A view of downtown Stillwater in Minnesota. Editorial credit: Cheri Alguire / Shutterstock.com

8 Cutest Small Towns In Minnesota To Visit In 2024

Minnesota is a spacious midwestern state that straddles Lake Superior and the Canadian border to the North and the Great Plains to the south. The start of the mighty Mississippi River is also located to the north of this state (in the unassuming Lake Itasca). Clearly, Minnesota is a state with varying and beautiful landscapes, and throughout these wonderful landscapes, many amazing small towns can be found, exemplifying the unique people and places that can be found here. These small towns are perfect adventure spots in the North Star State this 2024. They boast the natural scenery and landmarks of major cities minus the urban hustle and bustle.

Grand Marais

Aerial view of Grand Marais, Minnesota.
Aerial view of Grand Marais along the coast of Lake Superior, Minnesota.

Grand Marais sits along the rugged northern coastline of Lake Superior and is a breathtaking backdrop for all who visit this small town. There is much to see both in town and outside of it. The North House Folk School hosts workshops in traditional crafts and skills, attracting learners from all over. Those who like art will appreciate the Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery, showcasing local and regional artists from this remote area. Harbor Park, with its lighthouse and panoramic views, is a favorite spot for relaxing and taking in this wild area of northern Minnesota.

Restaurants and cafes here provide a variety of dining options, where you can commonly find fresh fish from Lake Superior on the menus or indulge in sweet treats from local bakeries.Tourists willing to stray from the town’s streets rejoice at the natural beauty surrounding Grand Marais. Opportunities range from hiking the nearby Superior Hiking Trail to boating in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.


Buildings and businesses in downtown Stillwater, Minnesota.
Buildings and businesses lining a downtown street in Stillwater, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Sandra Burm / Shutterstock.com

Stillwater is located just east of Minneapolis on the St. Croix River. It is well known for its preserved historic buildings at Pioneer Park and its surrounding area. The town's connection to the river is evident in the many activities that abound here, from riverboat cruises to kayaking and paddleboarding. Rentals are available at none other than Stillwater Boat Club & Rentals. A visit to the historic Stillwater Lift Bridge gives panoramic sights of the river and surrounding landscape if paddling from below isn't your style. Seasonal events downtown, such as the Stillwater Harvest Fest and Lumberjack Days in 2024, are sure to bring the community together and draw visitors from afar.

For those interested in the history of this small town, the Warden's House Museum will teach them about the area's past through several well-curated exhibits and a collection of artifacts. The historic courthouse is another landmark worth visiting nearby.


Downtown view of Lanesboro, Minnesora during Christmas.
View of downtown Lanesboro, Minnesota during the festive Chritmas season. Editorial credit: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

Lanesboro is a town on the banks of the Root River in Minnesota's bluff country. The Root River Trail runs through the heart of Lanesboro and is a popular route for biking and walking with beautiful views of the river and surrounding bluffs. Canoeing and kayaking are also popular activities here on the river, giving you a unique perspective of the town and the geography around it.

Lanesboro's downtown has some unique attractions, like the Commonweal Theatre Company, a theater that hosts plays and performances all throughout the year. Other historic buildings give the town a classic feel, with the restored Lanesboro Dam as a key landmark. For a different view on culture, visitors should also explore the local Amish community, known for their handcrafted goods, fresh produce, and rustic country lifestyle that can be experienced at local stands and markets.

Red Wing

Aerial view of the town of Red Wing, Minnesota.
Aerial view of the Mississippi River and town of Red Wing in Minnesota.

Just south of Minneapolis and on the shores of the Mississippi River sits Red Wing, a town whose name you may have heard of from the National Hockey League team or then popular shoe brand. The town's iconic Red Wing Shoes factory and museum is a must-visit if you come for the latter, providing a look into this area's industrial history of providing high-quality work boots for the rest of the country. There are more than just shoe factories here; the St. James Hotel, a historic landmark that has welcomed guests since 1875, continues to operate as a functioning hotel in case you also need somewhere to stay for a night or two.

For a look into the artistic side of this town, the Sheldon Theatre of Performing Arts, a beautifully restored venue, offers a variety of entertainment options, from live music to theatrical performances. Red Wing is also home to the Pottery Museum of Red Wing, celebrating the town's legacy in pottery and ceramics. There are various events and festivals throughout the year too, such as River City Days and the Red Wing Arts Festival which bring the town to life, perfect for a 2024 vacation.

