Moon on a royal blue sky rising above backyard pond
Finding beauty in my own backyard: This is my backyard on a perfect night with the moon rising above the pond. It was my most popular Instagram image from 2020 (@kmf_116). It garnered 552 likes and was taken on an iPhone 11 pro.

Every year I pick a word or phrase as my mantra or focus area. Before 2020 began, I chose Be Still. As in “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

Golden sunset over the sky with the words Be Still.

Little did I know that 2020 would be great training ground to be still – literally and figuratively. And while 2020 was very different from what I envisioned, what I planned and definitely experienced, I can honestly look back on the year with much gratitude.

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2020: The year of the hike, state parks and staycations

Don’t think you can explore new places during a pandemic? Think again. Here’s how I did it in 2020 – and most within two hours of my front door. This post features the best staycation ideas for every month of the year.

White AAA truck in driveway

So what does a travel blogger do when she can’t travel? Well, I didn’t leave my house for seven weeks. I’m not exaggerating. My vehicle was so dead, AAA had to make a house call to install a new battery. Now remember, I live in Minnesota – e.g., MinneSNOWta – and we had a lot of bad weather in March and April so I probably wouldn’t have went anywhere anyway.

Top things a travel blogger does during a pandemic: Clean and make face masks

So what did I do during those seven weeks during the early days of the pandemic? I cleaned my house. Every day. With sacred disinfecting wipes. And when the stores ran out of wipes, I learned how to make my own. And all I could think was my house has never been this clean and I can’t invite anyone over.

Girl wearing a red face mask

I also learned how to make some rudimentary face masks and then remembered I didn’t inherit the sewing gene from my award-winning grandmother. So I parted ways with some of Grandma June’s fabric (surprised by how emotionally attached I was to cotton). But felt good that my grandmother was still taking care of others.

I donated the yards of cloth to my niece Nicci (aka Anyse pictured above) who used the fabric to make face masks for health care facilities, assisted living centers and nursing homes. My niece is a fashion designer. And she is a super hero. She had to cancel her trip to Milan, Italy in March due to the pandemic. So am very proud of her giving back to our communities when her dreams were postponed. Check out her Etsy shop for face masks, ready-to-wear and beautiful formal gowns.

Top things a travel blogger does during a pandemic: Spend quality time with son and rediscover the joy of puzzles

Puzzle of Duluth Minnesota

My son had just graduated from college (University of Minnesota-Duluth) in December and was living at home while job searching. So grateful he was hired on in May (that was directly related to his finance major) and is still working remotely from our dining room table. The same dining room table where he and I put puzzles together in those early days of the pandemic. A lot of puzzles.

Top things a travel blogger does during a pandemic: Get hooked on watching the best (and worst) streaming shows

Then I got hooked on several streaming series to help maintain my sanity – or possibly just a guilty pleasure. I will admit I watched a few episodes of Tiger King and then just couldn’t finish. But did discover some amazing streaming show gems. You can check out all my one-word reviews of the best shows to stream right now. My selected shows range from Ted Lasso to Yellowstone to Fargo to Hoarders to Hell’s Kitchen – and so many more.

Top things a travel blogger does during a pandemic: Read 50 books

Stack of books on bookshelf

Technically, I read that many books every year. If you’re looking for book recommendations, check out all my one-word book reviews and ratings.

Top things a travel blogger does during a pandemic: Saves money

I saved so much money by not traveling in 2020, I was able to erase all debt and save for future travels.

Top things a travel blogger does during a pandemic: Pivot and find new opportunities like hiking at local parks

boardwalk hiking trail next to river in the fall with leaves on the ground

And then I found a new purpose beginning in June – a new way to embrace my staycation in Minnesota. I challenged myself to hike all Minnesota state parks. In June 2020, I had only been to six of Minnesota’s 66 state parks (and I’ve lived here 27 years). I’ve now hiked at 34 of them. And plan to hike the remaining 32 Minnesota state parks before June 2021. You can check out all my reviews of the best places to hike at Minnesota state parks in my post: Take the Minnesota state parks challenge.

My top 10 most beautiful MN state parks to hike (so far)

And I learned how to embrace being still – or at least do my best to remember my go-to phrase when life seems out of my control: Be still and know that I am God.

So here’s my 2020 Be Still year in pictures showcasing how I navigated the year of the pandemic as a travel blogger.

