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So, you’re heading to Bemidji, MN and you want to know what to do when you’re there. Here’s a little bit of info about the town before we dive into all of the fun activities!
Bemidji is the official first city on the Mississippi River. It’s characterized by the northwoods outdoors but with small town charm. It is the largest city, according to the most recent census located between Grand Forks, ND and Duluth, MN. Bemidji and is located approximately 218 miles from the metro area of Minneapolis/St. Paul & about 233 miles from the Canadian border.
The Best time to visit Bemidji, MN
Truly you can visit anytime of year, but in my opinion the best (and my favorite times) are during fall and summer. In the fall, you will see beautiful fall colors. While in the summer the long lake days turn into perfect summer nights around the campfire.
The weather in Bemidji can be pretty unpredictable. But, in order to help you plan better I have a full packing guide available for your time in Minnesota during any season!
What to do in Bemidji, MN
The lake truly is the focal point of the city. The mighty Mississippi River flows through Lake Bemidji near its beginning in Itasca State Park. Downtown Bemidji is near part of the lake and where many local events take place. The iconic Paul and Babe statue is located on the shore of the lake near the tourist information center.
Bemidji State University is a part of the MNSCU college system in Minnesota and on the smaller side enrolling around 5,000 students each year. In my opinion, Bemidji State University has to be one of the most gorgeous college campuses in Minnesota. (I may be partial since I attended here for my undergrad, though!)
Some of the really unique and awesome things about this university and it being right on the lake are the rentals offered for canoes and SUP (stand up paddle boards) in Diamond Point Park and also, being so close to the shore to just take a break and sit near the lake between classes and study.
I’m not sure if they still do this, but when I attended, the frozen lake in the winter was even used as an overflow parking area. That’s not something you hear frequently! It definitely was a unique experience.
Biking & bike trails
The opportunities to bike in Bemidji are abundant. There are many paved trails in Bemidji and beyond making it a great location to navigate to on a bike or to leave from. The Paul Bunyan Trail starts (or ends) in Lake Bemidji State Park. It has 120 miles of continuous paved bike trail.
Personally, one of my favorite bike rides to do in Bemidji is the loop around the lake. It’s approximately a 16 mile loop and goes through Lake Bemidji State Park. The last time we did this the ice was starting to come off of the lake and it was really warm for the time of year it was (April.)
Fishing & Watersports
There are so many lakes near Bemidji that it is definitely the ultimate destination for the fisherman (or woman) and spending time just boating and relaxing on the water is the perfect way to spend a summer day. If you don’t have a boat, there are plenty of opportunities to rent from nearby resorts. You could also choose to hire a fishing guide to take you out.
Be sure to brush up on the legendary story of giant Paul Bunyan (the lumberjack) and Babe his blue ox. Because Paul and Babe were originally from Bemidji, there is a commemorative statue down by the lake of these famous figures that have towered there since 1937.
After you check out Paul and Babe and get your obligatory photos, located right across the road is a fun place for an ice cream treat at Big River Scoop. Open seasonally, so be sure to check their hours to get a tasty treat while you’re in Bemidji, MN.
Located on Lake Bemidji having a bike trail that goes through the park as well as 11 miles of hiking trails makes Lake Bemidji State Park the perfect day while visiting. Be sure to visit Rocky Point Overlook to have a vantage point up above Lake Bemidji.
Bemidji Sculpture Walk
The Bemidji Sculpture Walk is an outdoor gallery located in downtown Bemidji, MN. Every year online they update a live Google Map. Each sculpture also has a QR code for a self lead tour you can learn more about each individual artist and the sculpture with your smart phone.
There are so many wonderful places to enjoy the outdoors in the Bemidji area. Diamond Point Park is one of my favorites, located right on Lake Bemidji and next door to Bemidji State University it’s a great place for a picnic and to get out on the lake. Cameron Park is another park that’s on Lake Bemidji and is a great place to swim or just hang out near the lake.
Bemidji City Park is a park that can be enjoyed in all seasons. It has a playground, skate park & softball fields, outdoor skating rink, an 18 hole disc golf course & 2 miles of trail.
Bemidji area resorts
There are traditional hotels available in Bemidji as well as some resort options to stay. Ruttgers is one of the oldest establishments in Bemidji right on the lake offering many amenities to both guests and locals alike. Due to the amazing recreation and abundance of lakes up north, there are so many resorts not in Bemidji proper but in the Bemidji area. Depending on what your needs are and what you’re planning on doing while in Bemidji you’re bound to find a great place to stay while you’re there.
