Fort Snelling is the oldest permanent building in Minnesota. The fort sits on top of the bluff overlooking the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. From here, soldiers could monitor two major river highways of the fur trade, one of the most lucrative businesses during the 19th century. Fort Snelling served the U.S. military for more than 120 years from its activation in the 1820s until its decomissioning in 1946.
Overlooking the river valley from the fort, it’s easy to imagine the life in this early settlement. (Okay, maybe you have to disregard a few planes from the nearby airport.) But Fort Snelling adds to that imaginary experience. History comes alive through tours, demonstrations, and conversations with re-enactors. They cover the diverse stories of the women, men and children who crossed paths here. That included the Dakota and other Native American groups, enslaved people, immigrants, fur traders and soldiers. The fort is especially busy on Memorial Day and July 4th with special events and celebrations.
The fort’s Museum Store is located inside the Visitors Center. You’ll find gifts and souvenirs for all ages and interests, along with snacks and beverages. Of particular interest, visitors may browse books on a wide variety of subjects including historic cookbooks, military history, American Indian histories, the Civil War and World War II.
After the fort itself, you may want to visit the adjacent Fort Snelling State Park with 18 miles of hiking trails, 5 miles of biking trails, snowshoe and canoe rentals, picnicking, fishing, boating and swimming. And, to make a day of it, you head to the nearby Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge which is operated by the National Park Service.