2020: A travel blogger’s year in pictures when travel was restricted

LAX airport airplane window aerial view of Los Angeles

Travel is the best gift we can give ourselves. It’s an opportunity to explore new cultures and discover we are more alike than different. And 2020 taught me that you can discover beauty and new adventures in your own backyard.

January 2020: A travel blogger’s photo journal

Cancun sign in colorful letters on the beach with the skyline behind

Cancun and Mayan Riviera, Mexico: Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) became our way of life throughout the world, my husband and I traveled to one of my favorite places in the world – Mexico. My husband could only join me for a few days in mid-January 2020, so when he left, I spent the rest of the week solo on the Mayan Riviera. I’ve been to Mexico 27 times over the past 30 years so started putting together a Mexico travel series.

I also embraced winter in January. Check out my best 90 things to do in the winter post.

Embracing winter in Minnesota: Snow tubing is one of the best things to do in the winter – and it’s free in many local parks.

Woman standing in front of a giant whale snow sculpture

Fun things to do in the winter: Build a snow sculpture like this one, courtesy of Bartz Snow Sculptures. This 22′ x 63′ whale took them 800 hours to create!

February 2020: A travel blogger’s photo journal

I originally had a trip booked to the Big Island, Hawaii in February 2020. However, I had some conflicts (unrelated to Covid-19) so had to cancel. I was so disappointed; but in hindsight it reminded me that everything that is meant for me will not pass me by.

Best things to do in the winter: Go ice fishing. I finally became a real Minnesotan and went ice fishing with my friends Jen and Eric who introduced this sport to me.

M&M store at Mall of America

On Feb. 27, just two days before the U.S. reported its first COVID-19 death (two other patients had died previously, but wasn’t discovered until months later), I stopped at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. I arrived before the stores opened because I wanted to take some photos without people in them to complement my Mall of America travel blog series (MOA hosted me in December 2019). The Mall of America attracts millions of people annually so the hallways are always packed with people.

Not always.

The 5.6 million square-foot megamall closed 19 days later on March 17 – and remained closed for about two months with a phased reopening with limited hours.

March 2020 through April 2020: A travel blogger’s staycation photo journal

Wish you were here

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t go anywhere for seven weeks beginning in March. So I worked on several blog posts in March 2020.

Four Adirondack chairs on a fire pit patio overlooking a pond

Backyard staycation: My husband, son and I spent a lot of time in our backyard – literally our backyard. Living on a large neighborhood pond sure helped shake off cabin fever in 2020 and was the star attraction during my staycation. Our entire family regained a new appreciation for what’s right in front of us (or back of us).

Purple and lavender face masks

Pandemic staycation – make face masks: The first time I left the house was to pick up a few face masks that my niece had made for us. She lives in downtown Minneapolis and the streets were pretty deserted – so surreal. But the sidewalks offered messages of hope and love.

Sidewalk chart art I can't wait to hug you. Happy

May 2020: A travel blogger’s staycation photo journal

We had tentatively planned to travel to Austria in late April / early May of 2020. The primary reason was to attend the 75th anniversary events commemorating the liberation of the Mauthausen and Ebensee concentration camps – to honor my husband’s grandfather who survived those camps. Of course, we did not travel. Nor did anyone else. So the events were held virtually and we plan to visit another time and honor his legacy in other ways such as a series of blog posts: Family history: WWII and The Holocaust.

I did take a few months off from researching my family’s history, but am planning to restart in February 2021.

Sculpture of a sad face in a sculpture garden art park

Best staycation ideas – day hikes at local parks: My first staycation hike was with my husband at Caponi Art Park in Eagan, Minn. – one of the best hiking trails (and one of the most unique) within the Twin Cities. I discovered a lot of hiking trails in 2020 – here’s my post on the top hiking trails in and within 50 miles of the Twin Cities.

sunset on lake

Pandemic pontooning on Prior Lake: Social-distancing guidelines loosened a bit in late May, which allowed us to get together in small groups outside. Grateful for my friends Angie and Dan for providing a much-needed escape in May (and then again in June). Pontooning is a perfect staycation thing to do.

White squirrel in flower garden and green grass

Best staycation ideas – discover wildlife in your own backyard. Our yard became our sanctuary of peace, comfort and gratitude during the pandemic of 2020. I mean, it’s not everywhere in the world that a family of white squirrels live in your neighborhood. This was taken in our front yard.

