Experience the simple pleasures of fall with with outdoorsy activities in Stillwater, Minnesota (20 miles northeast of downtown Saint Paul).
Go for a gondola ride. Who needs Venice, Italy? Get cozy in the cushioned seats of a Venetian gondola powered by a gondolier wearing a striped shirt and straw hat. For optimal romance, book a dinner package through the Dock Cafe and time a 45-minute gondola ride to watch the moon rise over the St. Croix River (gondolaromantica.com).
Photo courtesy of Gondola Romantica
Take a St. Croix boat cruise. Enjoy frame-worthy views of the St. Croix River Valley aflame in fall color. The St. Croix Boat and Packet Company’s paddle-wheeler takes leaf peepers on a variety of two-hour excursions. One of the most popular options: weekend dinner cruises paired with live Dixieland music (stillwaterriverboats.com).
Photo courtesy of St. Croix Boat and Packet Company
Cruise the new bike trail. Visitors from the Twin Cities can bike the 18-mile Gateway Trail northeast from Saint Paul and branch off at the Duluth Junction (where you can sometimes catch a food truck) then pedal east to Stillwater on the 5.9-mile Brown’s Creek Trail that opened this year. The mostly flat rail-to-trail route winds around parks and golf courses, follows a trout stream for about 2 miles and then parallels the St. Croix River until it reaches Lowell Park in downtown Stillwater (dnr.state.mn.us).
Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR
Taste the season's bounty. Come hungry to Aamodt’s Apple Farm on the southwest edge of Stillwater. Fresh Minnesota apples, apple oatmeal cookies, apple cinnamon doughnuts, fresh cider and pies stock the sprawling 1880s barn. Kids love the goat farm, pedal tractors, hay wagon rides and a hay bale maze (aamodtsapplefarm.com). For a change in perspective, a hot-air balloon lifts off from the farm for views of the St. Croix River Valley and surrounding bluffs (aamodtsballoons.com).
Sip a sweet wine. Next door to Aamodt’s, Saint Croix Vineyards fittingly serves an apple wine, but also pours close to 20 wines showcasing Minnesota-developed grapes, such as fruity Frontenac Gris and oak-aged Marquette. Cap off the tasting with Raspberry Infusion, a rich red that pairs beautifully with dark chocolate. Bring a picnic to pair with the wine and enjoy it at tables overlooking a pond (scvwines.com).
See supersized pumpkins. Watch expert pumpkin carving and see brave souls willing to paddle down the St. Croix in giant carved-out pumpkins at the Harvest Fest and Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off at Lowell Park on October 10 and 11 (harvestfeststillwater.com).
Lisa wrote The Dakotas Off the Beaten Path, which came out this year, and Day Trips from the Twin Cities. She blogs at LisaMcClintick.com.