Day trips to go down in your family's history

Summer is about a month away from being over. Your family may be just now catching up from an extended vacation, or scavenging for something, anything, to do.

Either way, visiting Southeast Minnesota's finest historic attractions is a good way to spend each Saturday remaining in the summer. In the few weeks before school starts, take a family field trip to a Minnesota historical site. Here are five of Minnesota's best nearby historic attractions — each a two-hour or less car ride.

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

This one is the closest attraction — about 45 minutes south of Rochester. Visitors can explore the state park, cross the Carnegie Bridge and get a taste of what small town living was like in 1899. Costumed guides impersonate residents of the time and engage in what people living then did as their daily routines. A state park vehicle pass is required for admission.

Sibley Historic Site


Explore the buildings that make up the home of Minnesota's first governor, a fur trader named Henry Sibley. This site consists of four of Minnesota's oldest surviving buildings. Located in Mendota, the Sibley Historic Site is only an hour and fifteen minute drive north from Rochester. Open Saturdays and Sundays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. until Labor Day, catch this attraction before it closes for the year. Guided tours occur on the hour, and admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and college students, and $5 for children ages 5-17. (Kids under 5 are free.)

Minnesota History Center

Visit the granddaddy of all Minnesota historic sites — the History Center in St. Paul. Everyone in the family can find a topic that fosters wonder and learning. A museum with permanent and changing exhibits, this destination is a must for all historically curious families. Admission is free, but it is charged for special featured exhibits. Their hours include 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday.

Harkin Store

An authentic general store, 1871 style in 2017, this site is the farthest away, but arguably the coolest. The Harkin Store opened in 1867 in the town of West Newton, and it is the only thing that remains of the town today. When a railroad was built bypassing the town, the store had to close with a large amount of unsold inventory on the shelves, where it is today. Located in New Ulm, it is about a two hour drive west from Rochester.

James J. Hill House

The kids will be easily convinced that they're visiting the home of a king with this historic site, a 36,000-square-foot mansion in St. Paul built for James J. Hill, the former CEO of a family of railroad lines. The mansion also contains an art gallery available for public viewing. Tickets for only the art gallery are $2. Admission that includes a tour is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and college students, $6 for kids ages 5 to 17, and free for kids age 4 and under. Tours begin every half hour and last 75 minutes. The hours of this mansion turned museum include 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. On Monday and Tuesday, only the art gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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