June 2020: A travel blogger’s staycation photo journal

George Floyd Memorial with flowers and signs in Minneapolis Minnesota

While our personal backyard was a sanctuary of peace and calm, our extended backyard was not. The end of May ended on a horrific note in our community and around the world.

We live 23 miles south of where George Floyd was tragically murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. Like many people, I was horrified by what I had witnessed online. Voices needed to be heard. While the majority of protests were peaceful, some opportunistic extremist rioters came to town with the sole purpose to destroy and hurt our communities.

I do believe in the power of protests and have participated in several that align with my values – especially when people are marginalized; but violence is never the answer. Even though we were certainly out of harm’s way, our hearts were hurting for what had happened to George Floyd and hurting for the destruction. We were under a curfew for a few days – a scary and sad time. But it’s a scary and sad time for many people every day.

A few weeks later in late June, my husband and I visited the George Floyd Memorial in Minneapolis – a moving and emotional experience. I shared the photos from that day on my personal Facebook page along with this caption: “Our hope is that this tragedy and movement will change and heal hearts and change and heal the world. And discover we are all more alike than different.”

I soon learned that not everyone shared my viewpoint. And I think that’s how my love of day hiking in 2020 began. Disconnecting and walking among the trees helped center me and reminded me that I am part of something much bigger than myself. Connecting with nature physically and emotionally removed me from unhealthy distractions that were swirling around me.

So here we go – my marathon of day hikes on the best trails in Minnesota! And a few other things to do on a staycation.

Tall pine trees looking up

Best things to do on a staycation: hike at your local park. June 2020 launched a more focused love of day hiking at city, regional, county and state parks in Minnesota. Not only did I discover/rediscover beauty in my own backyard, I also hiked off 15+ pounds. Yesssss!

Check out my related posts: Take the Minnesota state parks challenge

Here are the Minnesota hiking trails I discovered in June 2020.

View from the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River and a barge going under a bridge

Not a state park, but this 340-ft hike up Barn Bluff in Red Wing, Minnesota will give you sweeping views of the Mississippi River on one side and the city on the other.

Green canopy of trees

Fort Snelling State Park in Bloomington, Minnesota is right in the heart of the Twin Cities – just a couple of miles from the airport. This trail on Pike Island will take you to the Minnesota River and the Mississippi River confluence (where two bodies of water meet).

Stairs leading down to lake overlook in forest

Frontenac State Park in Frontenac, Minnesota is one of my favorite places to hike. I especially love the switchback trail that overlooks Lake Pepin – one of the largest lakes on the Mississippi River. Yes, a river can have lakes – something new I learned in 2020.


Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Nerstrand, Minnesota features a hiking path that leads you to Hidden Falls (not so hidden as this park is pretty busy). You’ll find several other trails, picnic areas as well as campgrounds.

fields of peonies with blue sky and clouds

Best staycation ideas: Visit your local flower farm. Hiking among the trees was not the only highlight from June 2020. Wandering through fields of peonies at Swenson Gardens in Howard, Lake, Minnesota was pretty special.

July 2020: A travel blogger’s staycation photo journal

And more hiking was to be had in July 2020. See related post: Take the Minnesota state parks challenge

Minneopa State Park in Mankato, Minnesota features a two-tiered waterfall and a free-roaming bison range (which you drive through – it’s illegal to get out of your vehicle as bison are big, fast and dangerous). I returned in the fall for the colors and in the winter to see some frozen waterfalls. Check out my full post about this experience with stunning shots and videos of the frozen waterfalls at Minneopa State Park: Best places to visit in Minnesota: Minneopa State Park

Jay Cooke State Park waterfalls and rapids

Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton, Minnesota is near Duluth – great hiking trails that are little more challenging and is also home to a really cool swing bridge.

Bluff overlooking a valley and a forest with a blue sky

If you want to get away from it all, then Whitewater State Park in Altura, Minnesota is the perfect place. Pictured above is Isolation Point.

Bridge crossing over a river in a forest

You can tackle two state parks in one day as Carley State Park is also located Altura, Minnesota – just a few minutes away. It’s a much smaller park, but awesome for social distancing (uncrowded park).

Wildflowers overlooking bluffs and a valley

Absolutely loved Great River Bluffs State Park near Winona, Minnesota. Beautiful trails with lots of wildflowers, great views and birds of prey flying above.

