Often overlooked as a tourist destination in favor of states offering more show-stopping attractions, Minnesota has more than plenty to offer. The birthplace of Bob Dylan is home to some seriously beautiful scenery mostly thanks to glaciers carving out over fifteen thousand lakes millions of years ago.
The result is a haven for outdoor lovers with the gorgeous scenery comprising mostly of water, thick forests, and pure wilderness….but with some hip cities and plenty of culture thrown in for good measure. It’s a tough choice but here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in Minnesota (in no particular order)…
1. Brainerd – a beautiful town beloved by tourists and surrounded by stunning Minnesota scenery
Home to some of the iconic waters, the city of Brainerd is a part of Northern Minnesota. Part of the Crow Wing County, Brainerd is known for the chain of 450 lakes in Minnesota’s abundant nature.
With myriad recreational activities, Brainerd offers year-round fun no matter what activities you choose.
The clear blue lakes and lush green forests of the famous Gull Lake Chain, Mille Lake and Leech Lake make Brainerd a beloved lake destination.
Take a soothing dip, rent a canoe, hike the trails, or simply relax along the shoreline, the Brainerd Lakes Area is an adventure-hub in Minnesota’s playground.
2. Northwoods – a gorgeous area of vast stretch of forests, wetlands and glacial lakes
Clustered around the central part of the state along the Mississippi River’s headwaters, Northwoods are an abode to some of the rich boreal forests of North America.
The vast stretch of forests, wetlands, glacial lakes and abundant wildlife drifts you to the magical woodlands far away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The soul of this place, the Bemidji Lake, Blackduck Lake, and Cass Lake offer a range of experiences tempting travelers with plenty of water sports and campfire nights.
Venture into the deep forests, enjoy the fall colors, or take a leisurely drive on the scenic byways, this region is a blissful family retreat for all seasons.
3. Jay Cooke State Park – one of the most beautiful areas to explore in Minnesota
One of the most visited state parks of the state, Jay Cooke State Park lies about 10 miles southwest of Duluth.
Famous for its water-eroded gorge, dramatic river, steep valleys, and massive rock formations, the park is renowned for its rustic-style structures. Running through the park is the Rushing Rapids Parkway, a scenic state byway.
Hike the historic Louis River Grand Portage, take a walk to the Swinging Bridge, or watch the dramatic river gorge, the state park makes for stunning vistas.
Spreading over 8,939 acres the massive Jay Cooke Park offers 50 miles of hiking trails with spectacular overviews from the Oldenburg Point.
4. Minnehaha Falls – top beauty spot and tourist attraction to visit in Minnesota
One of the oldest and most popular places in Minnesota, Minnehaha Falls plunges from a height of 53-foot in the Minnehaha Park of Minneapolis. Also known by the name Little Falls and Brown’s fall, this urban waterfall is a centerpiece in the striking wilderness.
Among the limestone bluff, cottonwood trees, river overlooks and prairie woodlands, the Minnehaha Falls plunge from the lower reaches of the Minnehaha Creek.
Preserving many historic sites including the Minnehaha Princess Station, the John H. Stevens House, and the Longfellow House, the park offers breathtaking natural beauty without going too far from the city.
5. Baxter – a tranquil town surrounded by beautiful Minnesota countryside
A serene town bordered by Cass County on the west and Brainerd on the east, Baxter is located along the southern border of the Mississippi River. Home to numerous ponds, lakes, and beautiful forests, Baxter offers lots of activities within the reach of the city.
Take a dip at the Whipple Beach Recreational Area or spend time with your family in the Mississippi River Overlook Park, Baxter is a quaint getaway in northern Minnesota.
A perfect place for thrill-seekers, the Northland Arboretum offers 600-acres of pristine forests, gardens, hiking trails, Nordic ski trails and much more.
6. Hungry Jack Lake – one of the most beautiful lakes in Minnesota
A secluded lakefront located in the Cook County of Minnesota, Hungry Jack Lake is just 21.9 miles from Grand Marais.
Getting its quirky name from a surveyor who temporarily survived at this lake without food supplies, Hungry Jack Lake makes for a peaceful outdoor getaway in the Midwest.
Enveloping approximately 474 acres of land, this glacial lake is nestled among the towering virgin pines. The beautiful lakefront offers unmatched snowmobiling, hiking, canoeing, snowshoeing, and mountain biking opportunities.
