Don’t miss the Forest History Center (2609 County Road 76; 218.327.4482), where you can experience a taste of life in the logging camps with the help of living history actors; let a naturalist teach you how to identify which critters are sharing the woods with you by identifying their tracks and scat; and climb a 100-foot tall fire tower for a wide panorama of the area.
The MacRostie Art Center (405 NW 1st Ave.; 218.326.2697) features the work of local and regional artists with rotating exhibits.
The Itasca County Historical Society (201 N. Pokegama Ave.; 218.326.6431) has exhibits on native daughter Judy Garland, as well as the area’s mining and logging history.
And speaking of that native daughter, the Judy Garland Museum (2727 Pokegama Ave. S; 218.327.9276) is working to keep her legacy alive. Born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Judy was two when the family moved to California. The museum is the only one in the US focused on Judy Garland and is a fun place to visit. You will find a thorough overview of her movie career; a nicely restored period house, and the Children’s Discovery Museum.
The Grand Rapids State Bank (523 NW 1st Ave.; 218.326.9414) has an impressive collection of taxidermy, thanks to the Wilcox family who are avid hunters. Some of the animals in the bank include jackal, cape buffalo, wart hog, and kafue lechwe.
The Chippewa National Forest has a number of trails and attractions within a short drive from Grand Rapids. One of the best is the Joyce Estate on Trout Lake. Built by industrialist David Joyce, whose family made part of its fortune from logging in northern Minnesota, the 4,500-acre escape was the family retreat from the city for over 50 years. At its peak, the estate had 40 buildings, a golf course, and a hangar for a seaplane. It will take about 25 minutes to drive to the trailhead from Grand Rapids, then it is a fairly easy three-mile hike (one-way) through a second-growth forest to reach the estate.
The Edge of the Wilderness National Scenic Byway is a scenic 47-mile drive from Grand Rapids to Effie along Minnesota Highway 38. Most of the drive takes you through the Chippewa National Forest. Along the way, you’ll cross the Laurentian Divide. Water on one side of the divide goes to the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico, while water on the other side flows into one of the streams that feed Hudson Bay.
Itasca Community College (1851 US Highway169; 218.322.2300) maintains several hiking and cross country skiing trails behind the campus. The bog trail might be the most interesting walk; if your timing is good, you can see blooming orchids, pitcher plants, and Labrador tea, among other plants, many helpfully identified with signs, plus a few old growth red and white pines. To get there, follow US 169 to the northeast end of town; take the first left onto campus; circle the roundabout to the main ICC/USFS entrance, then follow that road as it becomes a gravel road and passes through a pasture (if you encounter a closed gate, it is OK to open it and drive through; just close the gate behind you). At the point where the road turns left and the road going forward looks more like a groomed trail than a road (the 3rd left after the road turns to gravel), turn left and find a place to park. You will find the trailhead just past a narrow service road. As you double back to leave, take a quick detour to the first road on your right to check out stands of red and white pine that were planted in 1900.
There are a few city parks next to the Mississippi River:
- Veterans Memorial Park (US Highway 2 at 7th Ave. SE) is a pleasant place to picnic or hang out next to the Mississippi River; there are also a couple of miles of hiking trails through the woods.
- Riverfront Trail Park (NE 1st St. at N. Pokegama Ave.) is a quiet place to sit or stroll along the river below the dam and behind the library.
- Skogebo Park (SW 1st St. at SW 10th Ave.) is just above the dam.
- Sylvan Landing (SW 1st St. at 12th Ave.) has a fishing pier and picnic tables.
The Mesabi Trail is a paved path through the Iron Range that will someday connect Grand Rapids with Ely; about 120 miles are open right now, with more sections to be completed soon. The trail is open to non-motorized use throughout the year (e.g., biking and hiking in summer; cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter). You must purchase a pass to use the trail.
There are nearly 150 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails near Grand Rapids and even more miles of snowmobile trails.
The Itasca Curling Club (934 Hale Lake Pointe; 218.999.5875) sponsors leagues that compete most weeknights; drop in to watch a match and to learn about the sport.
Itasca Trail Sports (316 NE 4th St.; 218.326.1716) is the place to go purchase or rent cross-country skis and bicycles.