Grand Marais, Minnesota.

8 Picturesque Small Towns In Minnesota For A Weekend Retreat

Minnesota, a name descended from the Dakota language, is a state in the Upper Midwestern region of the United States. It shares borders with North DakotaSouth DakotaWisconsinIowa, and even the province of Ontario in Canada. With more than 14,000 bodies of fresh water, the state is known as 'The Land of 10,000 Lakes' and, with almost a third of the region being forested, Minnesota is one of the most picturesque states in America. The natural beauty and landscapes stretch far and wide in the region and are coupled with a rich indigenous and mining history that gives this state a charm that is not to be missed. Venture into the lesser-known towns in Minnesota to discover some true natural wonders and relax in the serene atmosphere of these unique destinations. 

Grand Marais

Aerial view of Grand Marais, Minnesota.
Aerial view of Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Grand Marais is located on Lake Superior's North Shore in Cook County and invites adventure-seekers to explore its harbor village. Learn about the region's history by exploring the numerous artifacts and exhibits in the revamped 19th-century home, The Cook County History Museum. To get a panoramic view of the town, head to the shores of Grand Marais Harbour and climb one of the historic lighthouses there to see the surrounding areas from up top. Then, enjoy the sun and scenic views of the waterfront from the Grand Marais Recreation Area, where visitors can picnic, camp, fish, sunbathe, and more.

Artists will be delighted to know that there are numerous murals painted all over the town's walls, which can be discovered on a leisurely stroll, or they can even find modern art from up-and-coming artists at the Grand Marais Art Colony. Make sure to dine at an outdoor café to complete your experience. 


The charming town of Lindstrom, Minnesota.
The charming town of Lindstrom, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Sam Wagner /

Lindstrom is known as 'America's Little Sweden' owing to the Swedish influence in this small town located in Chisago County, Minnesota. Visitors should start their tour at the Chisago County Historical Centre, where the cultural displays represent human activities, thoughts, and endeavors of the region. Take the historic walking tour of the town, which allows tourists to visit buildings with rich heritage, such as the Chisago Lakes Chamber building, the Veterans Memorial, and the Lindström City Hall.

Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy relaxing at the 125-acre Swedish heritage and wilderness park, Allemansrätt Park, which has a secluded lake, eskers, wetlands as well as trails and campsites to experience the full outdoors. Golfers can play a round at the mesmerizing Chisago Lakes Golf Course, and don't forget to take a souvenir from the Lindstrom Antique Mall before leaving. 


Main Street in Nisswa, Minnesota.
Main Street in Nisswa, Minnesota.

Nisswa, originally known as the Smiley Township, is surrounded by three lakes and, hence, aptly named 'in the middle' in the Ojibwa language. The Nisswa Area Historical Society can give tourists an overview of the town's heritage and culture, which lead back to Native American roots. Water lovers should travel to Gull Lake and Nisswa Lake for boating, fishing, and watersports or to Nisswa Family Fun Waterpark for waterslides, splash rides, and water fun for the whole family.

Plan a trip to this small town in the summer to enjoy the famous Official Nisswa Turtle Races that have been taking place since 1963. Take to the infamous Paul Bunyan Trail when the weather is pleasant to bike, walk, or rollerblade, and cross-country ski, and snowmobile in the winters.  

Lake City

Marina at Lake City, Minnesota.
Waterfront area with docked boats in Lake City, Minnesota. Image credit: Yuan2003 via

Lake City is located on the shores of Lake Pepin in the Goodhue and Wabasha counties of Minnesota, and it invites travelers to explore its rich natural treasures. Start at the 22-mile-long Lake Pepin, the largest lake on the Mississippi River, to enjoy kayaking, boating, fishing, sailing, or even just taking a stroll along the river walk. Lake City is known as the 'Birthplace of Water Skiing' since this was where the first person ever performed this sport and, hence, every tourist should enjoy a water skiing adventure when in town.

To get closer to nature, head to Frontenac State Park, which has 64 campsites, 14 miles of hiking trails, more than 260 bird species to watch, wildflowers and mushroom hunting areas, as well as picnic shelters. In the winter, the ground also transforms into 6 miles of skiing trails to enjoy. End with a walk or bike ride along the 19.7 miles long Cannon Valley Trail to witness some of the best views in the region. 

