While Minnesota may be called the 'Land of 10,000 Lakes,' it could also be easily described as the land of 10,000 towns. While this is figuratively speaking to some degree, Minnesota does have an a large collection of communities, most with scenic landscapes in and around town, to explore. All across the state, there are unique towns that have both natural and man-made wonders that rival none. From its five national parks to its many state parks and recreation areas, every town in Minnesota has something new to offer. So, if you are considering taking a trip to the north-central region of the United States, take some time to visit some of Minnesota's smaller scenic towns, which you are sure to enjoy.
With its name appropriately meaning 'twisted water' in the Dakota language, Minnetrista, Minnesota, once known as the Village of Minnetrista, was founded in 1859. The primary attraction of Minnetrista is its laid-back, lakefront lifestyle, with its northwestern border being on the shores of Whaletail Lake. Several other lakes also dot the town. There is a wide range of summer cottages in Minnetrista. However, there are also many lovely lodges with great scenic lakefront views for those looking to visit but want to avoid committing to a permanent vacation destination. Some popular local tourist destinations include the Winery at Sovereign Estate, Schram Vineyards Winery & Brewery, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and a little farther from town, Carver Park Reserve, which has some great hiking trails that range from family-friendly to strenuous.
For those looking to explore the natural scenery of Minnesota but with some adventure mixed in, Brainerd is a great town to set up your base of operations, so to speak. Less than half an hour from town, you will find Brainerd Zip Line Tours, considered 'The Best Way to See the Brainerd Lakes.' This 2.5-hour tour includes seven zip lines and a wobbling suspension bridge. This tour also offers a vantage point unlike anything else in the area, making it both an adventure and a delight. Other regional outdoor pursuits include the hiking trails at Crow Wing State Forest, which is also less than thirty minutes from Brainerd. If you visit Brainerd between the end of May and the beginning of September, make sure to visit Paul Bunyan Land, where you will find the Pioneer Village Museum, a great way to get kids into American history.
Although technically founded in 1857, Pipestone, Minnesota, and Pipestone County were collectively inhabited only by local Indigenous peoples until 1876, when 'Pipestone City' was platted, later changing its name to Pipestone. Two years later, in 1878, this village became a growing regional trading center. In modern Pipestone, you will find Pipestone National Monument Park, at 281.78 acres, a great place to learn about the historical local quarries and spend some time outdoors. On these grounds, there is the Three Maidens Monument, the Hike the Circle Trail, the Winnewissa Falls, and, during the winter, there are some fantastic snowshoeing trails. Less than a 15-minute car drive south of Pipestone, there is also Split Rock Creek State Park to explore. You can easily spend a full day exploring this scenic park with hiking trails, such as the Split Rock Creek Loop, a popular local trek.
Famous for being along the Paul Bunyan Trail, a 123-mile-long trail between Crow Wing State Park and Lake Bemidji State Park, the town of Nisswa, Minnesota, is filled with natural beauty. There are the Nisswa Parks and Recreation grounds, and less than half an hour southwest of town, there is Pillsbury State Forest. Closer to Nisswa, there is Nisswa Lake Park, from which there are some lovely tours that can be taken from which the shores of Nisswa are more easily viewed, particularly scenic around the sunset and sunrise hours. If you happen to be visiting Nisswa in the early fall, make sure to check out the Nisswa Fall Festival & Smokin' Hot BBQ Challenge, which promises a great time had by all.
Crosby, Minnesota, and its twin town, Ironton, which is west of Crosby, are some of Minnesota's most popular fishing destinations. Just outside of town, you will notice many young forests and lakes with the notation of 'mine' in their name, including Portsmouth Mine Pit Lake and Yawkey Mine Lake. Due to this region's mining history, particularly the mining of iron ore, a range of land was deforested and open pit mines dug. In recent years, an effort has been made to reforest the land and bring back this region's natural scenic landscapes. For those looking to get out on the water, Crosby puts visitors near Portsmouth Mine Pit Lake Recreation Area, the Miner's Mountain region, and the public access park on the northeast side of Serpent Lake. Around these lakes are several hiking options, including the Serpent Lake Trail, the Cuyuna Lakes Trail, and the Mississippi River Trail, each offering year-round scenic delights.
Named for the valley in Scotland of the same name, Glencoe, Minnesota, was first founded as a village and then became a township in 1855. This town of nearly 6,000 people is a great place to explore local nature, as just outside of Glencoe, you will find Oak Leaf Park. An hour west of town, you will find Beaver Falls County Park, where the popular hike up to Beaver Falls is a must-do activity for nature lovers. There is also Buffalo Creek County Park to the east of Glencoe and Swan Lake County Park 20 minutes to the northwest. A lovely day trip to take from Glencoe is to Silver Lake, a small community about 20 minutes north of Glencoe, or to Cokato, which is just under half an hour north of Glencoe. On your way home from either, make sure to check out Crow River Winery, one of the best wineries in the region.
As one of Minnesota's oldest towns, Stillwater, on the St. Croix River's west bank, is abundant in man-made scenery while also being wrapped in and populated by the dense forests native to Minnesota. In the nationally registered Downtown Commercial Historic District, the oldest buildings in this town are open to tourists. The oldest building in Stillwater is the Historic Courthouse, which dates back to the mid-1800s, and the Arcola Mills, located 10 minutes north of town, dates back to 1847. You can use the self-guided tour, available online for free, to learn about Stillwater's historical buildings. Not to be outdone by Stillwater's historic buildings, the natural beauty in and around town is also worthy of note. There are the local state parks, William O'Brien State Park and Willow River State Park, less than a 20-minute drive from Stillwater, as well as the great hiking options, including Brown's Creek State Trail and the many trails in the St. Croix Boom Site State Wayside.
Are you looking for the perfect place to spend the waning days of summer? Or a Minnesota town to celebrate the fall equinox in? Well, if either of these is true, then visiting the midwestern town of Luverne is an excellent option. While fall may be creeping into view, there are still lots of hot summer days left to enjoy, during which nothing is better than a nice cool body of water to swim. For this, the local River Rock Reservoir is a great option, across which lies Luverne City Park. There is also the local popular swimming destination, The Lake, to enjoy. Directly to the west of town, there is Hawkinson Park, while Redbird Field, to the east, is a great place to have a picnic. Near town, you will also find Blue Mounds State Park, where you will have the chance to see buffalo roaming and do some bird watching.
Those looking to get a taste of the true wilds of Minnesota without going completely off the grid will find Biwabik to be what you are looking for. Outside of town, there are a variety of parks and green spaces to explore, with the highlight being Giants Ridge Recreation Area. In the warmer months of the year, you can hike, golf, fish, and generally explore the park, while in the winter months, there are a range of cross-country skiing trails, snowshoe trails, and even a few downhill-ski runs to enjoy. For anyone who loves hiking, there is easy access to the trailhead of the historic Mesabi Trail just 15 minutes east of town. Hike this iconic 135-mile trail over a few days, or choose a short portion to explore. Either way, you will have the chance to revel in scenic views of the Mesabi Mountain Range.
The Take Home
Minnesota's location may dictate that there are some seemingly barren times of the year. However, in reality, Minnesota towns have an aesthetic that is always changing. The rolling hills and deep clear lakes are just as beautiful in the summer as they are when covered in autumn foliage or in the crisp white snow of winter. So, no matter the season, you can enjoy the local scenery of Minnesota all year round.