13 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Stillwater, MN
South of the Twin Cities, on the banks of the St. Croix River, Stillwater rises from the valley as one of the most picturesque towns in America. Not only that, Stillwater happens to be the birthplace of Minnesota, and is brimming with tourist attractions and things to do.
Stillwater was settled in the 1830s thanks to its strategic location on the river and its abundance of forests for lumber. It's often referred to as the birthplace of Minnesota because in 1848 a territorial convention was held here that began discussions to start establishing the Minnesota area as a territory and eventually a state.
Throughout the centuries, the city grew around historic Main Street, a block up from the river. Today you can still feel the history in the atmosphere, from the paddlewheel riverboats and gondolas on the water to the centuries-old brick facades and charming Victorian mansions.
As for things to do in Stillwater, the list is endless. Explore the winding nature paths and walking trails, get lost in the parks, drive the scenic byways, stroll its apple orchards, and immerse yourself in the fantastic dining and shopping of Main Street.
No matter the time of year, Stillwater offers something for everyone. The spring and summer are the perfect times to get out into nature and on the St. Croix River, while the autumn makes for gorgeous scenic drives. The ski slopes open up for the winter, as well, and the shops on Main Street twinkle with holiday decorations.
Are you ready to discover the best places to visit? Here is our list of top attractions and things to do in Stillwater, Minnesota.
1. Explore Main Street
There is no better place to absorb the vibe and history of Stillwater than historic Main Street. Directly across from the riverfront, Stillwater's Main Street is listed on the National Historic Register and is home to more than 100 locally owned shops and restaurants.
The charming street runs for several blocks, lined with historic brick buildings that now play host to trendy restaurants, cute boutiques, and beautiful accommodations. If you love antiques, you have come to the right spot, as Stillwater is home to roughly a dozen antique shops.
The walkable downtown is the best place to start exploring Stillwater as many of the town's attractions are located a short distance from Main Street. If you want to soak up the energy and charm of Stillwater, this is the best place to begin the adventure.
2. Ride with Stillwater Trolley Company
Another option for seeing the best things to do in Stillwater is to hop aboard the Stillwater Trolley Company. These 45-minute sightseeing tours take visitors through the historic sections of town from the comfortable perch of a historic-looking trolley.
Each trolley ride is narrated by a local expert telling the story of the transformation of Stillwater, from its early roots as a lumber town to one of the great small towns of America today. Ride leisurely past historic Victorian mansions, most of which were constructed in the 19th century by the great lumber giants of the region.
You can also book kayak tours with Stillwater Trolley Company. Seeing the town from the St. Croix River provides another unique vantage point from which to learn about the oldest town in Minnesota.
Address: 400 Nelson Street E, Stillwater, Minnesota
3. Meander the St. Croix Loop Trail
Stillwater's St. Croix Loop Trail is a 4.7-mile loop that connects the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the St. Croix River. Via the St. Croix Crossing Bridge, the trail offers gorgeous views over the river valley from three specific lookout points.
The trail was fully finished as of June 2020 and now includes crossings over both the St. Croix Crossing Bridge, as well as the renovated historic lift bridge – an icon in Stillwater. The old bridge was converted from state highway 36 to become a multi-use trail.
Minnesotans love their summers because it's relief from the brutal winters. Being outside is such an important part of summer in Minnesota, and Stillwater's St. Croix Loop Trail is a big part of that.
The project to complete the loop trail took about three years and today is one of the most beloved outdoor activities in Stillwater for people of all ages.
4. Climb the Historic Stairs
Downtown Stillwater was developed on a series of hills, all overlooking the St. Croix River and the surrounding valley. Five sets of historic steps were put into the hillsides to help make it easier to get to the business districts below. Today the stairs are not only here for convenience, but they also give locals and visitors a natural form of exercise, and, of course, a chance to take in the beautiful views.
The steps include the Main Street Stairs, Chestnut Street Stairs, Pioneer Park Stairs, Triangle Park Stairs, and South Hill Stairs. Each set has about 100 steps that go up at a steep incline. If you manage to scale all five sets, it would be about three miles, and you'll get a different vantage point from each set of stairs.
5. Cycle Brown's Creek Trail
If you enjoyed the St. Croix Scenic Loop, you can continue the outdoor adventure on Brown's Creek Trail. Thousands do every year. The state trail is built along an old railroad line that follows the St. Croix River north of downtown.
The railroad line is 18 miles and runs from Stillwater's Pine Point Park to the city of St. Paul. The Brown's Creek Trail portion is a nearly six-mile swath that starts at the city and then veers off into a thick forest and sails past beautiful prairie land.
Of course, you don't have to be on two wheels to enjoy the scenery. Brown's Creek Trail is popular among runners, equestrians, rollerbladers, and cross-country skiers in the winter.
6. Visit the Artist Cooperative
Stillwater is an artsy kind of town, home to antique stores, boutiques, and galleries. But one of the most beloved galleries in town is the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery.
