Pipestone National Monument ~ Pipestone, Minnesota

This past weekend we were finally able to head out and add a new passport stamp to our National Park Passport! We were so excited! We’ve been wanting to visit Pipestone every since moving up this way, but once we were ready to, the pandemic happened and we had to wait for the visitor center to reopen to actually be able to mark that stamp officially in the book! After months of stalking their website for updates, we finally had the go ahead that the visitor center had reopened a few weeks ago. It was time to head out!

We did opt to watch the video online about Pipestone before driving out there to minimize time in the Visitor Center. Pipestone is named for the stone that is quarried in the area by Native Americans (usually of the Dakota tribe) to turn into pipes. Native Americans can still quarry in the area today, but the wait is quite long to receive a quarry site.

Another great thing about visiting Pipestone was we were able to bring the dogs along for this trip as the trail was dog friendly. We weren’t sure how well it would go with them, but they loved it!

When we arrived we took right to the trail as the dogs were itching to get out of the car. I think during normal times, you would be able to access the trail right out doors from the visitor center, but you also can access either end of the loop from the parking lot as well. We wound up probably going backwards because of not starting near the center doors, but either way seemed to work. This one actually led us to an old quarry right away, which was a neat way to start the trail.

From there you could take the Circle Trail or the South Quarry Trail. We knew we wanted the loop, so we continued on the Circle Trail. The trail is a nice mix of asphalt and occasional “rock” bridges. It was tight in some places so while it many should be accessible to all, it could be tougher in some places than others. At first we had a lot of view of prairie grasses, and then the rocks really began to appear.

Once we really got going, you could hear the roar of the upcoming waterfall and creek bed. It is an absolutely stunning waterfall that kind of shows up out of nowhere! You also can utilize some rock steps to view the waterfall from above as well.

Up above you also can access a really neat piece of history. Turns out the Nicollet Expedition passed by this way and actually used it as a rest point along the way. This portion of rock was actually etched into by Nicollet on the journey and is preserved for viewing today.

Following out hike, we dropped the dogs into the car for a few minutes while we went into the Visitor Center. They actually had the passport stamp outside of the center for easy access, but this allowed us to browse a few of the brand new exhibits they have just had put in.

I highly recommend taking a trip to Pipestone if you live anywhere nearby, or even if you will be passing nearby on another trip. It’s a very interesting part of Native American history and provides a beautiful short hike.

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Minnesota Bucket List ~ Southern Region

Final Minnesota Bucket List region today….the area that takes us out of the Northwoods and into the rolling prairies! Tomorrow we move on into Iowa.

Altura

  • Whitewater State Park: This park surrounds the Whitewater River and is filled with trails along the bluffs.

Austin

  • Hormel Historic Home: Historic home of the Hormel family that started Hormel Foods.
  • SPAM Museum: Delightful little museum that details out the history of SPAM and offers free samples!

Blue Earth

  • Jolly Green Giant Museum: Museum dedicated to the Jolly Green Giant and the canned veggies he is known for. Take photos with the Giant himself in the adjacent park.

Caledonia

  • Beaver Creek Valley State Park: Park features a narrow, steep valley created by Beaver Creek.

Comfrey

  • Jeffers Petroglyphs: Outcrop filled with Pre-Native American petroglyphs.

Fairfax

  • Fort Ridgely State Park: Site of the Battle of Fort Ridgely in the Dakota War of 1862.

Frontenac

  • Frontenac State Park: Park located along the Mississippi River known for birdwatching.

Granite Falls

  • Gneiss Outcrops SRA: Beautiful rocky area filled with very old rocks.
  • Upper Sioux Agency State Park: Park sits on the Minnesota River and is the site of the Historic Sioux Agency which was destroyed in the Dakota War of 1862.

Hokah

  • Como Falls: Falls hidden away behind the local fire station.

Jackson

  • Fort Belmont Civilian Fort Replica and Museum: An 1862 civilian fort built to protect settlers.

Jasper

  • Split Rock Creek State Park: Popular water recreation area located near Pipestone.

Luverne

  • Blue Mounds State Park: One of the state’s largest prairie remnants, it also protects a bison herd.

