The best things to do in Hastings, Minnesota, with kids and family
Right out the gate, Hastings, Minnesota has the advantage of being a city nestled at the meeting of multiple rivers. The address alone makes Hastings a lovely spot to visit if you’re hoping for a backdrop of bluffs and river valley. Definitely don’t miss the big parks and riverfront, but make sure to make your way into the neighborhoods to find plenty of playgrounds, and scope out the downtown for spots to grab a snack. We’ve included our favorite seasonal attractions near Hastings as well so you can hone in on an ideal time for your family to visit.
Distance from the center of the Minneapolis-St Paul Metro Area: I consider my home in St Paul to be very close to the middle. Hastings is about a half hour drive southeast on US Hwy 61 in light traffic.
Scenic Vermillion Falls
Vermillion Falls Park, 215 21st Street E, Hastings, MN 55033
The Vermillion River and its thundering waterfall gorge are among the prettiest features of Hastings. These alone are worth the 30-minute drive southeast from the middle of the Twin Cities metro – though there is plenty else to hold your attention in Hastings. The impressive spill of water is located within Vermillion Falls Park, conveniently just off the city’s main drag (Hwy 61). There’s plenty of space to spread out in the park, have a picnic, explore the gorge and mysterious mill ruins. Read on for more ways to explore the most scenic parts of Hastings.
More particularly scenic parks in Hastings to explore on bike or foot:
- SPRING LAKE REGIONAL PARK: Hike Schaar’s Bluff Trail for the best views.
- ST CROIX BLUFFS REGIONAL PARK: Maybe a family camp-out is in the cards this summer?
- AFTON STATE PARK: Just about ten miles north of the city of Hastings, Afton State Park offers naturalist programs, including summer Universe in the Park presentations.
Bike the Hastings 10 Mile Scenic Circuit
We chose to close the entire 10-mile loop around the city of Hastings on our day of exploration, but if you’d rather keep your ride shorter and sweeter we’ll let you in on the most scenic spots along the trail:
- Park in the free downtown Hastings lot (101 Sibley Avenue). You’ll be one block or less from jumping on the Mississippi River Regional Trail at Levee Park. Let the kids play with the giant musical instruments, then pedal your way along the river to perhaps catch a boat going through US Lock and Dam #2.
- Bike your way over the dike when the trail takes a sharp left after the Lock and Dam. We observed some interesting birds and waterfowl along here – and more when we reached the top of the scenic overlook (recommended for those who can handle an incline).
- Biking the wooded portion of the trail along the burbling Vermillion River is pretty and peaceful, even near the residential neighborhood.
- Don’t miss Vermillion Falls (on our list of the BEST WATERFALLS IN THE TWIN CITIES for good reason). You could park in Vermillion Falls Park, picnic, then bike your way over the exciting Vermillion River gorge bridge.
We planned our bike trip around the city of Hastings with this fairly easy to follow 10-mile Loop map.
Fun city playgrounds in Hastings
Hastings is a city with no shortage of pretty public parks and green spaces. As we biked through, we noted a few that were unique, particularly kid-friendly and worth a stop:
- LEVEE PARK: About as close as you can get to the river without actually being submerged. It’s fun to watch the boats whizz by and kids will want to perform on the little musical playground. With several downtown restaurants within walking distance, you could bring takeout down to the park’s picnic pavilion. 20 Ramsey Street, Hastings, MN 55033.
- HASTINGS LIONS PARK: Some inventive play equipment you won’t find at your typical neighborhood park. Even us adults enjoyed the zipline-swing hybrid. 1043 5th St W, Hastings, MN 55033.
- DEPOT PARK: It’s almost blink-and-you-miss-it small, but super cute with a train theme and close enough to the depot that you may be able to watch real trains come through (from a safe, fenced-in distance). 414 2nd St E, Hastings, MN 55033.
Taste the best milkshakes at Hastings Dairy Store
1700 Vermillion St, Hastings, MN 55033
Formally known as the Hastings Co-op Creamery, their chocolate shakes are simply THE BEST we’ve ever had. Ice cold and refreshing. A small size is super satisfying and just over a buck the last time we popped in. You can stock up on other dairy treats while you’re at it – cheese curds, anyone?
Carpenter St. Croix Nature Center – monthly kids program
12805 St Croix Trail S, Hastings, MN 55033
The CARPENTER NATURE CENTER is perched on bluffland a couple of miles north of the junction between the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. Hiking trails wind throughout the pines, savanna, prairies, ravines, an apple orchard, and along the river. Especially kid-friendly are the exhibits inside the nature center. Preschool story times($6/child) are offered once a month for kids ages 2-5. These include a nature story, an art or craft project, outdoor exploration, and live animal observation. We keep track of these on our Family Fun Calendar and on our Weekday Family Guide.
