Looking for an outdoor vacation getaway that the whole family can enjoy? Then you surely will want to hit some of these locations this summer.
There are two "extremes" to summer vacations in Minnesota.
One is the hardcore fishing trip: You and a group of fishing friends, heading up north to the big woods waters or out west to the prairie lakes or down to the river, boats in tow and tackle loaded up and ready to rock and roll. This is serious fishing, often for walleyes, but sometime targeting bass (largemouth or smallmouth) or pike. Other species may make the target list, but usually it's one of Minnesota's "Big 4" that get the lion's share of the attention.
The other is the family vacation. This type of getaway is important too. It's about being together, enjoying the longest days of the year and the warm weather, leaving hardcore sporting attitudes behind and spending some good time relaxing with the people you love most. It's the kind of vacation a family group needs, and the hope is that something for everybody will make the itinerary list.
But there is in fact a middle ground — a third kind of summer vacation that doesn't lean all one way or the other. It is, quite simply, the classic Minnesota Family Fishing Vacation, and the idea is this. There are plenty of places where the fishing is good and a family can haul in some of Minnesota's game fish or panfish part of the day, but at the same time there's also plenty of other entertainment and activities to keep everybody happy.
Fortunately, our state is filled with places offering good fishing prospects, as well as the opportunity for family fun. Here are five suggestions to help you plan your Minnesota Family Fishing Vacation, summer 2018 style.
With a dense concentration of lakes, ample fishing opportunity, plenty of resorts and a quaint, but bustling town to boot, the Nisswa area is prime for a family fishing vacation. You get a Northwoods feel, but nobody feels remote.
While walleyes are king here, as they are anywhere in Minnesota, it is the bass fishing and panfishing that really make the Nisswa area shine. These fish are cooperative for anglers of all ages, and where regulations allow, you can keep enough for a memorable fish fry. That's always a treat on any family vacation.
North Long, Gull, Round, Hubert, Edward and the Cullen Chain are all excellent, fertile lakes where you can keep busy catching bass and panfish in the morning and evenings, while having plenty more to do during the day.
Along the Way: The Nisswa area is only 140 miles from the Metropolitan area, and that's a strong selling point too, if you have impatient youngsters along for the ride. It also makes this a good choice if you're doing a short vacation; you won't spend all your time driving.
Non-fishing activities include biking (try the Paul Bunyan State Trail), golf (courses abound), shopping (downtown Nisswa is worth a couple of afternoons of wandering, with great food options too), ziplining (Brainerd Zip Line Tours)and even a brewery (Gull Dam Brewhouse). Visit the Nisswa Area Historical Society to learn about the area's storied past.
Check out Nisswa vacation opportunities and activities at nisswa.com. One of the area resorts would be the perfect place to base a family fishing vacation.
MILLE LACS AREA
Sometimes Minnesota's second-biggest lake seems to fall down the line as a family vacation spot.
Maybe it's because the region is an easy drive from the Metropolitan area, and some folks want to head farther north for their getaway. Perhaps it's due to sheer size of the lake itself — the first explorers to its shores did for a moment consider that it might be the Pacific Ocean when they first reached the lake's eastern shores.
It's natural to start with the fishing attraction of Mille Lacs. The lake's walleyes are legendary, and a family can easily catch some fish on slip-bobber rigs on a reef on a calm evening. Every Minnesota kid needs to be able to say that he or she has caught a walleye! The lake's famous smallmouth bass bite willingly and aggressively — just get on a rocky bar and drop down a simple split shot rig baited with leech or nightcrawler. Or head into any weedy bay with sucker minnows and bobbers to catch some hard-hitting northern pike.
Watch The Video Gallery Above To Help you Improve Your Family Fishing Fun!
Along the Way: Other family recreational options are extensive here too. Many people just think of the lake as a fishing hole and nothing else, but there's a lot more going on.
Iconic resorts abound on Mille Lacs — places like Appledoorn's, Izaty's, Twin Pines, Nitti's Hunters Point, Eddy's, Rocky Reef, Agate Bay, Fisher's, Chapman's and others.
What else to do? Well, Grand Casino Mille Lacs is excellent for a night out for the grownups. Two of Minnesota's most beautiful state parks — Father Hennepin and Mille Lacs-Kathio — are there for the exploring. The beach at Father Hennepin is a wonderful place to spend a sunny afternoon. The Mille Lacs Soo line Trail is great for family biking.
Onamia, Isle, Wahkon, Malmo and Garrison are fun little towns to explore. Take a family picture by one of the walleye statues at Isle or Garrison. And good golf courses are available at Northwood Hills, Fiddlestix and Izaty's.
BIG STONE AREA
Those who love western Minnesota know the region is one of the state's best-kept secrets when it comes to summer fishing and family vacations. Far out on the South Dakota border, the Big Stone Lake area, with Ortonville as area headquarters, is a great place to experience something different than "up north."
First, of course, there's Big Stone Lake itself. This fertile, 26-mile-long, mile-wide body of water serves as headwaters for the Minnesota River, and is an excellent perch and bluegill fishery. That's good news for the family interested in just catching some fish. If you want to chase walleyes in the evenings, have at it. Big Stone has a good population of marble-eyes. Pike bite there too. Sheepshead are always willing biters, and just fun to catch.
