Aerial view of Ely, Minnesota.

7 Of The Most Hospitable Small Towns In Minnesota

Minnesota is nicknamed the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but an alternate is the Land of Great Towns with Under 10,000 People. Although the Twin Cities take in most tourists, the state is home to hundreds of undersized siblings, many of whom are kinder, prettier, and more hospitable than their big twin sisters. They are so hospitable, in fact, that they can turn a vacationer into a staycationer. See if you can resist the charm of these seven small Minnesota communities.

Pine Island

Downtown Pine Island, Minnesota
Downtown Pine Island, Minnesota. Image credit: Bobak Ha'Eri via Wikimedia Commons.

You cannot spell "happiness" without "pine." Pine Island, a southern Minnesota city (almost all MN communities are called cities regardless of population), is not on an actual island, but it is locked by lovely land and people who attend highly rated schools, shop highly rated stores and take highly rated trips on the Douglas State Trail and the Zumbrota Covered Bridge. Affordable homes await those who desire a more extended stay in Pine Island - as long as they do not mind the smell of cheese one weekend a year. Pine Island Cheese Festival has been held in the city since 1936 and features carnivals, competitions, and so many types of cheese. For those intimidated by its small size or early June cheesiness, Pine Island is a 20-minute drive from Rochester, an actual city with roughly 120,000 residents and near-endless amenities.  


Main Street, Ely, Minnesota.
Main Street, Ely, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Malachi Jacobs /

Ely should have been the one named Pine Island for all its pine trees and lakes. This northern Minnesota community is nestled in the Superior National Forest, which contains Burntside Lake, Shagawa Lake, Little Long Lake, and other bodies of water, leading to Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. Just over 3,000 people call Ely home, many of whom also call it paradise. Spectacular nature aside (did we mention the Northern Lights?), Ely is safe, quiet (in non-tourist season), and loaded with wonders. They range from the delectable Boathouse Brewpub & Restaurant to the quirky Dorothy Molter Museum to the fierce North American Bear Center. Believe it or not, there is an International Wolf Center on the other side of town. Ely is even hospitable to wild animals. 


Crosby, Minnesota.
The serpent sculpture on the edge of Serpent Lake, welcomes visitors to Crosby, Minnesota. Image credit: Elkman via Wikimedia Commons.

People considered Crosby an antique (with several antique stores to prove it) until 2011, when the abandoned Cuyuna mining range was repurposed as a mountain biking mecca. The Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails run 70 miles through the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area and start/end in Crosby. Around 100,000 people visited the area in 2010. In 2020, that number grew to nearly 500,000.

If you never thought mountain biking could revitalize a dying community, check out downtown Crosby for its Trailside Tavern, Drunken Noodle restaurant, and Red Raven bike cafe, which have made the 2,300-person "city" hospitable not just for antiquers and bikers but those seeking middle-ground between sleepy and speedy. Prime real estate has been turned into Airbnbs to service the biker boom, but there are still affordable homes to snatch if you act fast rather than slow. 

Lake City

The marina at Lake City, Minnesota.
The marina at Lake City, Minnesota. Image credit: Yuan2003 via

Lake City is a 5,200-person community on the Lake Pepin portion of the Mississippi River. Beyond obvious aquatic attractions, LC has Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company, a boutique in a two-story Victorian building; Kelly's Lake House, a bar and grill overlooking Lake Pepin; and The Jewel Golf Club, an 800-acre diamond in the rough. It does not have a Target, which is how many Minnesotans measure the success of a town, but nearby Red Wing does. Claiming one-third of the population of RW and being a little off-target as a summer retreat makes LC one of the more laid-back lakeside destinations in Minnesota.


Albertville City Hall, Albertville, Minnesota
Albertville City Hall, Albertville, Minnesota. Image credit: Bobak Ha'Eri via Wikimedia Commons.

Albertville is close enough to Minneapolis-Saint Paul to be considered a suburb, but it is designated as its own city with nearly 8,000 residents. Though lacking the jump-out-of-your-seat attractions like in other Minnesota haunts, Albertville is a classy community harboring amazing schools and chill vibes. Its modest attractions include D. Michael B's Resort Bar & Grill, Cedar Creek Golf Course, and Central Park. If you had to pick the most extravagant site in town, you would almost certainly choose Albertville Premium Outlets, an 80-acre outlet mall that can house over 100 stores. People come from all over Minnesota for premium Albertville shopping.


The Lanesboro Dam in Lanesboro, Minnesota.
The Lanesboro Dam in Lanesboro, Minnesota.

Lanesboro is a truly tiny town that is still classified as a city. Just over 700 people live in this extremely southern MN municipality - but many more live on the outskirts in what is known as Amish Country. Minnesota has a sizeable population of Amish, many of whom share Fillmore County with Lanesboro's residents. For this reason, the city offers tours of scenic Amish farms, which include stops at Amish shops. Everything from pastries to candles to quilts to vegetables to furniture to candy can be purchased during these tours. Lanesboro has its own selection of goods via Lanesboro Pastry Shoppe and E2 Boutique, plus decidedly un-Amish attractions like the Commonweal Theatre, which hosts professional plays from the namesake Commonweal Theatre Company. Productions such as these led Lanesboro to be named one of the artsiest small towns in America.


Downtown Walker, Minnesota.
Downtown Walker, Minnesota. Image credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikimedia Commons.

Another super-small Minnesota city, Walker, has about 1,000 residents and straddles Leech Lake in the central region. Relative to its population, Walker's main street is massive. It has to be in order to make room for marvels like Walker General Store, Benson's Eating & Drinking Emporium, and Reeds Family Outdoor Outfitters, a department store simply for outdoor apparel and equipment. There is also Chase on the Lake, a historic hotel right on Leech Lake, and just a few steps from pontoons, jet skis, paddle boats, and many species of fish.

Being a central wilderness retreat rather than a northern one, Walker is not too remote to leave you stranded but remote enough to take you away from the hubbub. Companions to Leech Lake and aquatic attractions are the Heartland State Trail and Paul Bunyan State Trail, which run in and around the numerous forests that surround this city. Take a Walker on the wild side.

Hospitality is something small towns often do better than big cities. This is especially true in Minnesota. The Twin Cities have major attractions, for sure, but their tiny brethren are majorly attractive via friendly residents, picturesque downtowns, low crime, affordable houses, and extraordinary nature. Pine Island, Ely, Crosby, Lake City, Albertville, Lanesboro, and Walker will make you feel at home before you make them home.

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