Free Fun in the Minneapolis Riverfront District, Minnesota

One of the things I love the most about Minneapolis is that there are so many great things to do outside – for free!  One of the best areas to visit during a trip there for free fun is the Minneapolis Riverfront District, which is part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, one of 5 national parks in Minnesota.

Spanning both sides of the Mississippi River, the Minneapolis Riverfront District is really where you should look to understand the history of the city.  Originally two cities, St. Anthony on one river bank and Minneapolis on the other, the area focused on saw mills and used the river for energy and transportation.

Gold Medal Flour building at dusk Minneapolis

As technology progressed and the needs of the area shifted, they began to focus on flour mills and the river remained crucial to the city’s success.  Minneapolis is still referred to as “Mill City.”

Here are a few of the things you and your family can explore during your trip to Minneapolis!  They are all part of the Heritage Trail, a 1.8 mile walking tour perfect for anyone wanting to explore more of the city.

Stone Arch Bridge

Sunset Mississippi River in Minnesota
The Stone Arch Bridge and Downtown Minneapolis at Dusk

Formerly a railroad bridge, the Stone Arch Bridge is an iconic part of downtown Minneapolis.  It now has biking and walking paths, and often hosts musical performers during summer evening hours.  It is a great place to stroll and to take a look at the power of the mighty Mississippi.

Mississippi river in Minneapolis
Claire scoping out Upper St Anthony Falls from the Stone Arch Bridge.

Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam Tour

A barge traveling through the St Anthony Locks.

The Army Corp of Engineers offers a free lock and dam tour of Upper St. Anthony Falls, and I would recommend it.  It doesn’t take that long, and it isn’t all that flashy, but it is really interesting.  I understood the theory behind locks, but I truly grasped it after seeing this lock in action.

Fun trivia fact : St. Anthony Falls was the only natural waterfall on the Mississippi.  Due to erosion and collapse, the natural falls have been replaced by progressively stronger concrete spillways or “aprons” since 1870.

Dusk riverfront minneapolis
The lock is on the left, while St. Anthony Falls is on the right.

Mill City Ruins Park

Urban decay can be unsightly, but it can also be beautiful and historic as in the case of Mill City Ruins Park.  Once buried beneath sand and gravel, historic canals and walls are exposed for visitors to check out.  Definitely take a bit to check it out if you at the Stone Arch Bridge.  It is almost directly underneath it on the Downtown Minneapolis side.

Mississippi River
Mill Ruins Park in the Minneapolis Riverfront District

Water Power Park

Located on the St. Anthony side of the Mississippi, Water Power Park is a small park designed by Xcel Energy.  The park contains lots of useful information on hydro power, but it is also the closest you can get to St. Anthony Falls without a boat.  You can really feel the power of the river from this vantage point.  The falls roar and the spray reaches your face.

Despite the noise, I found it to be very relaxing.  Almost like the falls drowned out the rest of the world, and you could just focus on the water rushing in front of you.  I also learned quite a bit about hydro power, and it was a great addition to the other stops on the Heritage Trail.

Mississippi River Minneapolis
A view of lower St. Anthony Falls from Water Power Park.

Minneapolis Riverfront District Resources :

Minneapolis Parks and Recreation website

Check out the Fabled Falls and Forgotten Falls Quest – a great way to experience this area with your kids!

Visit Minneapolis Website

Disclosure : During this particular visit to the Minneapolis Waterfront District I was a guest of Visit Minneapolis.