Lynd

  • Camden State Park: Filled with 15 miles of hiking trails along the Redwood River.

Mankato

  • Minnemishinona Falls: Overlook of the 42 foot falls.
  • Minneopa State Park: Scenic area with waterfall and trails.

Montevideo

  • Lac Qui Parle Mission: Site of a pre-territorial mission in the county.

Morton

  • Birch Coulee Battlefield: Site of the Birch Coulee Battle during the Dakota War of 1862.

New Ulm

  • Flandrau State Park: Park located along the Cottonwood River.

Ortonville

  • Big Stone Lake State Park: Located on the shores of Big Stone Lake, the headwaters of the Minnesota River.

Pipestone

  • Pipestone National Monument: Hike along the red pipestone that was quarried for years by Native Americas and carved into pipes used for prayer.

Preston

  • Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park: Park contains the historic village of Forestville as well as the longest known cave in Minnesota.

Red Wing

  • Red Wing Shoe Company Museum: The museum is home to the World’s Largest Boot!

Walnut Grove

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Info Center: Setting and home of Laura Ingalls’ “On the Banks of Plum Creek.”

Winona

  • Great River Bluffs State Park: Gorgeous park perched high above the Mississippi River.
  • John A. Latsch State Park: Another park located along the bluffs of the Mississippi River.
  • Historic Pickwick Mill: Historic mill that now operates as a milling museum.

All attractions found on exploreminnesota.com

Minnesota Bucket List ~ Minneapolis/St. Paul Region

Today we travel to a popular Midwest vacation spot: The Twin Cities. The Minneapolis/St. Paul area has so much to offer for both indoor and outdoor activities!

Apple Valley

  • Minnesota Zoo: Fun zoo with unique exhibits.

Bloomington

  • Mall of America: America’s largest mall that includes an amusement park and mini golf! Filled with all your favorite shops, including many specialty options and restaurants.
  • Normandale Japanese Garden: Located on the Normandale campus, this little park is nice to stroll through.

Brooklyn Park

  • Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park (future Mississippi Gateway Regional Park: Offers several trails along the river.

Center City

  • Wild River State Park: Long, narrow, secluded park along the river.

Chaska

  • Minnesota Landscape Arboretum: Largest and most diverse horticultural site in the state.

Eagan

  • Lebanon Hills Regional Park: Hike through forests, marshes, wetlands, and grasslands.
  • Vikings Museum: Museum dedicated to the Minnesota Vikings football team.

Fridley

  • Springbrook Nature Center: Offers three miles of hiking trails through woodlands and wetlands.

Hastings

  • Afton State Park: Park located along the bluffs of the St. Croix River.

Maplewood

  • Battle Creek Regional Park: Hike paved trails in this popular park.

Marine on St. Croix

  • William O’Brien State Park: Hike various trails in this park located along the banks of the St. Croix river.

Minneapolis

  • Foshay Museum and Observation Deck: Tour this iconic skyscraper in the downtown area.
  • Minneapolis Sculpture Park: Fun outdoor sculpture park area known for it’s famous “Spoonbridge.”
  • Mill Ruins Park and Mill Museum: Explore the old ruins of the mill in the park area before heading to the museum that focuses on flour milling.
  • Minnehaha Falls: See the gorgeous Minnehaha Falls located within this regional park. Lots of nice paved walking trails.
  • Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam: Explore the only natural falls located on the Upper Mississippi River.
  • Wells Fargo History Museum: Explore the history of this well known bank.

Monticello

  • Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park: Park contains 4 miles of hiking trails and a swimming beach.
  • Lake Maria State Park: Created to provide a wilderness area for the nearby cities.
  • Swan Park-Mississippi Drive: Home to a winter location of Trumpeter swans.

Plymouth

  • French Regional Park: Lake based park with boat access, hiking, swimming, and lighted trails.