This gallery is "for artists by artists" and is one of the largest artist cooperatives in the area. Here, visitors can browse the works and buy directly from the artists without gallery markups. They even include framing services.
If you're feeling creative, classes are available to the public, which include glass, jewelry, paintings, drawings, photography, pottery, ceramics, and sculpture. The Art Guild building sits on Main Street, not far from the banks of the St. Croix. The historic perch is a beautiful vantage point from which to get creative.
Address: 402 Main Street N, Stillwater, Minnesota
7. Drive the St. Croix Scenic Byway
America is home to nearly 200 scenic byways, and 22 of these exist in the state of Minnesota. The St. Croix Scenic Byway happens to run through Stillwater.
This 124-mile route follows the St. Croix National Scenic River, often coming quite close to the riverbanks, while other times veering upward to sweeping views from the surrounding cliffs. The part of land that holds the byway was historically the connection between the Mississippi River, the St. Croix River, and Lake Superior.
When you drive down Main Street in Stillwater, you are driving down a section of the byway. Continuing north, you will come to Taylors Falls, which is a beautiful town known for its hiking, biking, live music, water parks, ziplines, shopping, and dining.
8. Take a Historic Walking Tour
It goes without saying that Stillwater drips with history. It is, after all, the birthplace of Minnesota. So while in town why not get yourself up to speed on the history of Stillwater by taking a self-guided historic walking tour.
The Washington County Historical Society and the City of Stillwater, along with the Lens Flare Stillwater, have created an online app where you can walk through the historic streets and past historic buildings and learn about their past directly from your phone. In fact, your phone recognizes where you are and displays photos, video, or interesting stories about that particular location.
If you like to get spooked, you may want to check out Stillwater Ghost Walks, which shares real ghost stories, paranormal experiences, and urban legends.
9. Play at Teddy Bear Park
If you're traveling with your family, you are going to want to make a stop at Teddy Bear Park. This lovable play space just up from Main Street is a really enjoyable spot to spend some time with the family.
Within the park is a small jungle gym, as well as giant statues of cuddly teddy bears. You will also find a sand pit, a rock cliff, slides, and a tree structure for climbing. Not far from the park are shops and restaurants, including an ice-cream store, so it's the perfect place to spend a few hours with the family.
Address: 207 Nelson Street E, Stillwater, Minnesota
10. Watch the Historic Lift Bridge
The Historic Lift Stillwater Bridge connects Houlton, Wisconsin with Stillwater, Minnesota via State Highway 36. Today it is part of the St. Croix Loop Trail, but the bridge dates back to the 1930s.
It is one of the few examples of the vertical-lift bridge and was built in 1931. Less than 10 were built in Wisconsin and Minnesota before World War II. The historic bridge and its concourse are part of the Stillwater Cultural Landscape District. Today car traffic was rerouted to the St. Croix Crossing Bridge, while foot and bicycle traffic is open on the lift bridge.
11. Take a Cruise Down the St. Croix River
With so much of Stillwater's history linked to the St. Croix River, it seems only fitting that one of the best things to do in Stillwater is to get out on it. The Lady Chateau is one of the top charter yachts in the entire Midwest, and it cruises along the St. Croix.
While onboard, passengers can expect all the luxury trimmings – it is a $1.5-million ship, after all. The charters typically run with 20 guests, but the ship can accommodate up to 70 in its spaces, which include a dining area and top deck seating.
But you don't have to splurge to get yourself out onto the St. Croix. Stillwater River Boats is a much more affordable (and historic) way to see the river. The river boats sail daily public cruises with lunch or dinner seating. You can also hire the paddle boats for private charter for up to 675 guests. On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, the cruises feature Dixieland live music.
12. Stop by Warden's House Museum
The Warden's House of Stillwater dates back to 1853 and has historically been used as the home of the warden of the Minnesota Territorial Prison. Today it is a museum dedicated to Washington County.
During the home's history, it has been the residence of 13 wardens until the prison was moved in the early 20th century. The house became property of the Washington County Historical Society in 1941 and was transformed into a museum.
Today visitors to the museum can take a look back through time, from the days of the Old Stillwater Prison to the Civil War, and the lumber industry that put Stillwater on the map.
Address: 602 Main Street N, Stillwater, Minnesota
13. Go Apple Picking at the Orchard
Come the autumn, the trees of Minnesota turn a brilliant swath of colors, from crimson to golden yellow. When the leaves start to change, that's when apple picking season arrives – a favorite among families all across the state.
When visiting Stillwater in the fall, a visit to Aamodt's Apple Farm really sells the Midwestern, autumnal experience. The apple farm is like a step back in time, with a granary and barn that date back to the late 19th century. Now the barn is home to the apple store and bakery.
Visitors can come and pick their own apples, or head into the shop for apple-themed goodies and other fall treats.
Address: 6428 Manning Ave N, Stillwater, Minnesota