This language “camp” for all ages draws many individuals to the area. Both to study but also to teach.
Funny story, my husband and I were in Ireland getting on a boat to go out and see the Cliffs of Moher from the vantage point of the water and we chatted with a few others on the boat. We were asking each other where we grew up and lived etc. I stated I grew up in Bemidji and a girl about my age said she worked there at Concordia! It was so cool to have that connection and a truly humbling moment to realize it really can be such a small world among vast cultural differences and beautiful countries across the world.
Bemidji having roots in the lumber industry, Bemidji Woolen Mills is the perfect place to stop and pick up some Buffalo Plaid. (Red and black checked flannel material.) The Woolen Mills has been in Bemidji since the 1920’s and continues to offer traditional clothing & gifts. Buffalo Plaid, Ragg mittens & wild rice are things that signify “Bemidji” and “Up North”.
Cross country/downhill skiing
If you’re visiting in the winter, Bemidji area has over 80 miles of cross country ski trails in the area. Bemidji, MN also has a downhill skiing at Buena Vista Ski Area. Located just 14 miles outside of Bemidji, Buena Vista offers events and attractions more than just in the winter. Renting out their facilities in the summer for weddings and in the fall offering covered wagon rides prior to the snowfall and ski/snowboard season.
Food & Drink
No matter what type of cuisine you like, Bemidji, MN has a wide variety of options. First things first, the best spots for breakfast are: Red Stu’s Breakfast Bar, Raphaels Bakery, and Country Kitchen. Fun fact, I worked at the Bemidji Country Kitchen for years! (from when I was 15 until I moved to the Twin Cities when I was 25!)
If you’re looking for some casual fare for lunch or dinner I would recommend the following: 209 bar, Corner Bar, Wilton LS, Keg ‘n’ Cork, New China, Keith’s pizza & Mi Rancho. Many of these are local bars (dive bars have the best burgers!) and casual establishments. There are some more upscale restaurants in Bemidji but I like to keep it local and keep it casual when I’m visiting.
I wouldn’t say Bemidji is really a beer destination per se, however they do have Bemidji Brewing Company. We’ve been a number of times when we’re in town visiting family and I have been really impressed with how their beer has improved over the years. Now, we always make a point to pop in to try a pint of whatever new brews they have available on tap. Their patio is also dog friendly!
Seasonal Events in Bemidji, MN
One of my favorite Bemidji area seasonal events is right after Thanksgiving, the Night we Light Celebration. It’s the day where all of the Christmas lights that are in downtown Bemidji are illuminated. The event includes the lighting ceremony & a parade. Many of the downtown businesses are selling hot chocolate or running specials for this event. It really kicks off the holiday season in the Bemidji area and is a really fun thing to do. I can remember this tradition from when I was little, throughout highschool and even into adulthood if I am back home in Bemidji for Thanksgiving.
Bemidji Jaycees water carnival is always around the fourth of July and when I was growing up it was down by Paul and Babe. It’s now on the South side of the lake at the Sanford Center parking lot but still a lot of fun for kids and adults alike. Carnival rides and all of the fun fair food treats! I always remember being so excited to go as a kid and we always wanted to go then watch the fireworks on the fourth of July over Lake Bemidji.
Beyond Bemidji: Itasca State Park:
Before or after you’ve checked off what to to in Bemidji, MN you should head to Itasca State Park. The state park is located just 30 miles south of Bemidji and is the state’s oldest state park. My favorite thing about this state park is the fact that you can walk across the Mississippi River.
There is so much to do in Itasca State Park. Going to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, biking on the paved trails throughout the park, renting a boat/bike or kayak to enjoy the park, extensive hiking, taking a boat tour. You really can spend a lot of time here as there are so many services that are offered right within the park. There also are many lodging options throughout the park from camping, cabins, an Inn, Hostel and a lodge.
Beyond Bemidji: Chippewa National Forest
The Chippewa National Forest is located near Bemidji, MN in Cass Lake. It spans three different counties of Beltrami, Cass & Itasca. It is a very vast area spanning over 1.6 million acres! If you’re planning to explore this area, you definitely need to have a plan in advance. The most popular spots include The Lost 40, Stony Point, Star Island and other lake and recreation areas. You could spend a lot of time in this area taking in all of the beauty that Northern Minnesota has to offer.
More Travel throughout Minnesota:
I also have a comprehensive Minnesota Travel Guide (coming soon) for more details on other areas of the state to give you ideas and inspiration for an amazing Minnesota vacation!