Stillwater, Minnesota, USA. Editorial credit: Cheri Alguire /

8 Most Beautiful Small Towns in Minnesota to Visit in 2024

Deriving its name from the Minnesota River, which in turn got its name from the Dakota Native American word “Minisota” meaning “sky-tinted water,” the state of Minnesota is a heavenly haven for those seeking the nature-loving lifestyle. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes (even though there are 11,842 recorded lakes in the land), you will find 2024’s most beautiful small towns in Minnesota that are worth exploring. Need to see for yourself the thousands of lakes in Minnesota? Towns like Grand Rapids and Ely will give you convenient access to many of these bodies of water. Want to get a taste of Lake Superior? Head over to Grand Marais for the world’s largest freshwater lake. Or are you interested in Minnesota's unique culture? No worries because culturally rich towns like New Ulm will have you singing and dancing with the townsfolk. There are many beautiful small towns in Minnesota, but for this year, we have the most beautiful listed here for you.

Grand Rapids

The Mississippi River flowing by Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
The Mississippi River flowing by Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Feel grandiose while exploring the great town of Grand Rapids. So named after the 3.5-mile-long rapids in the Mississippi River and concealed by Blandin Paper Mill—which was the maximum limit for steamboat travel during the late 19th century—Grand Rapids is renowned for being the home of Judy Garland, renowned for her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Fans of the actress/singer can learn more about Garland’s life and career at the Judy Garland Museum, which also was her hometown abode.

Over 1,000 lakes surround Grand Rapids, each home to different species of fish for you to catch, like Pokegama Lake and Trout Lake. Get yourself prepared for adventures into Minnesota’s woodlands—like venturing into the Golden Anniversary State Forest or the Chippewa National Forest on Lake Winnibigoshish—at the Forest History Center. But if you need to rest up in the evenings, you can always entrust your belongings and yourself at the Hotel Rapids or Timberlake Lodge Hotel & Restaurant.


Excelsior on the shores of Lake Minnetonka.
Excelsior on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. Editorial credit: Wendy Ashland /

Excel beyond your limitations by visiting the excellent lakeside village of Excelsior. Only 16 minutes away from the capital city of Minneapolis, Excelsior is located at the lower end of Lower Lake. There are a handful of marvelous maritime activities you can undertake in Excelsior. You can board the historic steamboat vessel Minnehaha, which was built in 1906, scuttled in 1926, and restored and became operational from the 1980s to the 1990s. This historic ship will take you through a scenic tour across Lake Minnetonka. On Saint Patrick's Day every month of March, Luck O' the Lake event for a one-mile run along the lake. You might also be enamored by the quaint and simplistic historic trolley cars like the Excelsior Streetcar Line, which connects Excelsior to Minneapolis. There are many more exhilarating attractions to exalt in Excelsior, so keep yourself nice and cozy while staying at The Guest House.


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

Fly towards Ely, a laidback town on the shores of Shagawa Lake. It is close to the marshy and lake-strewn border of Canada, and over one million acres of lush and wild forests surround the town, filled with thousands more lakes that constitute the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)—perfect areas for swimming, kayaking, fishing, or camping in Turkish yurts. Minnesota’s untamed Northwood comes alive in powerful destinations like the Superior National Forest and the Kawishiwi Falls Trail.

One can learn more about the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, who have inhabited the region for thousands of years, at the Bois Forte Heritage Center and Cultural Museum. Elsewhere, the Dorothy Molter Museum legendary highlights the last resident of the BWCAW, known as "the Root Beer Lady," due to her hospitality and fabled homemade root beer. Study up on wolves and bears at the International Wolf Center and North American Bear Center, respectively. Get to experience more of Ely’s culture that is reminiscent of those from Finland and the Balkans, and give yourself a break at the Grand Ely Lodge Resort & Event Center, Northwoods Inn & Suites, or Adventure Inn.

Red Wing

Historic buildings in Red Wing, Minnesota
Historic buildings in Red Wing, Minnesota. Image credit: Be Here Main Street via Wikimedia Commons.

Whether on the wings of an airplane or on the high road, you should be taking your vehicle towards the fluttering town of Red Wing. Situated on the Mississippi River that marks the state borders between Minnesota and Wisconsin, Red Wing will have you soaring to the past at the Pottery Museum of Red Wing, where the local clay industry is of great importance to the town’s development. See some of Red Wing’s famous shoes at the Red Wing Shoe Museum, or observe the military history of the town at the Aliveo Military Museum. Walk rather than fly along several trails that lead to Barn Bluff, a breathtaking landmark that provides panoramic views of the Mississippi River and Red Wing. Visitors can savor and sample fine wine at the Falconer Vineyards, or you can experience thrills and fun at the Welch Village ski resort. Only midway between Rochester and Minneapolis, let Red Wing’s exquisite lodgings, like Treasure Island Resort & Casino, entertain your daily needs.

