Educational Day Trip Ideas for Kids in Stillwater, MN

For those seeking distance learning field trip opportunities for your family during this home school, hybrid, online education season we are here to offer a few ideas, many of which are free. You can certainly turn a visit to Stillwater into an educational one!

Minnesota’s health officials are still in a “Stay Safe” recommendation during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet there are many ways you CAN enjoy Stillwater, Minnesota while following the guidelines. It’s important to get outside, find variety and instill a sense of wonder so we hope this helps! Please note that masks are required when indoors in Minnesota.

  1. Historic Walking Tours
  2. St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail
  3. Main Street Historic Stairs
  4. Brown’s Creek Trail
  5. Indoor Attractions for Cool Weather
  6. St. Croix Scenic Byway
  7. Nearby Nature in Parks
  8. Sweet Treats
  9. Horse-back Riding
  10. Gifts for Grades
  11. Art Scavenger Hunt
  12. Virtual Tours
  13. Staycation Planning
Steamship at Stillwater, MN Riverfront: Washington County Historical Society

Historic Walking Tours – History can teach us so much. Times change and people persevere. If you are in need of a walk and want history to give your kids perspective, check out the self-guided historic walking tours from the Washington County Historical Society and City of Stillwater. There are two tours – downtown historic business district or south hill residential area. You can even view these on Youtube while staying home. The historic tours are also reprinted within the Discover Stillwater Official Visitor Guide, so order one here or pick up at any hotel/shop/restaurant downtown so you have a print-out of maps and descriptions of each stop.

As another more techy option, there is also an online website/app, Lens Flare Stillwater, where you can literally stand in front of a historic building downtown Stillwater with your smartphone which recognizes where you are, then displays interesting audio stories, photos or video of that location. Lensflare has also recently launched a new tour on the Loop trail!

For a fully guided historic walking tour, contact the new Rivertown Tours. Find links to all walking tours here.

St. Croix Crossing Loop Trail – Have you driven, walked, or biked over the new St. Croix Crossing Bridge yet? Discover the 4.7-mile loop trail that connects the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the St. Croix River. Find amazing views and river valley educational information at three lookout points on the new bridge and the historic lift bridge. Family challenge – see if you can find the MN/WI border marker on the new bridge. The view from the St. Croix Crossing bridge was named Best View 2018 by City Pages. Bring your own bikes or rent electric bikes downtown. Bundle up to walk in the winter, too!

St. Croix Crossing Loop Trail headed south from downtown to get on the new bridge.
St. Croix River Crossing Bridge Loop Trail Lookout: Photo by Andrew Dodd.

The final section of Loop Trail was completed June 1st, 2020 the renovated historic lift bridge and hilly trail up the Wisconsin side are opened up! Read more >>loop trail & lift bridge open. Great engineering info for kids to dig into here as well.

Renovation of Historic Stillwater Lift Bridge, March 2020. Photo by: Bill Pohlmann

Enjoying outdoor trails is a FREE activity and can be practiced with social distancing. Mother nature is here to heal and the beauty of the St. Croix River Valley welcomes you in all seasons. We will even mail you a complimentary map, click to order a visitor guide.

Stillwater Bike Trails Map

Main Street Historic Stairs – Look for inspiring chalk messages on the stairs as you gather the stamina to keep climbing higher. Count the steps to reach the top and take in the free spectacular views of downtown Stillwater, MN. Have the kids count how many steeples they see or try to find a certain shop or restaurant they like. Before you head up, look for the historic information marker showing what this location used to look like in the late 1800s. Find this staircase at 402 Main St. next to Lora hotel. There are more sets of staircases, so look up the map to other spots for an awesome one-hour walk downtown here (scroll down to find ‘historic stairs’.)

Fall View
Winter View

Brown’s Creek Trail: Dust off your bike and go for a ride. Fresh air and exercise will do you wonders in a time of uncertainty. Place a cap on your head and gloves on your hands and you can bike anytime of the year as well. The Brown’s Creek State Trail is built along an old railroad line so it follows the St. Croix river north out of downtown Stillwater then curves into a beautiful forest and country prairie. Bonus is that its a pretty flat trail, so easy peasy for all ages and there are historical information stops along the way. Up for a longer bike trail challenge? – at the end of the trail connect to the Gateway State Trail and head into St. Paul.

Indoor Attractions for Cool Weather – don a mask and get out of the cold for fun hands-on experiences downtown Stillwater. All of these ideas have social distancing measures in place so inquire about reservations and rules directly.

  • Kari’s Create & Paint Studio – paint your own pottery or canvas in-studio or order a crafts to go kit for you & friends. Your very own art class experience!
  • Stillwater Escape Company – dare to solve the mysteries of the cave or Connelly’s shoe factory and a third escape room coming soon. Minds are sure to be working hard on these puzzles!
  • The Lumberjack Axe Throwing – look into Sunday’s family deals for axe throwing (age 12 min) and get cozy in this beautiful new space with board games and shuffleboard as well. Can we say physical education and history lesson with this activity!
  • Cooks of Crocus Hill – offering virtual and in-person cooking classes for kids, teens, and adults. Life long culinary skills and a little math lesson perhaps!
  • Smith & Trade Merchantile – offers art kits as well as online or in-person classes with artisans. Discover the inner creativity of your kids!
  • Events- periodically check our events calendar for more special events & classes happening:

St. Croix Scenic Byway Drive – watch the seasons change along the St. Croix River Valley towns. This 124 mile route that follows along the St. Croix National Scenic River for much of its length at some times hugging its banks and other times traversing bluff lands. This section of land was originally the connection between the Mississippi River, St. Croix River and Lake Superior. The route goes right through Stillwater’s historic Main Street – we recommend the stretch north to Taylors Falls. Before you head too far from downtown Stillwater, pull into the 2nd wayside to see the historic Stillwater Boom Site and take a quick hike down to the riverside to see the limestone caves. You’ll find a few historic markers along the drive to stop and read as well. Marine on St. Croix is a great place to park for another quick walk to the river and see a historic log cabin right downtown.

