Travels with Children

The adventures I embark upon with my four young children.

Archive for Minnesota

Moving on two wheels . . . and then some

At the beginning of the summer, we outfitted ourselves with some bikes and equipment so that we could take the family out on some bike rides.  Our criteria were a little unusual, I suppose: we didn’t want to spend a lot of money since we didn’t know how it would go, and because our kids are so young and not accustomed to navigating traffic with their bikes (we live on a farm), we wanted them all attached to us.

Hubby and I each got a new bike, and we got two tagalongs and a double trailer.  (I had joked that if I got a tandem bike I could have handled all four kids by myself, but we didn’t go that far.)  Again, these were all basic models, so our outlay for everything was less than $600, and we anticipate decent resale from the taglongs and trailer in a few years.  The kids and I all got new helmets at a bike fair, they were good helmets at a bargain price.

When we ride, I have our five-year-old behind me on a taglong, and hubby has our seven-year-old on a tagalong, with the girls (2 and 4) in the trailer attached behind it.

Our first “big” trip was a trip into town.  3 miles didn’t sound so bad, even on gravel.  Funny how I hadn’t realized how hilly our roads were until that time.  And hadn’t thought about the wind being against us on the way home.  But we made it home and everyone enjoyed the ride.

Our next stop was the paved portion of the Luce Line trail in Hutchinson, MN, which runs from one end of town to the other with some nice parks along the way, as well as restaurants.  We even made a shopping stop at Shopko, which is just off the trail.

We took the gear along when we spent a week at the lake and went on rides almost every morning.  We rode through Sibley State Park near New London, Minnesota, which is beautiful; along the Glacial Lakes trail beginning at Willmar, Minnesota, which is wide and smooth and flat and very peaceful; and around Spicer’s Green Lake, which we had estimated at 6-7 miles but found out when we were done that it was closer to 12!

At the end of the summer, hubby and I got away for a rare night out and decided to see how our bikes handle without trailers and tagalongs attached.  It was so gloriously easy without the extra 50-150 pounds of kids behind!  We rode the trail in New Ulm, Minnesota, and we’re planning to take the kids along on it soon.  On the north half, there’s only one street to cross, so we may actually unleash the kids and let them ride by themselves with their training wheels on it.

We’re still novices at this bike thing, but it was a fun way to spend some family time together this summer.


Do you take your kids on bike rides?  What kind of equipment do you use?  Do you have any favorite trails?  How do you teach your kids road safety?  Please let us know with a comment!


If you’re in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area this week . . .

and can find a way, go to Civic Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center!  I’m too beat for a full review right now, but it was very well done.  The floor was not crowded and there were lots of things for kids (and adults!) to do.  Civic Fest runs through Thursday (coinciding with the Republican National Convention), so if you can clear your calendar for a few hours, take advantage of this opportunity.  Be sure to take your camera as there are some nice photo areas as well.

Holmberg Orchard

Holmberg Orchard

6 miles west of Vesta on County Road 30, 1 mile north on County Road 8, Vesta, MN.  507-762-3131.
Free admission.  Free parking.  Stroller accessible.  Restroom available.  Concessions available (dates/hours vary).

This ended up being our third annual trip to the Holmberg Orchard, and we weren’t disappointed.  We first went two years ago on a weekday, just for apples, and last year joined an ECFE field trip to the orchard.  This year we stopped because it was on our way to Walnut Grove and I was hoping to buy a few more Honeycrisp apples since we were driving by.

We arrived at the orchard just after it opened at 10 a.m. and were the first car in the parking lot.  The kids played in the boats filled with corn, and then we bought a few squash and found our apples.  The boys noticed the sign for hayrides to the pumpking patch, but I explained that the hayrides (per the sign) didn’t start until 11:00, and it was only 10:20.  The proprietor asked if the kids wanted rides and promptly found someone to take us, so we had a private ride through the orchard to the huge pumpkin patch.  The kids each chose a pumpkin and we headed back and paid for them.  By this time, the kids noticed that they were setting up for pony rides, and the lunch stand opened at 11 a.m., so we stuck around a while longer so we could have lunch and pony rides before leaving.

