The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul usually take up the entire itinerary of tourists visiting the Midwest state of Minnesota. But, there are many gems rich in cultural heritage and natural attributes that get overshadowed in the process. While you’re exploring the Land of 10,000 Lakes, don’t forget to visit Otter Tail, MN.
Home to some of the cutest riverside cities in the Midwest area, Otter Tail County is popular for its breathtaking natural environment and landscapes. Besides that, it offers many activities for the whole family – making it an ideal destination for a weekend getaway.
There are so many interesting things to do in Otter Tail County, you can easily miss out on amazing stuff if you don’t plan properly. T
hat’s why I have rounded up some of the best activities so that you can arrange the perfect itinerary for your family.
So let’s get started!
Fun & Best Things to Do in Otter Tail, Minnesota
Although Otter Tail is a small county in Minnesota, that doesn’t mean it lacks in any way when it comes to tourist attractions and fun activities. So whether you’re visiting for the weekend or the entire week, you will never run out of things to do in Otter Tail, Minnesota.
Walk across the quintessential small-town lanes or take up adventurous activities at the lakeside. Aside from the lake activities, Otter Tail has activities to fit every mood.
If you’re wondering what to do in Otter Tail over the weekend, check out this list of Otter Tail things to do before heading out.
1. Visit Glendalough State Park
Your vacation in Otter Tail County would be incomplete without visiting Glendalough State Park. The park is famous for encompassing five lakes and several hiking trails in its vicinity.
Exciting Spots at Glendalough State Park
While you won’t find many Otter Tail beach things to do, the state park offers many adventurous activities. Four of the five lakes allow you to drive motorized boats, so you can rent a boat of your choice and go for a ride with your family.
Besides that, the Annie Battle Lake lets tourists indulge in water sports like paddle-boarding, water-biking, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming.
The best part is, you don’t have to take any gear along while setting out. There are rental shops at the park where you can get the gear you need for reasonable prices.
Glendalough State Park also has many other great Otter Tail activities to do. You can tour the historic Glendalough Game Farm visited by Presidents Nixon and Eisenhower. There are fun, guided tours available that make for an educational experience for your family.
Other fun activities at the park include hiking and biking. I would recommend heading over to the Beaver Pond Trail trail that goes through a stream, Beaver Pond, and Blanche Lake. There are multiple spots for observing various local wildlife.
Additionally, other trails meander through its numerous lakes and take you across a lush prairie, hardwood forest, and beautiful lakeside views.
Accommodations and Transport
You can dedicate an entire day from your itinerary by renting out beds and tables to relax at any lakeside you like. There are also yurts available where you can crash in for the night and spend some peaceful hours in the natural environment.
The park is located at the main Otter Tail County Highway, easily accessible through a car or rental. You’ll have to pay a $7 entrance fee with additional charges for camping, sports, and rentals.
See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in Minneapolis, MN
2. Take an Educational Trip About Finnish Heritage
Activities in Otter Tail are not just restricted to active endeavors like hiking and water sports. Apart from its natural attributes, Otter Tail County is rich in historical and cultural heritage.
If you’re a history buff looking for interesting things to do in Otter Tail this weekend, there are several museums you can visit in the area. One of the best locations is The Finn Creek Open Air Museum.
Located close to the famous New York Mills, the museum is easily accessible and does not charge visitors. However, you can contribute towards its maintenance through donations.
The 18-acre site is built as a tribute and preservation site for Finnish culture, which was prevalent in Otter Tail County in the early 18th Century. You can visit an intricately preserved original farmstead from the 1900s and admire traditional buildings like log barns, sawmills, and Finnish smoke saunas.
Such unique Northern-European/Scandinavian farming techniques are rarely preserved anywhere today in their original form, so the museum is a must-visit for those interested in agricultural heritage. Besides that, the museum holds an annual Finn Creek Festival every August with various fun activities, food, and entertainment.
So, if you’re planning a trip, you should do so in the same month. Also, the museum is only open several days in the week, so make sure you check their schedule before heading out.
See Related: Famous Landmarks in Minnesota
3. Check Out the Otter Tail County Historical Society
If you’re interested in the historical background of this peaceful and serene county, visiting this establishment is one of the best Otter Tail things to do.
