Quarry Hill Nature Center is built on Quarry Hill Park, a 320 acre city park
with many trails, a fossil bed, a fishing pond, caves, a hands-on exhibit hall,
and ski and snowshoe rental. Quarry Hill is free to the public (though they do have a membership program $50/family per year that gets you discounts on birthday parties, kids classes/summer nature camps, and early registration privileges). Quarry Hill is a great family-friendly place to take a hike, look for wildlife, and become one with nature.
Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo is a unique 572 acre Olmsted County park facility, located approximately 15 minutes from Rochester in Byron. The park offers picnic areas, fishing, semi-primitive summer campsites, playground equipment, hiking trails. The zoo offers a nature center and the opportunity to visit with 30+ native MN animal species including bobcat, cougar, wolf, black bear, goats, and a really cute donkey. Oxbow is a favorite way to spend a day no matter what the season (one winter we spent a sunny afternoon building snowmen by the cougar cage). The park is free to the public (though there is a fee to camp) and is open daily. The zoo and nature center are free to the public and are open. Oxbow Park also offers free, family-friendly programs throughout the year. Usually held on the weekends, visit our Calendar of Events to find out more.
ON THE FARM
The Red Barn Learning Farm is a destination that your kids will talk about for months to come! Come climb in the silo, jump on the straw bales in the barn, cuddle with a farm kitty, drive our pedal tractors, pick your own vegetables, and visit our large variety of barnyard animals. We offer group tours for your organization, public hours for family fun, and use of our facilities for birthday parties/corporate events. Typically open April 1 through October 31.
Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch offers horseback riding, year round, for every level of rider. Trail rides are available with advance reservations. Call to make reservations. (If they don’t answer, leave a message – they will get back to you.) Riders must be 8 years or older. Ironwood also offers horseback riding lessons (one-time and ongoing).
Silver Lake Boat & Bike Rental in Silver Lake Park is on the west side of Silver Lake. Complete with 2-4 person electric paddleboats, canoes, kayaks, bikes for all ages and sizes, tandem bikes, 2-4 person 4 wheeled family bikes and mini golf. Typically open April through September.
Chester Woods Park is located on the headwaters of Bear Creek in the rugged bluff country of Southeastern Minnesota – east of Rochester, on US 14, in Eyota. The 52 unit (37 have electrical hookups) campground loops through a wooded area. Restrooms have showers. There is a sandy beach. All vehicles entering the park are required to display either an annual ($25/year) or daily ($5/day) entrance permit. Permits may be purchased at the park entrance. Chester Woods also offers family-friendly programs throughout the year. Usually held on the weekends, visit our Calendar of Events to find out more.
Whitewater State Park campers enjoy a sandy swimming beach (small enough to easily keep track of the kids), restrooms with showers, a year-round visitor center, easy-to-challenging hiking trails, a group camp, and a modern group center. Come winter, enjoy cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, or stay at the group center in rustic, winterized cabins. All vehicles entering the park are required to display either an annual ($25/year) or daily ($7/day) entrance permit. Permits may be purchased at the park entrance.
Not ready for an overnight camping adventure? Try a day trip. Leave Rochester early enough to get lunch in St. Charles. Then make your way to White Water’s beach where the kids can build sandcastles and swim and you can spend your time repeatedly slathering them with sunscreen. After an afternoon snack, pack up the family and take a hike on one of the park’s trails — start with Easy Trails and work your way up. At night buy some firewood (available at the park office), start a fire (at one of the many fire pits in the South Picnic Area), and make some smores (if you need supplies stop at Mike’s Food Center in St. Charles).
Oxbow Park campground is a semi-primitive area has 30 campsites available, running water, restrooms, and showers. The campground is part of the larger Oxbow Park (a unique 572 acre Olmsted County park facility). In addition to the campground, the park offers picnic areas, fishing, playground equipment, hiking trails, a nature center, and the Zollman Zoo (visit with the 30+ native MN animal species including bobcat, cougar, wolf, black bear, goats, and a really cute donkey). The park is free to the public (though there is a fee to camp) and is open 7am-10pm daily. The zoo and nature center are free to the public and are open daily.
Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch has two campgrounds. There are 45 campsites available. They all have electricity available and water nearby. There is 20-50 amp service. There is no limit to the list of things to do for all ages. From wagon rides and trail rides, horseback riding to hiking, playing on the Rainbow play system, the two tennis courts, a basketball court, an indoor recreation center, and swimming. Call for reservations.
CITY PARKS/BIKE TRAILS
There are more than 100 city parks in Rochester. Wow! Various park amenities include: playgrounds (the biggest being that at the Silver Lake Park, our personal favorite being that at Slatterly Park — there’s a toddler jungle gym and a big kid jungle gym and you can easily view both from a park bench in the middle), picnic shelters (there are 14 that can be reserved/rented for your family/friend get together), baseball fields, softball fields, football fields, soccer fields, running track, basketball courts, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, horseshoe courts, frisbee golf courses, archery range. Park maps are available for $1 at the Park & Recreation Department main office at City Hall.
Dust off your Burley — Rochester’s 60 miles of recreational bike/walking/running trails are bituminous or concrete surfaced and are available for pedestrian, bike, inline skate, wheelchair, and stroller use. Map brochures of the trails are available from the Park and Recreation Department in City Hall for $1.00. Things to remember on the trails: stay to the right; announce your presence when passing others; slow down for sharp curves; watch for hazards on or near the trail; and bring your water bottle.
Mystery Cave is located in Forestville State Park in Preston. Daily tours are available (days/times vary throughout the year). Tickets range from free to $7/person. A state park vehicle permit ($7/daily or $25/annual) is required. Reservations can be made in advance by contacting the state park reservation service.
Niagara Cave is one of the most fascinating and unique geological attractions in the Midwest. During the one-hour guided tour, visitors will witness a waterfall, nearly 60 feet high, stalactites both delicate and massive, calcite flowstone, fossils that have been dated to over 400 million years old, and a wedding chapel in which over 300 weddings have been performed, plus much more. Niagara cave is a constant 48 degrees year around, so a light jacket or sweatshirt is suggested. Walking shoes are recommended. We took our then 18-month old on the tour, and other than having to carry her most of the way, she did fine. If you’re planning to make a day out of the cave, note that there is an adjacent picnic area and a short nature trail. Give them a call or check out their website for ticket prices (ranging from free to $8.50+tax) and days/hours of operation (they vary throughout the year).
The City of Rochester has sites throughout the city where people may rent garden plots. The plots measure 20′ x 30′ and rent for $25.00 each. Reservations are taken at the Park and Recreation Department in person or by mailing in the fee after January 1st of each year.
Firefly Berries (formerly the Sterling Fruit Farm) is a pick-your-own fruit farm that specializes in strawberries, raspberries, currants and Concord grapes. Located five miles north of Rochester, they are typically open Monday through Saturday, June through October. However, hours may vary depending which fruit is in season. They highly recommend you call to confirm fruit availability BEFORE you get in your car and drive out. firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to their mailing list (and receive up-to-date info on berry availability and pricing).
Northwoods Orchards offers pick-your-own or pre-picked apples fresh from the orchard, two corn mazes, a wide assortment of fall ornamentals (including pumpkins), and the Back Forty Animal Area for up-close, hands-on farm animal interaction (feed the goats, see if the hen laid an egg, pet a bunny, visit the pig pen). Wagon Rides are offered as conditions permit.
Tweite’s Pumpkin Patch, of Byron, is so much more than just a pumpkin patch. Enjoy over 20 acres of amusements, including corn maze, golf, live entertainment, gem mining, theme parks, specialty foods and more. While there, sign up for the e-newsletter for updates and special promotions and a chance to win free tickets to the farm.
Sekapp Orchard and Farms, the apple, berry, produce and pumpkin place, offers 30 varieties of apples, fresh garden produce, pumpkins (tons to choose from on display in their front yard), fall decorations, jams, maple syrup and honey. Call (no website) for days and hours. Sekapp’s is located one mile east of Rochester on County Road 9 (which is Collegeview Road).
