When polling readers on their favorite day-trip destinations from the Twin Cities, several of them suggested the lovely St Croix River Valley town of Taylors Falls, an easy hour-long drive from the Metro. It was fate that I had just returned from a jaunt there with two of my four children, fresh and already inspired to highlight some of the fun family activities we’ve enjoyed in the area over the past several years. Note that this is primarily an outdoors itinerary. Grab your sturdy shoes and cross your fingers for gorgeous weather to make the most of this day trip around Taylors Falls:
Discover the Pothole Trail at Interstate State Park
Milltown Road, Taylors Falls, MN 55084
Family fun: Keep your little ones close and you can have a great (if quite alert) time exploring the natural potholes that dot the cliffs along the rushing St. Croix River. My 3-year-old wanted to climb every rock staircase she could find and gaze into the depths of such geological marvels as the “Bake Oven” and the “Bottomless Pit”. The Pothole Trail is an easy walk from the parking lot, but there are a great number of steps to navigate in order to reach the best vistas. If you’ve got pre-walkers in the group, we recommend a hiking backpack.
Fall is an especially glorious time to visit the park and catch the fall colors in the river gorge. To experience other areas of Interstate, our family has camped overnight, geocached (check out a free GPS unit from the park office), and taken a paddle boat ride up the St Croix on the “Taylors Falls Princess”. Open daily, year-round. There is a $7 per vehicle day permit to explore Interstate State Park.
Wisconsin Interstate State Park
1275 State Highway 35, St Croix Falls, WI 54024
Family fun: Placidly sharing a border with the river to the east lies Wisconsin’s Interstate State Park. The attractions, scenery and geology mirrors most of what you will find on the Minnesota side with a few notable exceptions. Points go to Wisconsin for having a sandy swimming beach on Lake O’ the Dalles. It’s always a win if the kids can swim. There’s also a diversion called the Ice Age Interpretive Center that’ll give you an idea of how the park’s signature potholes were formed. Cost to enter the park is $8-$11 for a daily vehicle permit.
Franconia Sculpture Park
29836 St Croix Trail, Shafer, MN 55074
Family fun: What’s cool and uniquely child-friendly at Franconia Sculpture Park is that visitors are encouraged to interact with the art. Children are naturals at this — and there are many sculptures in the 43-acre park that they are free to clamber over, crawl through, and swing from! Note that sculptures are frequently swapped out as new resident artists are brought in annually to create art onsite. The sculptures you see in our photos are likely not what you will encounter, but rather give you an idea of the often playful and interactive spirit of Franconia. Open daily, year-round. Free admission for a self-guided tour or free guided tours on Sundays, 2pm, early May-late Oct.
Fresh picks at Pleasant Valley Orchard
17325 Pleasant Valley Rd, Shafer, MN 55074
Family fun: On our very first strawberry-picking venture years back with our young family, we had the good taste to choose Pleasant Valley Orchard. The berries were so fresh and fantastic we still refer to them as the best we’ve ever tasted. Not a morsel made it the trip back home.
The orchard is also open for apple picking, a pumpkin patch and other activities in the fall. Drive time to or from Taylors Falls is about 10-15 minutes. Admission to the orchard is free.
The Drive In Restaurant & Mini Golf
572 Bench Street Taylors Falls, MN 55084
It’s possible the joint hasn’t changed noticeably from its opening day in 1956. Carhops outfitted in poodle skirts serve up baskets of burgers and fries, the root beer is brewed onsite, and the music piped in takes you back to a different era. If your kids are old enough, they might play a round of Adventure Falls Mini Golf (also onsite) while you savor a sundae at the outdoor counter and reflect on all the family fun packed into this Minnesota-Wisconsin border town. Open mid-April through mid-October.
Wild Mountain’s Alpine Slide & Waterpark
37200 Wild Mountain Rd Taylors Falls MN 55084
Family fun: Wild Mountain has the monopoly on four seasons of fun in Taylors Falls.Below is evidence of a fall family swoop down the 1,700 ft Alpine Slide – enjoying the autumn colors of the St. Croix River Valley along the way. Riders have control of how quickly the sled descends through more than 20 banks, so breathe easy while the big kids coast solo. Kids between 36″-54″ can ride free on the lap of a paid adult. Cost for adults or kids over 54″ is $9.99/single ride plus tax.
Visit during the summer months and splash the day away at Wild Mountain’s waterpark (tube slides, lazy river, kiddie splash zone all included) or get behind the wheel at the go-kart track. Packages are available if you’d like to mix and match attractions.
Twice we’ve used Wild Mountain’s Wildwood RV Park & Campground as a base for our explorations around the Taylors Falls area. Big and little give it up thumbs up for a great family camping experience. Quick skip down to the next entry for more about campground amenities.
Finally, for those winter enthusiasts, Wild Mountain is notable for its ski slopes and snow tubing hill ($19-$21/pp for a 2-hour session).
Cheap mini-golf and swimming at Wildwood RV Park & Campground
20078 Lake Blvd, Shafer, MN 55074
Family fun: Though we chose the campground as our lodging in Taylors Falls, you need not be a guest to drop by and play. The mini golf is a no-frills course, but you can’t beat the price ($3) for 18 holes. Plus, there’s a playground adjacent if you’ve got kids too young to putt. Take a dip in the campground’s swimming pool for $5 more, a budget alternative to the waterpark down the road.
Fawn-Doe-Rosa Wildlife Park
2131 US Hwy 8 St. Croix Falls, WI 54024
Family fun: We like to slow our family’s tempo in Taylors Falls down a bit with a trip to Fawn-Doe-Rosa. Its mission is to care for and educate the public about the park’s resident animals. My kids tend to slow their tread on the paths and lower their voices as they encounter the critters. In many cases, they are encouraged to get hands-on with them. Meet farm animals, wild animals, and the most peaceful yard of deer this side of a Disney flick. You can even feed them.
Open early May-October. Admission is $8.50/ages 2-12 & $9.50/adults – making this not a bargain outing, but one you can feel good about knowing much of the cost goes towards the care of these lovely creatures.
Delicious donuts at Lindstrom Bakery
12830 Lake Blvd, Lindstrom, MN 55045
Family fun: We stumbled upon this sweet little Scandanavian bakery on, get this, National Donut Day! True story. And good thing we were able to scrape together enough change for a treat — Lindstrom Bakery accepts only cash or checks — because these donuts are melt-in-your-mouth good. On your cruise through Lindstrom en route to Taylors Falls, keep an eye out for the tall yellow relic of a sign.
Know of a hidden gem near Taylors Falls? Please drop us a line so we can add it to the list. Happy travels!