Sometimes you just need to pack the bags, grab some snacks, get the car and just…..drive. A good old-fashioned road trip can be just what the travel doctor ordered when the wanderlust kicks in but the budget on both time and the wallet is tight. If you’ve got a weekend free and are looking for the perfect fall family getaway, we suggest you head due north to DULUTH, Minnesota!
The recipe for an amazing fall family road trip is PREP + VEHICLE + DESTINATION.
ROAD TRIP PREP
Before hitting the road, planning is everything. We’ve all been in the situation where we are already 3 hours down the road and we suddenly gasp and exclaim, “OMG I forgot the ________!” The solution? Prepare for your trip with The Family Backpack!
The Family Backpack is an online guide that links to hundreds of useful family travel blogs and websites. It’s designed specifically to help families plan vacations from international travel to road trips in the United States. We busted out the Road Trip Warrior Kit complete with packing checklists, road trip game printables, podcasts, and so much more! It made prepping for the drive to Minnesota so much easier! If you’ve got a destination, The Family Backpack can help you get there. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to score a FREE download of the Road Trip Warrior Kit!
The Family Backpack has a whole section of their website dedicated to mastering the art of the Family Road Trip. It’s full of advice and even some sample road trips! You’ll also find an Educational Resource section on the site which is full of free printables and games to play in the car if you want to limit screen time and not have to resort to a 300th game of “I Spy.”
When it comes to a road trip, safety and comfort mean everything. You’re going to be spending several hours with your family and gone are the days of having to endure the torture of whatever Mom and Dad were listening to on the radio while you were crammed into a three-across backseat with your siblings. For the ultimate in Road Trip safety and comfort, look no further than the Toyota Sienna.
Our family was treated to a road trip in the lap of luxury by our typical standards by taking this beautiful 2017 Toyota Sienna up to Duluth! Our kids couldn’t believe how much space they had inside! Both captain’s chairs were able to move forward and back on tracks, allowing for the perfect configuration to maximize in and out paths and leg room.
Kid Favorite Features of the Toyota Sienna :: It will come as no surprise, but the wide-screen rear entertainment system with wireless headphones was a HUGE hit with our kids and we’ll admit that we loved it as parents too! They got to enjoy watching a movie while we were able to use the Bluetooth function to connect to my phone and listen to a book on Audible through the front speakers. It was a win/win for everyone!
Parent Favorite Features of the Toyota Sienna :: There are the practicality features of the Sienna that make a mama’s heart swoon — the seats that fold down easily in the back, the abundant cupholders, the easy-to-control climate system — but the features that really won us over were directly related to safety and convenience. I was mind-boggled by the blind spot sensors on the side mirrors that lit up every time there was a car in my blind spot and it made me feel sooooo much safer on those long stretches of highway. We also adored the backup camera and the parking assist features that made us feel like we had a much better sense of what was around the van at all times. And the convenience AND safety of being able to connect to my phone for everything from navigation to hand-free calling was AMAZING. Add in great fuel economy, a sleek exterior and push-button ignition with remote start, and both my husband and I were lamenting having to give this beautiful vehicle back at the end of the trip!
For the ultimate in safety and comfort, families will love the new Toyota Sienna! We’ve been driving our 2005 Sienna for several years now, but it was staggering to see the difference 12 years has made in creating an exceptional driving experience!
DESTINATION – DULUTH
“Where are we going?” It’s the question that is asked dozens of times when you’re out on the road, so that destination had better be worth the potty stops, fights over snacks, and spilled sodas, right?
Milwaukee area families will not be disappointed if they turn their GPS due north and head to Duluth, Minnesota.
A straight-shot up through northern Wisconsin and over the water to the western banks of Lake Superior, Duluth is just under a 6-hour drive from Milwaukee, not factoring in potty stops. This makes it the perfect destination for when you need a weekend getaway that feels accessible, but not so close that it loses the sense of adventure. Plus, if you go in the fall when the colors are at their prime, you will be treated to a glorious display of foliage on the drive up as you pass through the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin only to find them even more brilliant once you reach Duluth!
One of the things that can quickly ruin a great vacation is having to share a too-small hotel room with too many kids. Even when traveling, not being able to get a little quiet time for parents is a quick recipe for disaster, so we highly recommend you look into booking a 2-bedroom family suite at the Holiday Inn – Duluth. One room has 2 beds for the kids to share and then you get to close the door and enjoy the king bed in your room. Bliss. Plus, with two bathrooms, it comes in handy for things like drying out swimsuits after a trip to the hotel pool and morning bathroom battles! Parking is included and you are located right in the heart of downtown Duluth, easy driving or sometimes even walking distance to many of the family attractions you’ll likely want to hit!
Let’s get to the good stuff. If you’re taking the family to visit Duluth, there are so many amazing things you could choose to do. We were limited to about a day and a half to enjoy this beautiful city, but here’s what we suggest! We immediately connected with our friends at Duluth Moms Blog and Visit Duluth to get the inside scoop on what families need to enjoy and they did not disappoint!