Enjoy the festive fall family atmosphere at Apple Ridge Orchard. You will enjoy our Kid’s Corn Mazes, wagon rides, alpaca petting area, pick -your own apples, grapes and pumpkins. Apple Ridge Orchard, a short drive north of Rochester in Mazeppa. Caramel apples, apple pies, jams and prepicked apples are available.
Our Rochester Downtown Farmers’ Market has a fantastic selection of locally grown foods from our Southeastern Minnesota farmers and growers. Open every Saturday, 7:30am until Noon, May to October, the Farmers’ Market offers a huge variety of vegetables, fruits, meats, breads, plants, and fresh cut flowers. Buy local, support your community! The Downtown Farmers’ Market also hosts a winter market. Held in Building 41 at the Olmsted County Fairgrounds from 9 a.m. to noon on several Saturday’s from November through April.
The Rochester Honkers are a college-level baseball team in the Northwoods League. The season runs May through August with home games played at Mayo Field in downtown Rochester. Haven’t been to a game? You’ve got to go. There’s Slider (the baseball-headed mascot), free giveaways (provided by sponsors at many games), and fun between-inning activities. Oh yeah, and there’s baseball. Check out their website for a schedule of games.
The Rochester Royals are a Minnesota Amateur Baseball Class B team. The team plays in the Southern Minny League. The season runs May through August with home games played at Mayo Field in downtown Rochester.
Silver Lake Pool is one of Rochester’s two outdoor public pools. The pool is located by Silver Lake Park (the big one with all the fun playground equipment). Open June through August, the pool has lifeguards, lockers, a limited number of beach chairs and a free kiddie pool. Silver Lake offers summer pool birthday parties.
Soldiers Field Pool is one of Rochester’s two outdoor public pools. The pool is located downtown near the Rochester Area Famiy Y. The pool has lifeguards, lockers, a water slide, a zero depth pool, and a limited number of beach chairs. Soldiers Field Pool offers summer pool birthday parties.
ALL COMERS TRACK MEETS
The Rochester Track Club’s All Comer’s Track Meets are held on select Tuesdays during the summer. Visit their website for this year’s dates. The free races start at 6 p.m. and are held at Soldier’s Field Memorial Park. (You can park in the pool/golf course parking lot.) Age-based, for-fun (everyone gets a ribbon) races are held for kids ages 2 through high school. Events range from 50 meters to the mile.
Skyline Raceway offers go-karts, mini golf, and panning for emeralds, gemstones or fossils. Open in the summer. Go online for dates, times, and ticket information.
Held every June, RochesterFest is a week-long citywide festival that offers a little bit of everything: food booths (on Civic Center Drive behind the Library and Post-Bulletin), parade (kids, bring a bag — there’s lots of candy…parents bring a chair — it’s a looooong one), PossAbilities Ice-cream Social (with ice cream and fun kids’ games it’s always a huge favorite), Family Fun Night and more. Visit their website for a complete lineup of this year’s events and activities.
Welcome in winter at Rochester’s WinterFest. Held the first two weeks in February, families will find fun indoor and outdoor activities (sleigh rides, snow sculptures, youth ice fishing contest). Proceeds benefit local nonprofits. Go online, for a complete lineup of this year’s events and activities.
Held on a Saturday in late June, the Zumbro River Community Festival is part of the Rochesterfest lineup and is held at Camp Victory in Zumbro Falls. The festival typically includes wagon rides, moon walk, giant slide, laser tag, obstacle course, climbing wall, zip line, dunk tank, face painting, petting zoo, Euro bungee jump, fireworks, silent auction, and live entertainment. Event raises funds to provide Camp Victory scholarships for kids and families in need.
The Hiawatha Homes Festival of Trees is held the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through the Sunday after. Your family can take in the approximately 100 beautifully decorated trees, get the kids’ picture taken with Santa, decorate a gingerbread cookie, and much more. Visit their website, for additional details (times, schedule of events) and to check out pictures of last year’s trees.
OUTDOOR WINTER FUN
There are two areas within the city that are designated sledding hills. There are no warming facilities available at these locations: Schmidt Park – 6300 blk 24 Avenue NW and Judd Park — 3rd Street & 36 Avenue NW.
