Though they've only been leading paddling tours for a few years, the certified guides of Stand Up MN have already helped thousands of people explore the Twin Cities' local waterways up close. After equipping their guests with standup paddleboards, personal flotation devices, and ample training, they embark on trips along the quiet stretch of the Mississippi River that cuts through their urban landscape.
From St. Paul, groups glide under bridges and pass idyllic natural areas—and from Minneapolis, they can take a break from paddling to high-five low-flying birds from a rope swing over the water. Stand Up MN also leads extended paddling tours to Taylors Falls, where state parks and tumbling waterfalls abound. These excursions are complemented by the company's special events, which include speed-dating events at which participants spend most of the time hanging out while paddleboarding.
Dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the state?s storied past, the Minnesota Historical Society dutifully curates 26 historic sites and museums that help visitors delve into days of yore?from the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids to the Jeffers Petroglyphs in Comfrey and Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore.
Explore the Minnesota History Center?s collection of artifacts, local artworks, and hands-on exhibits at the History Center in St. Paul, from Civil War battle flags to Prince's suit from Purple Rain. Temporary exhibits include American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, on display through March 16, and Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s, opening May 24. Mill City Museum in Minneapolis chronicles the linked histories of the flour industry, Minneapolis, and the Mississippi River, sending visitors through history as they traverse each floor on an eight-story elevator ride that depicts a working day at the mill. As a bonus, baking-lab demonstrations produce balmy bread samples and historically accurate stomach rumbles.
Several years ago, Ken Smith and Chase Williams were typical door-to-door salesmen. In need of a gimmick to boost sales and a quicker mode of transport, the duo tried riding Segways and immediately fell in love. Eventually, they turned their love for the two-wheeled transporter into their current venture, All American Segway. Their company provides all manner of Segway engagement, including guided Segway tours that offer rolling educations in local history and wildlife. Customers can also discover the revolutionary devices on their own by renting out Segways for recreational use, private parties, or as a friend for a lonely office chair or shopping cart.
Over the past five-plus decades, Vista Fleet has entertained some six million passengers from all around the world. Today, the family-owned company sets sail on a pair of luxurious vessels: the Vista Star and the Vista Queen. After their early-morning Pilates classes, the two ships carry passengers across Lake Superior during sightseeing tours, dinner parties, and twilight cruises. All the while, Vista Fleet's staff members liven up the journeys with a mix of entertaining facts and games. They also point out iconic landmarks passing by, such as the Aerial Lift Bridge and the historic Canal Park.
The Ice Castles? creator, Brent Christensen, and a team of ice artists are currently transforming more than 15,000 tons of ice into full-fledged castles in three locations. Once completed, the towering structures of ice and shimmering light are open for exploration. Guests are free to view the organically grown ice towers, tunnels, caves and caverns at their own pace. In daytime, the castles glimmer in the sun; come nightfall, thousands of LED lights create an ethereal glow from within.
Today, the castles delights visitors of all ages, but the idea came from Brent Christensen?s winter playtimes with his kids. They had already made ice rinks, ice caves, and other chilly creations when Brent decided to build a fort entirely out of ice, using icicles as the base structure. The kids dubbed the structure an ?ice castle??and it started to look more and more like one as Brent added a cave, tunnels, and a slide that spilled onto an ice-skating rink. Eventually, cars started detouring to their block to drive past the creation, and local snowmen inquired about home prices. But the idea truly took off when a local resort asked him to build a larger ice castle for them. He?s built ice castles every winter since, including one in the winter of 2010?2011 that was featured in the Denver Post and called ?a frosty, fairy-tale-like landscape? by the Los Angeles Times.
Outdoor enthusiasts Dan and Sandra Meer equip adventurers with canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards to explore a 60-mile stretch of the Mississippi River whose picturesque shores have been designated wild and scenic by the Department of Natural Resources. “One group we sent out on just a two- or three-hour trip counted 12 eagles,” Dan says, marveling at the myriad wild turkeys, muskrats, and deer that often congregate along the protected waterway to gossip about bald eagles’ unconvincing hair plugs. Gleaming schools of small-mouth bass lure fishermen to the rippling waters, and plentiful sandbars and shallow depths also beckon younger explorers. “We want to get kids involved,” says Dan—himself a former Boy Scout and now the father of two more Scouts. “Get them away from their screens.”
He and his wife entice those youths, and older adventurers as well, with day trips in canoes and kayaks whose hulls are made in nearby Wenonah. For overnight jaunts down the river, the couple rents both vessels and camping gear, and at their store—housed in an old creamery building on the riverbank—they sell new and used canoes and kayaks to dedicated paddlers who know the river so well they can fall asleep while swimming across it.