Minnesota is filled with a plethora of unique small towns with charm from the plains-based towns in Southern Minnesota, to the pine lodge towns in Northern Minnesota, and everything else in between.
What I love about Minnesota is the fact that visiting each town and each city is not about visiting a small town, just ’cause, or ooh ‘nother one down, check it off the list…
It’s really about choosing what you want in a small town since there is so much variety of scenery and vibes from one town to the next. They are great destinations to book a flight and explore.
There’s something in each of them for you! These are the best small towns in Minnesota to visit.
Table of Contents
- 1. Medina, MN
- 2. New Ulm, MN
- 3. Walker, MN
- 4. Lanesboro, MN
- 5. Marshall, MN
- 6. Cannon Falls, MN
- 7. Grand Rapids, MN
- 8. Two Harbors, MN
- 9. Brainerd, MN
- 10. Buffalo, MN
- 11. Grand Marais, MN
- 12. Winona, MN
- 13. Taylor’s Falls, MN
- 14. Shafer, MN
- 15. St. Francis, MN
- 16. Wabasha, MN
- 17. Victoria, MN
- 18. Ely, MN
- 19. Waseca, MN
- 20. Nisswa, MN
- 21. Northfield, MN
- 22. Hastings, MN
- 23. Alexandria, MN
- 24. Red Wing, MN
- 25. Waconia, MN
- 26. Stillwater, MN
- 27. Excelsior, MN
- 28. Bemidji, MN
1. Medina, MN
Medina (not to be confused with Edina) is a small town in Western Minnesota that really encapsulates the small-town feel no matter what time of year it is.
The streets are filled with small local shops and unique boutiques perfect for a small shopping spree or simply window shopping on a beautiful summer’s day.
With charming restaurants that dot every corner, this small town is great for small meals and small talk.
Although small in size, Medina isn’t small on the attraction front. There’s a bunch to take part in with family or friends. The most popular attraction is the annual International Pillow Fight Day that draws thousands of participants from all over North America.
At this small-town event, small children can have small fun throwing small pillows at small strangers.
Medina is also home to the small, privately owned Steam Engine House Art Museum that was once a part of the larger museum in New Ulm, MN.
With only one small house and about 17 pieces of art, this small-town museum is great for people who prefer small, small art pieces.
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2. New Ulm, MN
New Ulm is a small town with a ton of German history.
Founded in 1854 by a small group of German settlers from the once small town of Ulm bordering Bavaria, this small community is living up to its name with lots of festivals, libraries full of books, and churches for intimate weddings or funerals.
The beautiful streets of New Ulm are decorated with beautiful German-style buildings, most of them built over 100 years ago.
The Riverwalk in New Ulm has beautiful views of the beautiful Blue Earth River along with small fountains that are perfect for taking a small stroll on a beautiful summer day or sitting by on a cold winter’s night.
The “Black Eagle” is the largest grain elevator in the world. This staggering grain elevator is a great place to get small views of beautiful New Ulm while taking small pictures with this beautiful structure.
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3. Walker, MN
Walker is an adorable, small town in beautiful Northern Minnesota filled with quaint shops and beautiful Victorian buildings that line the streets of this picturesque town.
Home of the North Star Scenic Byway and beautiful Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, Walker is a small town with beautiful views and beautiful wildlife to view.
The beautiful Riverfront Park in Walker has miles of beautiful trails that pass beautiful landmarks of the town such as the beautiful North Star Scenic Byway or beautiful Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.
The trails wind along the beautiful Mississippi River where you can have beautiful views of beautiful river bluffs and beautiful birds.
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4. Lanesboro, MN
Lanesboro, Minnesota is a beautiful small town with Victorian homes and friendly, welcoming locals.
Lanesboro is located about an hour from the beautiful Twin Cities, making it a great spot for beautiful small weekend vacations during the gorgeous summer months or stunning escapes on a cold Minnesota winter weekend.
Lanesboro is one of the most romantic small towns in Minnesota and offers some great spots for beautiful small weddings or small honeymoon photoshoots.
