A state-full of undisputable natural beauty, Minnesota's small towns are just as beautiful within as they are on the outside. Like love, beauty is grown when it is shared, and these small towns will eagerly share the riches of their quaint charm, magnificent architecture, and vibrant streets.
Set in the north, Ely is the ultimate getaway into the extensive Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for stunning scenery and myriad aquatic encounters. One can partake in a few-night appreciation of the Aurora Borealis from a boat or opt for a day of canoeing with a return to the bountiful choice of eateries, shops, and accommodations in town. A fur-trading post turned into an immigrant-ridden gold rush in 1865 and from there to an iron ore-driven economy; Ely was named after a mining executive who never visited the site. Today, one can see the Soudan Underground Mine for a unique subterranean state park experience followed by a complementing trek on the Trezona Trail to the old iron ore mining operations. The Bear Head Lake State Park and the Echo Trail old logging road comprise a hiker's galore in this water-bounded community. The International Wolf Center provides education on the area's wildlife, while the in-town pubs await the late-time banter over the day full of adventures.
The small enclave of Biwabik, whose name is derived from the Ojibwe word for "Iron," sits almost entirely surrounded by tranquil waters, emanating a vibe of a real peaceful natural retreat. The streets ooze with relaxation and a sense of having stepped into a beloved childhood book. Biwabik actually inspires the children's story, "Honk the Moose," commemorated by the namesake statue in town. The Bavarian- and Scandinavian-style architecture hinting at the town's original residents is complemented by the gorgeous mountainous backdrop for an authentic alpine village feel. After a day full of scenic hiking or visiting the Giants Ridge Recreational Area for golf during summer or skiing in winter, the Dave's Alpine Bar awaits for an atmospheric nightcap.
Meaning "Great Marsh en français" and founded by French explorers as a fur-trading town, Grand Marais is known far and wide for its natural beauty. The scenic outings include the Portage State Forest and the Gunflint Trail, along with a stroll down to Lake Superior's Grand Marais Lighthouse. Posing as the regional arts and crafts hub, the culture fans will rejoice in the Grand Marais Arts Festival and the July's Dragon Boat Festival which sees-off dragon-shaped boats with rowers and drummers. The Fisherman's Picnic in August brings back the old shoreline potlucks from the bygone days of logging and commercial fishing. Complete with the Lutsen Resort for golf and varied time spent amidst modern comforts, the town also acts as a proximate base for the year-round getaway into the Sawtooth Mountains.
Nestled in the Root River Valley, this hidden gem emanates the special small-town aura when no significant roads lead into the enclave. Constructed atop of an old railroad route, the 42-mile paved Root River State bike trail spans the picturesque bluff-lined southeast Minnesota landscape and several wooden bridges before traversing straight through the historic downtown district. The natural outings include discovering the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center and exploring the Sylvan Park with a waterfall at the edge of town. The vibrant scenery around is complemented by the prominent arts and culture scene within, including the historic St. Mane Theatre with year-round performances. The landmark Victorian mansions, enticing ice-cream parlors, and local restaurants complete the picture-perfect town, known as the “the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota,” as the place for some R&R.
The "America's Little Sweden" was named after Daniel Lindstrom, who found the town in the second half of the 19th century, with more Swedish immigrants traveling to start new lives. Vilhelm Moberg's novels about the Swedish emigration to the United States are based partly on Erik Norelius, a Swedish immigrant's journal of the experience. The carefully preserved statues of Kristina and Karl Oskar commemorate the memory of the immigrants that helped build the United States. The atmosphere on the streets infused by the old culture and language gives an authentic vibe to a stroll along with all the Scandinavian architecture, including the charming Swedish Coffee Pot Tower, the Lutheran churches, antique stores, and the log homes. Community-strong attitude known in the Nordic countries is apparent during the Karl Oskar Days event in July with parades, dancing, and fireworks.