A site that attracts both locals and tourists every year, the society holds a permanent exhibit showcasing the region’s culture, history, agriculture, and wildlife.
One of Minnesota’s best local history museums, the location holds temporary exhibits that change every month. So, even if you have visited the place before, it is worth visiting for a second time.
Similarly, the society also holds some special events which are ideal for those looking for fun things to do in Otter Tail. These events include musical performances, scholarly lectures, and even cultural food festivals in the society vicinity.
Moreover, if you’re a bookworm, its neatly organized library is a must-visit for you. Housing around 2,190 books related to Otter Tail County’s history and significance, the library is your go-to destination for authentic information regarding the region.
It is near Fergus Falls, so you can pair the tour with several other activities to complete your daily itinerary.
See Related: Best Indoor Activities in Minnesota
4. Explore Fergus Falls
If you have already visited the museums and state parks in the county, that doesn’t mean you have exhausted all the things to do Otter Tail. One of my best activities while visiting Otter Tail is exploring the quintessential small towns in its borders.
First, there’s Fergus Falls, a small town known as the art and cultural hub in the county. Serving as the country seat, Fergus Falls is also a paradise for art lovers. Musicals, theatre, art galleries, exhibitions, and art history; you can find everything you need in this town to tickle your arty bone.
Visit The Center for the Arts to witness daily performances, but make sure to book your tickets beforehand for any upcoming events. Similarly, there’s the Lakes Region Arts Council that displays artistic renditions of the beautiful aspects of the county.
Besides that, the town has a popular marketplace where you can shop for souvenirs to take home. Among the most favored items on sale are the Minnetonka Moccasins, fancy hand-made traditional Native American soft leather shoes as well as local soaps with alluring scents.
If time permits, you can also visit the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center to get an informational insight into the wetlands covering the northern Great Plains.
See Related: Best Lakes in Minnesota (Ranked!)
5. Visit Vining
If you loved Fergus Falls and are ready to visit another small town, the popular town of Vining lies just half an hour’s drive east. Even though it is one of the smallest towns in Otter Tail County, it has many attractions that bring in hundreds of tourists every year.
One of the most appealing attractions in Vining is Nyberg Sculpture Park. The sculpture park is home to massive metal structures which make amazing backgrounds for family photographs. Apart from the well-known giant watermelon, other structures include a giant coffee cup, elephant, and a ‘bigfoot’ sculpture.
The town is also popular for its annual Watermelon Day; an awesome event held every August. If you plan to visit Vining, try to catch the event to make the most of your time!
6. Hang Out at Perham
Perham is a beautiful small town in Otter Tail, listed as one of the ‘20 Best Small Towns to Visit‘ by the Smithsonian Magazine in 2018. If you’re planning a summer vacation, you shouldn’t miss adding Perham to your Otter Tail itinerary.
The town transforms into a tourist hub starting from June all through August. The main attraction in this period includes International Turtle Races, where freshwater turtles from all over the world come to compete!
Similarly, there’s a multitude of festivities surrounding the races that include a parade, brew fest, marathon, and street dances. Meaning, if you visit Perham at the right time, you’ll probably have the time of your life.
Besides that, there are many other things you can do in Perham available throughout the year. These include the making and tasting of artisan coffee at Gathering Grounds, housed in a delightful 100-year old building.
Additionally, you can enjoy local cuisine and street food at the bustling marketplace and shop for souvenirs.
7. Head Over to Maplewood State Park for Cross Country Skiing Trails
Maplewood State Park is another must-visit park in Otter Tail County. Unlike Glendalough State Park that showcases the beauty of five lakes, this one allows you to gawp over spectacular prairie restoration.
The park presents scenic views through its expansive lakes and dense trees, making it an ideal picnic and camping spot with your family. Moreover, it has plenty of hiking trails to choose from.
The most popular hiking trail at Maplewood State Park is the Hallaway Hill trail. Here, you’ll get the best views which make the exhausting hike worth the effort. Similarly, the park is also known for its cross-country skiing trails.
Apart from hiking, you can also take up adventurous water sports at Maplewood State Park. These include kayaking, canoeing, fishing, boating, and swimming.
