Dog Friendly Northern Minnesota: International Falls to Warroad
Updated: Nov 26, 2022
We’re on a journey to visit all 66 Minnesota State Parks. We’ve managed to visit more than 50 as of this writing (October 2022), which means that the parks we have yet to see are getting farther and farther away from our home base in Minneapolis. The best way to check off several of these far-flung parks at once is to make a weekend of it and add an overnight stay or two while exploring the parks and the surrounding area - and that’s exactly what brought us to International Falls, MN up near the Canadian border in September.
There are some beautiful parks in the area plus a number of roadside attractions. Read on for our recommendations for a great place to stay, fun hikes, and a few dog friendly restaurants in Northern MN!
Jump to: Lodging Recommendations | Hiking Recommendations | Attractions | Food
Where to Stay
Have you ever stayed at a motel? According to this New York Times article, there’s been a resurgence in demand for exterior corridor lodging offering convenient, often lower cost accommodations than traditional hotels.
Travelers sought low-contact lodging during Covid, and entrepreneurs around the country bought moldering old motels to refurbish them as chic retro getaways.
The Nomad Motel in International Falls, MN checks all of these boxes and then some. It’s dog friendly and oh-so-convenient to be able to walk your dog right outside your room.
The 1960s-era Nomad was totally gutted during its refurbishment, so brand new walls and floors mean a super quiet stay - no need to worry about hearing your neighbors bumping around.
Spacious lawns to the front and side of the motel are the perfect spot for pups to stretch their legs. We loved the easy-in, easy-out nature of a motel and will definitely look for more modern motel accommodations on our road trip travels with Bert and Ernie! For more tips on staying in hotel (or motels) with dogs, see this post: Our Tips for a Dog Friendly Hotel Stay.
What to Do - Hiking
One of Minnesota’s smallest state parks, Franz Jevne State Park is located about 45 minutes west of International Falls along the Rainy River. You’ll be able to see Canada just a few hundred yards away all along the drive and as you walk along the Rainy River in the park!
Jevne State Park is a beautiful piece of land donated by the Jevne family in the 1960s. This secluded, smallish park is a great spot to take a walk in the woods. The Hiking Club trail will take you along the river, and then you can loop back to the parking lot and campground areas through the forest. We walked through tons of spiderwebs on the seldom-traversed trails - not many people had visited to knock them down for us!
45 minutes from Franz Jevne State Park or 90 minutes from International Falls, Zippel Bay State Park sits on the shore of Lake of the Woods. This huge freshwater lake draws anglers in search of walleye, pike, muskie, and bass all year long; villages of ice houses and even bars pop up on the frozen lake in the winter months. Zippel Bay has excellent infrastructure for visitors looking to spend time fishing - campsites are plentiful and the boat launch/marina is large and new.
The Hiking Club trail at Zippel Bay is unique in that it is sandy! You might get a little wet walking along the shoreline and hopping over downed trees and driftwood. You might also be fooled into thinking you’re somewhere on the Atlantic Coast - Lake of the Woods is so big (the 6th largest freshwater lake in the US) that you can’t see the other side! In fact, it’s over 70 miles long and wide.
The Lost 40 Scientific and Natural Area is a magical look at what the Northland forests were like hundreds years ago. Home to old growth forest and red and white pines that are nearly 250 years old, the Lost 40 is the result of a surveying error in 1882 that led to the area’s inadvertent preservation from logging activity at the time. Leashed dogs are allowed on the one mile long interpretive trail. There is no camping at the site, but there is a pit toilet in the parking lot. 90 minutes south of International Falls or a little more than 4 hours north of the Twin Cities. Cell service is very spotty - be ready with a paper map to navigate or download GPS maps ahead of time.
The International Falls area is home to Minnesota’s only national park.
Voyageurs is best experienced via boat since 40% of the park land is water! It’s really a park to immerse yourself in for several days via a canoe or houseboat trip, and it’s not particularly dog friendly for day visitors. The park does not participate in the B.A.R.K Ranger program that we’ve enjoyed at other National Park Service sites, and there is only one paved trail where dogs are permitted.
We popped in to the park to check out the trail and ended up leaving to spend more time at state parks because the 1.7 mile Recreation Trail where dogs are allowed is 1) shared with bikes and 2) doesn’t really go near the water at all. A bit of a disappointment from a day visit standpoint, but we hope to return with Bert and Ernie to experience a houseboating trip and see more of Voyageurs another time!
What to Do - Sights to See
Besides looking across the Rainy River at Canada, there’s plenty to see in Northern Minnesota! If you’re driving north from the Twin Cities, you’ll encounter a plethora of roadside attractions along the journey. We love stopping to see the sculptures and markers celebrating small towns and their claims to fame! Here are a couple we saw on our way to/from International Falls:
World’s Largest Hockey Stick - Eveleth, MN
Giant Bluegill - Orr, MN
Smokey Bear - International Falls, MN
Bronko Nagurski - International Falls, MN
Big Vic the Voyageur - Rainier, MN
Willie Walleye - Baudette, MN
Where to Eat
Cantilever Distillery - Rainier, MN
Check out the dog friendly patio at Cantilever’s cocktail room and restaurant! Whether you visit for dinner or for Sunday brunch, you’ll leave happy after enjoying modern American food and cocktails made with Cantilever’s bourbon, gin, vodka, or whiskey. The hotel itself is not dog friendly, but it was named to Food & Wine’s list of 11 Distillery Hotels Worth Planning a Trip Around. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in this neck of the woods to see what the hype is all about!
Lake of the Woods Brewing Co - Warroad, MN
If you’re hiking at Zippel Bay State Park, Warroad and Minnesota’s Northernmost Brewery are just 30 minutes away! LOW Brewing actually has three taprooms - two in Canada and one in the US. The dog friendly patio is a great spot to enjoy a flight (or a pizza) and watch boaters on the Warroad River. Warroad is known as Hockeytown USA due to its tradition of hockey excellence. It’s the hometown of hockey stars like Gigi Marvin and T.J. Oshie, and no US Men's Hockey team has won Olympic gold without a player from Warroad on the roster.
Coffee Landing Cafe - International Falls, MN
Fuel up and start your day with coffee and an omelet from this small town cafe on the main drag in International Falls. Dogs can join you at outdoor tables. You’ll feel like a local listening to the chatter inside, and you can pick up several self-published memoirs by local authors.
Gordy’s Hi Hat - Cloquet, MN
Serving up burgers and shakes since 1960, this family run restaurant is a favorite stop for folks headed North. Located about 2 hours from the Twin Cities and 30 mins from Duluth, Gordy’s makes for a great midpoint stop on a drive to or from International Falls. It has been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives show with Guy Fieri not once but TWICE, so you know it’s a reliable stop! While the main Gordy’s restaurant is only open seasonally and closes in mid September, off season visitors can still grab a bite and a cup of coffee at Gordy’s Warming House, which shares a parking lot with the main restaurant.
We were delighted to see that Gordy’s offers a dog park for pups passing through! Your dog can join you to eat at the outside patio tables, and be sure to take advantage of the fenced dog run - complete with water bowls and poop bags - before you hop back in the car.
Since we barely got out of the car at Voyageurs National Park, we’ll definitely be back to spend more time exploring in Northern Minnesota. Voyageurs is a Certified International Dark Sky Park, making it an incredible place to stargaze and look for the Northern Lights! It also includes a portion of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), a total gem of pristine wilderness for outdoor lovers. We look forward to exploring this part of the state further on a future trip.