Exciting equipment at Extreme Sandbox Heavy Metal Dine-In
1930 Glendale Road, Hastings, MN 55014
The ULTIMATE dinner-and-a-show combo for those who go gaga for big rigs, the Heavy Metal Dine-In is an interactive outdoor event in Hastings that pairs food trucks with the opportunity to watch and even operate real construction equipment. There are mini excavators available for younger construction enthusiasts to play with, too, and sandbox miniatures for the very youngest. Tickets to visit are an affordable $7.50 with add-ons ranging from $10-$40. Food is purchased at the show from the vendors. Shows run through early November.
Seasonal activities in Hastings, Minnesota
Visiting these Hastings attractions will require some advance planning (some more so than others). Please make sure to check the individual websites or call ahead to avoid disappointment.
Le Duc Historic Estate – tours & occasional family events
1629 Vermillion St, Hastings, MN 55033
Here comes the part in every one of our “top 10” city lists where I urge you to check out the local historic site(s). Hastings is no exception. Home to the Civil War-era LeDuc Historic Estate, it’s an interesting tour for adults and worth visiting with kids if a special event is planned. Past examples of these have included Halloween and holiday events and living history summer camps for kids. Keep an eye on the Dakota County Historical Society website for announcements. General tours run mid-May through mid-October, Thurs-Sun. Tours begin at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m. Admission: $6-$10/pp.
Fall apple orchards & harvest activities
The Hastings area is quite the hotbed of apple orchard activity in the Twin Cities south metro. We have visited, and recommend, three orchards to round out a beautiful fall day if you’re planning family time in the area. You can find more choices in our TWIN CITIES APPLE ORCHARD GUIDE.
WHISTLING WELL FARM
The orchard is located about a 12-mile drive from downtown Hastings, Minnesota. With no entrance fee, you are welcome to roam around the farm at your leisure. It’s a more quiet, laid-back experience than many orchards; this one offers farm animals (including chickens, which our kids loved) and apple picking. 8973 St Croix Trail S, Hastings, MN 55033.
Croix Farm Orchard
Croix Farm Orchard is a beautiful apple orchard run for many years by a multi-generational family. Here’s a sampling of some of the ways our FFTC Team families have spent a fall day here: Scouting for apples (pick-your-own and pre-picked), climbing the hay pile, and taking a wagon ride out to the corn maze ($3/pp, weekends only). Unfortunately, the orchard was closed for the 2022 season and future plans are uncertain. Please check back for updates. 12971 St. Croix Trail S, Hastings, MN 55033.
Afton Apple Orchard
There is lots to do here that is included with the admission fee ($5-$7/pp) such as the playground, huge tire mountain and petting farm. We’ve easily made a full day of it just with those diversions and riding the hay wagon into the orchard. There are also separate attractions that require additional admission: Tweens and teens might be drawn to the collection of mazes including 15-acre corn maze ($10-$12 ticket) and you might be tempted to stage a family photo shoot in the seasonal sunflower field ($5 admission). Finally, FRESH SUMMER BERRIES! We’ve made a tradition of visiting Afton Orchard each summer to pick our own strawberries and have been very pleased with the crop. 14421 South 90th Street, Hastings, MN 55033.
Summer swimming in Hastings
Hastings Family Aquatic Center
901 Maple St, Hastings, MN 55033
Make a splash this summer at the Hastings Family Aquatic Center. Fun features at the pool include zero-depth entry and a water play area for the littlest swimmers, two substantial slides for the bigger ones, and umbrellas and deck chairs for those who need a break. Open mid-June through late August. Admission ranges from $7-$9 from 12-5pm; save $2/pp after 5pm. Or, choose to swim Tuesday or Thursday when the pool closes at 5pm and all ages pay $7/pp.
Point Douglas Park & Beach
For those hoping for more of a traditional summer beach swim, try this simple sandy spot. The park sits on the St. Croix River, just above its confluence with the Mississippi. You won’t find playground equipment here, but the tidy beach is situated near a lift bridge that might make for good boat watching. FFTC’s own Joy P. says her family enjoys this park for short picnic stops on their way to Wisconsin (Prescott, WI, is on the other side of the bridge.) Admission to the beach is free.
Little Log House Pioneer Village
21889 Michael Ave, Hastings, MN 55033
I’m an absolute sucker for re-created historical villages so this one outside of Hastings proper is on the top of my living history bucket list. What makes it tricky to check off is the reality that the village (owned, developed and operated by a local couple) invite the public in only one weekend a year. Called the Little Log House Pioneer Village Antique Power Show, this is your big chance to marvel at dozens of restored buildings with ties to local communities plus take in re-enactments, a tractor pull and a parade. Traditionally held the last weekend in July, 8am-5pm daily. Admission is $10/adults, kids 12 & under FREE.
Did we miss any of your favorite things to do in Hastings with kids?
We love to get the inside scoop from readers. Please feel free to leave us a comment or otherwise drop us a note if you know of a great Hastings-area activity to add to this list!