9 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Grand Rapids

Serving as a gateway to the Northwoods of Minnesota, Grand Rapids offers a healthy dose of culture, recreation, and community that can only be found in this region of the country. During the summer months, popular activities include pedaling along the Mesabi State Trail or learning about the environment at the Forest History Center, while the winter months lend towards 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, and visitors can tour her historic home and adjacent museum or expand their cultural knowledge at the downtown Macrostie Art Center. In addition to the cultural and recreational opportunities in Grand Rapids, the relationship between the surrounding forest and city limits radiates from the art on the walls to the trailheads, and with one visit you can see for yourself this is a relationship that is still in the making.

1 Forest History Center

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

Focusing on the past, present, and future relationship with the forest in Northern Minnesota, the Forest History Center provides hands-on learning and outdoor education for the whole family to enjoy. With exhibits ranging 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, learning about forest fires at the 1930s Minnesota Forest Service patrol cabin, and interacting with the many living-history characters that lend some personality to the past. With five miles of interpretive trails to wander, whether you stick with the guided tours or explore on your own, you're sure to learn something new with each visit to the Forest History Center.

Address: 2609 Co Road 76, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

2 Macrostie Art Center

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

Featuring fine works from local artists, the Macrostie Art Center is a non-profit organization with a mission to incorporate art into the daily conversation. With constantly rotating exhibits, workshops, and sponsored events, the Macrostie Art Center achieves its mission with a wide display of colorful and multicultural installations. Exclusively serving regional artists, this popular tourist attraction puts the northern Minnesota art scene under a spotlight, and the adult and child workshops also help inspire future collections for the walls. The center can be found directly across from the Old Central School building in town, and admission to view the various exhibits is always free. While any time is a good time to visit, the center unveils new exhibits the first Friday of every month, coinciding with the Grand Rapids First Friday cultural celebrations, which take place throughout the summer.

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

3 Mesabi Trail

Mesabi Trail

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. About 85 percent of the Mesabi Trail is complete as of summer 2017, and from Grand Rapids, you can continually travel this converted railroad and mining route for nearly 70 uninterrupted miles northeast to Virginia. The trail exposes many rich, water-fed environments along the way, and when it is fully completed (expected fall of 2017), it will stretch for more than 155 miles to Ely, effectively creating a non-motorized route connecting the Mississippi River with the Boundary Waters.

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

Address: 111 Station 44 Road, Eveleth, Minnesota

4 Myles Reif Performing Arts Center

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

Connected to the Grand Rapids High School on the northwest side of town, adjacent to the trails of American Legion Memorial Park, the Reif Performing Arts Center facilitates a wide range of artistic programs, including live performances, workshops, and community-building events. The center attracts local, national, and international talent to its two different stages. Community members and visitors fill the seats for the various 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 offers classes and workshops for every member of the family, giving everyone some stage time under the spotlight.

Address: 720 NW Conifer Drive, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

5 Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway

Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway

Stretching for 47 miles north to the city of Effie, 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. This scenic highway passes by literally thousands of lakes and 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, exploring the surrounding Chippewa National Forest, and camping at the aptly-named Scenic State Park. For those looking to add a little culture to their wilderness experience, the historic Joyce Estate can be accessed via Highway 38, providing a guided opportunity to experience the highlife of the roaring 1920s.

For those who decide not to leave their vehicle as they're traveling the byway, the average speed limit is 40 miles per hour, allowing a leisurely pace for sightseeing even from behind the windshield. 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.

6 American Legion Memorial Park

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

Located on the northwest side of Grand Rapids, American Legion Park is a popular natural space to explore throughout the year. 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 or sipping hot cocoa in the warming house adjacent to the outdoor ice rinks. Also located within the park space is the IRA Civic Center, which serves as a popular venue for the Grand Rapids community to catch a show or host an event. Whether it is to watch a baseball game, bike the trails, or simply enjoy the weather, the American Legion Memorial Park provides outlets for enjoyment all year long.

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

7 Pokegama Golf Course

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

Located south of downtown on the shores of the massive Pokegama Lake, the city-run Pokegama Golf Course provides 18 holes of scenic surroundings. 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. Electric carts are available to rent, but walking the 18 holes provides more time to soak in the surroundings defined by Pokegama Lake, which in combination with the well-manicured facilities, make this course one of the most popular in northern Minnesota. 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.

Address: 3910 Golf Course Road, Grand Rapids, Minnesota

8 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, and today visitors can explore her childhood home and celebrated Hollywood career at the Judy Garland Museum. Featuring the world's largest collection of The Wizard of Oz collectibles, including props from the movie set and Judy Garland's child's work permit to act professionally, the museum offers 15,000 square feet dedicated to Grand Rapids' most beloved hometown movie star and personality. In addition to the museum, visitors can tour the preserved Judy Garland Historic House, 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

9 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 and 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 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, including the many bike trails that 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, giving a keen look at years past.

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

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