The town, with its quaint shops and intricate architecture, makes it the perfect backdrop for a fantastic day out.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these top things to do in Lanesboro.
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5. Marshall, MN
Marshall, a small town in Southern Minnesota, is home to a beautiful recreation area with views of Catfish Lake. You can take great summer walks around the lake or go fishing here.
Buffalo River cuts through Marshall. Hiking or canoeing on the river will yield even more beautiful scenery. Close to Buffalo is Rock Island State Park with its lovely natural sights.
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6. Cannon Falls, MN
Cannon Falls is a stunning small town with green space, natural beauty, and the Cannon River running through it.
It’s popular during the warmer months for canoeing and kayaking, or fishing during winter on the frozen water.
This town has quaint local businesses such as small restaurants, shops, and golf courses. It is a great small day trip away from the Twin Cities.
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7. Grand Rapids, MN
Grand Rapids is a small city with beautiful buildings and more beautiful people in this small town located on the beautiful Upper Mississippi River.
The breathtaking river walk in Grand Rapids is great for a summer day or winter stroll. This small town offers local shops, restaurants, and views of the Upper Mississippi River.
Attracting visitors from all over the country, this small town recently made it into a national ranking of beautiful Main Streets in America.
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8. Two Harbors, MN
Two Harbors is a small town in beautiful Northern Minnesota. It was originally established in 1884 to supply the transportation needs for ore from the Duluth area mines.
This lakeshore town was also an important hub for passenger rail, with a ferry service to the city Duluth. The town was named after its two beautiful harbors: Upper and Lower Two Harbors.
Two Harbors is an attractive small town located along majestic Lake Superior. It features incredible views and kind, friendly residents, as well as a combination of gorgeous scenery and envigorating trails for visitors to enjoy and explore.
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9. Brainerd, MN
Brainerd, Minnesota is definitely one of the better small cities out there. It’s not really a town as it’s on the bigger end of the population scale relative to the other towns mentioned on our list – sue me, or not, either way, you should visit Brainerd.
Brainerd is located on serene Lake Brainerd which is wrapped in bike trails. The people and historic buildings, both ooze small-town charm. There are many landmarks to visit in this city, including the famously clear water of Brainerd Lakes.
Brainerd is part of the larger area known as the Brainerd Lakes Area, which contains over 450 lakes within a 25 mile (40km) radius.
Some of the best things to do in Brainerd include golfing, hiking and biking.
Check out these best things to do in Brainerd.
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10. Buffalo, MN
Less than an hour away from Duluth is a beautiful small town with many activities. If you enjoy canoeing or kayaking, Mille Lacs Lake offers stunning scenery for miles without congestion, and the waterfalls are delightful if you’re looking to get away from it all.
It’s an excellent option in Greater Minnesota to channel your inner explorer or soak in some nature.
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11. Grand Marais, MN
Grand Marais is an exceptionally gorgeous small town on the shore of Lake Superior, and it’s especially lovely in the fall when the leaves change color.
The harbor provides gorgeous views of the lake as well as facilities for boating, fishing, hiking, camping, and biking.
You can also visit the Lutsen Mountains, which offer spectacular views of the lake.
While you are in town, check out these other top things to do in Grand Marais.
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12. Winona, MN
Winona is an iconic riverfront small town. This small town is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, as there are limitless places to go.
The downtown area of Winona has beautiful historic buildings which provide visitors with a snapshot of its history.
There are challenging outdoor activities like fishing or canoeing on beautiful Lake Winona or surfing in the Upper Mississippi River Pass.
It also has many off-the-beaten-path activities for art lovers, such as parks and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.
The small town has parks and beautiful architecture throughout town that makes it an incredible spot for visitors.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Winona.
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13. Taylor’s Falls, MN
Taylor’s Falls is of the many fun small towns located on the St. Croix river offering good times and good vibes. Taylor’s Falls is totally charming, with plenty of trails and surrounded by natural beauty.
This delightful small town offers several prime locations for fishing, hiking, or picnicking with beautiful views of the Mississippi River Valley.
14. Shafer, MN
Shafer is a beautiful small city with beautiful scenery that includes several outdoor activities like boating, fishing, and canoeing.
