Our project editor finds a great fall day trip close to the Twin Cities, with hiking, unique architecture and stellar restaurants.

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St. Joseph, Minnesota
Boardwalk Loop
| Credit: Jess Hoffert

Name: Jess Hoffert Title: Project Editor

My story: I hadn't been to St. Joseph in my home state of Minnesota since performing a concert at St. John's University during my college days (more than a decade ago). Even during our choir's short visit to the campus, we were enchanted by its natural blend of quiet landscapes and unique architecture. It sounded like the perfect medicine for cabin fever during the pandemic, and my partner had never been, so we decided to make the easy 70-mile drive up Interstate-94 from Minneapolis to St. Joseph. We're so glad we did.

But First, Food

Brunch Andrew and I left downtown Minneapolis around 11 a.m. so we could get to Flour and Flower for a carb load before they closed at 1 p.m. The place is owned by Mateo Mackbee and Erin Lucas, who have also opened the town's stellar Krewe restaurant (which won our 2021 Best of the Midwest award in the New Restaurant category). At Flour and Flower, we each ordered a ham and cheese croissant, with thick slices of ham and slightly tangy cheese inside a fancy-crisp pastry; and we shared lemon thyme pie for dessert.

St. Joseph, Minnesota
Flour and Flower
| Credit: Jess Hoffert

Drinks and Dinner At the end of our hiking day, we tried a drink at Bad Habit Brewing Company (the name is a cheeky nod to the Catholic traditions around here), and had a remarkable dinner at Krewe. The urban chic atmosphere is festive with Louisiana jazz and zydeco music playing through the speakers. Cajun-Creole meals are served family-style, and our server encouraged us to order 3-4 items between the two of us. We feasted on Louisiana crab cakes, seafood gumbo and grilled flat iron.

Fresh Air

The highlights of the day were the hiking trails at St. John's University, located about 5 miles from downtown St. Joseph, which is also home to the College of St. Benedict, the sister school to St. John's.

St. Joseph, Minnesota
Boardwalk Loop
| Credit: Jess Hoffert

We kicked off with the 1.5-mile Boardwalk Loop, billed as the most biodiverse loop trail in Minnesota. I believe it. In that short distance, we passed through oak savanna, coniferous and deciduous forests, restored wetlands and a restored prairie. It felt like we were going through portals to different regions of the state every time we approached a new landscape, which I think was the intent of the St. John's Abbey monks who own and maintain the property. The fall colors were at their peak when we visited. I've never felt quite so immersed in fall color as when we were crunching our way through the forested areas carpeted with leaves.

St. Joseph, Minnesota
Abbey Church
| Credit: Jess Hoffert

The other hike we tackled at St. John's was the 3-mile out-and-back Chapel Trail, which starts behind the iconic Abbey Church (also worth a visit). The church is very mid-century modern, and almost feels like science fiction with its geometric designs. To begin the trail, you walk down a steep paved road to the shoreline of Lake Sagatagan, which also has a small beach popular with students. The trail mostly hugs the shoreline, snaking in and out of woodsy areas and providing countless perspectives of the water. A few works of religious artwork dot the path.

St. Joseph, Minnesota
Chapel Trail
| Credit: Jess Hoffert

At the end of the trail lies the Stella Maris ("Star of the Sea") Chapel. You can peek inside the simple, small space that glows with a solitary stained-glass window featuring a star. Many marriage proposals have occurred here. It's a very peaceful space with a pristine view of the water, and the perfect place to sit and reflect a few minutes before taking the trail back to the main campus of St. John's. 

Fall trips
Stella Maris ("Star of the Sea") Chapel
| Credit: Jess Hoffert

More to Explore

Back in the heart of campus, it's definitely worth swinging by St. John's Bible Gallery to view original folios of the stunning hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible that brings life to scriptures like nothing I've ever seen. You can buy prints of some of the pages in poster, postcard, book, and other forms at the campus gift shop.

Next Time

We'll rent a couple bikes from a local outfitter and tackle a portion of the 62-mile-long Lake Wobegon Regional Trail. One of the 12 trailheads is located on the north side of St. Joseph. Great pit-stops include Albany's Railroad Avenue (home to a variety of restaurants) and a barn-red covered bridge in Holdingford.

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