· ·

Discover 21 Hidden Gems in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

While popular destinations like the Mall of America and the Boundary Waters draw millions of visitors to Minnesota each year, the state’s hidden gems unveil another side of the North Star State — one that features stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and much more.

From charming small towns nestled among rolling hills to off-the-beaten-path hiking trails and hidden waterfalls, Minnesota offers a wealth of unique and lesser-known attractions for adventurous explorers.

Pipestone National Monument-Minnesota
Pipestone National Monument | photo via yoshemo

Pipestone National Monument

The Pipestone National Monument invites visitors to travel back in time to visit a place where Native Americans collected red pipestone for pipebowls for their ceremonial pipes. Visitors can watch seasonal carving demos, see exhibits, and stand in awe of the majestic Winnewissa waterfall.

Grand Portage National Monument

The Grand Portage National Monument bridges time and culture by offering a glimpse into the region’s fur trading history. Visitors can take guided tours through a reconstructed fur trade depot or meander along the Grand Portage Trail, enjoying living history demonstrations and Ojibwe village exhibits.

The Quietest Place on Earth

Minneapolis may be the biggest city in Minnesota, but Orfield Laboratories in the city’s Seward neighborhood is home to one of the world’s most peculiar places — a room so named because it’s an anechoic chamber that absorbs sound (measured at -24 decibels). If you stand still long enough, it’s said that you can (allegedly) hear your internal organs working.

Jeffers Petroglyphs

This collection of over 5,000 ancient Native American rock carvings near Comfey is one of the nation’s oldest continuously used sacred sites. Visitors can gaze upon carvings dating back thousands of years that include humans and animals and gain insight into Minnesota’s prehistoric past.

Hjemkomst Center

Many parts of Minnesota have a proud Scandinavian heritage and this center in Moorehead is a sight to see. Its centerpiece is a beautiful replica of a Hjemkomst Viking ship that was once sailed to Norway and the center also includes a replica of a Norwegian stave church.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park Minnesota
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park | photo via jsarzozajr

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

This true hidden gem — part of the “Big Woods” — just south of the Twin Cities treats visitors young and old to stunning displays of spring wildflowers, magnificent views of Hidden Falls’ cascading waters, and 11 miles of tranquil hiking trails that are the best way to see the park, even when snowshoeing during the winter.

Munsinger Clemens Gardens

Across the street from St. Cloud State University, Munsinger Clemens Gardens invites visitors to awaken their senses as they stroll along tranquil pathways to immerse themselves in colorful flower displays, trickling fountains, and exquisite sculptures. Visitors can marvel at at least half a dozen gardens including the Clemens Rose Garden and the Perennial Garden.

Root River State Trail

For outdoor enthusiasts, the Root River State Trail in Southeast Minnesota is the 42-mile ultimate gateway through scenic river valleys, charming small towns, and lush forests. Adventurers can enjoy biking, hiking, and even cross-country skiing as they connect with nature and keep their eyes peeled for hawks and songbirds.

Vermillion Falls

Once upon a time, the 35-foot waterfall at Vermillion Falls was used to power a gristmill. Today, it remains a peaceful escape into nature along the Vermillion River, where rushing waters pour through a 10-foot-wide chasm. Visitors can follow a short trail to the falls or enjoy its majesty from an observation deck and several nearby picnic sites.

Franz Jevne State Park

Nestled on Minnesota’s border with Canada on the Rainy River, the park invites visitors to embrace the outdoors. Guests can choose from a variety of campsites and enjoy fishing on the Rainy River where walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and even sturgeon can be caught.

Blue Mounds State Park-Minnesota
Blue Mounds State Park | photo via rubinlyngaas

Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds State Park just seems to be full of surprises, from its 100-foot Sioux quartzite cliff, its herd of wild bison, the bright prickly pear cacti that bloom in the summer, the birds that come to nest, and the scenic prairie landscapes. Added up, it’s a can’t-miss park in Southwestern Minnesota that’s always worth a visit.

