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5 Best Small Towns to Visit in Minnesota (2022)

There are many beautiful small towns to explore in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. Whether you want to go away for the weekend or you want to make a trip out of visiting these beautiful small towns in Minnesota, you will find delightful small towns dotting every corner of the state. One thing that is common amongst all the beautiful small towns in Minnesota is the breathtaking scenic surroundings. With mesmerizing lakes, bluff-lined rivers, and rolling woodlands all around, these small towns look right out of a postcard. Each of these charming small towns in Minnesota comes with a combination of many downtown attractions and a warm welcome from the locals. Cultural museums, historic storefronts, and delicious local food await you as you take a trip through some of the best small towns in Minnesota.

5 Best Small Towns to Visit in Minnesota

Here are some of the best small towns to visit in Minnesota.

1. Grand Rapids

Known as the gateway to the Northwoods of Minnesota, Grand Rapids is a beautiful small town with just over 10,000 residents. This town serves as the perfect basecamp for visitors who want to explore the surrounding cultural hub of Minnesota. Grand Rapids has remained a hot spot for weekend getaways and vacations for over a century now.

Grand Rapids is located just three hours north of the big city of Minneapolis, and the distance offers the perfect opportunity for weekend vacationers as it is the closest destination away from the city. The high point of visiting Grand Rapids is that the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway begins from this town and continues onwards into the Northwoods.

If you are looking for pedal-powered getaways, then also Grand Rapids is the perfect small town to head to because the Mesabi Trail also begins from here itself. This is a paved biking trail that stretches for around 150 miles and further connects you with many other scenic communities in the region. There are several attractions worth checking out in Grand Rapids, including many golf cours4es, public parks, and performing arts centers.

There are many cultural outlets that you can check out in the town. This town is also the birthplace of Judy Gardland, which is best known for playing the role of Dorothy in the movie The Wizard of Oz. To celebrate the city’s most famous movie star, there is a dedicated Judy Garland Museum that visitors can see.

2. Excelsior

Excelsior is a stunning waterfront destination located on the southeast shore of Lake Minnetonka, just about 20 miles west of the Twin Cities. This is a charming little town that has a long history of being a tourist hotspot, and today it is one of the few towns that has a public shoreline on the lake. 

Excelsior has always been a popular weekend getaway center from the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Visitors are delighted to see the unique restaurants and shops that fill the Victorian downtown district. Further, the surrounding lakeside scenic views make this is a picture-perfect town. Even taking a simple stroll through the city is a great way to spend your afternoon. The many local ice cream shops, boutique storefronts, and cafes are some of the pit stops you can make in this town.

The Port of Excelsior and Excelsior Commons are some of the best spots to take a break and enjoy the water. These are historical waterfront areas that offer you some of the best views of the lake, along with many picnic spots and swimming beaches. The Excelsior Commons is also the central location where the town holds its annual events like ‘Art on the Lake’ in June and Fourth of July celebrations.

Tourists can also take part in finding out about the region’s history as you board the Steamboat Minnehaha, which leaves from the Port of Excelsior. This historical streetcar boat spent 50 years at the bottom of the lake before it was raised and restored in 1980. Today, this boat is a living history museum, and there are many guided cruises over the weekends.

3. Ely

Located in the northern part of Minnesota, Ely is a wonderful gateway community that takes you into the unique Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The state of Minnesota is all about natural beauty, and the small towns of the state are no exception. The proximity of Ely to this wilderness area has made it a hotspot for many guiding and adventure companies, who have set up shop on the streets of this beautiful city. Ely’s status as the basecamp to explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has ensured that there are many vacation amenities available here, from places to stay to local eateries.

There is no end to adventurous activities to indulge in the Boundary Waters from Ely. From taking day trips in a canoe to spending night after night admiring the Aurora Borealis, the town of Ely has something for everyone. Ely also serves as a great basecamp for exploring the other attractions in the region, including the International Wolf Center, Bear Head Lake State Park, and the Soudan Underground Mine.

4. Grand Marais

Known for its rugged beauty and located on the North Shore of Lake Superior, Grand Marais is one of the many small towns in these waters. Nestled in Cook County, the town is further up the shoreline, around 110 miles from Duluth. This tiny harbor hamlet in Minnesota is home to less than 1500 residents.

It is the stunning natural beauty of Grand Marais that draws visitors to this town. Sitting on the border of Lake Superior and surrounded by the majestic Sawtooth Mountains, the city provides easy access to those who want to indulge in outdoor adventures. There are many everyday excursions that take place from this town, including long-distance backpacking and lake boating. Trips to the Superior National Forest are also an appealing option.

There are many lodging, dining, and shopping centers in Grand Marais, owing to its reputation as a tourist hotspot. From camping grounds to staying in budget hotels or bed & breakfasts, there are even vacation condos available here. Even though Grand Marais is primarily visited in the summers, come winter and this paradise gets transformed into one of the country’s largest networks of cross-country skiing trails.

5. Red Wing

The small town of Red Wings in Minnesota is known for its bountiful bluffs. These are natural vantage points dotting the city and overlooking the majestic Mississippi River. Located just under an hour southeast of Minneapolis, Red Wing is famous for its lush green landscape and proximity to the Twin Cities. This has made this city a popular weekend getaway.

Red Wing is a beautiful small riverfront city having around 17,000 residents. It is the perfect destination for those who want to explore the elevated environment. Located throughout the town are many trails that lead up to Barn Bluff to get a breathtaking view of the nearby area. Sorin’s Bluff also provides a perfect vantage point, but it can be accessed by vehicle from within the Memorial Park. Even Memorial Park is home to some of the best mountain biking trails in Minnesota.

While here, don’t forget to check out the Canyon Valley Trail, which makes for an excellent adventure. This 20-mile rail to trail conversion offers a paved route to the nearby cities of Cannon Falls and Welch.

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