View of Mississippi River and green foliage

Best staycation ideas: Find the best scenic views. Remember when I said earlier that I had to cancel my trip to Hawaii? Well, I got a pseudo-Hawaiian experience when I climbed more than 300 steps at John A. Latsch State Park in Minnesota City, Minnesota. It was a hot, sultry day so felt and looked tropical. Climbing up Charity Bluff is only a half-mile hike, but it’s straight up and definitely a cardio workout. I’m in fairly good physical condition and had to stop a couple of times. But all worth it for this spectacular view of the Mississippi River.

Boardwalk leading to fishing pier overlooking a blue lake with trees and surrounding wetlands

Best staycation ideas: Visit a state park within 40 miles. I really enjoyed my hike at Rice Lake State Park in Owatonna, Minnesota. It’s only 40 miles from me and this was the first time I had visited.

boulders in the woods with a creek

Hike or bike a state or local trail. You can find a paved bike trail and some rugged hiking trails through the woods at Sakatah Lake State Park in Waterville, Minnesota.

boardwalk trail through prairie lands

Staycation tips: Give small parks a try. I absolutely fell in love with Lake Maria State Park in Monticello, Minnesota. This small and unassuming state park is one of my favorites in Minnesota. It features a couple of boardwalk hiking trails as well as grass paths and equestrian trails that go through woods, wildflower fields, prairies and wind along a couple of lakes.

Glensheen Mansion exterior back garden view and fountain

Best places to visit in your state: Tour a historic home. Hiking wasn’t the only thing I did last summer. Glensheen Mansion, a historical mansion in Duluth, Minnesota, graciously hosted me for the second time in July 2020. They had social distancing guidelines in place so I felt very safe. Check out my two experiences: Summer and Christmas tours at Glensheen Mansion

Best things to do on a summer staycation: Visit a sunflower field. People love sunflowers! How much? A lot! I quickly threw together a post about my experience at a beautiful sunflower field in Minnesota and the article attracted more than 10,000 page views in one month. My best free things to do in Minnesota post is still on page one of Google. Definitely my most popular post in 2020.

August 2020: A travel blogger’s staycation photo journal

And, of course, more hiking in August. I should calculate how many miles I actually trekked each month – I’m thinking I got the most steps in August. BTW: My favorite day hiking app is AllTrails. Check out all my other favorite day hiking apps.

Scenic view of river, trees and bluffs

Interstate State Park (aka Taylors Falls State Park) in Taylors Falls, Minnesota offers several hiking trails with fabulous bluff views of the St. Croix River, rock climbing, camping as well as glacial potholes.

Bridge in a forest

Staycation ideas: Visit a famous person’s childhood home. One park that I want to return and hike some more is Charles A. Lindbergh State Park in Little Falls, Minnesota. This park is named after the famous aviator’s father. You can also visit the childhood home of Charles Lindbergh, Jr. as well and hike to the field where he landed his Jenny plane.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues in Bemidji, Minn.

Staycation ideas: Take a pic of a roadside attraction. Technically, the iconic Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues are not part of Lake Bemidji State Park in Bemidji, Minnesota – but they’re nearby so make sure to stop for a photo op.

yellow wildflowers in front of a hiking path and old train trestle

William O’Brien State Park in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota is one of my favorite day hikes – offers a lot of variety like this pretty train trestle.

Hiking trail overlook of river with a park bench surrounded by green trees

Best staycation ideas: Look for pretty bench views. I really want to return to Afton State Park in Hastings, Minnesota as there were so many other trails I wanted to hike. Unfortunately, it was a very hot, humid day and a storm blew in cutting our hike a little short.

Railroad with a train trestle bridge

Best staycation ideas: Stop somewhere that you’ve driven by hundreds of times. I’ve crossed over Albert Lea Lake hundreds of times over the years (on I-35). But I’ve never actually stopped and did anything in Albert Lea (except to use the restroom and fill up on gas at the truck stop). So am happy I finally hiked at Myre-Big Island State Park in Albert Lea, Minnesota. This state park offers hiking trails through the woods, along Albert Lea Lake, through wildflower fields, prairies and across a railroad.

Trees reflecting in a river

Staycation ideas: Organize a family hike. Pretty sure Banning State Park in Sandstone, Minnesota is my favorite state park to hike. We all three hiked Banning State Park on my birthday (my husband, son and me) so that may have influenced the experience also. But it is definitely a beautiful park along the St. Croix River featuring waterfalls, rapids, lot of trees, bluffs and a historic sandstone quarry. Banning State Park is a favorite place for kayakers also.

