The Stillater Lift Bridge at dusk in Stillwater, Minnesota.

8 Most Charming River Towns in Minnesota to Visit in 2024

Minnesota, also known as "the land of 10,000 lakes," is one of the most stunning states in all of the United States. The state's beauty is not just found in the state's many lakes but in its picturesque rivers like the Mississippi and St. Croix. It was natural for towns to settle along these major waterways. Thanks to their proximity to the rivers, these towns are now well known for their history, access to nature, and kindhearted locals. These charming river towns offer a getaway from the hustle or bustle of urban life in 2024 and give those willing to explore unforgettable experiences.


Aerial View of the Twin Cities Suburb of Stillwater, Minnesota
Overlooking downtown Stillwater, Minnesota.

On the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, alongside the beautiful waters of the St. Croix River, awaits the delightful town of Stillwater. Often called the "birthplace of Minnesota'' thanks to its significance with the lumber industry, this peaceful town has something for everyone to enjoy. Originally built in 1931, the Historic Lift Bridge is a must-see attraction and is one of the few remaining operating lift bridges. Spanning across the entire St. Croix River, this bridge has been converted into a pedestrian/bike trail and can be enjoyed year-round.

Cruises on the St. Croix River can be enjoyed from the end of spring to the end of fall. Take in the beautiful river alongside the St. Croix River Trail. This 6-mile trail also goes through much of the downtown area and encourages visitors to take their time and stop at a shop or two.


Winnewissa Falls in Pipestone National Monument Park near Pipestone, Minnesota.
Winnewissa Falls in Pipestone National Monument Park near Pipestone, Minnesota.

There are few towns in the entire state that share as fascinating of a history as Pipestone. Home to the incredible Pipestone National Monument as well as the peaceful Pipestone Creek, this town is one of the most charming small towns in the state. The quarries were visited for centuries by Native Americans to mine red pipestone, which was used in sacred ceremonies. While at the monument, the history of the area can be learned at the museum, local exhibits, and even carving demonstrations. Walking along Pipestone Creek, Winnewissa Falls can be viewed and appreciated.

From July 31st to August 3rd, 2024, the Pipestone County Fair is taking place. This old-fashioned county fair includes live music, delicious food, local animals, and many more activities for people of all ages to enjoy. The beauty of the calm of Split Rock Creek State Park is something that can be enjoyed year-round, with easy paths, and great locations for picnicking.


Houseboats on Latsch Island in the backwaters of the Mississippi River on an autumn morning, taken from the Latsch Island Bridge in Winona, Minnesota
Houseboats on Latsch Island in the backwaters of the Mississippi River in Winona, Minnesota. Image credit Linda McKusick via Shutterstock

Western settlers were not the first to call the area around the Mississippi River home. Steamboat captain Orrin Smith takes the honor of being the original founder of Winona, naming the town after a legendary Sioux princess. With a plethora of river activities to be enjoyed, Winona is one of the best places to enjoy the southern end of the Mississippi River. At Winona Tour Boat, tours can be taken starting in Winona, where guests are able to explore the bluffs, cliffs, as well as enjoy the wildlife. Bald eagles make their homes at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. With more than 200 nests at the refuge, and over 3,000 eagles migrating in spring, this is a great location to appreciate nature.

With camping, canoe trails, and hiking available to visitors, there is something for everyone to love. The Boats and Bluegrass Festival will be held on the Mississippi River at the end of September. Music, food, and boating will be enjoyed all weekend. There is live music being played from September 26th to the 29th, 2024 so it is encouraged to get tickets early to enjoy this incredible festival.


Mississippi River in Bemidji, Minnesota
Mississippi River in Bemidji, Minnesota.

As the first town alongside the Mississippi, Bemidji has direct access to the unbelievable beauty that the river brings. Just outside of the town, Itasca State park is the place to be to see the headwaters of the Mississippi. It is possible to explore the park at any time of the year, but it is recommended to visit in the summer and fall to really appreciate nature and wildlife. If in the area from July 31st to August 3rd, 2024, visitors will be lucky enough to experience the Dragon Boat Races. While racers are speeding across the water, spectators are able to enjoy delicious food, music, performances, and even some friendly competition.

One of the best ways to experience the Mississippi Headwaters is to rent a kayak or canoe and explore the first 90 miles at your own pace. With a number of different lake beds, marshes, and wildlife to enjoy, this is one of the best ways to really take in the headwaters. At Bemidji State Park, be a part of a pontoon tour to explore the lakes and riverways. The tours are a wonderful way to learn about the local history of the area and to learn more about those who originally settled in the area.

Park Rapids

Red Bridge Park, city of Park Rapids, Minnesota
Red Bridge Park, city of Park Rapids, Minnesota. Image credit Richard N Horne, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Following the Mississippi, through streams, lakes, and forests, awaits the exciting town of Park Rapids. With more than 400 lakes in the area, it is natural for many to spend most of their time visiting one of these lakes. With some of the more popular lakes being Fishhook Lake, Two Inlets Lake, and Third Crow Wing Lake, popular activities include boating, skiing, and, in the winter, skating or skiing. However, Park Rapids has much more than just its lakes. For those visiting from the end of spring to early autumn, Summer Hill Adventures is a great spot to stop and enjoy a variety of activities, especially for children. With a number of playgrounds, slides, and activities to take part in, it will surely put a smile on anyone's face.