St. Paul

  • Cathedral of Saint Paul: This is the third largest Catholic cathedral in the United States.
  • Como Park Zoo and Conservatory: Free zoo and garden area in the Twin Cities area.
  • Crosby Farm/Hidden Falls Park: Both parks are located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Hidden Falls is just north of the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Crosby Farm is located for the historic farmstead that used to occupy that space.
  • Fort Snelling State Park: Park located at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.
  • Historic Fort Snelling: Tour the old military fort that sits on the bluff overlooking the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.
  • Minnesota State Capitol: Visit this gorgeous recently refurbished state capitol.
  • Minnesota History Center: Fun hands on history museum.
  • Minnesota Science Museum: Explore science in a hands on way, from dinos to the human body and so much more!
  • Mississippi National River and Recreation Area: Lots to explore along the Mississippi River Greenway. The visitor center is located in the lobby of the Science Museum.

Stillwater

  • Wardens House Museum: Explore the history of the official warden house of the Minnesota Territorial Prison.

Taylors Falls

  • Interstate Park: Located between two states (Minnesota and Wisconsin), this park is filled with geological wonders of potholes and a deep basalt gorge.
  • St Croix National Scenic Riverway: While the visitor center is located in Wisconsin, portions of the river are protected on both sides of the river.

All attractions found on exploreminnesota.com

Minnesota Bucket List ~ Central Region

Today’s list is much shorter compared to yesterday as we move into the Central portion of the state.

Alexandria

  • Fort Alexandria: A replica of the fort built for protection from the Dakota Indians during an uprising during the Civil War.
  • Legacy of the Lakes Museum: Celebrates the lake tradition and the history of grand hotels and resorts in the area.

Battle Lake

  • Glendalough State Park: Quiet park located along 9 miles of undeveloped shoreline.

Brainerd

  • Crow Wing State Park: Located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Crow Wing rivers, this park celebrates the old 1850s town of Crow Wing.
  • Northland Arboretum: Landfill turned arboretum, this prairie area offers lots of hiking trails.

Darwin

  • Darwin Twine Ball Museum: Home to the largest twine ball in the world made by one man.

Isle

  • Father Hennepin State Park: Located on the corner of Mille Lacs Lake, this park is named for the priest who visited the area during the French expedition.

Little Falls

  • Charles A. Lindbergh State Park: The restored house of the congressman and his aviator son are found within this park.

McGregor

  • Savanna Portage State Park: Park preserves the historic six mile portage between the Mississippi and Lake Superior watersheds.

Onamia

  • Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Posts: Explore the history of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
  • Mille Lacs Kathio State Park: Park located on the lake that preserves habitations and mounds and documents relations between Dakota and Ojibwe Tribes.

Pelican Rapids

  • Maplewood State Park: Park known for its forest/prairie transition zone.

St. Cloud

  • Munsinger Clemens Gardens/Riverside Regional Park: Beautiful Gardens located along the banks of the Mississippi River.

Starbuck

  • Glacial Lakes State Park: Preserves rolling prairies that once covered much of the state.

Underwood

  • Phelps Mill: Old Flour Mill located along the river.

Waite Park

  • Quarry Park and Nature Preserve: Scenic wildlife spot that offers great hiking.

All attractions found on exploreminnesota.com

Minnesota Bucket List ~Northeast Region

Headed to the northeast portion of Minnesota today. Brace yourselves! This is a long list. A few summers back we spent a week along the Northshore of Lake Superior and had the time of our lives! There are so many fun parks to see along the shore, so this list gets lengthy because of that!

Bigfork

  • Scenic State Park: Beautiful wooded, lake area.

Birchdale

  • Franz Jevne State Park: Located along the river, wolves and moose are known to roam the area.

Buyck

  • Vermilion Falls: Stunning falls that empty into the Crane River.

Calumet

  • Hill Annex Mine State Park: Site that explores the open pit mining heritage of the area.

Carlton

  • Jay Cooke State Park: Contains a beautiful rocky gorge and among the top 10 state parks visited in Minnesota.

Chisholm

  • Minnesota Discovery Center: Largest museum complex in the state outside of the Twin Cities area. It details the history of mining in the area.

Duluth

  • Enger Park Tower and Gardens: Overlook the port city of Duluth by climbing to the top of this tower.
  • Great Lakes Aquarium: Small aquarium that hosts a variety of fish and animals that call the Great Lakes their home.
  • Park Point Recreation Area: Beautiful sand dune area where you can also hike to the remains of a lighthouse.
  • S.S. William A. Irvin Guided Tours: Take a tour of a bulk freighter.

