Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Rochester, MN

  • Published 2023/01/05

In Minnesota, Rochester is the third-largest city after Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In 1854, George Head and his wife Henrietta established the town by constructing a log house they dubbed Head’s Tavern and naming the new settlement “Rochester,” after his birthplace in New York.

Although famous for the world-famous Mayo Clinic, Rochester offers much more than what meets the eye.

Rochester in Olmsted County, Minnesota, is one of the most visited places in the Midwest due to its picturesque setting, laid-back vibe, and plenty of food and entertainment options.

Rochester is a must-visit in the region due to its small-town charm and hip downtown scene.

Fantastic venues, shops, and groups often host excellent events for free.

Here are 15 free things to do in Rochester, Minnesota, to enjoy with your friends and family:

Enjoy the Outdoors at Silver Lake Park

The waters of Silver Lake Park

Bob Pool /

Are you tired of spending all your time indoors?

Take advantage of the diverse outdoor pursuits that Silver Lake Park has to offer!

Wooden bench at Silver Lake Park

guifengh /

It features a fantastic setting and a tiny lake filled with fresh water and is an excellent location for outdoor pursuits.

Other activities may be enjoyed in Silver Lake Park, including jogging, biking, kayaking, and sightseeing.

You can find the park on Silver Lake Drive.

Have a Picnic at Cascade Lake Park

Even though Rochester boasts over 140 parks, there are many reasons why Cascade Lake Park should be the location for your next picnic.

After close to 15 years of construction, it finally opened in 2019.

Picnic lunches are welcome everywhere in the park since table settings are available.

There is also play equipment here suitable for children.

Cascade Park is on 23rd Avenue.

Go Window Shopping at Apache Mall

Apache Mall, the city’s main shopping center, is also one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations.

People who enjoy shopping will find Apache Mall an enjoyable shopping complex because of its convenient layout.

Apache Mall is sure to have something that will pique your interest, regardless of whether you are interested in fashion, sports, or technology.

There are 87 stores here, in addition to many excellent restaurants.

You are welcome to go window shopping even if you don’t plan on making any purchases.

You may also come here for an evening full of entertainment.

Explore the Wildlife at Quarry Hill Nature Center

Winter scene at Quarry Hill Nature Center

Ventu Photo /

Quarry Hill Nature Center allows guests to see many live animals, birds, and fish, in addition to a taxidermy collection.

It’s home to 35 living creatures indigenous to Minnesota and species from other parts of the world.

It also features an enormous aquarium with seven kinds of fish and two types of raptors.

These birds have sharp eyesight, acute hearing, lightning-fast speed, near-silent flight, and crushing talons.

Frozen lake at Quarry Hill Nature Center

Ventu Photo /

At the Nature Center, you may look closely at the inner workings of a honeybee colony thanks to the indoor hive that has been there for at least 20 years.

The Bird Study Room shows a variety of birds that are either displayed or found life outside the room’s windows.

The Quarry Hill Nature Center is free to visit on Silver Creek Road.

Cycle the Douglas State Trail

Minnesota is home to many stunning tourist destinations, but Rochester deserves special recognition for its many fascinating attractions, such as the Douglas State Trail.

The total distance of these paths is 12.5 miles.

This paved route is accessible for walkers, runners, cyclists, and even skateboarders.

The natural road track is also available, and horseback riders may utilize it.

This route also provides access to the settlements of Douglas and Pine Island.

Go Fishing at Foster-Arend Park

Daytime view of Foster-Arend Park

Kewlgrapes, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spend some time in Foster-Arend Park if you and your loved ones are fishing enthusiasts.

Its lake is stocked with rainbow trout during the winter, spring, and fall, so there is often a lot of fish for anglers to capture.

You may also catch a bluegill or a largemouth bass.

You are welcome to fish from the pier or launch your boat at Foster-Arend Park.

Bring your swimming suit with you in the summertime to swim at the nearby beach.

The park is located on River Road.

Enjoy Winter Sports at Essex Park

Even when visiting Rochester in winter, there’s no shortage of free fun!

There are a variety of hiking routes in Rochester and the surrounding Olmsted County area that you may cross off your bucket list; Essex Park is one of the city’s most popular.

Here you may try cross-country skiing which requires you to rely only on your locomotion to traverse snow-covered terrain.

Snowshoeing is also a popular activity in the park.

Essex Park is located on West River Road.

Admire Plummer Building’s Architecture

Aerial view of The Plummer Building

Bob Pool /

Plummer Building, which first welcomed patients to the Mayo Clinic in 1928, has since become an enduring emblem of the institution and a National Historic Landmark.

Henry S. Plummer, M.D., responsible for the building’s design and the development of specific systems and processes still in use today at the Mayo Clinic, is honored to have this structure named after him.

