He attended Harvard College in 1876, where he was friends with classmate Theodore Roosevelt, who, like Minot, was interested in ornithology. In 1877, he published The Land Birds and Game Birds of New England at the age of seventeen. He left Harvard during his sophomore year.
After leaving Harvard he became involved in railroad investments. He traveled extensively and reported on various railroad systems, from Mexico to Minnesota. At one point he was the director of the Great Northern Railroad. In 1887, he became the president of a new railroad line which connected Manitoba to Lake Superior. He was also involved in a variety of other commercial enterprises, including steamships and streetcars in Superior, Wisconsin.
The city of Minot, North Dakota was named after him, and a park in Massachusetts was dedicated in his honor.