St. Cloud, Minnesota makes it easy to get outside. There are plenty of paths and trails to explore and beautiful scenery along the Mississippi River. Many of this unassuming city’s signature attractions are located a short distance apart, which makes it easy to see a lot in a few hours and still get some exercise outdoors.
Even better, all of the attractions outlined here are free, which makes St. Cloud a great bargain. We took our toddler out and enjoyed a jam-packed morning and early afternoon without spending a cent.
We started our walk at Munsinger Gardens and Clemens Gardens, two beautiful spots that are perfect for picnics, nature walks and leisurely strolls. Clemens Gardens is a beautifully landscaped riot of flowers while nearby Munsinger Gardens is tucked away along the Mississippi under a canopy of towering trees. I wrote more about them both in this post if you want to read more. (There are lots of photos too.)
From Munsinger Gardens, it’s just a quick walk to nearby Riverside Park, with its disc golf course, playground and picnic areas. It’s pretty much the perfect place to bring a kid with excess energy. We just threw on his swimming trunks, turned him loose in the splash pad with the other kids and relaxed in the shade.
I may have gotten wet, too. Traveling with a toddler means you can do that and nobody looks at you like you’re a weirdo.
There are picnic shelters available (and they were packed when we were there) and lots of shady spots to spread out a blanket. The locals also like to pick up a take-out order from Val’s Rapid Service and enjoy their burgers and fries in the park. We did stop there (more on that in an upcoming post) and I’ll definitely take their advice next time.
After that, Derrick took us on a little detour just over the hill from the park and found two fishermen who were willing to go to new heights (literally) to score a fish. Josh and Steve are clearly okay with taking a few risks while fishing, but Steve wants me to tell you not to actually try this yourself. He’s fallen once and he said it didn’t feel too great.
From here, it’s easy to walk or bike to the shops and restaurants of downtown St. Cloud. The Beaver Island Trail follows the river from Saint Cloud University south to Montrose Road, where it connects with a bike path into downtown Saint Cloud.
We also saw a ton of people, from serious-looking cyclists and power walkers to stroller-pushing moms trailed by kids riding bikes with training wheels along the Mississippi River Trail Bikeway. This trail follows the famous river for 600 miles, starting at its source at Itasca State Park all the way down to the Iowa border. The St. Cloud section is part of the Scenic Mississippi portion that runs 90 miles from Little Falls to Elk River.
Once you’re downtown, there are historic buildings to gaze at and public art to ponder. We ducked into several small shops with intriguing store windows and promising free samples and were seriously tempted by a handful of local restaurants that offered gracious sidewalk bistro table seating. If you’re in the mood to shop, remember that this is a typical small Midwestern city where morning and afternoon are prime shopping times and most places close before dinner.
It was so easy to be active outdoors in St. Cloud. The sidewalks and trails were wide and well-kept and the downtown business district offered lots of interesting places to eat, drink, shop and cool off. And other than lunch, we didn’t spend a cent. You can’t beat that!
What about you? What do you like to see and do in Saint Cloud? What’s your favorite free family-friendly activity?
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