Aerial view of New Ulm, a town imbued with German heritage in Minnesota.

The Best Small Towns in Minnesota for a Weekend Retreat

An essential component of the American Upper Midwest, the beautiful State of Minnesota is indeed a cultural and geographic marvel. Also lovingly known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, the natural beauty of Minnesota is only rivaled by its unique history and cultural setting that set it apart from many other states. For road travelers looking to find tranquil and inviting places for a fantastic weekend retreat, Minnesota’s small towns should be on the list of potential locations. Featuring loads of famed “Minnesota Nice,” charming lakeside getaways, and intriguing immigrant history, these small Minnesota towns are treasures waiting to be discovered. So pack your bags and get ready for some excellent weekend trip memories, and come see what makes Minnesota such a special destination!


View of stores in downtown Brainerd, Minnesota.
View of businesses lined along a street in downtown Brainerd, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Sam Wagner /

Brainerd, the seat of Crow Wing County, was founded in 1870 along the scenic Mississippi River. Home to some 14,500 inhabitants, Brainerd is a great place to enjoy a weekend retreat outdoors. Ode to the region’s warm summer temperatures, fishing, canoeing, swimming, and rafting are always a treat in town. In addition, Brainerd’s cultural charm should not be overlooked, and guests can enjoy time spent at the downtown historic district and its array of lovingly maintained 19th-century edifices and museums such as the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library. Meanwhile, a welcoming collection of local restaurants, shops, and other businesses creates a most genuine Midwestern feeling, where the proverbial “Minnesota Nice” is always on hand. If considering staying in Brainerd, some recommended accommodations include the Grand View Lodge Resort and the Stoneybrook South.


Aerial view of Winona in Minnesota.
Aerial view of the town of Winona in Minnesota with hills in the backdrop.

Winona serves as the seat of the same named county and traces its modern history back to the 1850s. With just under 26,000 residents, this beautiful town on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River is a scenic place to enjoy a weekend retreat. Visitors adore viewing natural landmarks like the Sugar Loaf Rock or driving along the Garvin Heights City Park, where one can enjoy challenging biking and hiking trails, as well as scenic beauty. Finally, several historic buildings can be found in Winona, including the Choate Department Store (1881) and the Watkins Incorporated Building (1900), amongst others listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With fun year-round festivals and a nice assortment of eateries and shopping outlets, Winona is a town in Minnesota that will create lasting memories for any traveler. Some recommended lodging options in Winona include the Holiday Inn Express and Suites and the Alexander Mansion Historic Bed and Breakfast.

Grand Marais

View of the harbor in Grand Marais, Minnesota.
Aerial view of the harbor in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Situated along the northern shores of Lake Superior, Grand Marais is a most splendid and scenic town that can trace its history to the mid-1700s as a fur trading post. Today, this seat of Cook County is home to a modest population of 1,300 residents, and the beauty of the great outdoors makes it a fantastic weekend retreat. Guests and residents alike can enjoy fun outdoor opportunities, including sailing, swimming, biking, hiking, and even a round of golf in the scenic Grand Marais Harbor. Meanwhile, when not partaking in a nature-filled afternoon, Grand Marais hosts plenty of inviting cultural events for all ages. Take in the Fisherman’s Picnic Festival in the summertime or the Moose Madness event in the Fall, which includes live music, food vendors, games, and loads of other family-friendly fun. For those considering visiting Grand Marais, some recommended places to stay include East Bay Suites and Trailside Cabins and Motel.

Prior Lake

The Church of St. Catherine in Prior Lake, Minnesota.
The 1896 Church of St. Catherine in Prior Lake, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Cynthia Shirk /

A calm and serene town that shares its name with the lake of the same name, Prior Lake is indeed a most inviting place for a weekend retreat filled with the beauty of nature. Founded in the 1870s and now home to just over 27,000 inhabitants, guests can enjoy easy access to the namesake lake, where swimming, fishing, and other water sports are always popular. Meanwhile, other fun cultural attractions include the weekly Farmer’s Market, where some of the best locally produced materials are sold, and the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, where live entertainment and gaming thrive in a luxurious environment. Indeed, whether you are spending time on the lake or enjoying an indoor show, Prior Lake is a nice getaway destination for a quick weekend trip. To make the most of your stay, consider these recommended accommodation options: the Dakotah Meadows RV Park for outdoors people and the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel for a lavish experience.


