So I’ve been reading lately about Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, and though we enjoyed a candy-free summer, I decided to build a road trip around a visit. Minnesota has an abundance of wonderful summer outdoor activities and I chose a candy store (I know!!), but as I researched where to go and what to explore down Highway 169, I found a variety of kooky roadside stops, several playgrounds, some historic sites, and a campground with lots of activities and sights. Our trip seemed destined, and after lots of organizing and packing, we were on our way.
Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store: The candy store is 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities, a perfect distance for restless toddlers. Though the wall to wall candy is the main attraction, there’s also plenty of other sights, such as a ginormous Incredible Hulk, a talking bear, some dancing candy, a Zoltar coin-operated fortune teller like the one in Big, and a large gumball machine. Variety is the name of the game, with tons of flavors of salt water taffy, candy corn, gummy creatures, and licorice, among others. The novelty candy is fun – poop candy, Trump candy, bacon candy, hot sauce candy, giant-size candy, and more! But I liked the foreign treats, especially the Ritter Sport chocolate section and finding the various cookies and treats that I enjoyed eating in foreign lands. There’s also a wide assortment of pasta shapes, homemade pies (they smelled good!), and honey products. Here are some tips and more information about the store. Below, the after effects.
We drove through La Sueur and saw one Jolly Green Giant sign (there are more and a museum, or take a tour of the W.W. Mayo house for information about the Mayo Clinic and the Green Giant company) and the baseball cows outside of the Friendly Confines Cheese Shop. The store sells pizza, cheese, ice cream, and more. Staff gives kids a mini cow gift.
Saint Peter has the oldest Scandinavian store in the U.S. We didn’t stop, but it sounds like a fun store. Before hitting Mankato, you could also visit Chankaska Creek Vineyard.
Happy Chef statue, Mankato. The Happy Chef franchise started in Mankato in 1962. The franchise soon grew to 56 stores. Many stores have closed over the years and few statues remain; the statue in Mankato is one of the last of its kind and the only one that stands at a Happy Chef restaurant. Sadly, the statue no longer talks, but we had fun seeing this piece of Americana and Minnesota history. We returned to our car to see in the car next to ours what looked like a man sleeping with his legs propped up, but it’s a dummy, hence the picture.
Reconciliation Park in Mankato. Mankato is the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. History, and Reconciliation Park is the memorial built to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred nearby. There’s not much to see, making for a quick stop, but with its location near the Minnesota River, a large bison statue, and a short walk from the parking lot, it’s a kid-friendly and important historical site. Bonus: As you exit Highway 169 for the park, there’s a 10-foot tall metal Godzilla.
Sibley Park. What a fun park! Sibley Farm has animals – alpacas, miniature horses, goats, pigs, koi fish – and a farm-themed playground. The kids loved the animals and playground equipment, especially the tractor, and it was the perfect place to expend pent-up energy and have some fun before heading to our campsite. Mankato also has the Children’s Museum of Southern MN, and it’s supposedly very nice.
Minneopa State Park. We camped overnight. Minneopa was perfect for toddlers – accessible, easy camping, clean amenities, and lots of activities in and around the park. In the evening, after roasting hot dogs and s’mores, we took the bison drive to Seppman Mill. The beautifully crafted mill is worth a visit and nearby you’ll find hiking trails and a beautiful overlook with information about the prairies below. On the return loop, we spotted the bison not far from the entrance gate. In the morning, we drove to the park office and walked to the waterfall from the nearby parking lot. The campsite has no check-in building – reserve your spot in advance and head to the park office for firewood, flashlights, and maps. The park office has loaner GPS gear for geocaching, kids’ activity backpacks, fishing poles and tackle, birding equipment, and more.
Rapidan Dam Store. Having heard good things about the pie, we visited the Rapidan Dam Store for lunch. The burgers were okay, a bit lackluster, but the pie was lovely. Afterward, we drove down the road next to the store and visited the sandbars. The kids played in the water and had so much fun; it was the perfect antidote to a very hot day!
Jeffers Petroglyphs, near Comfrey, MN. This turned into a bit of a trek due to construction and intermittent phone service (we finally bought a paper map; they still exist!). There’s a joke that Minnesota has two seasons: winter and road construction. Sadly, the joke is not far from the truth, and I’d suggest checking your route for construction before taking a summer road trip in Minnesota (and factor road construction delays into your itinerary). We visited the petroglyphs on a Saturday and the visitor center had special family-friendly activities – a tipi, touch and feel station, animal track prints, furs, and more. The big kid in our group (Al!) tried his hand at hitting a bison target with a spear powered by an atlatl, considered one of the world’s greatest inventions. Due to our construction delays, we arrived later than planned and decided not to wait for the last tour of the day. But I bet a tour would be helpful. We struggled to find the petroglyphs and I’m sure we missed interesting information about the people who created them. Some petroglyphs are 7,000 years old, older than Stonehenge! We visited on a hot day and there’s no shade – pack accordingly!
New Ulm, MN. We visited New Ulm during the Bavarian Blast but we didn’t go(boo); it was too late to take the kids. Instead, we popped on over to the Hermann the German statue. Nearby, we found a modern playground with zip lines and other fun equipment. A visit to New Ulm could also include Schell Brewery (root beer for the kids), a Glockenspiel with dancing figures, and the Harkin Store. If you’re coming straight from Mankato, Morgan Vineyard could be a stop along the way.