The small town offers beautiful hiking and biking trails that lead up to magnificent waterfalls.
If you are looking for a weekend getaway with friends or family, camping at one of these beautiful lakes in the perfect relaxer.
The city has a corn maze if that’s your thing or visit the nearby Franconia Sculpture Park, which is one of my personal favorite day trips from Minneapolis.
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15. St. Francis, MN
St. Francis is easily one of the most beautiful small towns in Minnesota to visit with breathtaking scenery and outdoor activities, including fishing and other water sports.
The town is also home to museums and churches with interesting designs.
With breathtaking views of the lake and its stunning surroundings, it also boasts beautiful hiking trails, biking trails, as well as other picturesque scenery you’ll encounter around every corner.
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16. Wabasha, MN
Wabasha is home to a few VERY Minnesotan things, like the movie Grumpy Old Men and is actually the birthplace of water skiing (sorry-not-sorry Lake City).
This small town offers biking trails, waterfalls, gorgeous parks, and incredible ice age caves to explore. The park features a beautiful beach and several hiking trails with stunning views of the Mississippi River.
Wabasha is also home to some genuine American pride as it’s the home base of the National Eagle Center where you can show off your American patriotism by meeting and greeting bald eagles close and personal!
Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Wabasha.
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17. Victoria, MN
Victoria, Minnesota is a quaint, quiet town with a few great restaurants and breweries.
The town is located just a 5-minute drive from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, where visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery while hiking or biking beautiful trails.
Other great places to visit in town, include the Hjemkomst Center and the Historic Mandan Theatre, once a small haven for famed vaudeville performers, it is now a small movie theatre.
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18. Ely, MN
Ely, Minnesota is one of my personal favorites in Minnesota. Its beautiful location makes for a wonderful getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. The city is part of the Vermillion Iron Range.
This charming small town is located by beautiful Lela Lake and offers opportunities for fishing, canoeing, or hiking. The city of Ely has become known as a popular town as it’s an entry point to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park, and the International Wolf Center.
The Ely Outfitters downtown is the perfect start to getting ready for a day of fishing, kayaking, or snowshoeing. If you’re worried about choice, don’t be; Ely is a small town but has more than 50 outfitters, as well as two major highways for easy access.
Ely also has several parks with walking paths, as well as waterfalls to explore and admire near the city. The perfect weekend destination, or choice activity for a family trip, Ely is waiting to be explored!
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19. Waseca, MN
Waseca boasts some beautiful parks like Lizzie Lake park. This park features the gorgeous Lizzie Lake with breathtaking views of the surrounding area and gorgeous flora and fauna.
Visitors can also explore other beautiful waterfalls in the area; Waseca has something for every nature lover!
Waseca is home to churches, historical sites, and is famous for the incredible wildflowers that bloom there in the summer.
Waseca offers visitors an array of unique sights with small-town charm that really make it a worthwhile destination.
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20. Nisswa, MN
Nisswa is a small town in Northern Minnesota that offers a beautiful landscape, outdoor activities, and fantastic public parks.
One of the many reasons to visit Nisswa is for its waterfalls and scenic beauty, but it also features several historical buildings dating back to the town’s founding.
Take a stop at some of the awesome, unique boutiques, candy stores and Scandanavian heritage shops.
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21. Northfield, MN
Northfield is a picturesque small town located about 40 miles south of the Twin Cities along the Cannon River with beautiful views of its surroundings. It provides terrific parks, historic sites, restaurants, and an abundance of stunning natural scenery.
In 1857, Northfield was first founded as the village of Northfield Center. In 1858, it was renamed Northfield and incorporated as a city on April 3rd. That year saw the arrival of the first train on January 31st and the incorporation of the village of West Northfield on November 10th.
Northfield is in Southern Minnesota, which is more rural Minnesota and has quite a different feel than the towns mentioned in Northern Minnesota.
The town is home to two private colleges, St. Olaf College and Carleton College.