North Shore Scenic Railroad
Kids + Train = Fun. It’s science. Book your tickets for the North Shore Scenic Railroad tour of the shoreline of Duluth and enjoy a trip down memory lane at the same time. This historic steam engine even boasts a train car you can ride in that is over 100 years old! Learn about the history of Duluth on this 90-minute train tour while kicking back with snacks and beverages and then be sure to check out the train museum in the depot upon your return, included with your train fare!
The Glensheen Mansion
Honestly, the Glensheen Mansion was the highlight of the trip for me. I could have spent days on end wandering the rooms of this beautiful 1908 estate situated on the banks of Lake Superior. With 39 rooms complete with original books on the shelves, secret buttons, silver chandeliers, hand-crafted furniture, a servant’s quarters, a murder-mystery, and a view that is absolutely breath-taking, the Glensheen is a historical gem in Duluth. Private tours, self-guided tours, flashlight tours, and all kinds of fun experiences have been developed for people to enter into the world of the American elite of the early 20th century. A highlight of our visit was discovering a 1889 copy of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne on the shelf that had never been previously noticed! There is a “Treasure Book” for kids to go on a hunt, looking for specific features on the tour, but the Glensheen is probably best suited for families with kids age 8 and above (due to the “no touching” policy). This place is absolutely a can’t-miss.
The Great Lakes Aquarium
Freshwater fun for kids of all ages here! The touch tank in the Great Lakes Aquarium is enormous and features multiple species of fish that will come right up to kids and poke their noses above the surfaced to be pet. With names like Provolone, Havarti and Snowflake, these fish were an immediate hit with our kids! We also got to see piranhas being fed, explore shipwrecks, and see fossils of early freshwater creatures that blew our minds. Our 9, 8 and 6-year-old kids really enjoyed it here and it was easy to see everything in just a little over an hour.
Do not, I repeat, do not leave Duluth before you have climbed up to the top of Enger Tower and taken in the view. No iPhone photo is going to be able to fully capture the beauty that we saw as we looked out at the fall colors plus the panorama of the Aerial Bridge, Lake Superior, and the gorgeous north shore. This is free to visit, so make sure to stop in!
For food & other haunts, check out Duluth Moms Blog for the inside scoop, but we can personally vouch for Fitgers Brewing Company, Portland Malt Shoppe, Grandma’s, Canal Park Brewing, and the Duluth Grill. All of these are local favorites that came personally recommended! Oh, and be sure to stop by Canal Park to view the Aerial Bridge where you can check out the shipping schedule and hopefully time it to see it going up to allow a big ship to pass through. We loved using Visit Duluth as a resource to plan all our big stops.
What We Missed
With only about a day and a half in fall to work with, we left a lot of Duluth fun on the table. There are tons of hiking trails to take in the gorgeous view and foliage, boat tours with the Vista Fleet, and so much more. And if you come in the winter, they have one of the largest free outdoor light displays in the country! In the summertime, Duluth is known as “where Minnesota comes to play,” so get ready for a whole lot of beach time.
Additional attractions include:
We absolutely adored Duluth. In fact, our kids are already asking when we can go back! As much as we would love to get back on the road for another round right away, I think we will wait until we are able to upgrade to a newer model of that Toyota Sienna. Now that we’ve experienced the bliss of a rear entertainment system, how can we ever go back??!! Ha!
A Few More Travel Notes:
We traveled to Duluth the long way through Rochester and the Twin Cities for a multi-Minnesota experience and had a ton of fun along the way! Check out our Instagram for some recommendations in those cities!
On the way home, take a detour to find the Delta Diner located in the middle of nowhere on Hwy H in northern Wisconsin, about an hour and a half southeast of Duluth. Try the Hot Cakes. Trust me.
In Duluth, they serve this thing called “Wild Rice Burgers.” It’s like a burger…..but made with rice instead of you know, meat. I was skeptical….but it was DELICIOUS.
We want to know! Have you been to Duluth? What are your favorite places to go and things to do??
“Ultimate Road Trip Survival Kit” GIVEAWAY!
We are excited to be giving away the Ultimate Road Trip Survival Kit thanks to our partners at Toyota, The Family Backpack, and Those Crazy Nelsons!
Prize Package includes:
- $250 Visa Gift Card courtesy of Toyota
- Collection of Toyota Road Trip Swag, including a Bluetooth speaker, plush blanket, water bottles, cooler, and backseat organizer
- A Kindle Fire tablet courtesy of The Family Backpack plus a t-shirt and tote bag
- A Road Trip itinerary from Those Crazy Nelsons for the destination of your choice*
To Enter, hop on over to Facebook and follow the instructions. No Facebook? No worries! Just leave a comment on this post and we’ll make sure your name is tossed into the mix! Winner will be announced on Facebook on Saturday, October 21st.
**Cities include: Asheville, NC | Columbia, SC | Cincinnati, OH | Indianapolis, IN | Bowling Green, KY | Selma, AL | Gulf Shores, AL | Louisville, KY | Charleston, SC