, by Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0

Passing through the North East corner of Minnesota, we have the picturesque Gunflint Trail. This two-lane road begins its journey from the north shore of Lake Superior and goes through the luscious Superior Forest till the banks of the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) at Saganaga Lake.

This route covers the best pastoral landscape in Minnesota. Through the Superior National Forest, you can spot different wild animals. The forest features various kinds of trees, including maple, conifer, and much more. A drive in the fall will have you see all types of colors in the forest, as well as different types of animals and birds living there.

So, if you’re someone who’s interested in looking at some rare species in the Minnesota forests, then you should definitely travel through this scenic route. On this road, you’ll also find the infamous Lake Superior, which is as blue as you would have imagined. On the way, you will find numerous pit stops with parks for recreational activities.

This route offers the best tourist spots for people who love being in nature. This does not mean that the drive has only different scenic views to offer. In fact, this path has great historical significance in fur trading and conservation camps. You can easily visit these sites for an enriching cultural experience.

All in all, this drive is ideal for nature enthusiasts.

Route length: 57 miles

Waters of the Dancing Sky Byway

Waters of the Dancing Sky Byway - Best Scenic Drives in Minnesota
Voyageurs National Park, by Christine Warner, CC-BY 2.0

Located in Northern Minnesota, we have the Waters of the Dancing Sky Byway. As the name suggests, the route is a great place for people to witness the Northern Lights. Most people camp to witness the amazing sky at night.

This route starts from the Voyageurs National Park and travels alongside the Canadian border. It then takes you to the North Dakota border when it ends. If you’d like to see some of the finest wildflowers and trees in the region, then this drive offers you that and much more.

This route passes through several towns, forests, lakes, and the iconic Rainy River. You can rent cabins and boats to enjoy a fun day with friends and family. Many hockey enthusiasts also go down this route to visit their favorite Bronko Nagurski Museum. This museum pays homage to different hockey players and takes fans down a trip to memory lane.

If you’re interested in historically significant places, you can pay a visit to the Grand Mound, which is Minnesota’s largest Native American burial ground. Many significant members of the Native American tribes are laid to rest over here. Apart from this, nature lovers can go bird-watching near the Prairie birding trail or the Lake Bronson State Park.

Route length: 191 miles

Apple Blossom Scenic Drive

Apple Blossom Scenic Drive - Best Scenic Drives in Minnesota
Apple Blossom Scenic Drive

While there are many scenic drives on the Northern side of Minnesota, the Southern side is no less. Here we have the iconic Apple Blossom Scenic drive that’s surrounded by an unreal landscape, bound to capture your attention. This drive loops US Highway 61, which is a great scenic drive and can be accessed from the Great River Bluffs State Park.

As the name suggests, this drive passes through numerous apple orchards. Here, you can stop and pick apples directly from the tree. You also get to pass through the city of La Crescent, which is known as the apple capital of Minnesota. The apple orchards here date as far back as the 1850s.

Most of these orchards surround the Mississippi river, offering a great view while you walk. During the apple harvest season, you can roll down your car window and enjoy the wonderful smell of the apples. You’ll even find roadside stands throughout the route, selling the finest quality apples.

Although the drive may be short, the beautiful views make each second on the road worthwhile.

Route length: 19 miles

Lady Slipper Scenic Byway

Lady Slipper Scenic Byway - Best Scenic Drives in Minnesota
Lady Slipper Scenic Byway

Among the many beautiful scenic drives in Minnesota, the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway is also one of the most iconic ones. This byway starts near the Mississippi River and passes through Cass Lake, and ends its route on Chippewa National Forest.

While on this byway, you pass through forests covered with pines and birches. This route is especially beautiful during the fall season where you can see all the red, orange and yellow leaves falling from the trees. During the spring season, this scenic drive offers colorful orchids on the roadsides bound to capture your attention.

This route also offers numerous campgrounds and hiking trails. If you’re looking to spend more time in nature, then you should definitely get on this route. The historical CCC Camp Rabideau is also located on this drive. This historic landmark is visited by many while traveling on the road.

Route length: 28 miles

To Sum Up

And that’s about it!

The state is known as the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’, but you can’t visit all of them now, can you? So, the best way to view as many as possible is to go on scenic drives in Minnesota. This way you’ll be able to enjoy the nature and cultural history of Minnesota.  

See my other articles you might enjoy

Leave a Reply