St. Croix Scenic Byway, Highway 95 heading north from downtown Stillwater
Which seasonal view do you think looks prettier? Photo by: Liz Westerhaus

Discover Nature in Nearby Parks: the beauty of the Stillwater area extends beyond the river – drive to a nearby state, county or city park for a day of outdoor enjoyment. North of Stillwater is Pine Point Park or William O’Brien State Park and south you’ll find Lake Elmo Park Reserve or Afton State Park. Full list of parks here. Look for great educational activity ideas in nature from the county or MN DNR State Park system. Did you know you can stay in a Yurt with a woodstove at Afton State Park? Very cool experience for kids. Get out on the water in the summer Friday mornings “Heron’s & History” guided kayak tours with Wahoo Adventures. See Stillwater from a new perspective! This guided paddling tour includes stories of the lumbering era as we look for herons, egrets, eagles, and turtles. No experience necessary.

Afton State Park hiking trails.

Restaurant Take-Out & Sweet Treats: You love your local fare and let’s face it, cooking every meal during stay at home restrictions is tiring so treat yourself once in a while with delicious food from our amazing chefs. No matter your craving, there’s a restaurant in Stillwater that cooks it! We’ve got contact-free curbside pick-up or dine-in options at 30 restaurants!

Coffee-shops and sweet shops are a major hit with the little ones as well – try thai rolled ice cream from Mai Little Cakes, warm cinnamon rolls from Mon Petit Cheri, Pumpkin pie malts from Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop, fresh-made fudge and colorful candies at three candy stores and more! For the youngest, make the candy store an educational game – what colors do they see, or shapes or try reading some of the words on the signs. Or encourage your kids to talk with the local shop owners and ask questions about what it’s like to run a small business. Get their entrepreneurial spirits ignited early!

Delicious take-out from Phil’s Tara Hideaway. Photo by: Charli C.

Horseback-Riding: For equestrian fans, horse-back riding is a great social distancing activity as well. Connect with Madeline Horsemanship clinics for horseback riding on beautiful trails nearby.

Gifts for excellent efforts or grades: Try a little positive reinforcement for these strange times in education with a shopping trip to downtown Stillwater. You’ll also be teaching them the importance of supporting locally owned businesses who are the heart of our economy and taking a hit in this and COVID restricted world.

Stillwater’s got a wonderful independent book store – Valley Bookseller or for rare/out of print books stop into Black Letter Books or the antique shops. Reward your English or Math achievements with a new book or puzzle. Several shops have a kids section as well: Alfresco Casual Living, Betty Junes, Forget me Not, Gully Wubbles, Smith & Trade, etc. Older kids may also like shops that support crafts or skills to keep them busy in the winter like Darn Knit Anyway, Cooks of Crocus Hill for the wanna be Top Chefs, Art N Soul’s bead basement for jewelry makers, or browse the art galleries for inspiration for your creative kid.

Special gifts are still important, so here’s a list of shops as well as a list of shops with online stores.

Map ofown Shops in the Historic District of Stillwater

Art Scavenger Hunts: Downtown Stillwater has tons of art to be found – look for all the sculptures, the painted utility boxes, or murals on the sides of the buildings. See how many of each you can find!

Virtual Event Space Tours: Think of this as a virtual museum exhibit – let the kids discover all these unique (many historic) spaces in downtown Stillwater with 360 tours of our venues. There will be a day when we can gather again, so perhaps they can be pretend party planners for the day and envision the theme of their event or non-profit fundraiser idea of a future philantrhopist. You can tour 20 unique Stillwater event venues right from your computer – speakeasies to salt caves to conference rooms and ballrooms. It’s fun to see these spaces even the locals may not know about!

Plan a Staycation: Stay closer to home with your travel by discovering all of the fun sites right here in Minnesota. One of America’s Most Picturesque Towns is just short drive away from Minneapolis/St. Paul or easy trip from Wisconsin or Iowa, so plan to hit the road and take advantage of cheap gas prices. You know you need an escape after being so cooped up! Our new hotels, bed & breakfasts, and vacation home rentals are open and ready to welcome you with health & safety measures in place!

Not comfortable traveling yet, just start the dreaming and planning for now and when you are ready, you’ll have your Stillwater getaway all planned.

Visit for a list of restaurants, shops, attractions, and more. Take note of What’s New and follow us on social media for updates: Instagram or Facebook.

DISCLAIMER….all subject to change. Follow our COVID-19 blog for updates on the latest recommendations by health officials in Minnesota. Thank you to everyone for working together to make a difference to slow down this pandemic!

Discover Stillwater