Entrance doors of The Plummer Building

Shane Lee Photography /

Dr. Charlie and Dr. Will Mayo’s offices lie on the building’s historic third story.

While the Gondo and Mayo buildings and others are responsible for providing patient care, the Plummer Building is home to academic, administrative, and support operations.

Exterior of The Plummer Building

Jonathunder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The building is a majestic sight on 2nd Street with its ornate architectural style and bronze doors.

Play Outdoor Hockey at Northern Heights Park

Rochester is known as the “State of Hockey,” so it’s no wonder it’s home to eight outdoor ice skating rinks.

A good number of them also have shelters with heating and lighting!

Northern Heights Park, located on 22nd Street, is perfect for fun on the ice, such as ice skating and a game of outdoor hockey.

It’s also home to other sports facilities such as baseball and softball fields and tennis courts.

A natural area and unpaved trails are also available at Northern Heights Park.

Walk through the City’s Public Art along Art4Trails

The Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative founded the Art4Trails network to display art in public spaces.

Since it began in 2016, their juried art contests have showcased the work of 24 local and regional artists and commissioned 13 permanent sculptures in addition to 16 temporary sculptures.

There are remarkable public art projects at crucial spots along Rochester’s cycleways, such as Slatterly Park, River Landing, and Silver Lake.

Make sure you plan your bike ride so you may see as many works as possible.

Aside from permanent sculptures along the Art4Trails trail, there are also temporary sculptures throughout the year.

Read Stories and Join Fun Activities at Rochester Public Library

Exterior of Rochester Public Library

Michael Hicks, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On paper, a library visit doesn’t sound like a great way to spend a day with the kids.

However, Rochester Public Library on 2nd Street ensures that its facility is enjoyable for patrons of all ages.

Visitors can enjoy the organization’s tabletop activities, which include games, arts & crafts, and other fun pursuits.

Through its Bookmobile and BookBike services, the Rochester Public Library constantly innovates and brings new and exciting activities to the public.

Find out whether the library hosts other events while you’re in the city, such as story time for kids and their grownups, murder mystery nights, and more.

Pay Respect to Fallen Heroes at Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial

Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial is the place to go if you want to pay your respects to the fallen heroes of our country.

Veterans of the Southeast Minnesota area, hailing from various conflicts and eras, are commemorated here.

The Wall of Remembrance is the primary attraction of the Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial.

It honors over three thousand heroic people from the surrounding area.

Be sure to walk down the Walk of Remembrance and check out the 50 Trees of Remembrance, one for each state.

Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial is on 7th Street.

Catch Live Performances at Rochesterfest

One of Rochester’s best annual events takes place for nine days in June.

A celebration of Rochester with good eats and good company is what Rochesterfest is all about.

It’s the perfect place to welcome summer and meet many incredible people.

Incredible live performances, as well as free parades and triathlons, are available during the event.

Because of the free trolley service, getting there is a breeze.

Stroll around Peace Plaza Downtown

Aerial view of Peace Plaza

Jonathunder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Peace Plaza Downtown is home to several enjoyable attractions and activities in the city.

The events in Peace Plaza in the city’s central business district are among the best you’ll experience, and the excellent part is many of them are free!

Bookstore at Peace Plaza

Jonathunder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

With its lively afternoon music and cutting-edge fashion exhibits, Peace Plaza is undeniably a location that caters to those searching for a good time.

Be sure to stop by the summer market where you can meet locals.

Loosen up on Thursdays on First & 3rd

Rochester’s top attractions aim to bring locals and visitors together for a good time.

You can’t visit Rochester in the summer without checking out the Thursdays on First & Third Summer Market and Musical Festival.

The event draws tourists with its infectious energy and stunning scenery.

Food vendors and artisans sell products every Thursday at the corner of First and Third Streets.

Live music is also available.

Meet Locals at Rochester Farmers Market

Fresh swiss chard at Rochester Farmers Market

Jonathunder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the Rochester Farmers Market, you’ll find many helpful merchants selling fresh, high-quality food.

The market provides fantastic produce, meats, dairy products, flowers, and a wide variety of unique handmade goods.

All year long, locals and tourists may shop at the Rochester Farmer Market.

From May through October, Graham Park hosts Summer Saturdays; from mid-June through September, the park has Wednesday Markets.

Garlic for sale at Rochester Farmers Market

Jonathunder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On Saturdays throughout the fall and winter, it moves indoors.

Farmers’ markets are great places to do window shopping and maybe even make new friends.

Onions for sale at Rochester Farmers Market

Jonathunder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

Rochester is known for its fun festivals and outdoor attractions.

Its natural charm, relaxed pace, bustling downtown, and the free things to do in Rochester are just a few reasons you’ll fall in love with the city.

Bookmark this list of free activities to maximize your trip!

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