11 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Grand Rapids, MN

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Dec 27, 2023
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Author Brad Lane traveled to Grand Rapids while on assignment for PlanetWare.

Grand Rapids is a gateway to the Northwoods of Minnesota. It offers a healthy dose of culture, tourist attractions, and things to do that feel unique to this region of the country.

Fall colors at a lake near Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Fall colors at a lake near Grand Rapids, Minnesota

During the summer months, popular activities include pedaling along the Mesabi State Trail or learning about the environment at the Forest History Center. The winter months offer blood-pumping things to do like cross-country skiing at the American Legion Memorial Park.

Grand Rapids is the birthplace of Judy Garland, best known for her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Visitors can tour her historic home and adjacent museum at the Judy Garland Museum. Other places to visit for culture are found downtown at attractions like the MacRostie Art Center.

For the quickest escape to nature, the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway begins in Grand Rapids and heads north into the Chippewa National Forest. The scenic byway lends access to hundreds of bodies of water and endless acres of beautiful forest. It also connects with campgrounds, lodges, and plenty of sightseeing opportunities.

Explore this Minnesota town with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Grand Rapids.

1. Forest History Center

Forest History Center
Forest History Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Forest History Center focuses on the past, present, and future relationship with the forest in Northern Minnesota. It provides hands-on learning and outdoor education for the whole family to enjoy. Exhibits range from an immersive 1900s-era logging camp to a 100-foot fire tower. Visitors of the Forest History Center don't just learn about the history of the forest, they see it for themselves.

Other popular things to do at the Forest History Center include boarding a floating cook shack, known as a wanigan, and learning about forest fires in a reconstructed 1930s Minnesota Forest Service patrol cabin.

Guests can also interact with the many living-history characters that lend some personality to the past. The Forest History Center also features five miles of interpretive trails that immerse visitors into the education center's subject matter.

The Forest History Center is open between June and September, Wednesday through Saturday, with limited operating hours throughout October. The facility is closed for the rest of the season except for special events.

Address: 2609 Co Road 76, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

2. Judy Garland Museum

Judy Garland Birthplace
Judy Garland Birthplace | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Better known to some as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids in 1922. Today, visitors can explore her childhood home and celebrated Hollywood career at the Judy Garland Museum.

The museum features 15,000 square feet dedicated to Grand Rapids' most beloved hometown movie star, including the world's largest collection of The Wizard of Oz collectibles. The collection includes props from the movie set and Judy Garland's children's work permit to act professionally.

In addition to the museum, visitors can tour the preserved Judy Garland Historic House next door. Visitors can also roam the outside gardens and gazebos, and the kids will enjoy the adjacent Children's Discovery Center full of interactive exhibits.

If you happen to be in the Grand Rapids area during the month of June, the Judy Garland Museum puts on an annual Wizard of Oz Festival that includes live music, special presentations, and a costume-fueled Emerald City Fest that's great for the whole family.

Address: 2727 S. Pokegama Ave, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

3. Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway

Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway
Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway | Photo Copyright: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Minnesota's State Highway 38, better known as the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, begins in Grand Rapids and is a portal into the Northwoods of Minnesota. The scenic byway stretches for 47 miles north to the city of Effie and passes by literally thousands of lakes. Also lining the route are a variety of forests lined with black spruce, birch, and white cedar trees.

Popular things to do along the way include fishing at the North Star Lake Resort and exploring the surrounding Chippewa National Forest. Camping at the aptly named Scenic State Park is a great way to get away, and the scenic overlook at North Star Lake inspires visits for years to come.

For those looking to add a little culture to their wilderness experience, the historic Joyce Estate is accessible via Highway 38, providing a guided opportunity to experience the high life of the roaring 1920s.

The average speed limit is 40 miles per hour on the scenic byway, allowing a leisurely pace for sightseeing behind the windshield. Visitors can experience the entire byway with a day trip from Grand Rapids.

For more information on the roadway and the surrounding area's natural history, the Edge of the Wilderness Discovery Center in Marcell provides informational exhibits, wildlife viewing platforms, and naturalist programs throughout the year.

4. Myles Reif Performing Arts Center

Myles Reif Performing Arts Center
Myles Reif Performing Arts Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Reif Performing Arts Center facilitates a wide range of artistic programs. It's connected to the Grand Rapids High School on the northwest side of town, adjacent to the trails of American Legion Memorial Park.