7. Duluth – a harborside city which a long maritime history
Previously a busy shipping port, Duluth is one of the most scenic cities to visit in Minnesota. Enjoying a gorgeous setting overlooking Lake Superior it’s home to lovely parks and its iconic landmark the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Visit for the great collection of antique shops, cafes, and restaurants, as well as other attractions including the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and the well-preserved house and grounds of the Glensheen Mansion.
8. Minneopa State Park – one of the oldest state parks and most beautiful in Minnesota
Mostly known for its beautiful Minneopa Falls, Minneopa State Park is located just five miles west of Mankato. Established in 1905 to preserve the beautiful twin waterfalls, the park now expands to the lowers reaches of Minneopa Creek.
Spreading mostly over the south side of the Minnesota River, the Minneopa Park offers scenic gorge views, prairies, enchanting forests, wetlands, and much more.
Bustling with wildlife, it’s easy to spot a Bison, eastern bluebird, tree sparrows, kingbirds, and many more species. Visit the historical wind-powered stone mill in the Seppmann Mill or hike the Minnesota River Bluff trail, this place is a true Minnesota treasure.
9. Gunflint Trail – a beautiful National Scenic Byway
Beginning at the picturesque Grand Marais, the 57 miles long Gunflint Trail stretches to Saganaga Lake on the U.S state border with Ontario. Once a primitive trail used to move goods, today has been a paved National Scenic Byway.
Surrounded by gorgeous boreal lakes, forests, and wilderness, the trail winds through the heart of the Superior National Forest.
Camp on the edge of shimmering lakes with a pristine forest backdrop or take a refreshing swim in the clear waters if lucky. you might even witness the northern lights in the darkest sky.
Take a hike to majestic Bridal Falls and Magnetic Rock or tour the Chikwauk Museum, this trail allows you to disconnect with the outside world.
10. Split Rock Lighthouse – a striking historic lighthouse located southwest of Silver Bay
A true North shore icon, the Split Rock Lighthouse has been a beacon for ships in Lake Superior’s rugged coast since 1910. Filled with history, and nature.
Wildlife and breathtaking shoreline views, the lighthouse is easily one of the best-visited spots in the state. Illuminating Minnesota’s role in Great Lakes shipping and the culture of the north shore, the lighthouse features excellent exhibits and a museum.
Explore the surrounding Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and indulge in your favorite outdoor activities in Minnesota’s best-known destination.
11. Lake Itasca – a breathtaking vacation spot in Minnesota
Meandering through northern Minnesota you’ll come across the small glacial lake regarded as the serene birthplace of the Mississippi River. Located in southeastern Clearwater County, the lake is within the Itasca State Park. Hop the rock across to spot the bubbling waters of the river’s origin.
Hike along with the fragrant pines and quiet lake or wade through the gentle waters, Itasca Lake is a cooling reprieve during summers.
Stand under the towering pines at Preacher’s Grove or camp under the stars, you’ll marvel at this amazing scenery.
12. Minneapolis – one of the best places to visit in Minnesota
Minneapolis is the biggest and busiest city in Minnesota, it’s a trendy and creative place with plenty of art museums and theaters, lively rock clubs, and a great collection of organic and ethnic eateries.
It’s also a friendly city and with its riverside location, it’s also easy on the eye. Other highlights include The Sculpture Garden, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnehaha Park, and the Basilica of St. Mary.
13. St. Paul’s Cathedral – one of the most distinctive cathedrals in the United States
One of the most distinctive cathedrals in the United States, St. Paul’s Cathedral sits dramatically on Summit Hill overlooking the city of Saint Paul. Designed by Emmanuel Louis Masqueray in 1905, the current building is the fourth Cathedral of Saint Paul.
Inspired by the churches of France, the Cathedral’s Beaux-Arts architecture features rounded domes and arches.
Sitting atop the dome is a 30-feet tall copper-clad lantern dedicated to Paul the Apostle, this classical Cathedral is a lovely space to worship and truly a religious jewel in the heart of St. Paul.
14. Stone Arch Bridge – a distinctive bridge offering great views
Built across the Mississippi River, the Stone Arch Bridge is a one-of-a-kind bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Designed by the railroad baron James J Hill in 1883, the bridge was built for increased movement of people and goods across the river.