Bottom line:  the early hayride netted the orchard an additional $31 in sales (pumpkins, lunch, and pony rides) and made the day a lot more fun for the kids.  It’s nice to visit a business that is so accommodating to its customers!

Duluth Children’s Museum

Duluth Children’s Museum

506 W. Michigan St., Duluth, MN.  218-733-7543.
$10 adults, $5.50 ages 3-13, 2 and under free; admission also includes Duluth Art Institute, Lake Superior Railroad Museum, Veteran’s Memorial, and the St. Louis County Historical Society exhibits in the same building.  Parking adjacent (fee?).  Stroller accessible.  Restrooms available.
Reciprocal admission through ACM and ASTM (see “Adventures on a Budget” for more information).

The Duluth Children’s Museum is part of the Depot, a complex that includes a train museum, veteran’s memorial, art museum, and county historical exhibits, so when we made our plans, I expected we’d be there most of the day.  We arrived just as the museum opened on a crisp January morning and paid our admission, then visited the train museum first.  Then we made our way across the hallway to the children’s museum. 

As children’s museums go, this one is small, but it does have some of the traveling exhibits I’ve seen at other museums.  On the lower level, there were two exhibit areas, and upstairs another exhibit area and a hallway displaying children’s toys through the years.  Connecting the two is a treehouse staircase.  As an adult, the treehouse isn’t spectacular, but my parents had taken us to the museum when I was a young child, and I fondly remembered the treehouse.  It’s just a lot bigger when you’re small than when you’re grown!  An elevator is also available for moving strollers up and down. 

Although the museum is small, it had enough to keep the kids busy for a while, but because of their different interests and the fun of playing in the treehouse, it was hard to keep track of them.  Eventually my husband went downstairs and I stayed up so we could successfully keep an eye on all of our children. 

The museum is located in downtown Duluth, and we didn’t find any eating establishments nearby (within a quick walking distance) so I was glad we saw what we wanted before lunch, when we made the short drive to the Canal Park area to eat.  I believe there were vending machines with snacks in the building, so you could probably tide the kids over if you needed to, but but there is no on-site cafe.

Combined with the train museum, this was a nice stop for us although the children’s museum itself isn’t as spectacular as some others.  A note about membership, however–their membership rates that include reciprocities with ACM and/or ASTM are some of the best bargains in the country.

Deardorff Orchards

Deardorff Orchards

8350 Parley Lake Rd., Waconia, MN.
Free.  Free parking (along gravel road).  Stroller accessible.  Restrooms (porta-potties) available.  Some foods available in apple store.

Fall in Minnesota wouldn’t be complete without a trip to an orchard to find some home-grown Honeycrisp apples.  Our orchard of choice this year was Deardorff Orchards, between Waconia and Victoria, Minnesota.  We arrived on a crisp September morning and parked along the road, then walked onto the farm site that is home to the orchard.  We played on the hay pile and saw a few farm animals, then boarded a flatbed, tractor-pulled wagon to pick our own apples.

When we visited Deardorff two years ago, I had three children, ages 4, 2, and 1, and I was nervous enough about the flatbed ride that we didn’t go to the pick-your-own area.  With the kids a little older, though, and the staff being willing to help me lift the stroller onto the cart (and me locking the wheels), I gave it a try, being sure we were sitting in the middle of the trailer.  The tractor deposited us in the orchard after describing where we could find various varieties of apples.  We picked some apples and then returned to the farm, where we walked through the store.  There, in refrigerators, were additional pre-picked apples, as well as pumpkins, jams and jellies, doughnuts, and other goods.  We paid for our apples and made our way back to the car.  Deardorff also has special activities, including cider and hotdogs, at certain times, and they have wagons for pulling apples or kids, and the site is picturesque enough that it served as our Christmas card picture a few years ago.  So, take the kids and your camera to Deardorff Orchards when you want some good, homegrown Minnesota apples!