Regularly scheduled events at the performing arts center include live performances, cultural seminars, and community workshops. The center attracts local, national, and international talent to its two different stages. Community members and visitors fill the seats for the live performances here that range from tribute rock bands to contemporary dance.

During the daytime and throughout the school year, the Reif Center is also home to an engaging Children's Performing Art series that caters to school groups (K-12). In addition to the ticketed performances, the Reif Dance program at the Reif Center offers classes and workshops for every member of the family.

Address: 720 NW Conifer Drive, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

5. Historic Central School

Historic Central School
Historic Central School | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Situated squarely in the middle of town, the Historic Central School was first built in 1895. This stately building served as the learning place for elementary school children in Grand Rapids for nearly eight decades.

After closing its doors and winding up on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, the building was restored by the community, effectively creating the Historic Central School Marketplace you'll find today.

Home to various businesses, boutiques, and community events, the Historic Central School also serves as a good starting point for exploring the rest of the downtown district. Several bike trails spawn from this central location. Even if you just admire it from the outside, the Historic Central School is an eye-catching architectural testament to the history that has shaped Grand Rapids.

Address: 10 NW 5th Street, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

6. Mesabi Trail

Mesabi Trail
Mesabi Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Beginning in Grand Rapids and connecting with many communities and state parks to the north, the Mesabi Trail provides the perfect paved avenue for adventure. This approximately 165-mile route stretching from Grand Rapids to Ely and the Boundary Waters is nearly complete, with a few areas still under construction near the eastern terminus.

You can ride from Grand Rapids the entire day and stay on the paved, constructed pathway. And as a converted railroad route, it's a relatively flat trail the entire way. The trail exposes many rich, water-fed environments along its route. Hotels and charming small towns line the route and offer refuge for multi-night trips. The tallest bridge in Minnesota can be crossed via the Mesabi Trail in Virginia, Minnesota.

Bicycles are the most popular way to explore the Mesabi Trail, but you'll also see inline skaters and walkers sharing the pavement. Snowshoe and cross-country skiing tracks are often found in winter. Access points line the entire trail, and in Grand Rapids, the trailhead is near the Itasca County Fairgrounds.

Address: 111 Station 44 Road, Eveleth, Minnesota

7. Macrostie Art Center

Macrostie Art Center
Macrostie Art Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Macrostie Art Center is a non-profit organization with a mission to incorporate art into daily conversation. It features fine works from local artists, with constantly rotating exhibits, workshops, and sponsored events. The result is an ever-changing display of colorful and multicultural installations.

The Macrostie Art Center is across from the Old Central School building downtown. Admission to view the various exhibits is always free. This popular tourist attraction puts the northern Minnesota art scene under the spotlight, and the adult and child workshops also help inspire future collections for the walls.

While any time is a good time to visit, the center unveils new exhibits on the first Friday of every month. These unveilings coincide with the Grand Rapids First Friday cultural celebrations, which take place throughout the summer.

Address: 405 NW 1st Ave, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

8. American Legion Memorial Park

The trail sign in American Legion Memorial Park
The trail sign in American Legion Memorial Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

American Legion Park is a popular natural space to explore on the northwest side of Grand Rapids. Located in the park is the Legion Baseball Field, complete with packed bleachers throughout the summer. Other popular warm-weather activities here include navigating the trail systems, playing the 18-hole disc golf course, and shredding on the Cody Siem Memorial Skateboard Park.

Outside of the summer months, you can find locals and visitors using the lighted cross-country skiing trails of American Legion Memorial Park. Winter visitors also enjoy sipping hot cocoa in the warming house adjacent to the outdoor ice rinks.

Also located within the park is the IRA Civic Center, serving as a popular venue for the Grand Rapids community to catch a show or host an event. The Civic Center is also home to a community ice rink with open skate times available.

Address: Hwy #38 & 14 Street NW, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

9. Scenic State Park

Scenic State Park
Scenic State Park

The aptly named Scenic State Park is 40 miles north of Grand Rapids and a great adventure destination on the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway. The park encompasses the entire forested shoreline of Coon and Sandwick Lakes, lending ample opportunity for fishing, hiking, and camping near the shore.

The state park also features abundant wildlife, especially birds, and avid bird watchers flock to the park to spot bald eagles, ospreys, and woodpeckers.

