St. Cloud, about 70 miles up the Mississippi River from the Twin Cities, hums with a youthful vibe as home to several colleges, rocking concerts at Lake George, Beaver Islands paddles, and back-to-nature granite quarries anchoring scenic parks. Check out some of our favorite things to do.

Mississippi paddles Enjoy easy paddling on one of the Mississippi River's wild and scenic stretches. Rent or put in your own kayak or canoe below the dam and University Bridge and head into the Beaver Islands where you may nab a rustic island camping spot (first to arrive gets it) or continue 15 miles downriver to Clearwater for a two- to three-hour trip. Rent a fishing kayak if you want to snag some of the area's famed smallmouth bass along the way. Stop at Clearwater Travel Plaza for signature fruit fritter breads sold fresh or made into French toast with a side of local wild rice sausage.

Kayak Mississippi
Kayaking on the Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Visit Greater St. Cloud.

Munsinger and Clemens Gardens Two adjacent gardens draw visitors to a riverside location across from St. Cloud State University. Munsinger Gardens, site of a sawmill in the 1880s, now features shady, meandering paths, greenhouses and flowerbeds. Uphill, Clemens Gardens' flowery spectacle explodes with formal designs, full sun and brick paths that draw up to 3,000 people a day during peak blooms. Hundreds of fragrant rose varieties, along with color-themed gardens and elegant fountains, span more than two city blocks. Both are free and connect beneath University Bridge to Riverside Park's splash pad, playground and disc golf course.

Clemens Garden
Clemens Garden. Photo by Lisa Meyers McClintick.

Quarry Park and Nature Preserve Locals head to this 643-acre park when they want to cool off on sizzling days, seek wildflowers such as lady's slippers and cactus blossoms, or enjoy fall's golden aspens and bronzed oaks reflected in water-filled quarries. The park is a favorite destination for adventure-lovers, with hiking, rock-climbing, mountain biking, trout fishing and scuba diving among the 20 quarries. Bring a float and towel, walk past the former derrick and quarry machinery, and choose your path to a swimming quarry: one where teens jump off rock ledges into a 116-foot-deep granite bowl or a shallower, mellower quarry with a small beach and dock.

Quarry jumpers. Photo courtesy of Visit Greater St. Cloud.

Lake Wobegon Trail Take a leisurely ride along this paved 63-mile bike trail to the small towns and rolling countryside that helped inspire fictional Lake Wobegon from the radio show "Prairie Home Companion." Trail towns include Sinclair Lewis's Sauk Centre, the inspiration for his 1930 Nobel-Prize-winning novel Main Street; Freeport with decadent pies and towering meringue at Charlie's Cafe; a covered bridge and the "moos" of dairy farms near Holdingford; cold beers at Bad Habit Brewing and coffee served in hand-thrown pottery mugs at The Local Blend in St. Joseph.

Lake Wobegon Trail
Lake Wobegon trail. Photo courtesy of Visit Greater St. Cloud.

Paramount Center for the Arts You can find a regional hub for theater, concerts and visual arts exhibits at this elegantly restored Beaux Arts gem that lights up the western end of downtown St. Cloud with its vintage marquee. Curtains rise on additional local and touring productions in the intimate Pioneer Place on Fifth theater downtown or the spacious theaters at St. Cloud State University, the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University.

Downtown boutiques and eats The city's historic downtown runs about six blocks along St. Germain between Paramount Center for the Arts and River's Edge Convention Center. Stores tempt shoppers with hand-blown glass, home and garden décor, antiques, jewelry and accessories. White Horse Restaurant and Bar and the Pickled Loon serve fare such as bulgogi lettuce wraps and pesta portabella or fried avocado tacos.

Downtown St. Cloud
Downtown St. Cloud. Photo courtesy of Visit Greater St. Cloud.

Lake George This manmade body of water and park within view of the Catholic Cathedral, downtown and St. Cloud's 100-year-old high school provides a pretty stroll or paddleboard ride on balmy days, plus a modern playground and splash pad for kids. Check to see when free summer concerts resume.

Lake George concert
Concert on the lawn at Lake George. Photo courtesy of Visit Greater St. Cloud.

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