More Hidden Minnesota Gems

A closer look at six of the state’s best small towns

Read “Hidden Minnesota” for more Minnesota travel tips.

Ely, MN

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1. Looking out onto Ely’s Burntside Lake from Sigurd Olson’s Listening Point retreat.

2. Get up close to mysterious wolves at the International Wolf Center.

3. One of the most coveted cabins at the century-old Burntside Lodge resort.

4. Get to know Honey, Teddy, and Lucky Bear—and challenge your knowledge of bears—at the North American Bear Center.


Litchfield, MN

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1. Built in 1885, the G.A.R. Hall is one of a very few left in the nation. Filled with photographs, battle maps, and paintings, the hall is considered to be a monument to the Civil War.
2. The Litchfield Opera House was designed by St. Paul architect William T. Towner in 1900. The building, which boasts a unique Renaissance Revival façade, is on the National Historic Register.
3. A few of the girls who help with renovation efforts.
4. Until 1935, the opera house was used for musical performances, plays, and other such gatherings. It was purchased by the Greater Litchfield Opera House Association in 2008 and is currently under renovation. These are some of the many volunteers working to restore the building to its original glory.
5. Anderson Gardens, a mini arboretum on Lake Ripley. The garden’s gazebo features a turret that was salvaged and donated from the Victorian-style home of Dr. Robertson of Litchfield.
6. Anderson Gardens.
7. The Meeker County Historical Society Museum, located in the two-story addition behind the G.A.R. hall, is home to just about every piece of the county’s past imaginable.
8. The Declaration of Independence.
9. Charles Carrol of Carrolton, the great grandfather of Meeker County resident Roscoe G. Keller, signed the Declaration of Independence.
10. John Brandt, president of the Meeker County Creamery Association for 30 years, founded Land O Lakes in 1926.
11. This French barrel organ from the late 1880s is still in operating order.
12.  The Forest City Stockade stands as a memorial to the pioneers who settled Meeker County and sought safety behind its walls during the Sioux Indian Uprising of 1862.
13.  Martha Stewart herself would be impressed with the array of home goods, apparel, kitchen wares, and other cute knickknacks found in this homemakers paradise.
14. A local haunt famous for serving up lick-your-fingers-good homemade meals.


New London, MN

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1. Bill Gossman, mayor of New London as well as renowned potter, sets up shop behind his home.
2. You can buy his one-of-a-kind work—all created on site and fired in his wood-burning, three-tiered, backyard kiln—in his gallery, attached to the back of his home.
3. In addition to his finer pieces, Gossman likes to play. Here, the one and only Senator Franken.
4. At the Pottery Workshop, the work of Gossman and the other New London potters is for sale. Classes also take place in the garage attached to the gallery.
5. Next to Kaleidoscope Gallery, you’ll find the kiln of Craig Edwards, one of New London’s best-known potters. Like Gossman’s kiln, this is also fueled by wood.
6. If you have even a drop of Scandinavian blood in you, check out Heritage Falls Market. It’s like taking a trip to the Motherland—without the jet lag.
7. Tour groups come from miles around to visit Mill Pond Mercantile. If you can’t find it here, good luck finding it anywhere else.


Southwestern MN: The Pipestone National Monument

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1. Travis Erickson, a fourth generation pipe-maker, has worked the same quarry for 28 years. He demonstrates the pipe-making craft at the Monument’s visitors center.

2. Each year he unearths 1,500 pounds of pipestone, chiseling through 10 tons of quartzite to get to it.

3. One of the nation’s premier pipe makers, his work has been featured in the Smithsonian’s newly opened Museum of the American Indian.

4. ‘Pipestone Quarry on the Coteau des Prairies,’ by George Catlin. This 1836 painting depicts Native American visitors to the rock-strewn prairie outside of modern-day Pipestone.


Spring Grove, MN

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1. This is just one of several Viking statues around Spring Grove, just a short drive from the Iowa border. It was the first Norwegian settlement in Minnesota—and still feels like it.

2. These guys supposedly represent some cartoon characters from a long-ago Norwegian-American newspaper strip. I don’t know if the one guy is about to crack the other with his giant pipe-wrench or just handing it over to help with a home-repair project.

3. This friendly fellow (the older one) opened a cultural center in downtown Spring Grove this year called Giants in the Earth Heritage Center, which hosts well-attended music and dance events and a folk school with an ambitiously broad array of classes in Norwegian skills, from baking to woodcarving to speaking the old mother tongue.


Lanesboro, MN

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1. Lanesboro had some bad luck in the 1980s, in the midst of the farm crisis—nearly the whole downtown was for sale at one point. Then it had some good luck: an enterprising arts guru convinced locals to convert an abandoned railbed to a bike trail, and shortly after he helped found the Commonweal Theater downtown. Lucky for everyone, no one had gotten around to tearing down any of the beautiful old buildings in town.

2. When you bicycle out of Lanesboro on one leg of the Root River State Bike Trail, you’ll first cross this quaint old train trestle on the edge of town.

3. Arv Fabian used to work on cars in downtown Lanesboro. When tourists started trickling into town, he began selling hot dogs out front, fixing Fords out back. The sausages proved more profitable, or at least more fun, and he opened Das Wurst Haus. Now he’ll serve you a homemade brat, homemade root beer, and some homemade concertina music on the side.


Read “Hidden Minnesota” for more Minnesota travel tips.