Driving to Scenic State Park from Grand Rapids is half the adventure. Several other scenic stops line the entire Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, including the historic Joyce Estate and hundreds of other lakes.

Scenic State Park also makes for a great overnight destination while exploring the byway. It features two drive-in campgrounds with over 90 campsites total, as well as backpack and canoe campsites. Reservations are available 120 days in advance.

Address: 56956 Scenic Highway, Bigfork, Minnesota

10. Pokegama Golf Course

Pokegama Golf Course
Pokegama Golf Course | Photo Copyright: Luke Garner

The city-run Pokegama Golf Course provides 18 holes south of downtown on the shores of the massive Pokegama Lake. Available for drop-ins and public tee times, the course also offers season passes, junior golf, and two driving ranges to practice your skills.

This championship-layout course attracts many visitors throughout the season, and the various tee lengths cater to all levels of play. After your round, it's highly recommended to sit down and stay awhile at the Pokegama Grill, which offers a variety of burgers, sandwiches, and wraps.

Electric carts are available to rent, but walking the 18 holes provides more time to soak in the surroundings. Many of the sights are defined by Pokegama Lake, which in combination with the well-manicured facilities, make this course one of the most popular in northern Minnesota.

Address: 3910 Golf Course Road, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

11. Joyce Estate

Joyce Cabin
Joyce Cabin | Lorie Shaull / photo modified

The Joyce Estate is a unique refuge of history and nature accessible off Highway 38 (better known as the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway). This 4,500-acre private resort and property date back to the 1920s in the heydays of woman's suffrage and prohibition. The grand property was built in part with lumber money accumulated by the Itasca Lumber Company.

The Joyce Estate has been abandoned for several decades, and today, it offers a unique adventure in the Northwoods of Minnesota. It's approximately a three-mile hike to reach the Joyce Estate, where nature has taken back some of the 40-plus buildings and other abandoned amenities like a golf course and tennis court.

Parking and the trail's beginning are at the Tract Lake Trailhead, a few miles off Highway 38. Upon making the hike, the sprawling resort has several buildings and structures to wander. The Forest Service maintains the property, and it's eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It's helpful to print out a map of the historic structures before visiting.

Where to Stay in Grand Rapids, Minnesota for Sightseeing

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • Grand Rapids doesn't have any true luxury hotels, but it has a number of good mid-range options, including the Timberlake Lodge. This property is a great choice for families, as there are many kid-focused amenities. There are adjoining rooms and suites, including rooms with bunkbeds, as well as full kitchens in some of the rooms. But kids will especially love the on-site water park with a 98-foot-long tube waterslide, as well as a kiddie pool with a frog slide. There is also a lap pool and hot tub in the facilities. Other amenities include a complimentary hot breakfast buffet and a restaurant on the grounds.
  • AmericInn by Wyndham Grand Rapids is another popular, good-value option. The rooms and suites are clean and comfortable, and some even have jetted Jacuzzi tubs. There are family room options if you are traveling with children. Amenities include a heated indoor swimming pool and hot tub, a complimentary breakfast, and free parking. Kids also stay free.
  • For a boutique hotel experience, check out Hotel Rapids. The property was built in the 1950s, and at the time it was the most luxurious hotel in the area. Today, it is locally owned and operated with creatively decorated rooms and suites that are still good value. If you are traveling with a dog, the hotel is pet friendly.
  • The Green Heron Bed and Breakfast caters to families and couples. Set right on the shores of Pokegama Lake, it has just two rooms. Both have lake views and easy access to the B&B's sandy beach area in summer and ice fishing in winter. In summer, you can borrow kayaks and canoes to take out on the lake. A full breakfast is included in the rate, and the property is pet friendly.

Budget Hotels:

  • A high-end budget property, the Country Inn & Suites is an excellent value choice. The hotel has clean and comfortable rooms with a modern vibe. They are also very family-friendly. Amenities here include a swimming pool, outdoor fireplace, and workout room. A complimentary breakfast is served each morning.
  • I M Hotel by Timberlake is another good budget option. The rooms here, which can accommodate families (kids stay free), have a warm atmosphere thanks to bright-colored walls and bedspreads. They also come with microwaves, refrigerators, and coffee makers. Amenities include a complimentary breakfast and free parking. The hotel is dog friendly.

Map of Attractions & Things to Do in Grand Rapids, MN

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