Sunset on rural country road

Best staycation ideas: Go day camping. I did some day camping at Bluff Valley Campgrounds in Zumbrota, Minnesota with my hockey mom friends. Tubing on the river went a lot smoother this summer than it did last year. Check out my post on my weather-related travel bloopers.

On the way home from day camping, this happened: THE sunset of 2020. This sunset was a pullover-to-the-side-of-the-road and capture-it moment, for sure.

Lake with lily pads and clouds refelcting

Best staycation ideas: Stay at a cabin within driving distance. Grateful for my friend who allowed me to do some social distancing at her cabin up north (that’s what they say in Minnesota). It served as my base camp for several state parks. Hand Lake is just one of Minnesota’s 11,842 lakes.

Lakeshore with boat dock and trees on shoreline

Best staycation ideas: Get to know your state lakes. Even though I was in the middle of nowhere, with no working GPS, no cell coverage and low on gas, I was on a mission to find and admire the widest part of the Mississippi River – Lake Winnibigoshish near Bena, Minnesota is 11 miles across. Compare that to Lake Itasca, which is where the Mississippi River headwaters are located – only 20 to 30 feet across and shallow enough you can wade across. Or fall in like I did. You can read about my Itasca State Park experience here.

Mosquito Warning: I had to fight off the fiercest mosquitos ever at Lake Winnibigoshish. I wish there had been footage of me running and diving into my vehicle as masses of them followed me. I’m not kidding. I’m pretty sure they would have showed up on radar. So thankful for Aunt Fannie’s DEET-free mosquito wipes. Even though I was swarmed by these mosquitos, I only got bit through my leggings (where I hadn’t applied any mosquito repellent).

View of Mississippi River from bluffs

What to do on a staycation: Find scenic views of rivers. Schaar’s Bluff Trail in Hastings, Minnesota, one of the best and easiest hiking trails within 50 miles of the Twin Cities, offers panoramic views of the Mississippi River.

September 2020: A travel blogger’s staycation photo journal

September adventures featured more state parks and a waterfall tour.

Secluded sandy beach on a river with trees just staring to turn fall colors

Best staycation ideas: Go on a solo hike at a quiet park. Wild River State Park in Center City, Minnesota is not that wild. This was one of my most private hikes in Minnesota – I barely crossed paths with anyone. I also found this private secluded beach.

A staycation is the perfect time to learn state history. The day I visited Fort Ridgely State Park in Fairfax, Minnesota was pretty memorable. I was dodging thunderstorms, cloudbursts, high winds, closed roads and bridges under construction. Fort Ridgely, a former outpost, is home to a museum (currently closed due to the pandemic), hiking and equestrian trails, fort ruins, a memorial, campgrounds and a horse camp.

Sunset over a river with trees and fall colors on the banks

Staycation things to do: Chase and catch sunsets. I visited Flandrau State Park in New Ulm, Minnesota the same day as Fort Ridgely State Park. Because I got a little lost, I arrived fairly late in the day. But did catch a fabulous sunset at Flandrau State Park and got my cardio in as I raced back to my vehicle as darkness set in while I was still in the woods. All I could think about is Stephen King’s book, “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.”

Urban waterfalls and fall foliage next to a building

Get to know your local waterfalls on your next staycation. Minnesota fall foliage waterfall tour stop 1: Vermillion Falls; Hastings, Minnesota

Small waterfalls in the woods

Minnesota fall foliage waterfall tour stop 2: Caron Falls; Northfield, Minnesota

Waterfall with fall foliage

Minnesota fall foliage waterfall tour stop 3: Nerstrand Big Woods; Nerstrand, Minnesota

Waterfall in autumn

Minnesota fall foliage waterfall tour stop 4: Upper Minneopa Falls; Mankato, Minnesota

Waterfalls with fall foliage

Minnesota fall foliage waterfall tour stop 4: Lower Minneopa Falls; Mankato, Minnesota

Waterfalls with fall foliage

Minnesota fall foliage waterfall tour stop 5: Minnemishinona Falls; Mankato, Minnesota

Hidden waterfall with fall foliage

Minnesota fall foliage waterfall tour stop 6: Red Rock Falls; Sanborn, Minnesota. This waterfall is pretty hidden. Can you find it?

Waterfall, bluffs and fall foliage

Minnesota fall foliage waterfall tour stop 7: Ramsey Falls at Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Funny story: We arrived at this waterfall tour after dark. While we could hear it, we couldn’t see it. So I drove back a few days later to see it in all its glory. Ramsey Park is nicknamed the Little Yellowstone of Minnesota.

