The sails of the 31-foot sloop Messenger wave in the wind during Sail Pepin’s outings. The staff and crew man the vessel for fun family outings, romantic cruises, sailing lessons, and team-building programs. At their location in the historic Breakwater Building on Lake Pepin’s waterfront, they also entertain guests with a wine bar, coffee shop, and live music.
Approximately 6,000 years ago, when Sumerian scholars were devising some of mankind's first mathematic systems, a mile-thick sheet of ice began to melt half a world away in the region known today as Minnesota. Slowly, the glacier shrank and poured gallons of water into the land around it, leaving behind gorgeous rock formations dotted with artistic ridges and eye-catching striations. Perhaps most notable of these formations is a structure that resembles a cross, which inspired settlers to name its surrounding river St. Croix, or "holy cross."
Today, modern humans can catch a glimpse of these awesome sights thanks to Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours. The company's two paddlewheel boats—the 250-seater Princess and the 149-seater The Queen —feature enclosed lower levels and open-air upper decks, allowing for an unobstructed view of not only the stone cross, but also the formations known as Lion's Head, Turk's Head, and The Old Man of the Dalles, so named for its resemblance to a man's weathered face and its likelihood to repeat old stories about the Cretaceous Period. A licensed boat pilot acts as tour guide, directing guests' attention to each instance of natural beauty on a variety of tours, which range from 80-minute daytime excursions to two-hour dinner cruises replete with a gourmet meal and live entertainment.
Ever since the Fawn-Doe-Rosa Wildlife Educational Park's opening in 1963, the deer inside have had terrible manners—no matter how many times they've eaten out of a visitor's hand, they refuse to say "thank you." Most people don't hold it against them, though. They're too busy wandering the woodland yard, petting its free-roaming occupants and keeping an eye out for other species. Aside from deer, the park houses elk, ducks, farmyard animals, and even predators in separate enclosures, including a grizzly bear and a mountain lion.
Many of these animals were hand-raised by the park's owners, who work with conservation organizations, rehabilitation experts, and the USDA to ensure the critters' comfort. By allowing visitors to get up close to their friendly, four-legged residents, they hope to make each trip a learning experience, one that connects humans with nature and sparks an interest in its preservation. They also host group tours that touch on wildlife facts, as well as pony rides for children training for a 21st-century revival of the Pony Express mail service.
Taking its name from its location along the Eau Claire River and Lake Eau Claire, EC Adventures commands a fleet of kayaks and canoes for visiting explorers. The lake bisects the river into two forks, with a different adventure waiting at each end. On the South Fork, calm waters carry paddlers north from Coon Fork County Park, offering beginners and families the chance to calmly enjoy the forested surroundings. The North Fork runs from the Lake Eau Claire Dam to Lake Altoona, where the waters hit a brisk tempo, breaking into small patches of rapids. Visitors may also enjoy the lake itself, follow a map provided for lake trips to secluded islands, sunny beaches, and patches of water frequented by indigenous fish.
A row of neatly trimmed trees lines either side of the winding driveway that leads up to the stately clubhouse at Kilkarney Hills Golf Course, welcoming visitors to its verdant grounds. Ever since players began spraying drives and rolling putts over the 18-hole course in 1994, the club has filled the space with similar congenial flourishes, including flower beds and a central lake fountain. After players hole out and exchange secret handshakes on the 18th green, they can head for drinks at the course bar, complete with a veranda where they can watch the sunset.
In the open autumn air at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Twin Cities Oktoberfest celebrates all that is German during its two days of festivities. Throughout the weekend, live bands such as the Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 30-piece wind-instrument outfit, and The Squires Band, a four-piece band with 30 years of experience, entertain guests with traditional German harmonies and live renditions of the ER theme song. Between shows, audience members peruse vendors' booths, noshing on brats and German snacks. Beer from Summit and wine from Pedroncelli flow into glasses, keeping guests lingering into the evening hours as they discuss the latest in lederhosen fashion.
Held aloft by 35 years of family tradition, Stillwater Balloon sends intrepid explorers skyward from a port just off the scenic St. Croix River. Friendly FAA-certified pilots operate each craft and readily answer any questions that passengers may have as they float through gorgeous views of the surrounding valley. The billowy, multicolored behemoths cruise at treetop level, allowing travelers to shake hands with monkeys. Private and semiprivate flights are the business's forte, but Stillwater Balloon also accommodates custom flights for backyard surprises or ultimate school pickups.