Having fun during a visit to Steams County in Minnesota doesn’t have to cost much, with the many free things to do in St. Cloud, the county seat.
This city provides a wide selection of public recreational facilities, including 96 parks.
St. Cloud, in addition, boasts many natural attractions thanks to its superb location at the confluence of two major rivers—the Mississippi and Sauk.
Founded in 1856, the city also flaunts history and the arts among its various attractions.
The city further draws visitors through various establishments, such as Minnesota's third-largest public university: St. Cloud State University.
Because of its generous offerings to residents and visitors, St. Cloud has received top citations from the Rome-based International Awards for Livable Communities.
Check out what these lifestyle delights are on the following list of free things to do in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Smell the Flowers at the Munsinger and Clemens Gardens
These twin gardens are located opposite the flanks of Southeast Riverside Drive.
These are two distinct but adjacent gardens on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Both Gardens are open to the public daily from spring to fall, each dazzling visitors with their distinct characteristics.
The older Munsinger Gardens date back to the 1930s and is directly on the banks of the Mississippi.
It’s an informal garden within 14 acres, featuring winding paths with flowering plants and tall pine trees.
Grass landscaping separates the island beds of the Munsinger Gardens, mimicking the nearby river.
Clemens Gardens was developed during the 1990s, covering seven acres.
Six plots constitute these gardens set in a formal style high up on the sunny slope across the Munsinger Gardens.
Fountains and decorative ironwork enhance the setup of the Clemens Gardens, which is comprised of the Virginia Clemens Rose Garden, the Formal Garden, the Rest Area Garden, the Perennial Garden, the White Garden, and the Treillage Garden.
Enjoy the Serenity of Heritage Park
Located off South 33rd Street just behind a Costco supermarket, Heritage Park was established in 1979 as an urban oasis of St. Cloud.
This park spreads over 75.5 acres and has few public amenities, so you can enjoy a quiet visit here.
Ranked as St. Cloud’s fifth largest, this park offers a 1.4-mile walking trail traversing lush woodlands.
The walk is easy along this relatively flat nature trail where seasonal wildflowers and wildlife sightings can be part of the experience.
With a minimal entrance fee, you can drop by the Stearns County Museum with historic displays and exhibits at the northeast edge of Heritage Park.
Marvel at the St. Cloud Hydro Dam
Take a short walk southward from the greenhouse of the Munsinger Gardens off Riverside Drive Southeast, and you will be rewarded with the amazing sight of the St. Cloud Hydro Dam.
This city landmark displays the power of the Mighty Mississippi River that you can see at viewing decks at varying levels.
Some of these vantage points are so close to the dam’s cascading waters that mist can spray on you during a windy visit.
St. Cloud Hydro Dam, with river waters flowing 4,970 cubic feet per second, notably produces 8.86 megawatts of electric power daily.
At the dam’s vantage points, you can also see the river’s heavily wooded Beaver Islands, some 30 dotting a two-mile stretch of the Mississippi.
Hike the Beaver Island Trail
The Beaver Island Trail is an asphalt-paved path stretching five miles along the lush woodlands of the west banks of the Mississippi River.
You can access Beaver Island Trail's trailhead from 3rd Avenue South immediately east of the city Park Maintenance.
From here, you’ll have amazing views of the St. Cloud Dam, and hiking southward offers spectacular vistas of the Beaver Islands before the trail ends at the River Bluffs Regional Park.
Hiking northward from the 3rd Avenue South trailhead traverses the eastern periphery of the St. Cloud State University campus.
You can extend this northbound hike onward to the city’s downtown and the St. Cloud Riverwalk.
This half-mile riverwalk offers more spectacular sceneries along the banks of the Mississippi.
Go on a DIY St. Cloud Historic Walking Tour
Through a self-guided downtown walking tour, you can dig deep into St. Cloud’s history without spending on museum entrance fees.
The drumbeaters of the tourist trade in the city have made online resources available for this DIY tour.
This comprehensive guide will usher you to some 40 landmark buildings in the historic downtown of St. Cloud.
Your stops in this self-guided tour include the Romanesque, circa 1897 Davidson Opera House on Fifth Avenue South.
This road corridor has another interesting destination in the 1895 building of the Singer Manufacturing Company made of granite, brick, and stone.
You can also stop and wonder at the Hoyt Block on Sixth Avenue South, where the yellow bricks of its 1892 structure stand out.
Launch a Kayak at Wilson Park
Located on Riverside Drive, Wilson Park provides a boat ramp for visitors bringing in their watercraft to enjoy a trip on the Mississippi River.
Use of this ramp is free, and it can accommodate both motorized boats and non-motorized vessels like kayaks and canoes.
Wilson Park, which was established in the 1930s, offers other recreational facilities.
It provides an expansive green space comprised of woodlands and grass fields overlooking the Mississippi River.
Within this acreage, visitors have access to a playground, a sand volleyball court, and a dog park, plus a rentable pavilion.
Explore the River Bluffs Regional Park
Open to the public all seasons, the River Bluffs Regional Park is accessible from 38th Street South on the west banks of the Mississippi River.
This park sprawls over 190 acres, offering paths for mountain biking in the summer and skiing and snowshoeing during winter.
The park’s primary blue single-track trail features a 119-foot climb presenting a moderate challenge.
You can get extra mileage on this asphalted mountain bike path, with its link to the paved Plum Creek mountain biking trail on Clearwater Road.
Aside from its nature trails, the River Bluffs Regional Park provides picnic areas and a boat landing for paddleboats and motorboats.