Swinging bridge with fall foliage

You’ll also find a zoo, several hiking paths, picnic shelters, grills, etc. at Alexander Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls, Minnesota. I especially loved this suspension bridge on the way to Ramsey Falls.

Egg rolls on a platter with a dish of dipping sauce and green lettuce garnish

Staycation idea: Learn a family recipe. Missing our family Thai-American fusion feasts, my sister-in-law Mam and my niece Ryta gave me a cooking lesson via FaceTime on how to make Thai egg rolls.

apple orchard with blue sky

Apple picking at our local orchard is one of our favorite staycation traditions.

October 2020: A travel blogger’s staycation photo journal

One of my favorite things to do in the fall is chase fall colors. See my post and guide to the best places for fall colors in Minnesota.

View under a bridge over a river

Staycation ideas: Discover an unfamiliar view at a familiar place. Returned to Fort Snelling State Park in Bloomington, Minnesota for some fall foliage colors. Everything was still pretty green, but it was a beautiful blue-sky day to capture the Minnesota River under the Mendota Heights bridge. I’ve driven over this bridge countless times, so was cool to see it from a different perspective.

Tall trees with yellow trees and leaves on the ground

Staycation ideas for fall: Go for a hike after leaf-peeping peaks. Headed up north to Moose Lake State Park in Moose Lake, Minnesota after fall colors had peaked. However, Moose Lake’s fall vibe wasn’t done yet. Loved all the yellows!

Park bench overlooking fall colors and foliage from a bluff

Staycation ideas: Hike a switchback trail. The switchback trail at Beaver Creek Valley State Park in Caledonia, Minnesota was a little narrow with steep drop-offs so not kid-friendly – but so worth the extra effort for this spectacular view. I would recommend bringing walking poles for this trail at Beaver Creek Valley State Park.

Staycation fall ideas: Watch geese in flight. I’m not a huge fan of geese when they’re in my yard. They’re dirty, loud and mean. However, I never tire of seeing them take off in flight from our backyard pond. Their unified perfect formation is always a mesmerizing performance. You know the geese are preparing to take off when they all start honking really loud (like around 0:37 in the video clip) – usually right as the sun is starting to set.

Waterfall in the backround with yellow foliage in the foreground

Staycation idea with dual purpose: Find a waterfall near a brewery. So I tend to take a lot of pictures while out hiking or chasing waterfalls. And my husband comes along. Sometimes. I stop a lot on my hikes and I’m sure it gets a little annoying for my hiking partners. However, if I can find a brewery near my photo shoot location, then my husband is in. For example, we found one brewery with patio seating and social distancing right next to Cannon Falls in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. The path next to the waterfall is also an awesome bike trail.

Blue horse head sculpture

Staycation ideas: Stroll through a sculpture garden. We have several sculpture gardens in Minnesota. Here’s a beautiful little art park in Farmington, Minnesota: Depot Way Arts Park

fall foliage along a city sidewalk with leaves on the ground

Staycation idea: Take an urban hike. My husband and I took an urban hike along the scenic and historic Summit Ave in St. Paul, Minnesota. You’ll find nearly 400 historic homes from the late 1800s and early 1900s along the 4.5-mile stretch – as well as the largest number of Victorian-age homes in the country. See my full post: Prettiest street in the Twin Cities: the historic and beautiful homes of Summit Ave.

Historic flat grave marker with fall foliage

Staycation idea: Visit a historic cemetery. Without knowing its history, Beltrami Park in Minneapolis looks like a great place for family picnics, bocce ball, basketball and soccer. What you don’t see – unless you go searching for them like my husband and I did on Halloween – are three flat gravesite markers. The ground was covered with autumn leaves so we only found one. Originally a cemetery (Maple Hill), Beltrami Park is the final resting place for 3,000 bodies still buried underneath. Only those three markers remain above ground.

November 2020: A travel blogger’s staycation photo journal

Although we had a couple of snowstorms in October (kinda early in the season), November offered several mild fall days for some beautiful hikes at four state parks. In fact, one day I was hiking in the 70s. Learn more about these parks in my post: Take the Minnesota state parks challenge

Forestville Mystery Cave overlook

Staycation idea: Go hiking during the golden hour. Golden hour is the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset. I captured this golden-hour view at Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park in Preston, Minnesota. November is past peak for fall foliage in Minnesota, but you’ll still find autumn beauty. This park also features a historic village and a cave tour, but they are closed during the pandemic.

