Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Northfield, MN

  • Published 2023/05/05

Did you know that Northfield, Minnesota, is a city that belongs to two beautiful counties, Rice and Dakota?

That’s right.

But a considerable part of it is in Rice County, with a smaller portion in Dakota.

American lawyer and politician John W. North planned out the city’s entire borders, which is why it was named after him as well as a particular Mr. Field.

The Yankees from New England were the ones who founded Northfield with the city’s rich agricultural production of wheat and corn.

Today, Northfield doesn’t disappoint when it comes to tourist attractions, including some of the top-notch museums, historical sites like the First National Bank of Northfield, hiking trails, and many more.

The city was founded in 1856 and was incorporated in 1868.

If you have plans on visiting this beautiful city, here are the best things to do in Northfield, Minnesota:

Learn about the Defeat of the James-Younger Gang at the First National Bank of Northfield

First National Bank of Northfield's exterior

Elkman, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the biggest celebrations in Minnesota is The Defeat of Jesse James Days, an annual outdoor heritage festival.

The celebration’s highlight is the re-enactment of the robbery at the First National Bank of Northfield on 408 Division Street.

The robbery was headed by the famous American outlaw and a trained robber, Jesse James.

On September 7, 1876, the bank’s cashier Joseph Lee Heywood and two other locals were inside the bank.

Heywood refused to open the vault, which started the altercation that led to his death and defeat of the James-Younger Gang.

That day became one of the most historical events in Minnesota.

The small bank is now a museum showcasing actual ledgers from the 1800s, historical photos, memorabilia, plaques, and more.

If you’re also bringing your kids to the First National Bank of Northfield, the site also has a Search and Find Game for the youngsters to keep them entertained.

See the Botanical Collection at Cowling Arboretum

Among the top sites to see when you’re in Northfield is Cowling Arboretum, an 800-acre arboretum adjacent to the city’s famous Carleton College.

Located at MN-19, Cowling Arboretum was established in the 1920s by Donald J. Cowling and Harvey E. Stork and is open to the public without admission fees.

Cowling was the president of Carleton College from 1909 to 1962.

The arboretum offers gorgeous and well-maintained hiking and biking trails, colorful wildflowers, a lake with some fishes, a small stream, tall grass prairies, beautiful trees, and more.

With its beautiful, natural ecosystem, Cowling Arboretum is one of the best spots to visit in Northfield.

Taste the Delicious Apple Pies at Fireside Orchard & Gardens

When visiting a place, one of the top priorities is trying out the best delicacies it offers.

This is what Fireside Orchard & Gardens offers when you take a trip to its beautiful spot at 2225 Lonsdale Boulevard East, right at the top of a hill.

What’s more exciting about the place is that it has grown all the different varieties of apples since 1971.

During the Apple Season, which is in August of every year, Fireside Orchard & Gardens reopens, where you can enjoy its tourist attractions and delicacies.

Don’t miss its apple pies, donuts, fudge, jams, mustards, pancake mix, and apple-based products.

The spot also has a gazebo where you can have your coffee and donuts while relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous scenery.

Experience All Kinds of Arts at the Northfield Arts Guild

For the artists and the like, checking out the Northfield Arts Guild, established in the 1960s, is definitely worth your time.

Whether you’re into dance, music, theaters, visual arts, or even arts education, this place is for you.

The arts center offers classes and workshops for all adults and kids according to their areas of interest.

You can visit the Northfield Arts Guild at 304 Division Street, where you can see all the artworks by local artists.

Its gift shop will also give you a chance to purchase a piece of artwork like home decor, seasonal items, jewelry, paintings, and a lot more.

Pamper Yourself at Blue Sage Day Spa

A quick and little pampering doesn’t hurt when you visit a place.

When you’re around Northfield and need some time off, you should check out Blue Sage Day Spa.

You can find the spa just right downtown of Northfield at 305 Division Street South.

Blue Sage Day Spa offers massage services, skincare, hair styling, lash extensions, eyebrows tints, and more.

So if you’re worn out after a hike or simply want some pampering, you should book an appointment at this little gem you can find in downtown Northfield.

Connect with Visual Arts at Flaten Art Museum

There are many different visual arts in the world that you can find in museums, especially when you’re on vacation.

Northfield isn’t just rich in culture, but it also brings you a diverse history of its own.

Flaten Art Museum was established in 1902 at 1520 St. Olaf Drive and welcomes you with over 4,000 historical arts from around the world.