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22. Hastings, MN
Hastings is a small town that is located right on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin and sits on the meeting point of 3 different rivers. This town is a great stopover spot along the Great River Road in Minnesota.
A beautiful small town in Minnesota, Hastings features parks, a hopping downtown area, and some superb restaurants.
Hastings is located near beautiful parks and landmarks, including the stunning St. Croix River.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Hastings, Minnesota.
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23. Alexandria, MN
Alexandria is a small town in Minnesota that is famous for its parks and shopping. Beautiful parks surround stunning views of the lakes and local shops make for great, unique retail experiences framed by natural beauty.
First settled in 1858 by brothers Alexander and William Kinkead from Maryland, they were named after Alexandria in Egypt – long a center of learning, culture, and civilization for centuries. This Scandinavian-inspired village saw a rapid increase in settlers in the 1860s that brought industry, and many of the beautiful railroad features that characterize this town were built during this time period.
Make sure you stop over to say hi to Big Ole, a Viking statue located in the heart of the city.
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24. Red Wing, MN
Heard of Red Wing boots? Yeah you have, and these legendary boots are made right here in this small town in Minnesota! Red Wing is another charming town located along the Great River Road in Minnesota.
The scenic views and historic sites make it the perfect place to stop during a road trip along The Great River Road.
It’s located right on the mighty Mississippi, making it an ideal location for fishing, canoeing, or other water activities!
Like what you are hearing? Check out our favorite things to do in Red Wing.
If you’re heading down there, make a stop at Frontenac State Park to take in the excellent views of Lake Pepin.
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25. Waconia, MN
Waconia is a quaint small town just outside of Minneapolis that offers beautiful parks, shops, architecture, and historical sites. It’s probably best known for Safari Island, a fantastic indoor waterpark.
The town of Waconia is full of opportunities to explore. Downtown Waconia is postcard cute and is surrounded by wildflowers in the summer that add to this postcard power.
Whether taking in one of their local museums and galleries or simply laying out in the sun for lunch amongst the flowers, Waconia will win your heart.
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26. Stillwater, MN
Stillwater is actually Minnesota’s first city. Stillwater is located on the St. Croix River and borders Wisconsin.
This town is home to both beautiful architecture and nature. It’s conveniently close to Minneapolis, so it can be a weekend destination or family trip spot.
It is a must-visit place for foodies and anyone looking for one-of-a-kind boutiques.
Like what you are hearing? Check out our favorite things to do in Stillwater.
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27. Excelsior, MN
Excelsior is located right on Excelsior Bay (duh!) on Lake Minnetonka. This is a small town, technically within the larger city of Minnetonka, so it isn’t really the same as a picturesque small town in the middle of nowhere, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me.
Excelsior is only 25-35 minutes outside of downtown Minneapolis, so it makes for an ideal weekend trip destination.
The main street is right along Lake Minnetonka and is close to parks, beaches, and excellent restaurants. Excelsior is a place that features a historic downtown that has plenty of stories and memories of the past.
The word is that the Rolling Stones wrote the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” for a boy named Jimmy that frequented the general store on Main Street.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Excelsior.
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28. Bemidji, MN
Bemidji is a small town located in Northern Minnesota, which offers beautiful views of natural lakes. Bemidji also has outdoor recreational activities such as fishing and canoeing.
Fans of the cult Minnesota radio show A Prarie Home Companion will no doubt know the name Bemidji, as the show frequently visit the town for shows, festivals and special broadcasts.
Bemidji is full of lakes and surrounded by dense forests. Located in central Minnesota, Bemidji is close to three Indian Reservations. The Red Lake Nation, White Earth Nation, and the Leech Lake Tribe are all nearby.
Bemidji, Minnesota lies on the southwest shore of Lake Bemidji, the northernmost lake feeding the Mississippi River; it is nicknamed “The First City on the Mississippi”. Bemidji is also home to three national curling championships and goes by the unofficial title “curling capital” of North America.
The small city is home to Bemidji State University, which also hosts a very well-known hockey program.
So, what do you say? Small town Minnesota or bust…
No matter the time of year, there are plenty of great spots to explore the North Star State, so start booking your trip today!