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Cave enthusiasts will absolutely love a guided tour of Mystery Cave. Minnesota’s longest cave features underground pools, stalactites and stalagmites, flowstone, and many underground passages. Above ground, visitors can explore miles of hiking and horseback trails amid a scenic, rugged landscape.

Lake Itasca State Park (Preachers Grove)

The grove is famous for its tall, old red pine trees that form a natural cathedral-like setting, creating a quiet, almost sacred atmosphere to relax and reflect. While the grove is often included in park tours, it’s easily accessed allowing visitors of all ages to escape into nature and enjoy the quietude of the forest.

Quarry Park and Nature Preserve

Located near St. Cloud, the preserve has something for everyone and features nearly 700 acres of trails, rock climbing walls, quarries for swimming, and more. Plant and flower enthusiasts can enjoy stretches of open prairie, scenic woodlands, and bedrock areas along with colorful displays of wildflowers.

Nyberg Sculpture Park

The small town of Vining in central Minnesota features an exciting sculpture park which showcases the work of artist Ken Nyberg. The park features nearly a dozen sculptures created by Nyberg, including an elephant made from lawnmower blades, a watermelon being cut with a knife, and a pair of pliers squishing a bug.

DID YOU KNOW: Fans of Nyberg’s work can find other pieces in the region, including in Fergus Falls and Ottertail. 

Palisade Head (Tettegouche State Park)-Minnesota
Palisade Head (Tettegouche State Park) | photo via davemdaily

Palisade Head (Tettegouche State Park)

There’s nothing more astonishing than unencumbered lakeside views and Palisade Head on the North Shore of Lake Superior may be the most beautiful spot in Minnesota. This headland was formed more than a billion years ago and is a popular spot for rock climbing (though visitors are advised to use caution). The park itself also includes other scenic spots, waterfalls, and hiking trails.

Finland, Minnesota

Tucked along Minnesota’s North Shore near Lake Superior, Finland is a quirky, yet charming town for a peaceful outdoor getaway. Adventurers can access the Superior Hiking Trail to explore the beauty of the North Shore or explore local waterways to cast a line. Adventure also awaits on Lake County Circle Tours, which showcase local landmarks, historic architecture, and more.  

Judy Garland Museum

Grand Rapids is one of Minnesota’s most delightful small towns, but it’s also the birthplace of Judy Garland, who was born there in 1922 and famously played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Visitors can tour this marvelous museum, which showcases her career, or tour her attached childhood home.

Franconia Sculpture Park

This 43-acre outdoor sculpture park in central Minnesota is an art lover’s delight with contemporary sculptures from artists around the world that are equal parts intriguing and exciting. The park’s commitment to the arts includes active artist residency and programming, offering a variety of ways for visitors of all ages to enjoy its unique creations.

Wabasha Street Caves-Minnesota
Wabasha Street Caves | photo via dameprudeewench

Pavek Museum

Located in St. Louis Park, the Pavek Museum pays homage to a bygone black-and-white era. The museum’s extensive collection of antique TVs, broadcast equipment, and radios intrigues even the most tech-savvy visitors. Guests can enjoy many interactive exhibits and play vintage records, play a theremin, or tune a radio from the 1920s. 

Wabasha Street Caves

Amid the hustle and bustle of St. Paul, the Wabasha Street Caves are a unique blend of intrigue and history. Carved into the hillside for mining in the 1800s, these sandstone caves were later the site of a mushroom farm and then a gangster hotspot during Prohibition. It’s been voted the Most Haunted Place in Minnesota and is open for tours. 

Judy Garland Museum-Minnesota
Judy Garland Museum | photo via raynez_dayz

Explore the Many Hidden Gems of Minnesota

Hidden gems in Minnesota reveal some of the best-kept secrets that showcase the diverse and enchanting beauty of the state. Whether you want to explore the wonders of Mystery Cave, walk past haunting reminders of Prohibition in St. Paul, or escape into nature at Palisade Head or Preachers Grove, there’s a Minnesota hidden gem waiting for you to discover.