Aerial view of the town and surrounding forests of Winona, Minnesota.

8 of the Most Charming Small Towns to Visit in Minnesota

Minnesota is a state well-known for its beauty and kindness. The state boasts plenty of notable destinations, such as the bustling metropolis of Saint Paul. However, one part of this state that many overlook is its large number of charming towns. From the headwaters of the Mississippi River all the way to the bluffs of Winona, these towns all have something that invites visitors and makes them want to stay as well. As you explore the hidden gems throughout this state, you will discover the rich history, natural wonders, and warm hospitality of the locals. Discover what makes small towns in Minnesota truly special.


View of Bemidji, Minnesota from Lake Bemidji.
View of Bemidji, Minnesota from Lake Bemidji.

Bemidji is a must-visit town for those looking to get away and discover the peaceful nature of Minnesota. The town rests along the southwestern shores of its namesake, Lake Bemidji, a hub of activity. In the summer, it is an ideal place for kayaking, boating, and canoeing, while winters beckon skiers, snowmobilers, and anglers with icy views. Tourists looking for a more immersive experience can head to the nearby Itasca State Park and spend the day hiking on some of their many trails. While there, be on the lookout for the 200+ animal and plant species that call it home.

Beyond the stunning outdoors, this charming town has much to explore. At the Watermark Art Center, one can view Indigenous art made by local and national artists. Further along the streets, small businesses are plentiful, and at Bemidji Woolen Mills, one will find warm outdoor gear to survive the cold Minnesota winter. After trying on some of their hats, socks, and coats, it is easy to see why they have been open for almost 100 years.

Grand Marais

Aerial view of Grand Marais, Minnesota.
Aerial view of the Lake Superior coastline and town of Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Hidden along the shores of Lake Superior, the artsy town of Grand Marais awaits those willing to explore. One of the first things to do when visiting this charming town is to walk around Artist's Point. At one end awaits the Grand Marais Lighthouse, which, although built over 100 years ago (1922), is still in use. On the other end, the scenic coastline should not be ignored; with plenty of places to rent a kayak or canoe, there is no excuse not to explore.

Grand Marais is famous not just for its proximity to the Great Lake but also for its incredible hiking trails. The Superior Hiking Trail has more than 300 miles of trails to explore, taking hikers through some of the prettiest parts of the state. Remember to carry a camera to take photos against picturesque views of lakes, forests, and rivers.

Those wishing to stay in town can rejoice at the bustling art scene of Grand Marais. Many local and national artists flock to the town to attend the annual Plein Air Grand Marais festival. With dozens of art galleries in the downtown area, it is easy to take in a wide variety of art.

Two Harbors

The Two Harbors Lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
The historic Two Harbors Lighthouse, Minnesota's oldest operating lighthouse.

As the name indicates, Two Harbors is a scenic town nestled between two separate bays on Lake Superior. To this end, it is easily one of the most charming towns in the state. Walking along Agate Bay, one can see where iron ore lakers come in and out of the area. Tourists can continue walking until they reach Agate Bay Beach, the perfect spot to stop and have a picnic. For those who want to explore inland, the town features some amazing hiking trails. Beginners can stop by the Gooseberry Falls State Park, which has an easy 2-mile trail showcasing beautiful views of the Gooseberry River.

Arguably, the most famous area of the town is the Two Harbors Lighthouse. With some of the best views in the city, the lighthouse is a great place to take some photos. Not only is this landmark beautiful, but it is also a great place to learn about the local history. It was built over 130 years ago and is also a Bed and Breakfast if you are lucky enough to reserve ahead of your visit.


View of historic buildings along a street in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Historic buildings lining a street in Stillwater, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Sandra Burm /

Stillwater is one of the most charming border towns that one can find in the Midwest, surrounds tourists with the sounds of the St. Croix River. Originally well-known for its lumber industry, the town is now a vacationer's paradise. With several charming shops, breweries, and a bustling downtown, Stillwater has something for everyone. Those looking for a good view of the town can hop on the red trolley that goes throughout the town and shares the history of Stillwater. Being so close to the river, it would be a shame not to enjoy it. Riverboat tours can be taken throughout the summer to the end of fall, which go over the historical importance of the St. Croix River, as well as offering jaw-dropping views and some delicious meals.

Stillwater also boasts several incredible biking trails that can be easily done in a few hours. Trails like Brown's Creek Trail follow the old railroad and give some of the best views of the river. The St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail is a short 4.7-mile trail that will take bikers through parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. After all the hiking, St. Croix Vineyards is an excellent location to recharge and taste some Minnesotan wines.