Como Zoo

Como Zoo

1225 Estabrook Drive (in Como Park), St. Paul, MN. 651-487-8200.
Free (but donation of $2 adult/$1 child suggested). Free parking. Stroller accessible. Restrooms available, family restroom in main building. Cafe on-site, concessions available.

We’ve been to a few zoos in the past few years, and we’ve noticed that there are two types: big ones, where you walk for miles to see animals in their “natural” habitats, and smaller zoos where the animals each have their own little area. St. Paul’s Como Zoo is of the latter type, making it fun for kids without being exhausting for stroller pushers.

One of the nice things about Como Zoo is that you can see all of the typical “zoo” animals–lions and tigers and (polar) bears, plus zebras and giraffes. We’ve been to zoos where we walked and walked looking for the lions, only to learn that they didn’t have any. Something else nice is that if you get lost, or if your kids want to dart from one exhibit area to another, it’s all in close proximity, so you really can let the kids lead you if that’s what you choose to do. All of the buildings are stroller-accessible, but a few have stairs on one side and a ramp on the other, so you can’t just file in one door and out the other.

Favorites of the kids this time around were the polar bear and the lions (since we’d recently watched the Lion King). Inside the new visitor center is a “tropical encounters” exhibit where we could see tropical plants and birds.

The zoo is open year-round, and we have learned that it’s a lot quieter there on a chilly November day than on a warm August day. Parking was difficult to find; both of the zoo lots and the nearby park lots were full so we ended up parking along the street and walking quite a way.

Also accessible through the visitor center is the Marjorie McNeely conservatory, which we did not visit this time.

We did take a ride on the historic Cafesjian’s Carousel, however, and it was a real treat! A restored antique carousel, all of the horses are hand-carved. My older three rode on horses, and I sat in a chariot with my toddler. It was one of the fastest and longest carousel rides I’ve been on.

Also, be aware that there is an amusement park called Como Town adjacent to and visible from the zoo, so if you’re not interested in spending extra money on fair-type rides, you can prepare your “no” answers ahead of time.

Como Zoo is one of those classic zoos that is a delight to visit with young children.

I really liked looking at the lion and I liked going on the carousel, too.

The Bakken Museum

The Bakken Museum

3537 Zenith Ave. S (off Lake Calhoun), Minneapolis, MN. 612-926-3878.
$7 adults, $5 students & senior, 3 and under free. Free parking. Stroller accessible, though easier in some areas than others. Restrooms available.

We visited the Bakken Museum last spring while using our first Museum Adventure Pass, which was available from Minneapolis-St. Paul area libraries for admission to several different museums. The Bakken was unique enough that I hadn’t heard of it before, but since I had a free pass, we gave it a try.

The Bakken is truly an electrifying place. Most of its exhibits are on the theme of electricity. Visitors can crank a wheel to make a spark, see how primitive batteries worked, and learn about magnetism and the history of electricity. A hands-on area (with capable guide) allowed the kids to be “charged up” and demonstrate how static electricity works.

The museum was very quiet when we were there, which allowed the kids to explore their favorites several times over. I had been afraid that it would be a “looking only” museum, but there were a nice number of hands-on activities the kids could try.

There is also a Frankenstein exhibit, but the posted warnings said it might not be suitable for young children, so we didn’t go in that area.

The Bakken was a nice surprise to find. I wish I would have planned ahead a little more so that we would have had time for a nice walk around Lake Calhoun, which is just across the street.

We’ll probably go back again when the kids are a little older, and when my husband can come as well, since I think he would be interested in a lot of things at the Bakken.

I really liked doing the electricity wheel.