You can get all the necessary gear at rental shops in the vicinity, so you don’t have to bring any bulky equipment along. Galloping Goose Rentals is one of the most popular rental shops you should check out for fair prices and quality gear.
The park has dedicated camping spots, picnic areas, and fire rings, making it ideal for family getaways. However, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee of $7 per head, along with the different sports and rental expenses, once you’re inside.
8. Indulge in Water Sports at Otter Tail Lake
Taking up water sports at Otter Tail Lake is one of the best things to do in Otter Tail County. It is the largest lake of over 1,048 lakes in this lake-filled paradise. Here you can find amazing options for beach sports and water sports.
Fishing is the most popular activity in the area. Otter Tail Lake is less than 15 feet deep, which makes it great for catching fish like smallmouth and largemouth bass. Similarly, expert fishermen can also go for the huge population of walleye, crappie, and northern pike in the area.
If you turn up with no gear, you can rent all the equipment you need from nearby rental stores. Besides gear, you can also rent jet skis, motorboats, and pontoon boats to explore the lake.
If you like canoeing and paddle-boating, head towards the Otter Tail river to witness its serene views and diverse ecosystems. The trail goes through prairie grasslands, pine forests, and deciduous forests to make for a unique riding experience for first-time visitors.
To end your day, you can head over to the multiple restaurants on-looking West Battle Lake to enjoy a scenic sunset view while having dinner.
9. Bike Through the Central Lakes Trail
If you want to enjoy an active evening biking through beautiful landscapes, the Central Lakes Trail is the go-to destination for you at Otter Tail County.
The 55-mile trail goes through various lakesides and landscapes so that you can enjoy various scenic views and wildlife. Some prominent animals you can witness on your way include beavers, eagles, rabbits, and ducks. The wildflower beds on the way are also a magnificent sight to behold.
Most importantly, unlike other hiking trails, this one does not allow vehicles with motors for most of the year, however, you are allowed to drive snowmobiles across the trail if you visit during winter. This makes it an ideal spot for bikers, runners, walkers, and skaters.
The best part is, the trail is relatively flat compared to other trails in the county. This makes it an easy trail, perfect for families with children and differently-abled folks.
10. Visit the Disgruntled Brewery
If you love beer, visiting breweries is something you should add to every vacation itinerary. In the case of Otter Tail, you can find the best beer at the Disgruntled Brewery, located in Perham. Don’t let the name fool you; the place has a cozy indoor seating area and pine-tree-covered outdoor seating for you to choose from.
Similarly, its vast assortment of beer has unique names that make for a fun experience. For example, you can try the Down with the Citrus, which tastes just like a creamsicle. If you’re a chocolate lover, the Y.O.L.O; ‘You Love Oreos’ is a must-try for you.
Additionally, you can find unique flavors like peach, passionfruit, vanilla, and even marshmallow!
See Related: Best Breweries in Rochester, Minnesota
11. Enjoy the Food Options
I love Otter Tail County because its towns are teeming with cute shops, antique stores, boutiques, and homely restaurants. If you’re tired after a day of fun and adventure, having a plate full of fine Minnesotan food is one of the best things to do in Otter Tail.
There are some great places you can visit for lunch and dinner in the county. One of the most popular places includes Willy T’s Tavern and Grill, part of the amazing Thumper Pond golf resort. The place has lots of food choices at affordable prices and you can also choose from an indoor and outdoor seating area.
Besides that, the restaurant overlooks the golf course where you can watch players and enjoy a serene environment while eating.
If you love pizza, then the Zorbaz Pizza Shop is a must-visit in Otter Tail. They offer tasty pizzas loaded with your favorite toppings at low prices, with a unique Mexican flare.
The atmosphere is also quite fun and informal, ideal for those looking for a laid-back dining experience. Another appealing aspect of Zorbaz is its wide variety of beers and fancy margaritas to wash your meal down.
You can head towards Beach Bums Bar & Eatery, a popular eatery in town for burgers and sandwiches. The restaurant has a huge outdoor patio facing the lake, so you can enjoy an amazing view while having lunch. The menu includes juicy burgers and crispy fries with various side options to cater to your entire family.