The Two Harbors Light Station in Two Harbors, Minnesota. Image credit Dennis MacDonald via Shutterstock

13 Off The Beaten Path Minnesota Towns

Looking to explore Minnesota beyond the well-known tourist spots? While the Twin Cities and the Mall of America have plenty to offer, sometimes the best way to experience the state is to check out places that are more off the beaten path. You will find many unique spots to enjoy nature without battling through the crowds, as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" is also home to over 91,944 miles of rivers. Experience the natural beauty, unique history, and incomparable hospitality of Minnesota throughout these small towns!


Minnesota Avenue & 5th Street in the city of Walker, Minnesota.
Downtown street in Walker, Minnesota. Image credit Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can begin your adventure through Minnesota with Walker, one of the most gorgeous towns in Minnesota. This quaint town sits right on the edge of Leech Lake and offers the perfect backdrop for your Instagram posts. Whether you want to capture the beautiful fall foliage, blue skies, or snow-covered scenery, this is the perfect spot all year round. If you would like to take a trip on Leech Lake, head over to Sailing Daze. You can take a relaxing cruise along the lake while learning about sailing and local history. Be sure to catch a performance at the Walker Bay Theatre. Specializing in plays and musicals about Minnesota and the Midwest, this is the perfect spot to learn and be entertained all at once.


Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, popular, often photographed road side attraction statues of the legendary lumberjack and his sidekick.
Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, Bemidji, Minnesota. Image credit Edgar Lee Espe via Shutterstock

Moving to the north, you will find the historical town of Bemidji. While there, be sure to check out the Bemidji Downtown Sculpture Walk! Enjoy the artwork that sits right at the front door of the best shops and boutiques in town. After your stroll through downtown, head over to the Beltrami County Historical Society. This one-of-a-kind museum is in the restored Great Northern train depot. Learn about local Ojibwe history and culture as well as the history of fur traders and loggers in the area. After you enrich yourself with the history of the area, it’s time to explore the surrounding nature. Just south of town, you will find the beginning of the powerful Mississippi River within Itasca State Park.


Skinner Memorial Chapel at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
Skinner Memorial Chapel at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Image credit tmphoto98 via

Northfield is bustling with energy, and there is always something to enjoy, like walking along Northfield's Riverwalk. This is the perfect spot for taking in the surrounding nature and exploring along the banks of the Cannon River. If you are visiting between May and October, you can check out the Riverwalk Market Fair. Continue your stroll through town and stop at the Northfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and ask about self-guided tours through Northfield. A historical favorite is the Outlaw Trail, where you can learn about the James-Younger Gang, a group of outlaws who made their way through Northfield in the 1870s.

Little Canada

Little Canada sign in Minnesota
City center of Little Canada, Minnesota. Image credit Gabriel Vanslette, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Just north of the Twin Cities, you will find the unique town of Little Canada. Back in 1833, Benjamin Gervais, along with a group of other farmers and their families, arrived and started a settlement along the Mississippi River. This group moved from the area that is now Winnipeg, Canada, and this new settlement was named Little Canada because the beautiful surroundings reminded them of their former home. After he arrived with this group, Benjamin Gervais provided funds to establish the community’s first Catholic Church. This church is where the Minnesota capital got its name, St. Paul. Today, you can visit Little Canada and learn more about its history and appreciate its charming shops, restaurants, and festivals. Head over in August to join in the town fair celebrations of Canadian Days.


Owatonna, Minnesota, Colonial buildings at county fairgrounds. White buildings, green grass and large leafy trees.
Owatonna, Minnesota, Colonial buildings at county fairgrounds. Image credit Rexjaymes via Shutterstock

Travel south to find another town with a unique history. There is a fascinating legend about Owatonna and the healing waters you can find there. Legend has it that Owatonna was named after the daughter of a Native American chief. In an attempt to cure Owatonna’s illness, the chief brought her and his tribe to this area to seek out the healing waters said to be in Maple Creek. It is said that the chief’s daughter drank this healing water until she was cured. Today, visitors can drink the "healing water" right from a water fountain and admire the statue of Owatonna. Come and experience this legendary site in Mineral Springs Park.


Aerial view of Winona, Minnesota.
Overlooking Winona, Minnesota.

Whether you are a fan of the theatre, music, cooking, painting, or practically any form of art, Winona has something for you. Stop by and enjoy one of the many festivals Winona has to offer. Some of these include the Mid-West Music Festival, the Driftless Dance Festival, the Great River Shakespeare Festival, and the Minnesota Beethoven Festival! Next, you can see the Minnesota Marine Art Museum and enjoy the many historic and contemporary exhibits. For many, nature is often the inspiration for beautiful art, and the surrounding landscape of Winona has much to be inspired by. Be sure to spend some time exploring Lake Park as well as the Mississippi River.