Taylors Falls

The Taylors Falls Princess boat on the St. Croix River in Minnesota.
The Taylors Falls Princess river boat on the St. Croix River near Taylors Falls, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Ken Wolter /

Taylors Falls is another charming small town resting further along the St. Croix River. From skiing or tubing at a winter resort to spending time along (or in) the beautiful river, this town is a hidden gem in Minnesota. Upon arrival, visitors first notice the array of bluffs, high cliffs, and lush foliage surrounding the town. One of the places to experience these views firsthand is at the Interstate State Park. With cliffs to climb, trails to hike, and the river to enjoy, there is something for everyone at this state park. While spectacular year-round, it is recommended to come in the spring when wildflowers bloom or in the autumn when the leaves change due to their jaw-dropping beauty. For those who want to try canoeing or kayaking in the river, various rental companies provide all the gear needed so even beginners can have a blast.

The Wild Mountain ski area is a must-visit for tourists seeking an adrenaline-filled experience. With a name like "Wild Mountain," many assume that it is only open in winter as a ski resort. However, those people would be wrong. Along with being great for skiers, snowboarders, and even tubers, the mountain is also very active during the summer. With go-karts, a water park, a lazy river, and several slides to enjoy, children and adults will love the town year-round.

Grand Rapids

Aerial view of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Aerial view of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

In the forests of northern Minnesota, the picturesque town of Grand Rapids awaits. Surrounded by forests, lakes, rivers, and some of the best nature in the country, this small town is a wellspring of unforgettable adventures. Among the natural formations, the lakes stand out, as Grand Rapids boasts hundreds of water bodies within its vicinity. Some of the more popular lakes, such as Deer Lake and Wabana Lake, are entertaining at all times of the year, and plenty of waterside activities are on offer. Back on land, golfing is among the most popular activities, with several fantastic courses to play at. Some of the more popular ones are Pokegama Golf Course and Eagle Ridge Golf Course.

If you are interested in history, the Gilbert Mansion is a must-go spot to learn more about the history of Grand Rapids while exploring the 17-room mansion. Meanwhile, summer visitors can discover the charm of the locals at the Grand Rapids Farmers Market. At the market, you can get to know some locals while purchasing locally grown fruits, vegetables, and baked goods.


A notable landmark in Wabasha, Minnesota.
Famous statue of Wabasha the First in Wabasha, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Steve Heap /

For those wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul), look no further than the nature-focused town of Wabasha. One of the most popular things to do in Wabasha is to spend a day at the National Eagle Center. Located alongside the Mississippi River, it is an ideal spot to learn about and observe these majestic creatures. While near the river, tourists can also opt for canoeing and kayaking, with several companies offering rentals and guided tours. Boats can also be rented for those who want to explore the river at their own pace.

Back in town, the array of stores and eateries creates a range of opportunities for visitors. For example, Lark Toys is an award-winning shop with mini-golf, a bookstore, and even a food court, popular with locals and tourists. After a day out, visitors can end the night at Silver Star Saloon and Grill. Not only can one enjoy delicious beer, but it is also a great spot to enjoy fun conversations.


View of houseboats in Winona, Minnesota.
View of houseboats along the Mississppi River in Winona, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Linda McKusick /

Called the "Stained Glass Capital of the United States'', Winona is a town with a mix of man-made and natural beauty. Check out the Minnesota Marine Art Museum for some of the most beautiful art pieces in the state. The museum opened in 2006 and showcases people's relationship with water. To learn even more about the town's history and perhaps why it is so well known for stained glass, the Winona County Historical Society is one of the best places to find out why.

Being along the Mississippi River, this small town has benefited from it in many ways. To get one of the best views of the river in the country, head to Garvin Heights Overlook, where you can see for miles up and down the river. For another unforgettable view, go to John A. Latsch State Park, and while having to go up almost 600 stairs, it is well worth the vantage point. Another great spot to appreciate the views of the river is at Levee Park.


The small towns of Minnesota truly showcase the state's beauty and history. From the lakes of Bemidji to the artsy downtown of Grand Marais, each town offers its own unique experiences. These charming small towns have something for everyone to enjoy without urban hustle and bustle. The next time you think about visiting Minnesota, do not be afraid to explore the small towns that truly make it a unique place.

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