Staycation ideas: Learn what sounds an animal makes. I was a little late getting back to my vehicle after capturing that golden-hour photo at Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park. The sun was setting when I heard what I thought was a dog.

It was not a dog.

Trees reflecting in a lake at sunset

Another golden-hour moment. Lake Louise State Park in Le Roy, Minnesota was quiet and subdued, but beautiful (and no unknown animal noises). It was so beautiful this image is featured on my Happy New Year’s cards (which are still waiting to be mailed out).

hiking trail through tall pine trees and a blue sky

Staycation idea: Visit an outdoor National Historic Landmark like Mille Lacs Kathio State Park in Onamia, Minnesota. This park features 10,000 acres of hardwood and pine trees. It’s also the location of a Dakota village dating back to the 1600s. An interpretative trail provides details about Kathio – the ancient home of the Mdewakanton Dakota nation and the former home of a band of the Ojibwe nation.

Rocky shoreline of Mille Lacs with a sunset

Staycation idea: Visit a popular lake in the off-season. You’ll find Father Hennepin State Park in Isle, Minnesota on the banks of Mille Lacs Lake – only 15 miles away from Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.

Boardwalk hiking trail in a park with a blue and yellow sky with clouds

Staycation idea: Go hike at your county park. In addition to all the state parks, I also went hiking at Dakota County’s (Minnesota) largest park, Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, Minnesota – one of the best hiking trails within the Twin Cities.

Tall trees with fall foliage

Best staycation ideas: Meet family or friends for a social-distancing hike. Met up with my niece, Mahayla, for a social-distancing hike at an urban park in late November. Patrick Eagan Park, also in Eagan, Minnesota, offers a sculpture garden, a zip line, a fun playground and lots of rolling hiking trails.

Pompeii-inspired sculpture

Repeat a staycation idea: Revisit a park in a different season. On the same day as our social-distancing hike, my niece and I did a quick hike over at nearby Caponi Art Park, which I first discovered in May. It was cool to hike in a different season – looked different and discovered new sculptures.

December 2020: A travel blogger’s staycation photo journal

Sunset at Badger Hill Outlook at Sibley State Park

Best staycation ideas: Visit all your state parks. I hiked my 34th state park in early December – Sibley State Park in New London, Minnesota (only 32 to go). Now I’m more than half-way done with my Minnesota state parks challenge. How’s that sunset to end the year right? Unusual not to have snow in December, but we did get a white Christmas and there is still about six inches of snow on the ground.

View of river from the bluffs

Best staycation ideas: Get outside even when it’s cold. Later in the month, I headed back to the Winona, Minnesota area where my sister-in-law and I got our cardio in – hiked more than 500 steps (10,000 total) at two different parks (it’s always a social-distancing hike with me because I’m always way behind taking photos). First, we climbed up to Lower Garvin Heights Park Outlook in Winona and, of course, back down.

If you’re short on time or not feeling like climbing up 200 steps, you can drive up to and park just a short distance away from Lower Garvin Heights Park Outlook.

Riverview from the bluffs with fall foliage

Then we headed over to John A. Latsch State Park in Minnesota City, Minnesota (which I had climbed back in July) – it’s just 15 minutes away from Lower Garvin Heights Park. Great view of the Mississippi River.

A travel blogger’s confession: When I pretended to be a time traveler from 2020

Alarm clock sitting on a stack of suitcases

And in December 2020, I finally confessed after 45 years of silence that I am not Karen Karen from the year 2020. That’s what I told all the other Girl Scouts at Camp L-Kee-Ta in rural Iowa one summer ~1975 or 1976. Why? Read this riveting tell-all here.

Staycation inspiration for where you live

And, that my friends, concludes my 2020 travel blogger staycation adventures. Excited to discover more beautiful places to visit and hike in Minnesota in 2021. Thanks so much for coming along on my journey, and I hope this inspires you to find beauty at your own state parks and in your own backyard.

Related post: I partnered with more than 30 other travel bloggers who recommended 60+ state parks across America: Staycation ideas: Visit the top state parks in the U.S.

Hardest goodbye in 2020

Dog sleeping on sofa with laptop next to him

One of the lowest moments of 2020 was having to stay goodbye to our precious Romeo. Miniature in size, but big on love, our mini doxie was our constant companion for 16+ years. He was also my favorite and most reliable coworker ever, always wanting to lie next to me (or often on me) while I worked. We miss him every single day.