A mill town powered by the Cannon River founded by a Yankee immigrant, John W. North, during New England’s colonization of the far west, Northfield comes with an exciting backstory from the 1800s. When the James Younger Gang attempted to rob a bank, the locals held their end in a fight and successfully prevented the robbery from happening. Now celebrated every Labor Day weekend through an outdoor heritage festival, “The Defeat of Jesse James Days,” the old-fashioned, musically-infused Midwestern fun includes robbery re-enactments, a rodeo, a carnival, parade, and art expositions. A hub for higher education since the 1860s, the college vibe, and the vibrant nightlife, give the town claim as Minnesota’s music city. The well-maintained downtown comes with the late 19th and early 20th-century magnificent architecture for an authentic taste of the northern Midwest, with the agricultural charm of the past still present in the outer bounds. The Jesse James Outlaw Trail is a dream come true for the outdoor fans and history buffs, leading one through some of the most scenic places around.
The quaint prairie town is world-renowned for the quarries of the namesake material used through centuries, from the Native Americans for their traditional pipes to this day. The evidence from the past is seen in the beautiful crimson architecture, with many buildings constructed from the locally-quarried rock giving a deep hue to the townscape. The historic Calumet Inn and the County Courthouse were built using quartzite from the same quarries, or as the legend goes, out of a "square-cut jewel lying on green velvet." The town's Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers organization are happy to share more on the importance and utilization of pipestone. There's also the famous Pipestone National Monument, its historic quarries, as well as a selection of Native American arts and crafts sold by the locals. Several trails through the tall-grass prairies lead one to the scenic Pipestone Creek and Winnewissa Falls.
Founded and named by French explorers, the little town of Red Wing sits beautifully perched on the banks of the Mississippi River against a spectacular backdrop of Mount La Grange. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Red Wing is a distinctive destination with "impressive architecture and enviable natural environment," featuring beautiful bluffs, historical landmarks, and outdoor recreational sites. Just a dock town in the past, today, one can reminisce overlooking the waters or over a drink at the Harbor Bar with live music. Home to the prominent namesake shoe company and the World's Largest Boot statue, the downtown Main Street also houses many 19th-century Victorian houses. Aside from the cute brick storefronts-galore of various shopping opportunities, more artsy outlets open up for The Fall Festival of Arts. The natural outings include the perfectly-swimmable Lake Pepin and the lush canopies-a-fire during the scenic autumn season, just in time when the beautiful orchards and wineries go into business.
Founded upon an agreement treaty between the national government and the local Native Americans in 1837, Stillwater is one of the country's oldest towns that was named for the calm waters of the St. Croix River, on which it sits across from Wisconsin. Drawing more settlers for lumber and river businesses, it was also the site of the 1848 convention that began the procedure for Minnesota to become a state. The historic downtown district comes with the Main Street, a courthouse, and a very-instagrammable Lift Bridge that makes for a great lookout place in town. Along with the many bookstores, antique shops, restaurants, and notable sites, the town's stunning architecture has been picturized in many films and television series, including the Supernatural and The Mighty Ducks. Nestled in the river's bluffs, visitors get a jaunt from the dramatic river views to one side and the rocky outcrops to the other, while the beautiful St. Croix River valley is wonderful for a scenic stroll with a picnic.
Set off the beaten path at the junction of US Highway 8 and Minnesota State Highway 95, the beautiful Taylors Falls is flush with natural attractions. Named after a local politician, Jesse Taylor, the town is known for the largest glacial potholes in the world and is an ideal year-round destination. Its ski and snowboard resort, Wild Mountain's 20 ski hills open before any other in Minnesota for the ski season, also turn into a waterpark during the summer months. Many scenic outings include the Interstate State Park for hiking and trekking, the atmospheric Wild Mountain Winery, and the Scenic Boat Tours along the St. Croix River. The highly walkable historic downtown comes with the state's first public school as well as the "happening" Romayne's Sports Bar and Grill with a relaxed atmosphere for a family dinner or a get-together with friends.
These towns bring an insight into the different natural elements that the beautiful state of Minnesota has to offer. One is sure to get their fill of scenic sights along with some R&R at one of these locations, bounded by waters, state parks, scenic trails, or mountains.