10 Best Thanksgiving Activities and Events in Minnesota

Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, and few folks do the holidays as well as Minnesotans. So, loosen your belt and get ready to dig in during this beautiful and delicious 2023 holiday season. We’ll show you how we do Thanksgiving in the North Star State. 

The Velveteen, Stillwater, MN

It can take a little work to find the Velveteen, a speakeasy-style bar in downtown Stillwater, but it’s more than worth it. Craft cocktails—many with 20s-era recipes like Negronis and Vieux Carres—small bites, and a cool crowd populate this dark, cozy saloon. Pop in on Thanksgiving eve and order a Northern Aggression for a little smack of cinnamon to celebrate the season! 

Rustic Inn Cafe, Castle Danger, MN

If you want the very best pie for Thanksgiving this year, you ought to grab one from the Rustic Inn Café in Castle Danger. You can’t go wrong with rhubarb, but the apple-cherry-peach is pretty darn good. And yes, they have pumpkin, too.

Ferndale Market, Cannon Falls, MN

Ferndale Market has been raising turkeys for three generations. All of their birds are locally-raised on a natural diet free of hormones and antibiotics. Ferndale’s turkeys are also processed naturally with no additives. If you’re going to eat a turkey this Thanksgiving, you may as well know where it came from.

Turkey Trot St. Paul, St. Paul, MN

If you’re going to stuff yourself on Thanksgiving Day, why not build up an appetite (and burn off some calories) beforehand? At the St. Paul Turkey Trot, you can run a 6K or a 10K along the Mississippi River and make it home in time for all the football games.

Lighting Festival, Taylors Falls, MN

Every year, on the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, the St. Croix Valley village of Taylors Falls kicks off its three-day lighting festival with a parade. The Grand Lighting of the Village & Santa Parade heralds in a long weekend of music, food, outdoor activities, and fun for the whole family.

Canal Park, Duluth, MN

When you head out to start (or supplement) your holiday shopping, why get stuck in a mall when you can shop with a view? Shops and restaurants line the streets in this compact spit of land that overlooks Lake Superior and Duluth Harbor. You’ll find lots of unique stores—selling everything from toys and kitchen goods to jewelry and Minnesota-themed gifts—in Canal Park, many of them under the same roof at the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace.

University of Minnesota vs. University of Wisconsin football

The annual battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe usually takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers square off against their perennial rivals, University of Wisconsin’s Badgers. Goldy hasn’t had much success against Bucky recently—it’s been more than a decade since Paul Bunyan’s Axe has spent the year in its home state—but we can always hope.

Lower Sioux Agency, Morton, MN

In 1862—the year before President Abraham Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday of November would be set aside as a national day of gratitude, creating the Thanksgiving holiday—conflict broke out at the Lower Sioux/Yellow Medicine Agency in western Minnesota. This “uprising” led to the U.S. sending in troops and six weeks of war, and resulted in the largest public execution in U.S. history when 38 Dakota prisoners were hanged in Mankato. Because of the popular imagery of friendly pilgrims and helpful Native Americans, Thanksgiving is an excellent time to reflect on the nature of the relationship between immigrants to North America and the people who lived here first—and its consequences.

Open Arms Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

Open Arms Minnesota cooks and delivers free, nutritions meals to Twin Cities residents who are living with life-threatening illnesses and often without a support network. Although they deliver meals year-round—and volunteers are always needed—Thanksgiving is a particularly important day to make sure their clients have a meal and some caring interaction. If you’re able to, share a little gratitude this Thanksgiving.

Frontenac State Park, Lake City, MN

Although we’re pretty deep into autumn and kicking at the door of winter when Thanksgiving rolls around in Minnesota, you can still get in a good hike and some late season birding at Frontenac State Park. The Mississippi River valley is a major flyway for all manner of winged wanderers, from bald eagles and other raptors to swans and other waterfowl. With vantages that reach from sandy river bank to forested bluff tops that offer views for miles up and down the Mississippi, Frontenac is an awesome place to opt outside and be grateful that you’re in Minnesota.

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