Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
Click the map to go to Google Maps satellite view of this airport
Minnesota’s largest airport in Minneapolis has many great viewing possibilities. The parking garages are in the middle with runways on either side, and you can get a great view from the 7th floor. Its easy to watch and photograph planes from both sides with good light. The west runway is best photographed in the morning while the east runway is best in the afternoons. Security is generally friendly at the Minneapolis airport. The Minneapolis airport has a new official observation area which is located at the end of Cargo Rd. near the intersection of runways 4/22 and 12R/30L (see map). It is equipped with plenty of parking, picnic tables, and benches. Runway 12R/30L is used most often by the larger aircraft that operate here and you’ll be able to get good photos in the afternoon hours, but there is a tall fence here. You’ll need to stand on a picnic table or use a small ladder in the parking lot for shots of aircraft on the ground. Prior to the fall of 2015 the only other free public viewing area was the cell phone lot located on Post Road right beside runway 12R/30L. This spot also has a high fence, making photos of planes on the ground nearly impossible. The lot is across the street from the fence and you cannot approach the fence.
Then there’s the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, which is on a hill directly above the Cell Phone Lot. This hill is accessible only from inside the cemetery and all the way at the back but gives a spectacular view. You would have to enter the grounds from 34th Ave. S. Note that this is not a sanctioned area for photographers and you will likely be told to leave. Taft Park, located just off Cedar Ave., is another spot. This park is under the approach path to runway 12R and you can get a good close up view of landing traffic.
On the north side of the field there is a dog walking park located at the end of 28th Ave. S., accessible from Hwy. 62. This spot gives a great view of planes using runway 12R/30L but you are facing southwest so the best light for photography is limited to the morning.
After the Minneapolis airport opened its new west runway a few years ago the 7 floor parking garage at the Mall of America became an excellent spot to watch and photograph planes in the afternoon. Those approaching runway 35 will be flying right past this garage and from the top level you’ll have a good angle and a close view. You can park here and for a small fee take the light rail from the ground floor of this parking garage to both of MSP’s terminals. I also discovered on my last visit there that at the light rail stop between the Mall and the Airport there is a parking garage which, from the top floor, will give you another view of the runway 35 traffic but from the opposite direction (facing west).
There is also a new parking garage adjacent to the Humphrey Terminal (just west of the cemetery in the map above) but runway 4/22 is not used too often and there is more action at the main terminal. It is possible, however, to park at the Lindberg Terminal and take the underground light rail for free over to the Humphrey Terminal to check out the action.
If you are flying in or making a connection at MSP, there is an observation deck located upstairs in Concourse D, near gate C1. Its a simple room with chairs and an unobstructed view of runway 12L/30R and some of the “C” and “D” gate ramp areas. This location is much better for photos in the afternoon but the windows could be a challenge.
Most of the traffic here will be Delta and its regional affiliates along with Southwest and others. The Minnesota Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve have a base on this field so on any given day there may be military aircraft (mostly C-130s) landing and departing. There is lots to do in the Minneapolis area too – the largest mall in America (Mall of the America) is less than a mile away And from the light rail station, for a small fare, you can go all the way to downtown Minneapolis and explore the city.
The MSP airport is definitely a great place for plane lovers and I highly recommend a visit here. There are so many good spots to catch aircraft action that you could spend an entire day – or more!