View of Lake Minnetonka and other lakes near Minnetrista, Minnesota.
Aerial view of Lake Minnetonka and other lakes near the town of Minnetrista, Minnesota. By Tyler Vigen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

A part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area (the Twin Cities), the welcoming town of Minnetrista showcases Minnesota is indeed the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. Surrounded by several lake bodies of water, guests from across the State descend on this community of just over 8,000 residents for a wide range of fun outdoor activities. Enjoy swimming, boating, fishing, and water sports at sites like the 15,000-acre Lake Minnetonka, or take in a quieter, less crowded afternoon at the nearby Lakes Mud, Whaletail, and Saunders. Meanwhile, at the Lake Minnetonka Regional Park, beautiful biking and hiking trails await, while pretty picnic areas and scenic golf courses round out the range of activities. With its proximity to the major cities, Minnetrista is a nice place to plan a weekend escape and truly get away from all the commotion of busy city life. For a comfortable trip, consider staying in these lodging options: the Maple Plain Motel and the Hotel Excelsior - Suites on Water Street.

New Ulm

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

New Ulm lies near the scenic confluence of the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers, with a population of just over 14,000. Founded by German settlers in the 1850s, this seat of Brown County maintains a special historical heritage, and visitors will find plenty of intrigue and discovery awaiting any potential weekend getaway. Explore the downtown historic district and its assortment of restored 19th-century buildings, including the Turner Hall (1873) and the Defender’s Monument (1891), amongst others listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Meanwhile, the imposing Hermann Heights Monument (built to commemorate all German pioneers) and other fun landmarks like the August Schell Brewing Company and the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame create a well-rounded excursion for various interests. While these sites are available year-round, those interested in the local German culture will not want to miss New Ulm’s Oktoberfest, filled with the best German and American culture and fun in a unique Minnesota setting! Finally, the Harmony Inn & Suites and Colonial Inn Extended Stay are ideal accommodation options for those who decide to visit.


The famous Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statue in Bemidji, Minnesota.
The famous Paul the Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statue in Bemidji, Minnesota. Editorial credit: Danita Delimont /

The seat of Beltrami County and long the home of Native American peoples, Bemidji can trace its modern history to the 1880s. Today, this town, with a population of about 15,000 residents, continues to attract guests with its splendid natural setting and inviting small-town charm. Located on the banks of Lake Bemidji, visitors can take advantage of varying weather as the town sees cold winters and mild summers. During this time, activities like fishing, swimming, camping, canoeing, and even ice fishing are a load of fun. Moreover, Bemidji’s proximity to parks like the Itasca State Park, Lake Bemidji State Park, and the Chippewa National Forest provides beautiful opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors that are never far away. Back in the bustling street of Bemidji, a cute array of tasty local restaurants, boutique shops, and other local businesses dot the landscape, making for a truly charming Minnesota experience. Do not forget about Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox, whose giant statues greet all who visit and create special of photographic memories! For those deciding to visit Bemidji, some great lodging options include the Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge and Kohl's Resort.

Wrapping Up

Minnesota, or the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, is a splendid destination in the Upper Midwest of the United States. Its cultural allure and geographic beauty have made it a favorite for travelers of all ages. For those looking to spend an eventful weekend filled with natural splendor, intriguing history, and special cultural character, stopping through some of Minnesota’s charming small towns is a must. See places like New Ulm and its unique German heritage, or explore the great outdoors in communities like Grand Marais and Minnetrista; a memorable weekend sojourn awaits all who come to see these welcoming Minnesota communities firsthand.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. The Best Small Towns in Minnesota for a Weekend Retreat

More in Places