Meanwhile, outdoor enthusiasts should check out the hiking trails at Barn Bluff to stretch their legs in this fascinating landscape of lakes and rivers. At this natural landmark, visitors can climb to the summit for panoramic views of the Mississippi River and the surrounding area.

New Ulm

A band playing during the Bavarian Blast Parade in New Ulm, Minnesota.
A band playing during the Bavarian Blast Parade event in New Ulm, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Michele M Vogel / Shutterstock.com

New Ulm, located in southern Minnesota, is known for its German heritage, landmarks that exemplify this heritage, and more. One of the town's most iconic sites is the Hermann Heights Monument, a towering statue commemorating the Germanic warrior of legend "Hermann." This monument also features sweeping views of the town and the land around it.

As one can imagine, New Ulm's downtown has a distinctive European feel, with many buildings reflecting its German roots. Visitors stroll the streets to discover unique shops, traditional bakeries, and lively beer gardens. A great place to experience the culture is The Schell's Brewery, a New Ulm highlight. It's one of the oldest family-owned breweries in the U.S., offering guided tours with tastings of its craft beers. For history buffs, the Brown County Historical Society Museum gives insight into the town's early days, dating back to its founding in the 1850s and the Dakota War that swept through this area in the 1860s. Last but not least, New Ulm's yearly events and festivals, like Oktoberfest and Bavarian Blast, are yet more celebrations of the town's original Euro-American settlers.


Buildings along Main Street in Ely, Minnesota.
Vibrant buildings along Main Street in Ely, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Malachi Jacobs / Shutterstock.com

Ely is the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, making it a favorite spot for outdoor enthusiasts. Canoeing and kayaking are among the most popular activities, with countless lakes and rivers to explore within a short distance of Ely. If you're into hiking, this area also contains many trails that lead through the breathtaking Superior National Forest.

The town itself has a laid-back vibe that is perfect for rest either after or before an excursion into the woods. For something to do while there, the International Wolf Center and North American Bear Center both provide knowledge on local wildlife and can give you essential info and safety tips in regard to these local animals before you head into the wild. Ely is also home to the Dorothy Molter Museum, dedicated to the "Root Beer Lady" of the Boundary Waters area nearby, who brewed handcrafter rootbeer for thousands of visitors during her lifetime. Today, visitors can still sample root beer at the museum, which is made based on the original recipe.

Two Harbors

The Split Rock Lighthouse atop a cliff near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
The historic Split Rock Lighthouse atop a cliff near Two Harbors, Minnesota.

Two Harbors, also located on the North Shore of Lake Superior, is a pleasant small town of about 3,500 residents just north of Duluth. Known for its historic lighthouse, which now serves as a bed-and-breakfast and museum, Two Harbour has a rich maritime past. Visitors can climb the tower for better views of the lake and learn about the area's nautical past on various plaques strewn throughout. The Split Rock Lighthouse, a short drive from town, is another iconic lighthouse that offers tours and views of the vast blue waters of Lake Superior. Hungry after a day out at the lakeshore? Betty's Pies, a local favorite, is renowned for its delicious homemade pies and other comfort food.

The Burlington Bay Campground, which sits just to the east of town, is a great alternative to staying in a more costly hotel or motel. Here, one can camp in a tent or RV and chill out at the pebble-laden Burlington Bay Beach.

Lake City

Aerial view of Lake City along Lake Pepin in Minnesota.
Aerial view of the town of Lake City along the coast of Lake Pepin in Minnesota. By Wikideas1 - Own work, CC0, Wikimedia Commons.

Lake City sits on Lake Pepin's shores, which is just a very wide section of the Mississippi River. Often considered the birthplace of water skiing, Lake City offers plenty of water-based activities, from sailing and fishing to water skiing. The town's marina is a hub of activity during the summer months, with boats dotting the lake and a bustling waterfront scene.

Downtown Lake City has a collection of amenities within walking distance of the lake, perfect for grabbing supplies before a day on the water. This town's more rural setting is also perfect for outdoor exploration off the water. Frontenac State Park contains hiking trails and picnic areas overlooking the river just a short drive north of town. Speaking of driving, don't miss going for a cruise along the Great River Road, where you can take in breathtaking river valley views from various roadside viewpoints.

Spend 2024 Exploring Minnesota

For the 2024 Summer season, exploring the many amazing small towns in the state of Minnesota is an amazing way to have a blast. Whether you are looking to go swimming or boating on any of the thousands of lakes here, hiking and camping in the vast forests, or experiencing the local culture through cultural and historical landmarks, there is something for everybody here. Escape the city this year and find your road trip adventure in the North Star State.

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