Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book review: Things you gotta see & do in Minnesota showcased in new travel guidebook April 17, 2023

(Image source: Julie Jo Larson’s website)

WHETHER YOU’RE A LIFE-LONG Minnesotan, a newbie or a visitor, Julie Jo Larson’s newly-published 100 Things to Do in Minnesota Before You Die guidebook is an invaluable resource for exploring this place I call home. I’ve lived here my entire life, but only experienced or visited one-quarter of the listings in Larson’s travel guide.

Babe the Blue Ox of Paul Bunyan legend stands along Nisswa’s Main Street. In her book, Larson encourages readers to seek out the many Minnesota-centric statues found throughout our state. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

Minnesota is an expansive state, spanning 400 miles from north to south and 350 miles from east to west. So there’s lots to see and do from prairie to woodland, from lakes to rivers, from bluffs to valleys, from small towns to bigger cities. Larson offers a good mix of destinations and activities.

Domeier’s German Store, nestled in a residential neighborhood for decades, is a must-see German import shop in New Ulm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I should note that I feel a kinship with Larson in a commonality of roots. She was born in New Ulm, in Brown County next to my home county of Redwood in southwestern Minnesota. New Ulm, situated in the Minnesota River Valley and rich in German heritage and culture, has long been a favorite community of mine. There’s so much to see and do from touring and sampling beer at August Schell Brewing Company; shopping at compact German import store, Domeier’s; exploring Flandrau State Park along the Cottonwood River; watching the Glockenspiel; and lots more. Larson now lives in rural Brainerd and has already written a guide on the Minnesota Northwoods. Her love for Minnesota shines.

Craft beer flights are served on old movie reels at Sleepy Eye Brewing, housed in a former movie theater. While not included in Larson’s book, I recommend a stop at this unique southwestern Minnesota brewery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In creating this travel book, Larson divides her suggested “things to do” into five categories: Food and Drink, Music and Entertainment, Sports and Recreation, Culture and History, and Shopping and Fashion.

The bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs every July 4 in North Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I so now want to try the chicken wild rice pizza at Poor Guy’s Pizza in Moose Lake. That—the wild rice part—sounds incredibly Minnesotan. I want to tour the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm to learn more about musicians and bands like Monroe Crossing, which performs each July Fourth in North Morristown. I want to wander among the 50 metal sculptures crafted by Ken Nyberg in Vining simply because I love outdoor public art. I want to tour the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in Onamia to learn more about that region’s Indigenous peoples. I want to peruse the handcrafted goods at The Shoppes of Little Falls. I want to…

I climbed up to the tower, but not up the Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower. I’d suggest combining a stop here with Pequot Lakes’ annual Bean Hole Days in July. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021)

Yes, there’s a lot to do in Minnesota. Some things on Larson’s list, though, I won’t do. I won’t travel into the depths of the earth at the Soudan iron ore mine. I won’t climb to the top of a fire tower at Pequot Lakes, although I’ve hiked to it. I won’t zip through the trees 175 feet off the ground on a Kerfoot Canopy Tour in the Minnesota River Valley at Henderson. But other readers of Larson’s guidebook will and that’s good. Her “100 things to do” offers a variety of experiences and places that appeal to diverse interests.

At Minneopa State Park, Mankato, visitors can get up close with a bison herd on a drive-through across the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2019)

As a life-long southern Minnesotan who has explored this region extensively, I especially appreciate Larson’s tips from other areas of this vast state. She even breaks down her list to activities by seasons and suggested itineraries. Black-and-white photos scattered through the pages and a centerfold of color images only further entice readers to get out and explore.

A walleye statue fronts Lake Mille Lacs in Garrison. The walleye is Minnesota’s state fish. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Bottom line, 100 Things to Do in Minnesota Before You Die rates as an excellent resource for anyone planning a road trip, looking for something to do/see while in a specific area of Minnesota or even just seeking to learn more about the North Star State.

You’ll find great hamburgers and homemade pies at The Dam Store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

Looking for a great slice of pie? Larson recommends (and so do I) the Rapidan Dam Store, yes, by the dam at Rapidan (which is near Mankato). Want to enjoy art in a top-notch museum along the Mississippi River? Visit the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona. Interested in a cave tour? Head to Niagra Cave near Harmony. Wanna see a replica Viking ship? The Hjemkost Center in Moorhead features one. Need a book fix? Visit any one of Minnesota’s independent bookstores.

The independent bookstore portion of Victor Lundeen Company in Fergus Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

And while we’re talking books, buy a copy of 100 Things to Do in Minnesota Before You Die, published by Reedy Press. Support a Minnesota author while, bonus, learning about all sorts of places to visit and things to do in this place Larson and I call home.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Book review: Things you gotta see & do in Minnesota showcased in new travel guidebook”

  1. beth Says:

    what a great resource from someone who clearly knows her stuff. like you, there is so much around me in our state that I’ve never experienced and many things I never even knew existed. I plan to make it an initiative to learn and see more.

  2. These books are so popular! I think Sara (Broers) might be on her 3rd one now for Midwest locations. Reedy Press has a good thing going with this line and they really are fun to work through. Thanks for sharing.

  3. So glad to hear about this book- definitely will check it out!

  4. I am on board in trying wild rice on a pizza – YUM! There is so much to see and do in MN. I love exploring places and enjoy when you can get out to walk and see a variety of things too. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  5. This is wonderful! Thank you for reading and reviewing!

  6. Great review! I love Minnesota!

  7. Rose Says:

    These sound like must have books for me. I’ve been to some of the places you mentioned: walked through Ken’s art in Vining, climbed Pequot Lakes fire tower, and visited the Hjemkost Center. There’re many more things I’d love to see and do in this state.

    • You’re braver than me to climb that fire tower. Even Randy couldn’t make it to the top. I don’t like heights so I didn’t even try. Have you been to Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes? It’s a must-attend event. The Stave church at the Hjemkost Center was especially architecturally interesting. There’s so much to see and do right here in Minnesota and Julie Jo does a good job of sharing 100 places and experiences in her travel guidebook.

  8. I chuckled when I got to the things you won’t do. That mine at Soudan? I went down there as a kid, with my parents!

  9. Ruth Says:

    Sounds like a great guide.

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