Miniature dachshund

RIP Romeo: 2004 – 2020

Pin it for later: Minnesota staycation inspiration  


Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller


  1. It’s so great that you chose to document the whole year through photos! And that you were able to do a few staycations as well – I’m currently doing the same now!

  2. Great post on staycations! Looks like we’ll be doing a lot more this year! Minnesota sounds like a great place – I’ll have to go one day for the hikes and state parks 🙂

    1. I hope you get the opportunity to visit Minnesota – lots of opportunities to connect with nature. And I see more staycations in the near future for sure.

  3. You had quite an eventful year, it seems! I’m terribly sorry about your Romeo.

    I did some of the things you did — explored my own neighborhood, got back to nature, and read. But I only managed to read 40 books.

    Hope the new year will bring you more great things!

    1. I think 40 books in a year is a great accomplishment! It was definitely a good year to get reacquainted with our neighborhoods. Thank you for your thoughtful words about Romeo.

  4. Despite it being a global pandemic it still looks like you managed to get quite a lot in! I clicked through to your book recommendations too and now have a long list added to my list!
    I’m sorry you had to say goodbye to your dog. Never easy 🙁

    1. I did manage to do a lot of staycation adventures during the pandemic while maintaining social distancing. I hope you find some good reads from my list. And thank you for your kind words about our precious Romeo.

  5. Nice job on exploring closer to home! It’s interesting because we typically think we need to travel great distances to have adventures when we can choose to do it nearby, sometimes!

  6. I love all your pictures from your hikes. We are planning a staycation for our kids next break. It’s amazing how places, gardens, trails, and activities are so close to us.

  7. I love this little glimpse into your life during 2020! All I can say for our family and 2020 is thank God for getting outside! We were able to explore so many places that were in our “backyard.”

  8. I’m sorry about your Romeo. Other then that, looks like such a great year! I’ve really enjoyed all of your adventures this year!

  9. We did a lot of the same things. Puzzles are my favorite! Also, we did a ton of national parks and state parks.

  10. What a wonderful round-up! 2020 definitely changed our perspective on a lot of things! I also found a renewed love for activities at home such as jigsaws, board games, and reading. But I definitely discovered a new appreciation for my local area and enjoyed the extended staycation! I’m eager to start traveling again, but aim to continue exploring my local area too. Thanks for sharing your staycation experience!

  11. Fun post! It wasn’t the year we expected but overall it wasn’t a bad year. I took the travel blogging class last Jan/Feb and then COVID changed my travel plans. However I discovered I can write travel posts anyway, staying local and revisiting past trips.

  12. This is a beautiful voyage back through your last year. I remember a lot of your experiences and it’s great to review them again here. Your most liked photo of the year is a work of art

    1. Thank you so much…greatly appreciate all your kind words and support. It was definitely a year of the hike and staycations in Minnesota and around the world.

    1. Yes, 2020 was a great year to practice mindful adventures in Minnesota. Hiking on my staycation resulted in perfect slow travels.

  13. I got back to reading during the pandemic too. I think I got through 30+ books and I’m hoping to top that this year. I never got into puzzles, but who knows what 2021 will bring?

  14. I love that you choose a quote for a year and 2020 was definitely the year to be still.

    It looked like you made the most of your year and I’m happy that you stayed active during lockdown. So sorry to hear about Romeo 💔

    1. The year 2020 was definitely a year to practice mindfulness and gratitude for the great outdoors and enjoy a staycation and great hikes in Minnesota. And thank you for your kind words about Romeo. He was such a loving member of our family.

  15. As a travel blogger myself, I have not done nearly the amount of things you’ve done! I started my blog, and am slowly going through my photos of all my past trips, organizing them for upcoming articles. Blogging seems to take up a lot of my time!

    1. Photos take me the most time when blogging about my travels and hikes in Minnesota and around the world. My unplanned and extended staycation in Minnesota gave me an opportunity to organize, format and share content and experiences.Blogging does take more time than most people realize.

  16. Despite all of the pivots of last year, you sure found some amazing staycation adventures and lots of incredible pictures! Thanks for sharing your photo journal with us!

    1. Thanks! 2020 was definitely a pivot year of state parks, staycations and beautiful hikes in Minnesota. Appreciate your kind words and support and so happy you enjoyed my photos from my adventures.

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