red wing

5 Most Charming River Towns in Minnesota

Minnesota has many great rivers and other water features. There are smaller ones that you may have never heard of before. The state is in the Midwest region of the United States of America. “Minnesota” comes from the word Dakota Sioux word meaning “clear blue water”. Minnesota covers 86,000 square miles with a population of over 5 million. Glaciers shaped most of Minnesota's terrain thousands of years ago. These glaciers created the state's many plains and hills as well as its waterways.

Red Wing

Red Wing is a Community in Southern Minnesota on the Mississippi River

Red Wing is a small city in Minnesota. The town is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and was founded in 1858. Red Wing was named after its founder, John Jacob Astor, who purchased a large portion of land on both sides of the river for his fur trading business.The city began to grow after the arrival of the railroads around 1900. The town became known for its transportation and aviation industries, including airports and municipal airlines. Managed by Red Wing Airlines, it was once the largest employer in Minnesota.

A Medium Long Exposure Shot of Downtown Rural Red Wing, Minnesota during a Summer Twilight

The City of Red Wing is located near US Highway 61 , just south of Lake Superior at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. The city is served by the Red Wing Municipal Airport, located 2 miles (3 km) east-southeast of the central business district. The airport was formerly home to an air traffic control tower, which was removed in 2009.


Aerial View of Mankato, Minnesota at Dusk

This small city, home to just over 10,000 residents, is an excellent place to learn about Minnesota’s agricultural history. Mankato is also a great place for outdoor enthusiasts. The city is home to the Minnesota River Valley Authority Visitors Center, which offers things to do and interesting Minnesota facts.

A view of downtown Mankato, Minnesota from a rooftop

The visitor center also offers a boat tour of the city’s many bridges and the Minnesota Valley Railroad Museum. One of the most popular activities in Mankato is tubing down the Minnesota River. You can rent tubes at many locations or join an organized river tour.

Little Canada

People celebrating in Little Canada, Minnesota during the annual Canada Festival

When you think of Minnesota and water, many people think of the Mississippi River, Lake Superior, or other extensive waterways. However, Minnesota has a lot to offer, and one of the best is Little Canada. Little Canada was founded in 1896 as a farm community named “St. Croix.” The town was incorporated in 1903, but the name was changed to “Little Canada” because of the river that runs through it (St. Croix River). This town is situated on the banks of the St. Croix River and is the home of 3,965 residents. This small town is full of great places to visit and things to do. For example, the Victorian Village is a historic community with boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants.

Aerial view of Little Canada, Minnesota

Another popular activity in Little Canada is tubing down the St. Croix River. There are also many things to do at the Minnesota Valley Authority Visitors’ Center, located just outside the town. The city shows its past Canadian influence in many ways. The city’s symbol can be seen as an initial LC on a white fleur-de-lis with a Red Maple Leaf background, and the Canadian flag is placed in council chambers. In August, the city holds the annual celebration of Canadian Days, with its twin city Thunder Bay, Ontario, located in Canada.


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

Pipestone is a small town on the banks of the Cannonball River. It is home to 2,630 people. This town is a popular tourist destination because it is the home of a famous stone. The stone is called a pipestone, and Native American tribes initially used it to make tools. Today, you can see Pipestone carvings at the Pipestone National Monument. You can also visit the monument to learn more about the area’s rich history and the many things to do at the visitor center. Pipestone is also great to learn about Minnesota’s history, traditions, and agricultural heritage.


Aerial view of Hanover, Minnesota

Hanover is known as the gateway to the Twin Cities region. It is also known for its outstanding weather and beauty. . The city is located near the historic Dutch settlement of Verenigde Oost-Indische Maatschappij (VOI), which the City of Hanover has preserved following its closure in 2006.  The Dutch settlement is located near the cities of Plymouth and Minneapolis, Minnesota. One can look down to find themselves in a beautiful example of Dutch ‘rustic’ architecture. With its typical stone buildings, trees lining the streets, green space, and rolling hills, Hanover is a charming place to visit, whether on vacation or just passing through.

Hanover City Hall in Hanover, Minnesota

The city was incorporated on June 1st, 1871 as a port city to serve the booming railroad industry. The city’s harbor was previously served by the Salem (Wreck) River, which empties into the St. Croix River. In 1862, an extensive railroad line from Minneapolis to Duluth was completed and opened up access to the St. Croix River for water traffic and other shipping opportunities in the area. When most of Duluth’s industry shut down because of cheap energy prices and competition from railroads and tonnage, Hanover was able to compete by constructing a large pier with a lock-up shipyard and repair facility, as well as a canal system connecting it to the harbor at Duluth. This structure was built on land reclaimed from the river at its mouth and was only about one mile in length. Only small boats could get into the harbor. Still, larger boats could use the wharf (called “the bridge”), which went across St. Croix River to reach their destination on Lake Superior.

These are just 5 of Minnesota’s river towns. This state is full of amazing and unique places, so make sure you don’t miss out. And if you are looking for a guide to help you explore Minnesota’s waterways, consider renting a pontoon boat or kayak and exploring the state’s rivers on your own.

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