Composed of native granite and limestone, the bridge consists of 23 arches spanning the river below St. Anthony Falls. Take a walk or cycle along the bridge to get the best views of St. Anthony Falls.
A vital part of the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail, the bridge is designated National Historic Engineering Landmark.
15. Minnesota State Highway 61 – one of the most scenic roads in Minnesota
This is one of the most scenic road trips to take in the state, it runs from Duluth (a junction with Interstate 35) and takes you along Lake Superior for gorgeous views and wildlife spotting.
The highway is located in northeast Minnesota and is 154 miles in length. There are also many charming small towns to stop off and explore along the way and stop off for a bite to eat.
16. Quarterdeck Resort – a rustic year-round resort overlooking Gull Lake
Experience Minnesota’s true lake culture in the tranquil shorelines of Quarterdeck Resort. With dramatic lake vistas, water sports, playgrounds, lakeside cottages, and a beachfront, Quarterdeck offers a year-round resort destination.
Whether you’re looking for an adventure-filled escape or a serene retreat, Quarterdeck provides a cozy stay while visiting the Brainerd Lakes Area.
With sweeping views of the Gull Lake, hiking trails, cross-country skis and snowshoes, Quarterdeck offers a lifetime of memories in Minnesota’s favorite holiday resort.
17. Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park – a popular family attraction in Minnesota
A rugged wooded landscape with beautiful streams and underground pools, the Forestville Mystery Cave State Park contains Minnesota’s longest-known cave spanning over 13 miles underground.
Visit the historic village of Forestville restored to a 19th-century appearance with interesting geological features.
Take a guided tour to the underground Mystery caves and witness the striking stalagmite and stalactites formation along the interconnecting passages and walkways.
Located between Spring Valley and Preston, the park offers camping, hiking, biking, skiing, picnicking, and myriad other outdoor adventures in the lap of nature.
18. North Shore of Lake Superior – a gorgeous and popular spot to visit in Minnesota
One of the most visited destinations of the United States, the North Shore of Lake Superior runs from Duluth to Grand Portage in Minnesota.
Full of rocky cliffs, cobblestone beaches, forested hills, historic sites, and scenic trails, this 145-mile stretch is an adored road-trip destination.
Popular spots along the way include the Canal Park area on the waterfront in Duluth, the Gooseberry Falls in Two Harbors, the Tettegouche State Park in Silver Bay, the Grand Marais Art Colony, and the High Falls at Grand Portage.
Test your water sports skills in the pristine lakes or simply enjoy the lazy lake days, North Shore is a perfect excuse to relish the thrill of the Lake life.
19. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum – the largest, most diverse and complete horticultural site in Minnesota
Another stunning place to explore in Minnesota, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum offers 1,200 acres of land filled with a wide variety of beautiful flora and fauna.
You’ll definitely see beautiful flowers and trees you’ve never seen before in this arboretum and there are also more than 12 miles of walking paths to explore.
There are so many places to visit in Minnesota, it’s hard to pick just one. The beauty of each place is worth the trip alone but there are also plenty of other things to do while you’re visiting.
If you want some urban culture then Minneapolis and Saint Paul offer a hip vibe for nightlife and day life alike. Want more nature? Then head out into any of the state parks or forests which cover over half the landmass.
Whatever your tastes may be, we hope this list will help point you in the right direction! Let us know if we can answer any questions about our favorite spots!
We also have posts on…
- The most beautiful places to visit in Wisconsin
- The most beautiful places to visit in Iowa
- The most beautiful places to visit in South Dakota
- The most beautiful places to visit in Illinois
- The most beautiful places to visit in North Dakota
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Michael Cowley – writer and photographer
Ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper Michael has always had an affinity for adventure. Growing up he was lucky enough to live in a handful of exotic far flung locations including Hong Kong, Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania and since then he’s continued seeking out new places and cultures. In his spare time he explores everywhere from the sizzling street markets in Bangkok to random back alleys in Sri Lanka and everything in between! He also has a special fondness for Cohibas, trying all kinds of street food, playing carrom with random strangers, and fine wine – he knows his clarets from his chiantis. He counts Cuba, Amsterdam, Indonesia, Goa, Cambodia and Italy as his favourite destinations. Find Michael on Instagram or Twitter.