In 1977, Mark and Joan Hemker began with a simple dream: to own a zoo. Starting with just a few waterfowl, they soon amassed a collection of animals from around the world. After Mark passed away in 2006, Joan and their four children took up his mantle, keeping his legacy alive through Hemker Park & Zoo. Today, the family-friendly park introduces visitors of all ages to global wildlife with more than 50 animal species. Residents include giant tortoises, an 8-foot boa constrictor, sleek kangaroos, and inquisitive monkeys and lemurs. There's also a Budgie Buddy House where tiny birds alight on visitors' shoulders and two New Guinea singing dogs who never, ever do autographs. Seasonal events, such as kids' zoo camps and the Close Encounters program, let visitors touch and feed certain animals under the guidance of professional educators for an even more intimate experience.
Fargo Air Museum began taking flight in the late 1990s, when a group of local military folks, pilots, and aircraft restorers realized they weren't alone in their passion for aviation. They opened the first hangar in 2001, and the museum has continued to grow ever since. Today, visitors can marvel at?but not feed?various aircraft on display, including a Wright Flyer replica, Huey helicopter, and a B-25 Mitchell Bomber. Most of the exhibits pay homage to the men and women who operated these machines, including a mural depicting a century's worth of legendary pilots and planes. But not everything here is anchored to the ground: the museum boasts a full roster of flyable planes, and an on-site simulator puts pilots-in-the-making behind the controls.
When woodcarver Kim Bredeson crafted a mantel for an employee of the Robert Mondavi Winery, he received a bottle of Opus One as thanks. For Kim and his wife, Tami, the bottle uncorked a five-year fascination with wine that culminated in the Bredeson's purchase of Carlos Creek Winery. On grounds surrounded by five lakes—Ida, L'Homme Dieux, Miltona, Darling and Carlos—the Bredeson's plant unorthodox grape varieties such as King of the North and Petite Pearl, all of which can withstand temperatures 30 degrees and below. Those grapes eventually yield Carlos Creek Winery's award-winning wines, including the riesling-like Wobegon White and the pinot noir-inspired Marquette, a triple gold medal winner at the sixth annual Mid-American Wine Competition.
As Kim leads tours of the vineyards and complementary tours through Carlos Creek Winery's indoor production area and wine cellar, the staff distributes samples and souvenir tasting glasses in the tasting room. Guests can tap their toes to year-round live music every weekend or explore the winery's expansive grounds, which include bike trails, a 3.5-acre maze, and a giant garden chess set, ideal for convincing Bobby Fischer he's shrinking. Every third weekend of September, Kim and Tami amp up the festivities with their Grape Stomp and Fall Festival, where visitors can stomp grapes, admire blown glass and chainsaw carvings, and laugh along to live comedy shows.
In celebration of its hearty, handcrafted wines, Glacial Ridge Winery hosts the Annual Grape Stomp amid the five acre apple orchard on its grounds. Duos can flash VIP sipping passports valid for express check-in to receive a pair of personal wine glasses, and saunter up to tasting stations throughout the grounds, where they may each sample 12 of the winery's specialty flavors, including the denim-overalls varietal. Crafted on-site, these wines range from the complex and smoky Green Lake Girl cabernet and the Sippin' From a Slipper white wine—a silver medal winner at the 2010 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition—to the sweet Jimmy Appleseed apple wine, which is concocted from a blend of five apples plucked from the on-site apple orchard. In addition to the tasting, the Grape Stomp hosts live music and a grape-stomping contest in which participants team up to plod through buckets of future wine.
The prairies southwest of St. Cloud are mostly known for corn and soybeans. But the growers at Hinterland Vineyards have turned those fertile fields into the incubators of award-winning wines, growing both white and red varietals to use in their house blends. Their Happy Creek Red was named Best Off-Dry Red at the 2013 Mid-American Wine Competition, and La Crescent, a semi-dry white, earned a Best of Class nod at the 2013 International Women's Wine Competition. At the on-site winery, guests can sample these and other vino varieties while nibbling appetizers or listening to live music on select nights of the week. Hinterland also serves microbrew beers for guests who prefer beverages made from browner, fizzier grapes instead.
With more than 1,200 acres of private wilderness, El Rancho Ma?ana Campground makes an ideal place to calm the mind or find inspiration. It's also the perfect setting for cOMmon grounds Yoga and Music Festival. The event draws in some of the best yoga instructors and musicians in the midwest, along with countless others who stretch during yoga workshops in many different styles. Drum circles and other musical performances set the tone during these sessions, while Long Lake's beachfront often supplies the scenery.
Other activities take visitors out into the peaceful wilderness, where miles of biking and hiking trails weave through the trees. The grounds even accommodate horseback riding?provided visitors can bring a horse or summon one with enchanted apples. Of course, the communal activities remain the biggest draw. In addition to yoga and music, the festival brings in organic food vendors and runs kid-friendly activities such as yoga classes and painting.