Church of St Hubertus, Chanhassen, Minnesota.
Church of St Hubertus, Chanhassen, Minnesota.

Looking for more great theatre performances? The Chanhassen Dinner Theatres opened its doors in 1968 and has been entertaining audiences ever since. Today, you can enjoy concerts, musicals, stand-up comics, and more, all while dining on a delicious meal. Chanhassen is also one of the best spots for parks and beaches in Minnesota. Lake Ann Park, Lake Susan Park, Meadow Green Park, Rice Marsh Lake Park, the natural beauty is almost overflowing! Spend the day exploring hiking trails, relaxing on the beach, or swimming in one of the many lakes in the area. Be sure to also stop by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and take a stroll through the stunning array of flowers and other foliage.


Main street in Pipestone Minnesota on a summer afternoon, a typical mid-western small town
Main Street in Pipestone, Minnesota.

Another town that allows you to explore history and nature is Pipestone. Your first stop is the Pipestone National Monument, which is a significant site for local Native Americans. The Native Americans visit the pipestone quarries to collect red pipestone and make bowls for their sacred ceremonial pipes. There is also a museum, visitors center, exhibits, and pipestone carving demonstrations to learn more. Be sure to explore the multiple walking trails so you can enjoy Pipestone Creek and the stunning Winnewissa Falls. Around town, you can also find Fort Pipestone, the Pipestone County Museum, and the Pipestone Performing Arts Center, where you can continue to learn about the history and culture of this unique place.

Two Harbors

Jetty at Two Harbors, Minnesota, on a sunny day.
Jetty at Two Harbors, Minnesota.

Travel to Two Harbors for some of the best views of Lake Superior! As you arrive at Agate Bay, stroll along the walkway out to the light station and take in the 360-degree view of Lake Superior. When you step back on the shore, you can continue to explore the lake using the Sonju Trail. Want to check out the oldest, still operating lighthouse in Minnesota? Head over to the Two Harbors Lighthouse Museum. Be sure to walk up to the top to check out the Watch Room and take in even more great views of the surrounding area.


Aerial view of downtown Alexandria, Minnesota
Downtown Alexandria, Minnesota.

Another great spot to enjoy a day at the lake is Alexandria, with over 350 lakes in the area and lakes like Lake Winona and Lake Agnes right in town. This charming town has the perfect water activity for everyone. Interested in a relaxing day on a paddle board, kayak, or canoe? Or how about a little more speed on a boat, jet ski, or even a water jet pack? Alexandria has all of this and more for you to have the best lake trip! There are also a number of hiking and biking trails surrounding the lakes for you to enjoy. Explore beautiful parks around town like Kensington Rune Stone Park, Lake Brophy County Park, and Lake Carlos State Park.


Aerial view of Hanover, Minnesota
Overlooking Hanover, Minnesota.

Although Minnesota is well-known for its lakes, some of the most beautiful scenery rests along its riverbanks. Less than an hour's drive away from Minneapolis, you will find Hanover, one of these stunning river towns in Minnesota. The North Crow River flows right through downtown Hanover. This river also runs through Crow Hassan Park Reserve, a popular spot for camping, hiking, and horseback riding. Hanover is the perfect escape from the busy city. You can hike in the summer, pick pumpkins in the fall, and ski in the winter.


Aerial view of Mankato, Minnesota at Dusk
Overlooking Mankato, Minnesota.

Another lovely river town is Mankato, right near the Minnesota River. Spend some time walking through town, and be sure to check out the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour. After that, stop in at Old Town and experience many eclectic shops and cafes. Just outside of town, you will find the Minneopa State Park. Spend the day exploring the park and walk to the beautiful waterfall. If you are visiting in the summer, head to Riverfront Park and enjoy an outdoor concert. If you are visiting in the winter, head to Sibley Park and enjoy the Kiwanis Holiday Lights display, with 1.5 million lights decorating the park.


The bridge across the Mississippi at Wabasha, Minnesota.
The bridge across the Mississippi at Wabasha, Minnesota.

Established in 1830, Wabasha holds the title of the oldest town in Minnesota and the oldest town on the entire upper Mississippi River. With over 50 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Wabasha is the perfect spot to experience history! Walk through the historic downtown, the Wabasha County History Museum, to get the full historical experience. Another unique location in Wabasha is the National Eagle Center. Bald eagles nest in Wabasha year-round, and the National Eagle Center offers many programs and experiences. If you are visiting in the summer, be sure to catch the free outdoor concerts on Friday evenings in downtown Wabasha.

So, are you ready to explore some of these hidden gems around Minnesota? Whether you are a nature lover, an art enthusiast, a history buff, or all of the above, these small towns offer something for everyone! As you plan your adventure through Minnesota, be sure to go off the beaten path to enjoy these unique towns.

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