Grand Rapids

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

Grand Rapids is a rural destination in Itasca County, Minnesota, that is known as the gateway to the Northwoods of Minnesota and is also surrounded by beautiful nature to explore. Head to the Judy Garland Museum to explore an eclectic Judy Garland and Wizard of Oz collection, Judy's 1920s restored birthplace home, and carefully curated exhibits and artifacts from The Wizard of Oz. The Itasca County Historical Society tells the tale of the logging, mining, immigrating, and homesteading lives of Native Americans in the region. The town is also home to over 1,000, where visitors can fish, boat, indulge in water activities, or simply relax by the waterside. Take an ATV or OHV ride on the thousands of acres of federal, state, county, and industrial forest land in the town to enjoy the unique thrill of off-roading. 


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

Ely is located on the Vermilion iron range and had numerous iron mines in the past, but it is now a family-friendly getaway destination to enjoy some time in the outdoors. For history buffs, the town has the ​​Ely-Winton Historical Society housing artifacts and displays to illustrate the region's past, and the Dorothy Molter Museum to memorialize the legendary last non-indigenous resident, also known as the Root Beer lady who died in 1986.

To get up close with some rarely seen animals, head to the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center, where visitors can see wolves and bears up close and personal. Venture into the extensive Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to enjoy a long canoe ride or a night to appreciate the colorful Aurora Borealis.

New Ulm

New Ulm, Minnesota.
Glockenspiel, a 45-foot-high musical clock tower in New Ulm, Minnesota. Editorial credit: EWY Media /

New Ulm is located in Brown County, Minnesota, only 90 minutes away from the twin cities, and is situated on the confluence of the Minnesota River and the Cottonwood River. Dive into the town's German heritage by heading to New Ulm's old Post Office, a bricked German Renaissance-style building from 1910 that has now been converted into a museum to tell the story of the region's past. There are also multiple monuments and memorials throughout the town to get a feel of its rich past, such as the 102-foot Hermann Monument, the Brown County Veterans Memorial, the German-Bohemian Immigrant Monument, and more.

Make sure to witness the authentic Glockenspiel in town ringing out multiple rotating figurines at least three times a day: at noon, 3 pm, and 5 pm Outdoor enthusiasts can also enjoy a day trip to the Flandrau State Park, which has hiking and cross-country trails, ponds and beaches, volleyball courts, and even fire pits. 


Biwabik, Minnesota park featuring a gazebo and a life-sized statue of a moose.
Park featuring a gazebo and a life-sized statue of a moose in Biwabik, Minnesota. Image credit: Skvader via Wikimedia Commons.

Biwabik is a Bavarian-themed small town located along the scenic Mesabi Range region of northeastern Minnesota and is known for its natural beauty and rich mining heritage. The town is a gateway to the Giants Ridge Resort, which is the main attraction for those visiting Biwabik. This resort is a year-round destination where you can enjoy recreational activities such as golfing, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, and even fishing in the warmer months. For those who love to hike, the Mesabi Trail is a must-visit, as the paved trail takes walkers through picturesque forests, lakes, historic mining towns, and stunning landscapes.

To learn more about the town's mining past, head to the Ironworld Discovery Center, where interactive displays teach tourists about the area's mining history, immigrant stories, and cultural traditions. For those who love to get out on the water, the town is also home to the Vermilion Gorge and the Vermilion River, which offers canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and wildlife spotting opportunities. 

In conclusion, Minnesota offers a diverse tapestry of experiences for travelers seeking natural beauty, cultural richness, and outdoor adventures. From the tranquil shores of Grand Marais and the recreational haven of Nisswa to the charming Swedish-influenced town of Lindstrom and the historic allure of Lake City, each destination has its own unique attractions that are all worth exploring individually. Whether visitors are searching for natural splendor, wildlife encounters, cultural education, or simply a break from the hustle and bustle of urban life, there is a town in this state to fulfill those needs, so pack your bags and head to one of these destinations that promise an authentic glimpse into the heart and soul of Minnesota.

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