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

8 Underappreciated Towns to Visit in Minnesota

Admitted to the Union on May 11, 1858, as the 32nd state, Minnesota is a spectacular upper Midwestern state bounded by Lake Superior; the neighboring US States of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Iowa; and the Manitoba and Ontario provinces of Canada. Moreover, the nation’s 12th largest and 22nd most populous state is famed for its varied topography featuring sizeable woodlands, lush prairies, bluff-lined rivers, and uncountable lakes, earning this gorgeous state its nickname, “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” It is to be noted that even though greater than 60% of Minnesota’s total population has one’s home in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan Area) which receives plenty of attention from tourists visiting this region from near and far, the distinctive allure of the several underappreciated Gopher State towns makes them worth including in your itineraries.

New Ulm

German architecture on display in the historic town of New Ulm, Minnesota.
German architecture on display in the historic town of New Ulm, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Michele M Vogel / Shutterstock.com

New Ulm, the seat of government of south-central Minnesota’s Brown County, occupies a triangular land created by the junction of Cottonwood and Minnesota Rivers, approx. 90 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Called after the city of Neu-Ulm in the southern German state of Bavaria and established by the German Land Company of Chicago in 1854, New Ulm promotes itself as “the most German town in America.” The New Ulm Turner Hall, Defender’s Monument, Wanda Gag Home, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Brown County Historical Society Museum, the Hermann Heights Monument, German Bohemian Monument, and the Schonlau Park’s 45-foot-high Glockenspiel Clock Tower are noteworthy sites of interest. Aside from these attractions, New Ulm also houses the August Schell Brewing Company, Morgan Creek Vineyards, and the adjacent Flandrau State Park with its sand-bottomed pool and oak-shaded bluffs. Annually, the town hosts events like Bavarian Blast and Oktoberfest to celebrate its German roots.


Downtown Henderson, Minnesota
Downtown Henderson, Minnesota. Image credit: Jon Platek via Wikimedia Commons.

This teeny Sibley County town founded in August 1852 by Joseph Renshaw Brown, is located within the Minnesota River Valley in the south-central part of the state, roughly 60 miles southeast of the Twin Cities. Stroll down the lively Main Street of one of Minnesota’s oldest communities and gain knowledge about the area’s bygone days at the erstwhile Sibley County Courthouse, J. R. Brown Minnesota River Center, and the Sibley County Historical Museum. The town’s major parks and wildlife refuges including Allanson’s Park, High Island Park, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Bender Park, Rush River Park, and Ney Nature Center offer abundant recreational opportunities for outdoor lovers. Furthermore, merrymakers must attend any of the town’s yearly festivals such as the Sauerkraut Days, Henderson Classic Car Roll-In, Henderson Hummingbird Hurrah, and Celebration of Prince.


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

A serene community in Southeast Minnesota’s Fillmore County, Lanesboro, christened in honor of the early landowner F. A. Lane is renowned for its noticeable limestone bluffs, cool spring-fed streams, significant biking trails, and umpteen bed & breakfasts. One of Gopher State’s most picturesque trails - the Root River State Trail runs directly through the historic downtown district of Lanesboro and is used during the warmer months for hiking, bicycling, inline skating activities, and cross-country skiing in the cool season. A rotating repertory of dramas, contemporary plays, musicals, and holiday classics performed by the Commonweal Theatre Company entertains residents and tourists every year from March to December. Throughout the year, the Lanesboro Arts’ St. Mane Theatre, located next to the Commonweal, also hosts several performing art programs, independent film screenings, and community theater productions. Travelers must peruse the myriad shops, eateries, and original 19th-century brick buildings lining Main Street, take part in recreational activities at 12-acre Sylvan Park, and find time to be present at Lanesboro’s fun-filled events such as Art in the Park, Lanesboro Farmers’ Market, Rhubarb Festival, and Buffalo Bill Days.


Main Street in Ely, Minnesota.
Main Street in Ely, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Malachi Jacobs / Shutterstock.com

Occupying the eastern extremity of the Vermilion Iron Range within the Superior National Forest, Ely is located in Northeastern Minnesota’s Saint Louis County, approximately 16 miles south of the international border between the US and Canada. Ely also serves as a ‘jumping off’ point for tourists visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario. The Ely State Theater, Burntside Lodge, Tanner’s Hospital, Ely-Winton History Museum, Listening Point Cabin, Bull-of-the-Woods Logging Scow, and Dorothy Molter Museum are must-visit attractions. Additionally, check out Elsa Jemne’s murals at the US Post Office, the North American Bear Center, the different hiking trails (Echo Trail, Trezona Trail, Mesabi Trail, and Kekekabic Trail), Ely Arts & Heritage Center, the International Wolf Center, and the nearby Bear Head Lake State Park. Also, participate in Ely’s community events at Whiteside Park including the Winter Festival in February, the Blueberry Arts Festival in July, and the Harvest Moon Festival in September.