Ironwood Springs Christian Rnach offers snow tubing for a $12 donation per person per session (discounts for groups of 80-100 people). 2 hours per session. Both large and small groups should be scheduled by calling 533-4315 to ensure a snow tubing time (times will vary from week to week). Ironwood Springs provides the tubes (do not bring your own), warming house, towrope, and lights. You are welcome to bring snacks, hot cocoa mix, cups, and warm clothes!
Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch offers horse-drawn sleigh rides. The sleigh can comfortably hold 20 adults or up to 25 people with children. A quaint 50-minute ride through the woods and along the Root River is a memorable experience. Price starts at $120. Call for reservations.
The Park and Recreation Department maintains outdoor hockey and public skating rinks and warming sheds throughout the city. Check out their website for a complete list of rinks and locations.
Quarry Hill Nature Center offers cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals. Rental availability based on snow conditions. Plenty of great family-friendly trails available.
Classic cross-country ski gear and snowshoes available for rent at Oxbow Park’s Zollman Zoo. Rental of cross-country skis for $5.00 and snow shoes for $3.00 between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Soccer World’s indoor paintball field is the only INDOOR paintball field in all Southeast Minnesota! We provide a safe playing environment for players by filling our field with 16 air-inflated barriers and by having all of our games refereed. Fully equipped playing facility, or bring your own! Capable of having 6v6. Variety of games to play. No mess (we will be using reballs).
Rochester Tennis Connection is open to the public and offer memberships. For instruction for juniors and adults, please see our website. To reserve a court, simply call us! We have Bargain Courts (non-prime time) at reduced rates (see website or call us for times & rates!), rackets available at no charge and a ball machine that is fun to use at no charge…just pay for the court time! If any member of your family is involved in a program at our club, courts are available on Sundays for Family Day at the reduced member rate! Borrow our rackets and carts of balls to practice (no charge for those!). It’s a fun place to play a great lifetime sport!
The Rochester Area Family Y has a lot to offer: swim lessons, T-ball, football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, karate, dance and much more including home school classes. All this and a fitness center, a preschool (Y tots), and Kids Care (childcare while you work out). Visit their website for membership fees.
The Rochester Athletic Club (aka The RAC) offers Rochester residents a place to work out plus three pools, batting and golf cages, adult and youth classes, a Kids Play area for children six and under, a Junior Gym for kids 7-12 years, and a Kids Club daycare facility (kids stay while parents play). All this and more. Visit their website for membership fees.
The Recreation Center (aka The Rec Center) offers indoor skating (and skate rental). Their website always has a two week schedule that includes when Open Skate is being offered.
Prairie Walls Climbing Gym is a state of the art indoor rock climbing facility. Featuring 9500 square feet of highly featured climbing surface, their walls are designed to inspire and challenge first time climbers as well as seasoned veterans of the rock. Prairie Walls Climbing Gym offers a wide variety of services including lessons (Kids Club and Parent/Child classes – see our Calendar of Events for more information) and birthday parties.
Bowlocity offers bowling, a fun arcade, and kids birthday parties. Call for open bowling times and rates.
Bounce World is a 15,000 sq ft indoor bounce playland. At Bounce World, we have our bounce arena packed full of inflatables that we rotate from our large Jolly Jumpz collection! In addition to our bounce houses and inflatable games, Bounce World also has carnival games and a concession area.
INDOOR PLAYPLACES FOR TODDLERS
Monkey Junction is an indoor play space designed for children ages 0-6 to use under a parent or guardian’s supervision. It is located inside of Life Lutheran Church. Open several mornings throughout the week, Monkey Junction is open fall, winter and spring (not summer). Sign up on their website for the Monkey Junction newsletter so you can stay informed about their season openers, closings for bad weather, and special events. Admission is $1/child.
Pipsqueaks is a public indoor play zone designed for children kindergarten-age and younger to play under parental or guardian supervision (children may not be dropped off). Pipsqueaks offers young children a safe, clean play space to burn off energy during the long winter months. A fun place to go with your kids and/or to meet with your play group, Pipsqueaks is located at the United Way of Olmsted County. Pipsqueaks is open Monday through Saturday for the majority of the school year. Pipsqueaks will be closed on all major holidays and when the Rochester Public Schools are closed because of inclement weather.