Ely

  • Bear Head Lake State Park: Provides great access to the Boundary Waters area.
  • International Wolf Center: Learn all about wolves and how we can help protect their population.
  • North America Bear Center: Visit the only black bear education center.

Grand Marais

  • Judge C.R. Magney State Park: Visit for a fun hike to the Devil’s Kettle Waterfall which disappears into a hole.

Grand Portage

  • Grand Portage National Monument: Visit this fun interactive old fort/trading post. Fascinating history!
  • Grand Portage State Park: Visit the park that sits on the U.S./Canada border and take in the beautiful waterfalls.

Grand Rapids

  • Forest History Center: Learn the history of the north woods and lumberjacks and how they shaped the area.
  • Judy Garland Museum and Children’s Discovery Museum: Take in Judy Garland and Wizard of Oz artifacts.

Hibbing

  • Hull Rust Mine View and Hibbing Tourist Senior Center: Look out over one of the largest open pit mines in the world.

International Falls

  • Voyageurs National Park: Located near the Canadian border, this national park is known for its waterways.

Lutsen

  • Cascade Falls State Park: Hike along the cascading falls the park is named for (and the nearby Cascade Lodge makes for a fantastic place to stay along the North Shore!)

Pine City

  • Snake River Fur Post: Reconstructed fur post located along the Snake River.

Sandstone

  • Banning State Park: Located along the Kettle River, this park is known for its series of rapids.
  • Minnesota Goose Garden: Native flora and sculpture garden.
  • Robinson Park: Explore this former sandstone quarry.

Schroeder

  • Sugarloaf Point SRA and Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center: Hike along this cove area on Lake Superior’s shore.
  • Temperance River State Park: Access this beautiful gorge area from a highway pull off!

Silver Bay

  • George H. Crosby Manitou State Park: Enjoy the cascades of the Manitou River.
  • Tettegouche State Park: Beautiful park filled with many waterfalls, including the highest falls completely within the state of Minnesota.

Soudan

  • Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park: The mine within the park is Minnesota’s oldest, deepest and richest iron mine.

Two Harbors

  • 3M/Dwan Museum: Museum dedicatd to the early years of the 3M company.
  • Gooseberry Falls State Park: Minnesota’s most visited state park, this area contains several stunning waterfalls.
  • Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: Tour the picturesque Split Rock Lighthouse and enjoy time along the shore of Lake Superior.
  • Two Harbors Light Station Museum: Tour this quaint little light station.

All attractions found on visitminnesota.com

Minnesota Bucket List ~ Northwest Region

Today we begin to explore the state of Minnesota and it’s five tourism regions. I will say that despite many visits to the state, this first region may be the one I am least familiar with. We’ve drive through the Fargo/Moorhead area many times and we did visit Lake Itasca once, but we’ve spent very little time actually exploring the area, so much of today’s post is new to me!

Akeley

  • Akeley Paul Bunyan Historical Museum: Visit and learn the history of the small town that claims to be the “birthplace of Paul Bunyan.”

Argyle

  • Old Mill State Park: Explore historic structures, enjoy a nice swim, and hike over many bridges at this park.

Bemidji

  • Headwaters Science Center: Explore hands on exhibits at this small science center.
  • Lake Bemidji State Park: Enjoy hiking and beautiful sunsets over the lake.

Detroit Lakes

  • Dunton Locks County Park: Small park that offers a lot of hiking.

Hackensack

  • Deep Portage Learning Center: Explore trails through bogs, woodland, and along the river.

Lake Bronson

  • Lake Bronson State Park: Beautiful park located along the lake with great camping and lake access.

Middle River

  • Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge: Enjoy hiking and bird watching opportunities.

Moorhead

  • Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County: Located within the Hjemkomst Center, this museum details the history of the area and also offers tours of the Hjemkomst Viking Ship and Hopperstad Stave Church.

Park Rapids

  • Itasca State Park: Home to the Mississippi Headwaters, you won’t want to miss this park!

Roseau

  • Polaris Experience and Factory Tour: Explore the history of the company and the making of their snowmobiles and ATV’s.

