Minnesota Small Towns
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Minnesota’s Best-Kept Secrets: 16 Small Towns Worth Visiting

Minnesota may be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but it’s also a land of scenic, unique, and quaint small towns that are among the Midwest’s best. From scenic outdoor escapes to riverfront hideaways to quaint spots in the shadow of the Twin Cities, Minnesota is a Midwest wonderland that welcomes travelers of all ages to come and visit.

Grand Marais-Minnesota
Grand Marais | photo via johnny_myhers


Highly rated on many “Best of Minnesota” lists and considered the Birthplace of Minnesota, Stillwater is a favorite year-round getaway for Minnesotans and out-of-town visitors looking to explore more of the Midwest on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border.

Visitors can meander along the shore of the St. Croix River and explore historic architecture by bike, on foot, or by trolley. Stillwater also offers a wealth of group experiences from challenging golf to candlemaking to patio and rooftop dining, historic tours, and much more.

Grand Marais

On the shores of Lake Superior, Grand Marais (not to be confused with Grand Marais, Michigan) offers a beautiful outdoor escape. The magic starts with a quick walk from downtown to Artist’s Point, where visitors can enjoy the sunrise and views of the point and nearby lighthouses, such as the Grand Marais Lighthouse and Grand Marais Lower Range Lighthouse.

The outdoor fun continues at Cascade River State Park, where visitors can see seven waterfalls; and the Gunflint Trail is a fun scenic drive where travelers can keep their eyes peeled for elusive moose.


The best small towns in Minnesota are breathtakingly beautiful and Lanesboro can count itself on that list with cozy B&Bs, spring-fed streams, scenic biking trails, and a reputation as one of the nation’s top small towns for art.

Biking the Root River State Trail is a must-do for outdoor enthusiasts — combined with the Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail it offers 60 miles of paved trails. Travelers can also have fun on the Root River, spending a sunny day tubing, kayaking, and paddling away.

Red Wing-Minnesota
Red Wing | photo via cneubrand

Red Wing

In eastern Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River, Red Wing is filled with museums, arts, shopping, and outdoor recreation, so travelers can choose their own adventure.

Visit the riverfront and cruise the Mississippi River on a massive riverboat or explore 6 unique museums like the Red Wing Shoes Museum — which includes the World’s Largest Boot. Travelers can also enjoy scenic trails, city parks, and relaxing afternoon rounds of golf. In Red Wing, the sky is truly the limit.


Nestled near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, Winona is known in some circles as the “Miami of Minnesota” because it tends to have some of the state’s warmest temps. It punches above its weight to offer visitors a memorable experience and is teeming with vibrant festivals, historic landmarks, and plenty more.

Start your journey at Sugar Loaf Bluff, which sits 500 feet above the city and offers different hiking and climbing routes. Visit one of the area’s many cultural and music festivals to experience Winona culture and round things out with a trip to one of Winona’s many historic sites and museums to take a trip back in time. 


Want to get away from the bright lights of the city? Ely is the perfect spot for unforgettable outdoor adventures. As a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Ely offers breathtaking fall colors, cold-weather fun in winter, and stunning sights in spring and summer.

After getting their fill of hiking, fishing, offroading, canoeing, and more, travelers can visit the North American Bear Center outside Ely to watch live black bears. Similarly, the International Wolf Center allows visitors to see wolves up close.

New Ulm

Named after a Bavaria border city in Germany, New Ulm is known for its Old World architecture, German-inspired festivals, authentic German cuisine, and popular breweries.

After sinking their teeth into plates of sauerkraut and bratwurst, visitors can gather to hear the sounds of the downtown glockenspiel, visit the oldest bar in Minnesota or visit the massive 4,000-pound monument “Hermann the German”, a statue that has guarded New Ulm since the 1800s.

Northfield | photo via danieledwins


Just south of Minneapolis, Northfield is a vibrant college town and an outdoor haven for travelers who enjoy markets and fresh produce. Silkey Gardens offers U-Pick fruit and the Little Hill Berry Farm and Lorence’s Berry Farm have some of the best blueberries around.

Elsewhere, visitors can retrace the steps of the notorious James-Younger Gang on the Outlaw Trail, relax in the tranquil Gardens of Castle Rock, and meander through the one-of-a-kind Riverwalk Market Fair for unique treasures.

