A fisheye view of a dramatic spring sunset over the Mississippi River and rural Red Wing, Minnesota.

7 Best Towns in Minnesota to Visit in 2024

The North Star State is an apt and perfect nickname for Minnesota in 2024. Individuals must only follow the North Star to find enough attractions to fill the year. Travelers can rock out at Big Turn Music Fest in February, bear witness to black bears in spring, see a wild fireworks show in July, enjoy a fisherman's picnic in August, watch a bank robbery reenactment in September, peruse an art festival in October, and take in a multicultural fair for Christmas. See which town hosts which event to maximize a trip to Minnesota this year!

Grand Marais

U.S. Coast Guard Station of North Superior at Grand Marais, Minnesota on Lake Superior.
U.S. Coast Guard Station of North Superior at Grand Marais, Minnesota on Lake Superior.

Grand Marais on Lake Superior is an excellent community in a superlative region. Technically a city like most Minnesota municipalities, GM has so much to offer despite its small 1,300-person population. On July 13 and 14, downtown Harbor Park is set to host the Grand Marais Arts Festival, where roughly 60 artists sell original pieces, teach craft lessons, and do demonstrations. Also located downtown and running from August 2 to 5 is the Grand Marais Fisherman’s Picnic, which features everything from a lively fish fry to live music to a parade. If that is too grandiose for your liking, simply head to wilderness sites such as Devil's Kettle waterfall and Eagle Mountain, the highest point in Minnesota. They may sound scary but are quite serene and worth the adventure!

Excelsior

Ice-cream cabin on Lake Minnetonka beach.
Ice-cream cabin on Lake Minnetonka beach.Image credit Tony Cane-Honeysett via Shutterstock.

Excelsior is both the community's name and the proper exclamation upon entering it. This neglected triplet of the Twin Cities is pleasantly stunted, being a quaint lakeside town turned into a quasi-suburb but still retaining its rural charm and autonomy. Unencumbered by Excelsior's sub-2,500 residents, visitors can swim and boat on Lake Minnetonka, tour historic Water Street with its shops, eateries, and inns, and attend annual fests such as Excelsior Apple Days, held in late September, and Excelsior Christkindlsmarkt, a German-themed Christmas celebration that takes place in November. Juhu!

Northfield

Skinner Memorial Chapel on the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota
Skinner Memorial Chapel on the campus of Carleton College in Northfield. Image credit: Ken Wolter via Shutterstock.

If you thought the Wild West was limited to the West, take a trip to Northfield, Minnesota. In 1876, Jesse James and his gang tried to rob the First National Bank of Northfield and were foiled by brave townsfolk. Although Jesse and Frank James escaped, several of their accomplices were arrested or killed, marking the beginning of the end of the James Gang. Almost 150 years later, you can join the peaceful little community to celebrate ethical bloodshed via The Defeat of Jesse James Days, which span September 4 to 8, 2024. As one of the largest outdoor festivals in the state, the days are filled with a car show, beard contest, parade, carnival, and, of course, a reenactment of the thwarted robbery. It occurs at the site of the actual First National Bank, restored as a museum in the historic district. From there, follow another Wild West-sounding attraction, Cannon River, to all sorts of commercial and scenic haunts. And while folks are at it, the Malt-O-Meal cereal factory is liable to fill your nostrils with a chocolaty and marshmallowy aroma. Does WW stand for Wild West or Willy Wonka? It means both (and neither) in Northfield.

Ely

Aerial view of Ely, Minnesota
Aerial view of Ely, Minnesota.

Although Northfield is symbolically wild, Ely, located about four hours north near the Canadian border, is truly wild. On one side of town is the North American Bear Center, a black bear preserve and educational facility that opens in the spring. On the other is the International Wolf Center, a gray wolf preserve and educational facility open year-round. Between are 3,300 human residents and many more hybrid tourists visiting lakeside Grand Ely Lodge, the gastric/aesthetic Blueberry Art Festival, and the Dorothy Molter Museum, comprising rustic cabins once belonging to the titular rootbeer-brewing hermit. Go deeper into the Ely woods, and you will find Boundary Waters, a gigantic wilderness area calibrated for canoeing, hiking, fishing, and night sky viewing. The Northern Lights are possible to view here in Ely!

Nisswa

Main street in Nisswa, Minnesota.
Main street in Nisswa, Minnesota. Image credit Edgar Lee Espe via Shutterstock.

A turtle race is a pretty apt attraction for Nisswa, being a small, sleepy community that comes out of its shell for certain events. Chief of those events began over 60 years ago with a few pet turtles and now involves dozens of wild-caught reptiles and thousands of people crowding the circular race track throughout the summer. Although the turtles are treated better today and released at the end of the season, around half of the relocated turtles die, so Nisswa has garnered protests from animal rights advocates. Thankfully, there are many ethically unambiguous attractions in this charming "city," such as a famous gift shop, chocolate store, and Scandinavian music festival. Also, if you are a cinephile, you might want to check out nearby Brainerd, one of the settings of the Coen Brothers film Fargo.

Red Wing

Downtown rural Red Wing, Minnesota.
Downtown rural Red Wing, Minnesota. Image credit Sam Wagner via Shutterstock.

Despite being nestled near the Twin Cities, Red Wing flew its own route to greatness. The 17,000-person "city" began as a wheat shipping port on the Mississippi River and evolved into a multi-industry mecca comprising agriculture, pottery, printing, tourism, and shoe making. Tie on the namesake boots to hike up He Mni Can-Barn Bluff, which overlooks the scenic river town awash with activity. Red Wing is expected to host several amazing festivals throughout 2024, including Big Turn Music Fest on February 16 and 17, Hispanic Heritage Festival in September, and the Red Wing Arts Fall Festival on October 12 and 13. Red Wing is a Goodhue County paradise.

Baudette

Willie the Walleye, Baudette, Minnesota.
Willie the Walleye, Baudette, Minnesota. Image credit lynn friedman via Shutterstock.

"No city celebrates the 4th of July like Baudette," says the Explore Minnesota website of this tiny community in the far north. There are kids activities near Willie Walleye, a 40-foot statue of the namesake fish marking Baudette as the "Walleye Capital of the World"; there is the Firecracker 5K, a marathon that runs through beautiful and bumping Main Street; and there are fireworks, dubbed the most spectacular in northern MN, launched over Baudette Bay which flows from legendary Lake of the Woods. Moreover, if you come a little early and bring your passport, you can catch Canada Day festivities just across Rainy River in the Ontario town of the same name. It is a tasty aperitif to Baudette's July Fourth main course!

Minnesota is a prime destination from the start of 2024 to the end. You need not leave the state to experience everything from serene wilderness to aquatic recreation, to esoteric museums to lively downtowns to grand Fourth of July celebrations. While it is often the metropolises that attract throngs of tourists, one does not have to visit any large cities to truly enjoy Minnesota. Minnesota's minicipalities have all these attractions and more for a year's worth of fun and tranquility.

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