Warroad

  • William S. Marvin Training and Visitor Center: Experience the history and innovations of Marvin Windows and Doors.

Williams

  • Zippel Bay State Park: Located on the white sand shores of Lake of the Woods, great hiking is offered at this park near the U.S./Canadian border.

All attractions found on exploreminnesota.com.

SPAM Museum ~ Austin, Minnesota

After spending the night in Austin, we decided to check out their famous SPAM Museum before heading into Iowa. Andrew and I had tried SPAM for the first time a few months prior, so we figured it would be interesting to visit to learn more about that canned spiced ham.

The museum was recently redone, and we were greeted warmly upon entering. We signed their guest book and were also asked what variety of SPAM we’d be interested in trying as they were going to make up some samples in the next few minutes.

The first area of the museum had several panels discussing the history of SPAM with a neat conveyor belt display running about our heads.

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The museum also has a kids play area that includes both a farm and a house and small market stand.

After this, we entered an area where we could test our skills at packing our own containers of SPAM. We could time how fast we could do one can, and the display would show how many the factory had filled at the same time. We both eventually got down to completing a can in 12 seconds.

The also had a fun sign explaining the entire process of how SPAM is made.

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There was also a section talking about the history of the company and especially it’s role in the World Wars. After that we entered the final section that shows the variety of SPAM found all around the world in a world village.

Near the end of that section, we got some pictures with Spammy, who’s something of a SPAM mascot in Japan.

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Overall we spent about an hour at the museum and got to try the Hickory Smoked SPAM. We liked it so much that we opted to buy a can of that and two other varieties from the gift shop. They offer all their varieties there, including two kinds that aren’t sold anywhere else in the U.S.

We had such a great time, loved the helpful staff, and learned a lot about SPAM at this interactive museum. We highly suggest visiting if you are in the area, or even detour off to make a stop!

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Green Giant Statue Park ~Blue Earth, Minnesota

Near the end of July, we had to make a short trip to the Quad Cities area and decided to make Austin, Minnesota our first stop along the journey. While en route to Austin, I remembered that I’d read you could see the Jolly Green Giant just off of I-90, so we decided to pay him a visit.

You can find the Green Giant in the aptly named Green Giant Statue Park behind the Dairy Queen in Blue Earth.  There is a small parking lot located beside newly built visitor center that houses a small museum dedicated to Jolly Green which was sadly already closed upon our visit.

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As you can see, a visit to the Green Giant also allows you to view his little buddy, Little Green Sprout. Can he get any cuter?

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Another feature of the Green Giant himself is that you can stand beneath him in his shadow for a fun photo opportunity.

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There is also a small information sign that details the history of how Green Giant came to be in this location and how he also receives a scarf to wear every winter, as the Minnesota winters can be quite harsh!

We had fun at this quirky stop off. It was great to quickly stretch out legs and seemed to be well visited and maintained. Two other families stopped off as we were leaving. I’d love to return again when the museum is open to see what other kinds of memorabilia they own.

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Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham ~ Moorhead, Minnesota

The night before Andrew’s half marathon in Fargo, we stayed across the Red River in Moorhead, Minnesota, as prices were slightly less. I was a little nervous to stay in a Microtel, as the one other memory I have of staying at one was in Tennessee when I was 11 on our way down to Florida and I just recall lots and lots of big bugs making their way into our room! Ha! But that could just be because we were in the South! This Microtel, however, greatly impressed me as it looked to be quite new and close to a plethora of restaurants just across the interstate, (including a Noodles and Co., which is a staple before any race Andrew runs!)

Our room was on either the second or third floor and was very spacious! The bathroom was off to the left and while small/standard hotel size, it had lots of shelving space to store items.20190517_151454

The room was divided into two sections, the main living area and the bedroom area with a small divider between.

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As you can see the TV could be viewed from either area and the desk area was somewhat shared between the two.

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To the left in the living space area there also was a small kitchenette area that contained the bare basics of coffee maker, microwave, mini fridge and a small sink.

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Our room contained a king bed, and we also greatly enjoyed the small window seat in our room. It gave it a nice homey touch.

