In an effort to see more of our own backyard, we spent a couple days of our kids’ fall break exploring Greater St. Cloud, located in central Minnesota. It did not disappoint! There was a lot to see and do with teens in this area. With the autumn leaves changing, it made for a beautiful time to visit!
First, a confession: I’ve been to St. Cloud many times, but I have always been there for a purpose, like a meeting or a college visit. I’ve never actually taken the time to explore what the area has to offer in terms of entertainment and scenery. And to further out myself, it never even occurred to me to do that before now. Now I know better. St Cloud has the Mississippi River. It is a gateway to northern Minnesota, but so much easier for Twin Cities residents to access than some farther flung northern destinations.
Thanks to Visit Greater St Cloud for sponsoring our visit. All opinions are our own.
Exploring in St. Cloud
We started our trip by exploring St. Cloud, a small city of about 68,000 people located about 80 miles north and west of the Twin Cities. It’s location on the Mississippi River makes for beautiful scenery. Below is a sampling of our explorations.
Beaver Island Trail Extension
The Beaver Island Trail borders the Mississippi River for several miles through the city. We explored on the newest stretch of the trail that starts near downtown.
It’s a paved trail that makes for easy walking. It’s also dotted with historical information about the people and development of the area. I have to say, it was just beautiful seeing all the fall colors in mid-October.
Downtown St. Cloud
We spent a little time in downtown St. Cloud after lunch, walking off a delicious but filling meal. Our main stop was Books Revisited. We love bookstores, so that stop was a no-brainer. It was a lovely store with an impressive selection of books.
From there we were eager to stretch our legs some more, so we just took in the sights a bit. There were plenty of great shops to check out, offering clothing, art, and games. The restored Paramount Theater also seemed to be in its prime. We did not go in, but it looked fantastic from the outside.
Quarry Park and Nature Reserve
Our final morning in the area was spent at Quarry Park and Nature Reserve. St. Cloud’s nickname is “Granite City,” named after the many granite quarries in the area. One such quarry has been reclaimed as a nature reserve full of recreational opportunities, including hiking, biking, swimming, scuba diving, fishing, and rock climbing. There is also historical information available on the history of quarrying in the area.
We spent time walking the trails on the west side of the park, including the overlook. So scenic and beautiful with the autumn colors! I’m sure it’s equally spectacular year round.
Exploring in Collegeville
Collegeville is a small town about 20 minutes outside St. Cloud. It’s most famous as being the home of St. John’s University. We didn’t explore in town, but we did check out a few must-see places for fall while we were in the area.
When we pulled up to Collegeville Orchards, it was jam packed with school field trips and a senior tour. We didn’t end up spending much time at this adorable orchard as a result, but we did enjoy it despite the crowds. They offered apples (of course), a cute store, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, and a petting zoo, among other attractions.
Last year I waited until October 30 to get a pumpkin. Needless to say, the selection was virtually nonexistent by then. So this year I let our daughter pick a pumpkin. As is her character, she picked the biggest one she could lift. All 32 pounds of it. 🙂
Stella Maris Chapel Trail
I was not familiar with the Stella Maris Chapel trail before it was pointed out to us by Visit Greater St. Cloud. It’s a lovely trail that starts at the Lake Sagatagan beach and follows along the lake to the Stella Maris Chapel, a small chapel built for gatherings and reflection. Needless to say, it was gorgeous in the fall. Many families and college students were taking in the views while we were there, and who could blame them?
St. John’s Abbey
If you find yourself in the area, a visit to St. John’s Abbey is a must! It is an iconic structure that is the focal point of the St. John’s Campus. A visit inside may not seem overly special, but walk to the altar of the church and look back toward the front door. The stained glass windows are simply magnificent! Even if you are not Catholic or religiously inclined, it’s hard not to be impressed by this place.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson St. Cloud West, located in Waite Park. It was a super convenient location for all of the sites we saw, and if you need to do some shopping while you’re there (like we did, buying new swimsuits to take advantage of the hotel pool!), it’s right in the heart of the action.
Our room was lovely, the complimentary breakfast was delicious, and the service was fantastic!
Where to Eat
We had several great meals on our Greater St. Cloud adventure!
Dinner on our first night was at Crooked Pint Ale House. I had moderate expectations for this restaurant, but their food exceeded my expectations. A lot. We all loved the deep fried pickle spears! They had a little bit of spice to them.
And my son had his first Juicy Lucy, which he loved. For those not indoctrinated into the Lucy culture (probably most those who haven’t lived in or near Minneapolis), a Lucy is a hamburger with hot (like the temperature, not spicy) melted cheese stuffed in the middle.
Brunch on our second day as at Park Diner in Waite Park. We are huge diner fans, and this one did not disappoint.
The kids got old-school caramel malts where the extras are served in the metal blender cup. I don’t know what kind of ice cream they used, but the malts were so creamy and delicious! And our food, typical diner fare, was great.
Dinner on our second night was House of Pizza, delivered to our hotel room.
By the end of a long day we were ready to chill out a bit and relax. And get to the pool and hot tub that much sooner. House of Pizza is a local favorite, and I can see why. We really liked it.
Brunch the next day was at Brigitte’s Cafe. Another local institution, Brigitte’s was a cafe straight out of my childhood, which I loved.
I had eggs, bacon, and toast, and it hit the spot after a morning of exploring Quarry Park.
One more food tip: On Interstate 94 on the way to St. Cloud from Minneapolis is the Clearwater Travel Plaza at the Highway 24 exist, which houses Nelson’s Bakery. This bakery has an amazing array of pies, pastries, and other deliciousness. Most notable are the rolls and donuts that are about the size of your head. To prove I occasionally show some self-restraint, below is a picture of my modest-sized red velvet donut.
There was much more on the itinerary that we also could have taken in, but alas, household responsibilities were beckoning. I would love to see Munsinger Gardens in the summer and spent more time on the Beaver Island trails and in Quarry Park. I would love to see a show at the Paramount Theater sometime. And maybe my kids will be game to take campus tours of the local universities. Luckily, the area is close enough to us that we can easily get there any time!
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