Taylors Falls

Finding fun for the whole family can be tricky, but Taylor Falls in the shadow of the Twin Cities is the perfect spot for it. The area is a geological showcase with high cliffs and bluffs and traces of old river beds and ancient lava flows, which means rockhounds can find some unique treasures.

Interstate State Park is the crown jewel of Taylors Falls and offers fun for kids and adults. The 1.25-mile River Trail is easy to follow and circles scenic glacial potholes. The 1.5-mile Railroad Trail follows an old railroad and visitors can still see old train bridges along the way.

Grand Rapids

This tiny northern Minnesota town has a lot more to offer than meets the eye. Visitors who enjoy culture can find it in spades with a unique mix of galleries, theaters, and museums.

Grand Rapids is famously the birthplace of actress Judy Garland and visitors can tour the Garland Museum, which houses the largest collection of her Wizard of Oz memorabilia. The MacRostie Art Center, the Hill Annex Mine (in Calumet), and the Itasca Historical Society also offer glimpses into the area’s past, showcasing why Grand Rapids is grand indeed.


Nisswa offers an exciting mix of activities for visitors of all ages. From biking on stretches of the 115-mile Paul Bunyan Trail to fishing on Gull Lake to hiking in Pillsbury State Forest, Nisswa is a relaxing outdoor haven.

After the outdoor fun, visitors can shop til they drop in Nisswa Square to find unique apparel and souvenirs. Festival-goers won’t want to miss the annual November City of Lights Celebration — the perfect way to usher in the holidays.

Wabasha | photo via alfonso.74


Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, Wabasha is renowned for its outdoor recreation, especially its eagle watching. Eagled-eyed visitors can keep their eyes peeled at the National Eagle Center for these majestic birds as they connect with nature.

Wabasha keeps the fun going year-round too with annual festivals including the Watermelon Festival in September; Riverboat Days in July; SeptOberfest in September; and the Grumpy Old Men Festival in the winter.


A town that’s been called “quaintly charming,” “friendly,” and “nostalgic” epitomizes Midwest charm on the shores of the St. Croix River. Afton State Park is an outdoor escape with diverse terrain that offers year-round recreation opportunities, including fishing, swimming, and camping.

After getting their fill of outdoor fun, visitors can enjoy community events like the annual Afton Strawberry Festival and Afton Art in the Park where regional artists showcase their work,

Park Rapids

Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes and a visit to Park Rapids offers access to more than 400 of them, including Mantrap Lake, Fish Hook Lake, and Big Sand Lake. Park Rapids entices visitors to embrace their wild side as they explore Minnesota’s Northwoods near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

The Lake Country Scenic Byway is perfect for scenic drives and fishermen can cast their lines for a variety of species on hundreds of lakes. Miles of local trails provide the perfect path for relaxing snowmobile and ATV rides and visitors can even tiptoe across the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River. 


Situated in Minnesota’s Mesabi Range, Biwabik — that’s BY-wa-bik — is a small town surrounded by stunning natural landscapes. Travelers won’t want to miss Giants Ridge, a year-round outdoor destination with a golf course, biking and hiking trails, fishing opportunities, and skiing in the winter.

Looking for more outdoor fun? Traverse the Mesabi Trail which winds for more than 100 miles through historic mining towns, lush forests, lakes, and scenic landscapes.


Known as “America’s Little Sweden” Lindstrom beckons visitors to discover its Scandinavian heritage, many wonders, and what some claim is the best donut in Minnesota. 

After grabbing a treat at the Lindstrom Bakery and a coffee at Northwoods Roasterie, visitors can travel to one of Lindstrom’s scenic parks or learn about the town’s Scandinavian roots at museums and cultural centers including Gladje and the Karl Oskar House.

Park Rapids-Minnesota
Park Rapids | photo via northwoodsbank

 Explore the Majesty of Minnesota’s Small Towns

Travelers who want to experience warm hospitality, the wonders of nature, and the charm of quaint small towns can find it all in Minnesota. When you’re done exploring Minnesota’s 10,00 lakes, make plans to visit the state’s small towns where you’ll learn a little history, enjoy delicious food, and experience Minnesota Nice firsthand.