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This hotel was definitely worth our money and also so courteous to those running the race. Breakfast hours started after we left, but they had a small bowl of fruit out with a sign wishing runners good luck, so we were well taken care of in that realm.

I would certainly stay here again for future races or trips to Fargo in general as it certainly beat the prices of hotels in Fargo. Do plan ahead if you stay here for marathon weekend though as streets were already being closed off as we followed Google Maps directions to reach the FargoDome. We would have been much better off sticking to the interstate to avoid those closures!

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Hampton Inn Minneapolis Bloomington West~ Bloomington, Minnesota

Finding a hotel in the Twin Cities area can be a bit overwhelming. Do you want to stay in the heart of one of the cities and be able to walk around the downtown? Do you want to stay in the suburbs and drive from place to place or find public transportation? If you are visiting multiple sites around the city, which of these would you like your hotel to be closest to? Decisions, decisions, decisions. For our trip we were on a somewhat tighter budget, so we didn’t want all of our money to go to waste on lodging, as many of the attractions we were going to visit cost money. That pretty much vetoed out any hotels located directly downtown as they always cost a bit more, plus have an additional cost of parking your vehicle. If you’ve been following out blog, you’ll know that I recently became a huge fan of the Hilton brand, which while on the slightly pricier side than the Wyndham hotels we previously stayed at, offer a nicer breakfast and usually much quieter hotel stays. That found me looking at Hilton brand hotels near the Mall of America. While there were a few closer to the Mall of America than where we wound up staying, our hotel was actually a newer build and located near a business park, which made for a much quieter stay.

Check in was a breeze and we even got to opt into a program where we could earn more points if we were staying two nights or longer and opted to not have housekeeping come clean our room. I haven’t checked to see if they actually panned out, since a few times we’d be gone for the day and realized they did still come make our bed or provide new towels, but I digress.

Our room was located on the third floor, so we took the elevators up and then realized we were located at the far end of the hall, so the stairs may have been the easier way to go. The bathroom was directly to our right upon entering and unlike many rooms contained just a shower rather than tub/shower combo. I’m not sure if all they rooms are this way, or just some in particular. What we did enjoy was that what look like drawer pull outs, actually gave you extended counter space on which you could place other bathroom necessities as you prepped for the day.

Our King Bed was actually against the bathroom wall and faced the window, with a small desk are to the right of the bed and the TV stand/microwave/fridge unit to the left. We’ve had a few hotel rooms now set up this way, and actually really like it as you bed isn’t sharing a wall with the neighboring rooms bed, hence cutting down on neighbor noise.

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This Hampton had a huge breakfast area. The serving area was in a “room” of it’s own that opened into their larger dining/lobby space. Despite all the tables they had, nearly every morning most tables were full. Luckily with just two of us, we usually were able to find a few free seats at which to eat. Every morning they always had a few hot options, waffles, fruit, assorted breads, cereal, and coffee. Sometimes they would list the hot options on a small chalkboard in the lobby.

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Since we were there for three nights, we had ample time to check out the amenities the hotel had to offer. We did not actually use the exercise room, but made sure to check it out for this post. As you can see, it was larger for a hotel exercise room and had plenty of different machines and equipment available for use, as well as I nice water dispenser and shelf for towels.

The pool area was also very nice with lots of lounge chairs, a large swimming pool (that was a bit cool in my opinion,) and a standard sized hot tub. We found that the pool area could get a bit rowdy in the evenings, not just with kids, but with adults who would choose to bring some select beverages with them, despite the rule board saying not to. Thus we found we limited our pool time to the afternoon, as that’s when many families were out exploring the Mall or had checked out/not yet checked in for the day.

This Hampton also offers a free shuttle that can take you to the airport or to the Mall of America. The Mall of America has a light rail station located nearby should you want to take that into the cities. A friend advised us not to go that route, because while the light rail seems inexpensive compared to parking your vehicle downtown, it sucks up a lot of time that you could be out exploring the town. There are plenty of restaurants located just a short distance away (especially if you shuttle back to the Mall,) and also a nice lakefront recreation area that we decided to take a stroll along our final night there. I highly recommend checking out this hotel if you will be in the area for more than one night and know you may be spending a decent part of your time wanting to just relax!

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