Cue the fireflies and wood smoke. Pack the car and pull on your hiking boots. Minnesotans’ most anticipated season officially begins with the summer solstice June 21. The Northern Hemisphere’s longest day of the year conveniently coincides with Father’s Day, giving you a double-strength excuse to get outdoors and goof off. Whether you stay in the city or hit the road — with dad or not — here are some of the best ways to savor a Minnesota summer, from gorgeous gardens and lush, green pathways to deep, cool caves and adrenaline-packed adventures.
Give dad a man-date
Get your heart going, make a Fitbit happy and start the summer with a Father’s Day 5K Celebration of Active Generations at Andover’s Bunker Hills on June 21 (612-245-9160; charitieschallenge.org). Craving a grand gesture and something grittier? Book a chance to drive a tank through the woods and mud puddles near St. Peter (1-507-931-7385; driveatank.com). For a mellow Minneapolis adventure, hop a Segway to zip along the Mississippi River waterfront on a three-hour Magical History Tour (952-888-9200; humanonastick.com).
Head to the races
Professional and elite cyclists converge in Minnesota for the five-day North Star Grand Prix, which starts June 17 and sends racers through St. Paul, Cannon Falls, Minneapolis and Menomonie, Wis., before ending with a grueling 44.5-percent grade climb in Stillwater (northstarbicyclefestival.com).
Pick your dessert
Few scents smell sweeter than a light breeze across ripe strawberry fields, which kick off Minnesota’s U-Pick berry season in mid- to late-June. Pull on grubby long pants, a hat for sun protection and hit the farms early in the morning for the freshest, juiciest fruit. Blueberries and raspberries usually ripen by the tail end of strawberry season, peaking around July 4 or later. Check out the 2015 Minnesota Grown directory (minnesotagrown.com) for U-Pick places and more than 1,000 farms that have been boosted by the locavore movement. You can also order the guide by calling 1-800-TOURISM.
Learn a new sport
Shoot arrows, learn the basics of camping and perfect your paddling with a full slate of how-to classes through the Three Rivers Park District or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ I Can! series (dnr.state.mn.us) throughout the metro and statewide. Looking for a fresh twist on a familiar sport? Try one of the Three River’s nighttime stand-up paddleboarding or canoeing trips by the light of a full moon (threeriversparks.org).
Need a weatherproof, nature-themed field trip for the children? Learn about animals, birds and native plants at places such as Carl Kroening Interpretive Center along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, the Coon Rapids Dam Visitor Center, and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center near the Mall of America. Then head out onto the trails to explore. The Three Rivers Park District also hosts free, pond-themed Family Fun Days on July 12 and Aug. 2, at the Richardson Nature Center (763-694-7676).
Explore Big Muddy
Let the urban landscape melt away and embrace your inner explorer with three-hour trips along the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Wilderness Inquiry, a nonprofit program that adapts outdoor recreation for all abilities, leads family-friendly tours in 24-foot Voyageur canoes. Trips may include birding, singalongs, a riverside picnic and hikes (612-676-9400; wildernessinquiry.org). If you prefer to see the Mississippi with less paddling, take a sightseeing, sunset dinner or margarita cruise on the Padelford Riverboats (651-227-1100; riverrides.com).
Smell the roses
Most gardens peak in July with a rainbow of roses, lilies, annuals and herbs. Follow your nose through the Lyndale Park Rose Garden along Lake Harriet (minneapolisparks.org) or spend a day wandering the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, which has 26 nature-themed sculptures made from LEGOs on display through the summer (952-443-1400; arboretum.umn.edu). Want to learn, too? The Hennepin County Master Gardeners’ Learning Garden Tour visits nine gardens. Get tips and more (612-596-2130; northerngardener.org).
Harness the winds while sailing across Twin Cities lakes. Children and adults can learn about jibing, tacking, tying knots and more through lessons at places such as White Bear Sailing School (651-429-8395; whitebearsailingschool.com), Lake Calhoun Sailing School (612-978-0002; lakecalhoun.org) or Northern Breezes Sailing School (763-542-9707; sailingbreezes.com).
Cool off in caves
Escape the summer heat by heading underground to a cool 48 degrees about three hours from the Twin Cities in southeastern Minnesota. Admire stalactites, flowstone and pools in Minnesota’s longest cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park (1-507-937-3251; dnr.state.mn.us). A bonus: trout fishing and touring the ghost town of Forestville. Drive another 30 miles, and you can tour Niagara Cave with its waterfall and winding canyon (1-507-886-6606; niagaracave.com)
Watch the sky
Ditch city lights and find a campsite or quiet lake where you can see the inky, yawning night sky. The Deltoid Aquarid meteor showers begin in late July or early August, followed by the better-known (and often showier) Perseid meteor showers expected to peak Aug. 11-13. Viewing is expected to be better than usual with less moonlight this year (earthsky.org).
Drop a line, hook a fish
You don’t have to drive north through cabin traffic to go fishing. You don’t even need a license or equipment in some cases — just a day pass to a state park. Dozens of them, including Interstate, St. Croix, Wild River, William O’Brien, Fort Snelling and Afton, all loan gear (including tackle) and free advice. If you have your own gear and license, plus a spare hour or two, there are 66 metro-area lakes that welcome anglers. For more information on the DNR’s Fishing in the Neighborhood (FIN) program and even instructions for making your own fishing pole, go to dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/FIN.