Cool Off at St. Cloud’s Splash Pads
Several public parks in St. Cloud boast splash pads available for everyone to enjoy for free.
These facilities are open daily during summer from mid-May to mid-September, when many locals and visitors want to cool off.
One popular destination is Eastman Park at the Lake George Municipal Complex on 7th Street South.
This park also features the Lake George Boathouse, where visitors can rent gear at an affordable fee for boating and fishing in the lake.
Free access to a splash pad is also available at Westwood Park on Driftwood Drive.
Have Fun at Heritage Park Skate Plaza
St. Cloud boasts the new Heritage Park Skate Plaza on 33rd Avenue South adjacent to the Costco supermarket.
This facility on the northern side of Heritage Park spreads over 20,000 square feet, featuring a large bowl with multiple depths.
A fun round in this bowl takes skaters to depths of 4 to 6 feet, with a partial extension of 7 feet as its deepest pocket.
The varied skate lines and terrain of this facility make it a popular destination for skating aficionados.
They get the most kick from the creative layout and construction of the skate plaza’s rails, ledges, and return walls.
Heritage Park Skate Plaza also flaunts a 24-foot open-air shelter plus a prefab restroom.
Enjoy the Tunes of Summertime by George
Summertime by George is an annual free concert held every Wednesday night from June to August.
Lake George Park on 7th Street South in downtown St. Cloud hosts this much-awaited event in the city.
This outdoor concert series, with the Rotary Club of St. Cloud as its sponsor, features prominent local and regional bands and singers.
A family-friendly festival, Summertime by George features a kids’ zone and stalls for local vendors.
The event is a great opportunity for socials while admiring the downtown skyline against the backdrop of Lake George.
Applaud the Talents of Music in the Gardens
Music in the Gardens is another concert series to look forward to during summer.
This event is held on alternating Sundays in July and August near the Munsinger Gardens’ gazebo on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Besides performances of professional musicians, the July Memorial Release of the Butterflies also coincides with Music in the Gardens.
In addition, the Munsinger Gardens hosts an annual art fair on the third Thursday of July.
The artwork of more than 45 artists is displayed during this event; it also features live music performers.
Drop a Line in the Mississippi River
Fishing in the Mississippi River is enjoyable onshore and aboard a boat along the river’s stretch in St. Cloud.
These city waters have been rated among the top 10 best spots for fishing in Minnesota.
For fishing onboard a boat, like a canoe or a kayak, you can access for free the boat ramp at Wilson Park on Riverside Drive.
One ideal onshore fishing spot open to the public is accessible just south of the Cloud State University campus near the Beaver Island Trailhead off 3rd Avenue South.
There’s a fishing pier here as well as a public parking area.
This location is also notably downstream of the St. Cloud Hydro Dam, where anglers report a good catch of muskies especially.
Some 35 game fish thrive in the Mississippi River as potential catch, including walleye, smallmouth bass, black crappie channel catfish, northern pike, muskellunge, and bluegill.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Check Out the River Rapids at Lions Park
At Lions Park, you can appreciate the white water rapids of the Mississippi, reputed among kayakers as among the best in the 2,340-mile stretch of the river.
This park, located on River Avenue North in Sauk Rapids, is just 3 miles north of St. Cloud.
A stroll on the park's promenade provides nearly 360-degree views of the Mississippi and its most scenic rapids.
Visitors of Lions Park can also explore its recreational trail connecting to the nearby Southside Park.
The other attractions of this park include a well-equipped playground, picnic areas, shelters, and restrooms.
In addition, locals have created a Love Lock fence in the park, installing padlocks to highlight loving couples’ wish for a long-lasting relationship.
Explore the Quarry Park Scientific and Natural Area
The Quarry Park Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) is located on County Road 137 in Waite Park.
This SNA, among several in the state of Minnesota, spreads over 323 acres and is just five miles southwest of St. Cloud.
During a visit to this SNA, you can enjoy its many exceptional natural features, such as its amazing wildflowers, ferns, trees, shrubs, grasses, and sedges.
It is also an exciting place for wildlife observation, photography, hiking, and skiing during winter.
Camping and recreational sports activities like rock climbing, however, are prohibited in SNAs.
Be prepared also to rough it out and bring provisions during a trek in the Quarry Park SNA, as there are no facilities here.
To enjoy the natural splendor with park amenities available, you can shift to the nearby Quarry Park and Nature Preserve.
A small fee is charged to visitors of this 683-acre park featuring an open prairie, scenic woodlands, and wetlands.
Along the park’s trail, you’ll find water-filled quarries open for swimming.
You can also view along the way artifacts and exhibits about the granite industry, which helped the early development of St. Cloud and its neighboring towns and cities.
Tour the St. John’s Pottery
A unique experience awaits visitors of the St. John’s Pottery on the campus of its namesake university about 14 miles west of St. Cloud.
Founded in 1979, this pottery is housed in the St. Joseph Hall of St. John University, located in the unincorporated community of St. Wendel Township, Stearns County.
The pottery studio tours will show you the clay processing cycle and glaze development.
It will also show you the steps in the preparation and firing of the pottery’s kiln each fall.
Guests are also welcome to an afternoon tea brewed using teapots made in St. John’s Pottery.
The abundance of free things to do in St. Cloud, Minnesota, is more than enough reason to visit this city.
The city’s downtown alone offers many public places with exciting activities to enjoy for free.
Throw in the natural delights of the nearby Mississippi River, and it comes truly easy to find free things to do in this city.