Aerial view of Grand Marais, Minnesota.

These Towns In Minnesota Come Alive In Spring

As the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota is known as a summer swimming and boating hotspot that is frozen the rest of the time, leaving Minnesotans holed up in their homes eight months out of the year. In reality, the state has a long and vibrant spring, which can be enjoyed in quaint communities with diverse activities. These include birdwatching, cheese-eating, maple syrup tasting, wildflower viewing, fat tire biking, white water rafting, and shopping at numerous fairs and festivals. Explore eight Minnesota communities in a Minnesota season less traveled.  

Detroit Lakes

Downtown Detrot Lakes, Minnesota. Image credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikimedia Commons.

Detroit Lakes is a uniquely named community in west-central Minnesota. Although it has fewer than 10,000 residents per the 2020 census, it is considered a city like virtually all communities in the state. Being surrounded by several lakes, Detroit Lakes is a popular summer destination, but it also comes alive in spring via the Detroit Lakes Festival Of Birds. This three-day fest highlights the area's avian attractions with field trips, presentations, dinners, a bazaar, and an auction. In between birding events, guests can flock downtown to shop and sightsee at stores like Caribou Coffee and historic buildings like the Graystone Hotel. The Festival Of Birds is set to run from May 16 to 18, while another fest, Street Faire at the Lakes, is scheduled to send off spring with art, music, and food from May 31 to June 1.


Kettle River in Banning State Park, Sandstone, Minnesota.
Kettle River in Banning State Park, Sandstone, Minnesota.

Sandstone, a city of roughly 2,500 people in east-central Minnesota, has two types of spring attractions. The first is Big Spring Falls, a magnificent waterfall on the Kettle River, which is the site of the second kind of spring attraction, the Kettle River Paddle Festival. It runs in early May and involves rafters, kayakers, and canoeists from across the Midwest celebrating and riding Kettle River's rapids. Also bringing spring breakers to Sandstone are the hiking trails in Banning State Park and rock climbing walls in Robinson Quarry Park. After exhausting themselves among the sand and rocks, they chill out at SandRocks, a pub with food, wine, craft beer, and live music.

Grand Marais

The beautiful waterfront of Grand Marais, Minnesota.
The beautiful waterfront of Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Another summer hotspot that still sizzles in spring, Grand Marais straddles Lake Superior and hosts superior springtime events. Scheduled for Saturday, May 18, is the Grand Marais Ole Opry, a showcase of classic country and bluegrass music put on by the North Shore Music Association. Following the country show is a countryside show called Northern Landscapes Festival, an exploration of wildflowers, birds, insects, and other scenic spring staples planned to run from May 31 to June 2. Capping off the season is the Grand Marais Pride Celebration, which is set for Saturday, June 15.


The World's Largest Loon in Vergas, Minnesota. Image credit: Liren Chen via

You do not have to go to Canada for a maple syrup festival. Just south of Detroit Lakes in central MN is Vergas, a 350ish-person community that hosts an annual syrupy spectacular. This year, Vergas Maple Syrup Fest is scheduled for Saturday, April 13, and is expected to have not only syrup consumption but also syrup production. After making your own sticky stuff, you can make other Vergas memories by visiting Billy's Corner Bar & Grill, Forest Edge Art Gallery, the "World's Largest Loon," and, if you stay till May, Trowbridge Creek Zoo. Viva Las Vergas!


Aerial view of downtown Alexandria, Minnesota
Aerial view of downtown Alexandria, Minnesota.

With just over 14,000 residents, Alexandria is a "city" that was named one of the best small towns in America in 2013. Today, it is one of the best spring destinations in Minnesota, largely because of its lakes like Lake Le Homme Dieu, golf courses like Geneva Golf Club, and events like Spring Into Summer Fest. Said festival runs in late May, as the weather literally springs into summer, and is the brainchild of the Alexandria Jaycees and Copper Trail Brewing Co., the latter of which supplies the venue and beverages. Special beer releases are set to join food trucks, craft vendors, live music, a martial arts demonstration, and a children's parade as this year's festivities.  

Pine Island

Downtown Pine Island, Minnesota.
Downtown Pine Island, Minnesota. Image credit: Bobak Ha'Eri via Wikimedia Commons.

Pine Island is not a geographic island but a cultural island, given its most popular spring attraction: Pine Island Cheese Festival. This unique fest began in 1936 owing to the city's "unusual concentration of families who were fine craftsmen in the art of cheese making," according to its website. The families originated from Western Europe and operated 30 to 40 cheese factories in the area. Although cheese making is no longer an important industry in Pine Island, its history is celebrated in late May and early June with carnivals, beer gardens, fireworks, tournaments, races, vendors, a grand parade, and tons of cheese samples. Attendees can walk off their cheese-stuffed bellies on the Douglas State Trail or at the historic Pine Island Cheese Factory building, which is now a rentable event venue.


Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Minnesota
Hidden Falls at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Minnesota. Image credit: GPA Photo Archive via

Right outside Nerstrand, a southern MN community with around 275 people, is Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, a treasure trove of spring wildflowers. Hikers can view some 200 species in bloom, including the extremely endangered dwarf trout lily. This pocket of Minnesota is the only place in the world where the lily grows wild - and it blooms for as little as six days to as long as three weeks, depending on the weather. Mid-April to mid-May is a prime period for spotting the low-key lily.

Along with rare and ravishing flowers, Nerstrand has big hardwood trees, campsites, a rustic amphitheater, a waterfall, and is a short drive from Northfield, a 20,000-person city with its own wild wonders plus commercial attractions like Imminent Brewing and The HideAway Coffeehouse and Winebar.


Downtown Crosby, Minnesota
Downtown Crosby, Minnesota. Image credit: Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States via Wikimedia Commons.

When the snow clears in Crosby, mountain bikers come to play. A city on life support before the creation of bike trails in the adjoining Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, Crosby now thrives as a spring and summer haunt visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists, many of whom arrive on two wheels. Businesses like Red Raven and Trailside Tavern & Patio facilitate the yearly pilgrimage to Minnesota's mountain biking mecca. But even if snow stays longer than expected, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and fat tire bikers make the best out of a white spring.

Although Minnesota might seem like it has only one long winter and one short but active summer, do not sleep on the state in spring when it blossoms into a tranquil paradise. Its springtime charm is emphasized in small communities, which have everything from a maple syrup festival to a super-rare lily that blooms for just six days in some years. Visit Detroit Lakes, Sandstone, Grand Marais, Vergas, Alexandria, Pine Island, Nerstrand, and Crosby to see spring sprung in Minnesota.   

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