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Minnesota’s Top 40 Tourist Destinations by Attendance

For the first time in eight years, Explore Minneapolis has compiled a list top tourist draws in Minnesota. The list reflects attendance levels in 2017.

Minnesota’s Top 40 Tourist Destinations by Attendance
Celebrating the North at the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. Photo courtesy of Brandon Werth Photography

For Minnesotans and out-of-towners, the loves of shopping, sports and the outdoors drive more people to explore the state of Minnesota than almost anything else.

That’s according to state tourism agency Explore Minnesota, which on Wednesday released its list of the top 40 attractions in the state based on visitor counts. The ranking reflects 2017 figures, and is the first time the agency has compiled such a list since 2010.

Leading the pack by far was the Mall of America, which drew 40 million people over the course of the year. Chain of Lakes Regional Park in Minneapolis and Como Park in St. Paul also proved to be strong draws, taking the second and third spots on the list, respectively.

"These attendance figures are impressive. They contribute to Minnesota's $15.0 billion tourism economy in a big way, and support jobs all over the state," said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota, in a statement. "Minnesota offers an endless array of things to see and do, and this list goes to show that people are exploring our state's great indoor and outdoor attractions."

Of the 140 attractions that provided attendance figures, these were the top 40:

Rank

Destination

City

Number of Visitors (2017)

1

Mall of America

Bloomington

40,000,000

2

Chain of Lakes Regional Park

Minneapolis

7,063,500

3

Como Park

St. Paul

5,367,400

4

National Sports Center

Blaine

4,100,000

5

Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park

Minneapolis

2,782,800

6

Mississippi Gorge Regional Park

Minneapolis/St. Paul

2,734,300

7

Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center & Park

Duluth

2,526,322

8

Xcel Energy Center

St. Paul

2,200,000

9

Target Field

Minneapolis

2,131,787

10

Minnehaha Park

Minneapolis

2,051,000

11

Minnesota State Fair

St. Paul

1,997,320

12

Grand Casino Hinckley

Hinckley

1,810,550

13

Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park

Minneapolis

1,800,400

14

Grand Casino Mille Lacs

Onamia

1,406,904

15

Elm Creek Park Reserve

Maple Grove

1,385,800

16

U.S. Bank Stadium

Minneapolis

1,351,289

17

Minnesota Zoo

Apple Valley

1,300,000

18

Phalen Regional Park

St. Paul

1,259,800

19

Target Center

Minneapolis

1,200,000

20

Lilydale-Harriet Island Regional Park

St. Paul

1,122,800

21

Hyland Lake Park Reserve

Bloomington

1,056,700

22

Walker Art Center

Minneapolis

1,035,328

23

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Two Harbors

831,374

24

Minneapolis Institute of Art

Minneapolis

782,663

25

Fort Snelling State Park

St. Paul

699,709

26

Science Museum of Minnesota

St. Paul

668,714

27

Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store

Jordan

650,000

28

Hennepin Theatre Trust

Minneapolis

590,897

29

Minnesota Children’s Museum

St. Paul

561,400

30

Surly Brewing

Minneapolis

561,380

31

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Chaska

560,000

32

Itasca State Park

Park Rapids

545,483

33

Tettegouche State Park

Silver Bay

472,470

34

Mississippi National River & Recreation Area

St. Paul

436,734

35

Cabela’s

Owatonna

405,000

36

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Two Harbors

400,922

37

Guthrie Theater

Minneapolis

400,000

38

Jay Cooke State Park

Carlton

385,070

39

Interstate State Park

Taylors Falls

375,058

40

Temperance River State Park

Schroeder

303,358

 

Explore Minnesota spokesperson Erica Wacker notes that past versions of the list did not include regional parks. This time it did with many such spaces cracking the top 40.

Wacker suggests Como Park and Chain of Lakes Regional Park beat out other parks in the state due to their proximity to Minnesota’s urban core and their unique offerings. (Como Park includes a zoo and conservatory, while Chain of Lakes offers trails, rentals and frequently holds events.)

“They’re kind of the places that come out when you’re maybe not familiar with Minnesota [and] coming for the first time,” says Wacker. “They’re free, they’re open daily [and] year-round, so all those factors could contribute to high visitation.”

It’s worth noting that destinations on the list followed their own rule of measuring attendance. For instance, U.S. Bank Stadium and other concert or sports venues counted visitors by ticket sales, as state parks went by camping reservations and day passes. Malls, on the other hand, monitored its visitors at entrances, and so on.

With the majority of the top 40 attractions falling in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Explore Minnesota also provided top five destination lists for Greater Minnesota tourism regions.

These regional popular sites were:

Northeast

  1. Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center & Park, Duluth
  2. Grand Casino, Hinckley
  3. Gooseberry Falls State Park, Two Harbors
  4. Tettegouche State Park, Silver Bay
  5. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Two Harbors

 

Central

  1. Grand Casino Mille Lacs, Onamia
  2. Sibley State Park, New London
  3. Lake Carlos State Park, Carlos
  4. Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, Crosby
  5. Maplewood State Park, Pelican Rapids

 

Northwest 

  1. Itasca State Park, Park Rapids
  2. Lake Bemidji State Park, Bemidji
  3. WE Fest, Detroit Lakes
  4. Buffalo River State Park, Glyndon
  5. Sanford Center, Bemidji

 

Southern

  1. Cabela's, Owatonna
  2. Mayo Civic Center, Rochester
  3. Minneopa State Park, Mankato
  4. Flandrau State Park, New Ulm
  5. Whitewater State Park, Altura

 

Looking ahead, Wacker notes the next list Explore Minnesota produces on popular tourist attraction could look fairly different given other yet-to-open projects, such as Allianz Field in St. Paul. While there is no set date for the next survey, Wacker suggests it would probably not be eight years. Before 2010, the lists tended to drop every two or three years.

The total tourist count could likely rise, as well. Meet Minneapolis reported that at 33 million visitors, the Twin Cities 2017 tourism figures alone set a second annual record for the area, and Explore Minnesota itself declared summer 2018 tourism a promising success.

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