The museum has a vast collection of historical textiles, paintings, sculptures, fine art prints, ceramics, photographs, and graphic arts.

Flaten Art Museum is closed for the summer season but returns and exhibits in mid-September.

So if you happen to be in Northfield during September, it’s worth checking out.

Get a Taste of Minnesota at Loon Liquors

When you get to Loon Liquors, you’ll hardly leave.

That’s a promise.

The craft distillery is locally owned and managed by its founders, Simeon Rossi and Mark Schiller.

It was established in 2011 to produce high-quality local and organic spirits without hurting the environment.

You’ll get to enjoy a drink or two at Loon Liquors’ cocktail room with several board games to keep you entertained.

You can find the distillery at 1325 Armstrong Rd #165, close to Sechler Park.

Watch a Game at Sechler Park

If you’re into different ball games, you can spend a few hours watching at Sechler Park.

The park has a spacious ballfield where local athletes spend time playing different kinds of ball games.

Sechler Park is located at 1200 Armstrong Road.

The park offers a bike trail, picnic areas with tables, walking trails, a portable toilet, restrooms, an open field, and barbecue grills.

If you happen to stay nearby, especially when the weather is excellent, a few hours at the park is worth it.

Enjoy a Craft Beer at Imminent Brewing

One of the must-visit places in Northfield is Imminent Brewing, a brewery and taproom that has been crafting high-quality ales and lagers using local ingredients since 2015.

With a family-friendly atmosphere, the bar has a great selection of beers.

It offers a large patio and a fire pit that will keep you warm in case it gets a bit chilly outside.

There are also several food options on-site for you to try.

The large windows and doors with glass panels make the bar bright inside, which gives it a welcoming environment.

There’s also live music happening almost every weekend.

Your house-trained and well-behaved dogs are also welcome.

Just put them on a non-retractable leash no longer than 6 feet, and ask them not to bark at anyone!

You can find Imminent Brewing at 519 Division Street South #2.

Take Your Family to Content Bookstore

Located right in the historic downtown of Northfield at 314 Division Street South, Content Bookstore is great for all adults and kids.

The bookstore was established in 2014 and has a wide variety of books and toys, especially for kids.

The bookstore also offers Spanish books for those who speak and write Spanish.

There are also audiobooks, bargain books, greeting cards, stationery and reading aids, and much more.

So if you’re a book lover visiting Northfield, take some time to visit Content Bookstore.

Buy Classic Souvenir Items at Vintage Etc.

Established in 2013, Vintage Etc. is a must-stop gift shop when you’re in Northfield.

This spot offers a lot of vintage collections from the 1920s to 1990s ranging from jewelry, vinyl LPs, CDs, clothing, furniture, home decor, mirrors, artworks, linens, and more.

They’re even reasonably priced, so you’ll never have to think twice.

The gift shop is located at 411 Division Street South.

Choose and buy from a wide variety of authentic antique and vintage items at Vintage Etc., and go back home with a smile.

Visit the O. E. Rølvaag House

Standing on the west side of Manitou Street between Summit and Greenvale Avenues, the O. E. Rølvaag House was where Ole Edvart Rølvaag lived.

Rølvaag was a Norwegian-American novelist and a professor at St. Olaf College, which is close to his home at 311 Manitou Street.

His award-winning trilogy Giants in the Earth, Peder Victorious, and Their Father’s God described the adjustments and challenges Norwegian-American immigrants had to endure.

The one-and-half-story wood frame house was built in 1912 for Rølvaag, where he lived until he died in 1931.

His novels were written in Norwegian but possessed a strong and unique American theme.

These were translated into English.

Most of his works were done in the O. E. Rølvaag House, which has been listed as a National Historic Landmark in the US.

Hang Out at The Contented Cow

Bring your family and friends out to The Contented Cow after a day of exploring and getting around Northfield.

This relaxed and charming British-inspired pub offers excellent selections of beer, wine, and specialty cocktails perfect to cap the night.

Referred to as a British Pub with a Minnesota accent, The Contented Cow is southern Minnesota’s oldest British pub with a wonderful location along the Cannon River.

Grab some delicious pub fare and pair it with your choice of drink, especially beers on tap that are regularly rotating.

The outside patio gives the best atmosphere with live music right by the river!

Have a Good Read at the Northfield Public Library

There’s no need to halt your reading routine while in Northfield.

At the Northfield Public Library, you get to choose any genre you like for a good read, or any printed material you’d like to discover.