At the Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester, children and families will have a blast discovering an exciting, interactive world that ignites their curiosity, increases their understanding and sparks an appreciation for learning. The 5,000 square foot space is uniquely designed to provide a hands-on, stimulating environment with rotating exhibits and a classroom with new programs and activities every week. Admission: $5.50 – ages 1 to 101. Groups also have the opportunity to reserve the museum for private visits and parties.
The History Center of Olmsted County is located on a 46-acre site that includes numerous gardens, walking (and snowshoe) trails, two farmsteads, and several historic buildings. Inside the History Center, the museum features permanent exhibits about the events and people that shaped the history of Olmsted County, Minnesota. Exhibit topics include Saint Mary’s Hospital, IBM, and the 1883 Rochester tornado. Admission to the museum and grounds is $5 for adults, $2 for children, and free for members. The History Center offers many family-friendly special events and programs throughout the year (Movies Under the Stars, summer day camps, Days of Yesteryear).
The Rochester Art Center presents an exciting schedule of contemporary exhibitions featuring local, national and international artists. Just for families, the Rochester Art Center offers Free Family Days (visit our Calendar of Events for more information), providing an array of free family-friendly activities including, hands-on art activities, special docent-led tours of the exhibitions and family guides. Throughout the year the Rochester Art Center also offers classes, camps, workshops, film presentations, lectures and gallery tours for all ages.
Visit Rochester’s Chuck E. Cheese on 16th St. SE, behind the Apache Mall next to Trader Joe’s.
A Child’s Kingdom toy store holds storytime Saturdays at 10 a.m.
ABC & Toy Zone offers story time Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 10:30am.
The Apache Mall B&N location offers storytime. Go online for a schedule of storytimes.
The Rochester Public Library offers a variety of storytimes for infants through kindergarten enrollement. Visit their website for this month’s schedule of storytimes.
Rochester has one public library, the Rochester Public Library. It’s located downtown and is connected to other downtown establishments via the skyway. The library is open every day during the school year, closed Sundays in the summer. The library offers a variety of free programming for every member of their family. Visit the library’s online calendar to check out this month’s programming.
The Rochester Public Library also has one bookmobile that operates year-round. Books may be reserved online for pickup at the bookmobile. Visit the library’s website to checkout the bookmobile’s days, times, and stops.
Home Depot (north side of town) offers free and fun DIY projects for kids many Saturdays, year round. Register online to save your spot.
Lowe’s (south side of town) offers free and fun DIY projects for kids many Saturdays, year round. Register online to save your spot.
CineMagic Theatres offers a FREE Kids’ Movie is held most Saturday mornings. Visit their website for this week’s movie and time.
Mayo Civic Center is located in downtown Rochester. It is southern Minnesota’s largest event center and is home to conventions, trade shows (the annual Home Show — the community’s annual motivator to get “projects” done around the house), sporting events (like the Harlem Globetrotters), and entertainment (Sesame Street Live among others). Check out their website for a full calendar of upcoming events.
ABC & Toy Zone offers everything a kid could want: trains, dolls, games, dress up, art supplies, and so much more. Sign up to receive the store’s emails to find out all about latest arrivals and great discounts. Enjoy their story hour every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
LARK Toys is a destination point for thousands of visitors each year. The 20,000 square foot complex is an enchanted spot that you must see. They offer unusual shopping and browsing including a hand-carved carousel, wooden toys & puzzles that are made on-site, children’s bookstore, a variety of developmental toys and games, nostalgic replicas, costumes, miniature golf, and lots more.
The Mall of America is about an hour away. It has more than 500 stores as well as fun attractions like: an indoor amusement park, Lego Imagination Center (this four-story LEGO showplace contains LEGO bricks to play with, models to look at, and sets to buy), Underwater Adventures (voted “World’s Best Shark Encounter” by Discovery.com. Touch real sharks and stingrays at Minnesota’s largest aquarium). The Mall can be a fun way to spend one of Minnesota’s many winter days.
Do you know of other fun things to do in or around Rochester? Let us know. Send relevant information to ROCHESTERfamilies.com by e-mailing us at email@example.com.