Along the Way: There's a lot more than just fishing going on in the Big Stone area: swimming, golfing, boating, biking, birding — and one of my personal favorites — prairie exploration.
Biking is just right for families along a 12.3-mile paved segment of the Minnesota River State Trail. Visit the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge and get a taste for what the "prairie primeval" in western Minnesota was really like. There's water galore for waterfowl viewing, and even glacial boulders out in the middle of nowhere on the huge prairie.
Tour the Big Stone County Historical Museum and see how early sodbusters survived out here.
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There are two hotels in Ortonville, and resort options are plentiful, including Rustling Elms, Schmidt's Landing, Cramer's and the Lakeshore RV Park. Options exist across the lake in South Dakota too.
And don't forget to visit Big Stone State Park for hiking, swimming and picnics. You could also base a camping vacation out of this gem of a park on our western border.
Stop in at the Big Stone Lake Area Chamber Office and Visitor Center located at the intersections of U.S. Highways 12 and 75.
SOUTHEAST TROUT CAMPING
You don't need to have, haul or rent a boat to conduct a great family fishing vacation. Minnesota's three southeastern Hill Country state parks with trout fishing — Whitewater, Beaver Creek Valley, and Forestville/Mystery Cave — all fit the bill.
No matter which park you visit, fishing is easy if you rig up with a medium-sized split shot and a simple size 8 hook. Use nightcrawler halves for bait where legal; be sure to check regulations for special stream rules and bag limits.
Picturesque limestone bluffs and deep ravines make Whitewater a very popular southeastern state park. This 2,700-acre gem is an angler's paradise with brown, brook, and rainbow trout swimming in the spring-fed Whitewater River and in Trout Run Creek.
Also nestled in the Blufflands, Beaver Creek Valley State Park is known for its clear streams fed by the "Big Spring." Its streams are home to brown and native brook trout that are there for the catching by families.
Three blue-ribbon trout streams offer fishing options for the family at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park: The South Branch of the Root River, Forestville Creek, and Canfield Creek.
Along the Way: There's a sandy swimming beach at Whitewater State Park, a visitor center, easy-to-challenging hiking trails, and great camping.
Whitewater is famous for its many interpretive programs where the whole family can discover the wildlife resources as well as the natural history of the area. Visitor center exhibits and self-guided trails enhance this tradition.
In spring, wildflowers blanket the woodland hills and valleys of Beaver Creek Valley State Park, attracting migratory songbirds like the rare Acadian flycatcher, Cerulean warbler, and Louisiana waterthrush. These birds nest in the park, which is a birder's paradise in summer too. A hiking trail meanders along the stream and up into a maple, basswood and oak forest. Campers are lulled to sleep by the murmuring stream.
Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park offers families natural wonders below ground and above! In the summer, beat the heat with a visit below ground. Explore the world of Mystery Cave with its stalactites, stalagmites, and underground pools. Park naturalists provide tours of the cave throughout the summer. The temperature stays at a constant 48 degrees Fahrenheit.
Above ground, visit historic Forestville, a restored 1800s village operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. Take a hike and observe all the bird life as well as interesting geologic features along the way including bluffs, sinkholes, and dramatic Big Spring.
RIVER HOUSEBOAT ADVENTURE
For a once-in-a-lifetime family fishing vacation that might become an every-summer event, rent a houseboat and ply the fish-filled waters of Minnesota's biggest river, the Mississippi.
The beauty of river fishing is, you never know what you are going to catch! Glide into a backwater area and bobber fish for bluegills. Find a weedy backwater bay and cast for pike, or throw plugs or toss worms for bass. Get in a river eddy and locate some walleyes. Bottom-fish for catfish at night. Load up the fridge with many dozens of nightcrawlers and rig up some rods with slip-sinker rigs for the river proper, and others with bobber rigs for backwaters and you're set.
Along the Way: Taking one look at the Mississippi River will generally cause a sense of awe and amazement at the sheer size and power of such a huge body of water. The Upper Mississippi River presents one of the best houseboating waters in the United States, right in our back yard. With an unimaginable acreage of water, hundreds of miles of shoreline, numerous islands, and amazing river town communities to discover, the Upper Mississippi is a gem that truly is one of the our best-kept secrets.
River towns to visit, and miles of uninhabited pure sand beaches, combine to form an amazing opportunity best seen via houseboat.
Taking a houseboating vacation is the equivalent of renting a hotel room in one of these charming vacation river towns. The only difference is the family can still sleep in comfort in the air conditioning, cook your own meals or dine out, while enjoying the serenity of the water, all while visiting multiple charming towns and amazingly pure, clean beaches and sandbars by day.
Two houseboat rental options are Great River Houseboats and Fun 'N the Sun, both at the Alma Marina in Wisconsin, just across from Kellogg, Minnesota.
In Minnesota, the words "family," "fishing" and "vacation" go hand-in-hand. Think a little outside the box and give one of these five suggestions a try this summer. You'll catch some fish and fun — and some lifetime family memories as well — in the process.