Red Wing

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

Goodhue County’s administrative center, Red Wing, labeled in honor of the indigenous Dakota Sioux leader, is an enchanting river town by the side of the upper Mississippi River, approximately 45 miles southeast of St. Paul. All year round, thousands of adventurists flock to Red Wing to hike the Cannon Valley Trail, Barn Bluff, Sorin’s Bluff, and the abutting Frontenac State Park. Besides this, the town also provides impeccable golf courses, mountain biking paths, cross-country skiing trails, and numerous water-based recreational activities at Lake Pepin and the Mississippi River. Spare some time from your busy schedules to stop by the Red Wing Shoe Store & Museum, Pottery Museum of Red Wing, Red Wing Brewery, Sheldon Theatre of Performing Arts, Goodhue County Historical Society Museum, and the locally-owned restaurants, trendy boutiques, and specialty shops in the downtown.


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

Considered a western suburb of the Twin Cities, this Hennepin County town sits on Lake Minnetonka’s southern shores, around 15 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis. Excelsior’s National Register-listed downtown district features countless late 19th to early 20th-century landmark properties that at present are home to gift shops, boutiques, cafes, ice-cream shops, bookstores, breweries, and top-class eateries like Maynards Restaurant, Coalition Restaurant, etc. When visiting the town, enjoy a boat ride on Lake Minnetonka, trek a portion of the Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail passing through the downtown, and hop aboard the Excelsior Trolley that will take you to the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. Unwind along the lake at the beautiful picnic areas and swimming beaches of the Port of Excelsior and the Excelsior Commons Park. Have a great time at special festivals like Apple Days, Art on the Lake, North American Pond Hockey Championship, Arctic Fever, and Excelsior Farmers Market.


Main Street in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Main Street in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Often called, “The Birthplace of Minnesota,” Stillwater, the seat of government of Washington County, occupies the western shores of St. Croix River, exactly 20 miles northeast of St. Paul. Stillwater boasts a historic downtown that highlights conscientiously preserved Victorian mansions, apart from infinite boutiques, art galleries, breweries, diners like LoLo American Kitchen & Craft Bar, antique stores, wineries, and bed & breakfasts like Aurora Staples Inn. The Stillwater Lift Bridge, Warden’s House Museum, Teddy Bear Park, Aamodt’s Apple Farm, Washington County Historic Courthouse, Issac Staples Sawmill, Saint Croix Vineyards, and Gateway-Brown’s Creek State Trails are some prominent attractions.


A telephoto shot of rural Lindstrom, Minnesota, and the Iconic Teapot Water Tower.
A telephoto shot of rural Lindstrom, Minnesota, and the Iconic Teapot Water Tower. Editorial credit: Sam Wagner / Shutterstock.com

Primarily settled in 1853 by the Swedish immigrant Daniel Lindström, Lindstrom is one of the small communities that constitute the Chisago Lakes region in east-central Minnesota’s Chisago County, about 10 miles from the state boundary with Wisconsin. When viewed aerially, the town looks like an island due to the encircling lakes including South Lindström Lake, North Center Lake, South Center Lake, North Lindström Lake, and Kroon Lake, all of which make the community a popular angling destination. Widely appreciated for its Swedish heritage, travelers visiting Lindstrom must not miss the popular sites of interest such as the Karl Oskar & Kristina Monument, Allemansratt Wilderness Park, Karl Oskar House, Panola Valley Gardens, Chisago Lake Lutheran Church, Chisago County Historical Society, and Lindstrom Bakery. In mid-July, the town celebrates Karl Oskar Days with various activities like parades, street dances, the coronation of a Karl Oskar Princess, and fireworks.

From New Ulm - “the most German town in America” to Lindstrom - “America’s Little Sweden,” the innumerable photo-op-worthy towns in Minnesota are waiting to be explored by holidaymakers. With extraordinary natural sceneries, remarkable historical architecture, family-friendly attractions, high-spirited celebrations, and restaurants serving mouthwatering cuisines, these underrated towns in the North Star State will surely leave a lasting impression on every vacationer.

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