22 Counties in Northern Minnesota and North Dakota

In my previous trip to North Dakota and Montana, I skirted the US-Canadian border. I purposely skipped going to the northernmost Minnesota counties. I could visit these counties on a typical 2-day weekend. The North Dakota and Montana counties required a lot more travel time. The 3-day Memorial Weekend was perfect for that trip.

Well, Memorial Weekend was over, and it was back to standard 2-day weekends. I decided that time had come that I would get the Minnesota counties that bordered Canada.

With each trip, I’m trying to become more efficient and make sleeping in my car a more enjoyable experience. I’ve been focusing on the setup I have inside the vehicle. I have bought different products and played around with their arrangement in the car. My ultimate goal is to maximize efficiency and comfort. 

I have my water bottle and a heated coffee mug that plugs into the power port in the front seat. I also keep my backpack with my laptop, itinerary, toiletries, and extra clothes.

In the back seat, I have another backpack with food in it. You can also see my roadside emergency kit. There is also a garbage bin hanging from the passenger seat. Behind the passenger seat on the floor is a car tray that allows me to eat and use my laptop in the car.

I also have a battery-powered fan that circulates the air while I sleep. I swear this fan has been one of the biggest game-changers of sleeping in my car. During trips, I remove the back seat to put the backrest part of the seat down. This allows me to have an air mattress where I can lie fully extended.

The trunk contains a 6-gallon jug of water (I try to drink a lot of water on the road). You can also see my blankets.

Overall, this setup allows me to be pretty self-sufficient and relatively comfortable. I am always trying to tweak this setup and make improvements. Maybe someday, the Hotel Focus will get its five-star luxury hotel status!

For the planning of the trip, I wanted to maximize daylight. I get done with work on Friday at 1 PM. The days are still long, and I still have counties that are only 3-4 hours away from me. I can easily find a starting point that will allow me to visit a few counties before it gets dark.

Since Center City, Minnesota (Chisago County) was about 4.5 hours away, and I could leave at 1 PM and be there around 5:30 PM. I’d then have a few hours of daylight to visit a few more counties. So, at precisely 1 PM on Friday, I hit the road and got onto I-94.

Immediately upon crossing into Minnesota, I took the first exit for Minnesota 95. A lot of people had the same idea as me and were traveling. There were a few traffic jams and places where I was going well under the speed limit.

After a little slow driving, I finally made it to Chisago County.

Next was Isanti County.

The roads seemed to clear up, and it was easy driving to Pine County.

Kanabec County was next on the list. This courthouse had a historical feel to it.

Mille Lacs County’s courthouse was a little more blocky.

The sun was starting to set on the way to Benton County, but I made it in good time.

By this time, I was racing against the clock to see if I could get another county done before it got dark. Mission accomplished! I made it to Stearns County!

I typically will drive until after dark. I will then park for the night in the town of the first county I plan to visit in the morning. In this case, it was Little Falls, Minnesota, and I’d see the Morrison County Courthouse in the morning. I’ve been particular to sleeping at boat landings if there’s one available.

I was in luck, as there was a boat landing right on the Mississippi River! So I got ready for bed, climbed in the back of the car, and then got some sleep. Boat landings are great for their quietness, and also they usually have a bathroom. Another benefit is they make for good pictures in the morning.

After doing my morning routine, I drove across town to the Morrison County Courthouse.

When you start getting to more rural counties, the roads are wide open. It was an easy drive to Crow Wing County.

I was soon at Aitkin County.

Up next was Itasca County.

The drive from Itasca County to Koochiching County was going to be over two hours. I made sure to gas up since I know I’d be driving in a remote forest. At the gas station, I found these cool 99 cent bags of cheese curds. I may have been in Minnesota, but this definitely hit the spot for my Wisconsin taste buds!

I’m glad Minnesota upped their speed limits to 60 on rural two-lane highways. This definitely helped me make a little better time.

You could tell logging was a huge industry in that area.

After a long drive, I was finally at Koochiching County!

Lake of the Woods County was next on the list. However, before I got there, I stopped at a small park with a log cabin outhouse and flowing well.

I tried to race the train to the next town!

In the next town, the streets were lined with flowers. I was also teased by how close I was to Canada. I really wish the border was open when I was on this trip because I may have snuck over to say hi to our northern neighbors.

I definitely saw a lot on my way to the Roseau County Courthouse!

By this time in the trip, I was getting to the more prairie area of Northern Minnesota. This also included going past some roads that were barely what could be considered a road.

I made sure to stay on the paved roads to make good time getting to Kittson County.

Up next was Marshall County.

The roads were flat and open on my way to Pennington County.

A little more driving got me to Red Lake County.

I was soon pulling into the Polk County Courthouse parking lot.

Norman County proved to be a little more historical than Polk County.

I got to my last Minnesota County, Clay County.

Cass County, North Dakota, was only a few miles from the Clay County Courthouse. So I hopped over into North Dakota and visited that county.

Now, I had to start thinking about the time it would take to get home at this point in my trip. It was around 7:30 PM, and I wouldn’t have much daylight left. I had planned to go to a few more counties, but it appeared it would increase the amount of time it would take to get home. Also, Fargo was right on I-94. So this would be a straight shot home if I decided not to visit those other counties.

I decided to head back and ran into some heavy rain.

I wanted to drive as much as possible since I had to go the entire width of Minnesota. I eventually found a rest stop and slept for the night. When I woke up, I realized that I had some time to spare, so I made a detour to Mall of America and checked a few things out.

I realized this was the first time I got to Mall of America before many of the stores were open. It was interesting walking around the mall, especially with half the lights off.

Nickelodeon Universe also seemed a bit eerie with so few people around.

For the longest time, before I started traveling, I had a funny perspective. I thought Asian restaurants like Panda Express only existed in big malls. I guess that’s the only place I saw them since I grew up in rural Central Wisconsin. But, of course, I love Asian food, so I’d always get excited when I’d go to a place like Mall of America.

For some reason, I always keep coming back to Ruby Thai Kitchen. I’m not sure if it was the first place I went by when I entered the food court. But, for some reason, it just caught my eye, and I usually eat there when I go to Mall of America.

I looked around for a Rybicki Cheese. They were a store on the third floor that sold Packers stuff, cheese, and other things like venison sticks. I wanted to get some venison sticks for the ride home, but I was bummed to see they must have gone out of business.

I found a beef jerky store that allowed me to get the venison sticks and try some vegan jerky.

I do like Mall of America, but after a while, the crowds get old. A little bit later, I hit the road again and made it back to Wisconsin.

I’m finding I-94 is starting to become a parking lot. I think with so many people traveling, the road is being used way past its capacity. I got stuck in a few traffic jams along the way.

The traffic jams were a bit frustrating, but I made it home. I found it awesome that I was able to see both the heavily forested and prairie areas of Northern Minnesota!

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