Learn and appreciate the logging history of Park Rapids from August 11th to the 14th, 2024, at Legends and Logging Days. With live music, lumberjack shows, delicious food, and even more activities, this is an event that all ages can enjoy! It is impossible to go wrong with taking some time to explore the local nature of the area. On the 49-mile Heartland State Trail, walk, bike, or even snowmobile (in winter) and really take in the natural beauty that surrounds the trail. Do not be surprised to find a number of animals, such as deer, raccoons, or even muskrats, alongside the trail as well.

Grand Rapids

Aerial view of Grand Rapids.
Overlooking Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Image credit Jacob Boomsma via Shutterstock

With an abundance of charm, natural beauty, and local kindness, the small town of Grand Rapids welcomes all with open arms. With the Mississippi River running peacefully nearby this small town, it makes it an easy spot to be able to get out and go kayaking or canoeing. However with more than 1,000 lakes in the immediate area, it can be tough deciding which lake to spend time on. Relax, go for a swim, or enjoy a picnic at Blandin Beach alongside Forest Lake, or even Moose Lake beach (along Moose Lake). The birthplace of the esteemed actress Judy Garland (Wizard of Oz) can be visited at Grand Rapids. With her original home being turned into a museum, guests can go on guided tours and learn more about Judy's life both while she lived in Grand Rapids and after.

Visit from June 20th to the 22nd, 2024, to be able to attend the Judy Garland Festival. To gain a real appreciation for this small town, on September 7th, the fourth annual Grand Rapids Riverfest will be taking place. Held downtown, this event will host incredible music, delicious food, and a number of other vendors. While events and crowds are fun, they are not always for everyone. For those who prefer peace and quiet, the North Country National Scenic Trail is a great place to get away and become one with nature. From lush woods to beautiful views of lakes and rivers, this is an ideal location to take a peaceful day away.

Taylors Falls

The St. Croix River flowing near Taylors Falls, Minnesota.
The St. Croix River flows near Taylors Falls, Minnesota.

With scenic hiking, breathtaking cliff sides, and an inviting river experience, Taylors Falls is a must-see destination in Minnesota. With Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours, it is easy to see why the town was settled in 1858. With direct access to the St. Croix River, this town thrived off the logging industry. While on the tour, learn about the history of not just its settlers, but of the unique rock formations that were created by glaciers thousands of years ago. While on the river, renting kayaks, canoes, and boats is possible for those wanting to traverse the waters themselves. For those who would rather be on dry land, Interstate State Park is an ideal location to be able to still show off what makes the area so appealing to visitors. The Railroad Trail is an easy 1.5-mile hike that can be done easily and follows the path where the railroad used to run.

The town does not become quiet in winter either, with Wild Mountain located nearby, skiers and snowboarders alike flock to Taylors Falls. If not confident on skis or a snowboard, tubing is also offered, and it is the largest tubing park in the area. Wild Mountain operates in the summer as a water park, so do not be afraid to come at any point of the year. If lucky enough to be in Taylors Falls from July 19th to the 21st, 2024, take part and enjoy Wannigan Days. Enjoy a car show, a lumberjack breakfast, and a parade, all while supporting local businesses. 

Red Wing

Dramatic Spring Sunset over the Mississippi River and Rural Red Wing, Minnesota
Dramatic sunset over the Mississippi River, Red Wing, Minnesota.

To be able to find one of if not the best view of the Mississippi River in the entire state of Minnesota, one has no further to look than Red Wing. From Barn Bluff, it is easy to understand why it has been a lookout point during the early 1800s. With a view of not just the river, but the entire town, it truly is a must-see site when visiting the town. Red Wing is well renowned for its arts, mostly due to its early pottery industry. Taking time to tour the Pottery Museum of Red Wing is a great way to learn about the artistic history of the town. At Frontenac State Park, guests are able to truly appreciate the beauty of the Mississippi River. With 58 campsites, hiking trails, and some of the best bird-watching in the country, it is a magical place for all nature lovers.

To gain an appreciation for the history of this town, the Goodhue County Historical Society is a great place to stop and learn. Being the oldest historical society in the state, they have been able to collect and preserve both cultural and natural history. One of the biggest festivals in the area takes place in the fall. This year, the Red Wing Arts Fall Festival is taking place on October 12th and 13th, 2024. With more than 100 regional artists attending, there will be a mix of ceramics, leather, jewelry, and more to take a look at. Enjoy the art, live music, as well as mouth-watering food.

The river towns of Minnesota, the North Star State, show off the charm of what makes it such a welcoming state. From Stillwater to Red Wing, there are many river towns throughout the land of 10,000 lakes to explore with rich histories, and culture. Discover the charm of these river towns, for a getaway from the hustle or bustle of urban life in 2024!

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