A great selection of books, audiobooks, magazines, e-books, newspapers, music, movies, and many other helpful resources are kept at the library.

There’s also a genealogy section, as well as a kids’ and teens’ section.

The library also hosts events and programs for the community.

The Northfield Public Library was opened in 1910 on Washington Street.

Get Your Coffee Fix at The Hideaway Coffeehouse and Wine Bar

A great cup of coffee and delicious breakfast fare are what make your morning in Northfield worthwhile.

At The Hideaway Coffeehouse and Wine Bar, you get to taste its fresh, delicious coffee, which is locally roasted and served fresh daily.

Its lattes, for instance, are one of the top favorites among locals and tourists.

Also, if you’re up for a good breakfast, the coffee shop offers excellent choices of breakfast eats, including burritos, paninis, and several vegan options.

Drop by The Hideaway Coffeehouse and Wine Bar at Division Street South.

Dine at the Ole Store Restaurant

Contemporary American comfort food with ingredients that are locally sourced is what the Ole Store Restaurant does best.

The restaurant is buzzing with delicious burgers, cinnamon rolls, steaks, and sandwiches, and its famous, signature Ole Roll.

It’s also known for its mouthwatering brunch and dinner options, including its delectable biscuits and gravy, bread pudding, walleye, and many more.

The Ole Store Restaurant has been a Northfield charm since 1889 and has seen plenty of significant life events.

It’s a Nordic-inspired restaurant decorated with fine art on its white walls in a renovated, historic old building.

Visit the Ole Store Restaurant at St. Olaf Avenue.

Bring a Picnic to Riverside Lions Park

Share a delicious picnic lunch or snacks with your loved ones at Riverside Lions Park, which features picnic tables and a shelter for a large group.

Grills are also available for cookouts if you plan to do barbecues.

The park also offers walking trails, as well as a bike trail to explore and connect to other parks in nearby areas.

If you have little kids, they can enjoy playing and interacting with each other at the playground.

Go, find Riverside Lions Park at 8th Street West.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Learn about the First U.S. Mill at the Archibald Mill Ruins

View of Archibald Mill Ruins beside the river

John Brueske /

The Archibald Mill Ruins now stand on the Cannon River’s edge in Dundas.

Now part of the National Register of Historic Places, the mill was a water-powered gristmill complex.

It was the first mill to produce and sell patent flour in the US with its famous Dundas Straight, which was hailed as the best flour in America.

A window at Archibald Mill Ruins

John Brueske /

Cousins George and John Sidney Archibald built the mill in 1857, but it caught fire twice.

Now, the Archibald Mill Ruins stand proud on the river’s edge, boasting its historical significance in commerce, industry, and flour milling.

Daytime view of the Archibald Mill Ruins

McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Explore the Beauty of Minnesota at the Mill Towns State Trail

You’ll never experience boredom when you’re in Northfield, especially since the city’s neighboring places have a lot to offer.

The Mill Towns State Trail is located in the city of Dundas, only seven minutes from Northfield via MN-3 N and is a must-stop.

Enjoy hiking, biking, in-line skating, and cross-country skiing at the trail along the Cannon River.

The trail was built in 1998 and was established as a state trail in 2000.

It’s still in development but is open to the public for use.

The Mill Towns State Trail connects Northfield to Dundas, which is currently about 4.8 kilometers long.

Drop by the Historic Waterford Bridge

The Waterford Bridge over a river

McGhiever, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Only six minutes from Northfield, the historic Waterford Bridge stands still over the Cannon River in Waterford Township.

Engineer Charles A. Forbes designed the bridge, built in 1909 with steel truss construction.

The bridge carries a trail used by snowmobiles, ATVs, and pedestrians.

In 2010, the Waterford Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in engineering and construction.

The bridge is famous for its stronger rigid connections that are fastened with bolts instead of rivets.

Its design and construction, which is a Camelback through truss, remain a rare type of bridge in the state of Minnesota.

Come by and check this historic bridge when you’re visiting Northfield!

Final Thoughts

Northfield, Minnesota, never disappoints when it comes to its tourist attractions and historical sites.

From its stunning botanical garden, vintage gift shops, hiking and biking trails, parks, museums, and beauty salons, visiting this beautiful city is far from boredom.

The city also attracts many tourists because of its known history of the robbery at the First National Bank of Northfield, now a historical museum that prides its locals on defeating the James-Younger Gang.

Don’t miss any of these gorgeous and lush tourist spots as well as the historical sites.

They’re good for the soul!

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