Grand Marais

The US Coast Guard Station on Lake Superior in Grand Marais, Minnesota.
The US Coast Guard Station on Lake Superior in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Around two and a half hours away from Ely, the lakeside town of Grand Marais welcomes travelers with a plethora of activities and attractions. With its sandwiched location between the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior, Grand Marais is a grand destination for artists who want to see the oldest art colony in Minnesota. Feel inspired while standing at Artist's Point or the Grand Marais Marina Vista Point, two outcroppings of beautifully carved rocks that offer an impeccable and majestic view of Lake Superior. One might consider standing atop the Grand Marais Lighthouse, whose light has guided many ships safely into the Grand Marais Harbor. You can either go boating through the vast Lake Superior or delve into the forested and mountainous terrain of the Sawtooth Mountains, the latter housing dozens of landmarks like the Devil's Kettle, Devil’s Track Lake, and Cascade River State Park. More natural treasures await in Grand Marais, so consider booking a room at the Aspen Lodge, Mangy Moose, or other fine hostels.

New Ulm

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

Approximately 71 miles from Excelsior, the humble town of New Ulm is a venerable slice of Germany at the confluence of the Cottonwood River and Minnesota River. Deriving its name from a German city at the border of Bavaria, New Ulm has many Old World architecture like the 45-foot-tall clocktower called Glockenspiel; the Hermann Monument that depicts an ancient Germanic chieftain named Arminius who liberated the Germanic tribes from the Roman Empire; and Schell’s Brewery where America’s oldest brewing traditions continues to offer its nectar to all. At Flandrau State Park, adventurers can stroll leisurely through the placid pools and oak-shadowed bluffs in the area. One ought to attend the many events and festivals in New Ulm, such as Oktoberfest, Bacchus Fest in May, Bavarian Blast from July 18 to July 21, and HermannFest on September 7. Lest you forget, purchase a place to stay at Bingham Hall Bed & Breakfast


Much of downtown Lanesboro is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Much of downtown Lanesboro is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, By Jonathunder - Own work, GFDL 1.2, File:ParkwayLanesboroMN.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Lanesboro lounges deep in the Root River Valley, a simplistic community around 40 miles from the city of Rochester. Get a great view of the South Branch of the Root River at Mill Pond Overlook, or luxuriate at Sylvan Park for the sun and the river spray. History buffs can appreciate more about Lanesboro’s inception at the Lanesboro History Museum. You can also participate in the Discover Sculpture Explore Lanesboro Medallion Walking Tour to see the 20 iron medallions strewn all over the town, each depicting different episodes of Lanesboro’s past.

Every year in August, the townsfolk celebrate the festive Buffalo Bill Days with jubilant events, games, and fairs for visitors and townspeople alike. Because Lanesboro is the Rhubarb Capital of Minnesota, you can attend the annual Rhubarb Festival every June to taste the delicious sweet tarts from the town. Those of you eager to walk along the lanes of Lanesboro can seek accommodations at the Scandinavian Inn, the Green Gables Inn, or Root River Inn & Suites.


Downtown stores and restaurants in historic buildings in Stillwater, Minnesota
Downtown stores and restaurants in historic buildings in Stillwater, Minnesota. Image credit Sandra Burm via Shutterstock

Still your excitement and steady your enthusiasm as you eagerly enter the town of Stillwater, a mesmerizing town only 25 miles from the Twin Cities. Located on the banks of the Saint Croix River that delineates the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, Stillwater attracts many visitors from two or more states with its historic appeal. It was in Stillwater, after all, that the first territorial convention commenced in 1848 to establish Minnesota as an American state.

One can cross the Historic Stillwater Lift Bridge to switch between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Feel comfy and safe while playing in the child-friendly Teddy Bear Park, or get a better view of the Saint Croix River at Lowell Park. Roam about in several more parks and playgrounds in Stillwater, such as the Otto Berg Memorial Park, the Brekke Park, Afton State Park, and Pioneer Park.

Consider taking the River City Sculpture Tour to gawk at the many unique statues and monuments standing sentinel over Stillwater. Explore the haunting grounds of the Warden’s House Museum, the former domicile of Minnesota’s first territorial prison warden from the 1860s. If you ever get exhausted from all the exploration, refresh and recharge at the Ann Bean Mansion Bed & Breakfast or Lowell Inn Hotel & Restaurant.

In Conclusion

Beyond greater attractions like the Mall of American in Bloomington—one of the largest shopping malls in the US—and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden—the largest urban sculpture garden in America—you will be enamored by 2024’s most beautiful small towns in the Hockey State. Let Stillwater’s historic charm entertain and inform you about Minnesota’s legacy. Let Lanesboro’s rhubarbs sate your cultural and gastric appetites. Make sure you enjoy the Mississippi River at Red Wing or the excellent lakes in Excelsior. But most of all, have fun in a state where the Man Formerly Known as Prince was born. By the time you are finished visiting these gorgeous communities, you will agree to the popular state anecdote of “Minnesota nice.”

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