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19 Hidden Gems In Minnesota Off The Beaten Track You Didn’t Know About

Minnesota surely isn’t one of the first destinations that come to mind when traveling in the United States. However, The Land of 10,000 Lakes is a state that has a lot to offer, especially when it comes to nature. From the vibrant twin cities to the beauty of the great lakes, there’s always lots to see and do. However, even today, most of Minnesota’s nature is vastly unexplored. Most people that visit, head straight to Minneapolis, St. Paul, or eventually the Minnehaha National Park and the Boundary Waters, missing out on some of our favorite hidden gems in Minnesota. That’s what this article is all about; the hidden natural wonders of Minnesota’s Outdoors!

The North Shore

North Shore Minnesota

We start off this list of hidden gems in Minnesota with the north shore. Minnesota’s north shore is quite popular among locals but rarely gets mentioned when it comes to the most scenic rides in the US (and it really should). The entire shore is dotted with cobblestone beaches, rocky cliffs, forested ridges, and scenic waterfalls that flow into Lake Superior. If you want to see the best of Minnesota’s nature, you should definitely consider taking this 151-mile-long adventurous journey.

The Birthplace of Minnesota

Birthplace of Minnesota

The community of Stillwater is often called the birthplace of Minnesota. The 1848 convention, which later resulted in the creation of the state of Minnesota took place right here in Stillwater. It’s a beautiful town that still retains its pioneer charm, but also offers a lot of activities to indulge in. Stillwater is famous for water sports and is a great place for kayaking, rowing, and gondola peddling. However, if you want to explore the waters in a rather more relaxed style, you can take a ride on a paddleboat steamer.

As you can see, Minnesota and its beautiful nature make it an unusual but nice choice for a honeymoon destination. If you’re looking for some more unpopular suggestions, check out our list of the best cheap honeymoon destinations in the US.

Minneopa Falls

minneopa falls

Minneopa is one of the tallest waterfalls in Minnesota with a very descriptive name. In the native Dakota language, the word Minneopa means ‘water falling twice’ a beautiful simplification of the Upper and Lower Minneopa Falls. Today, the falls are a part of the Minneopa National Park, located on the south side of the Minnesota River.

Minneopa houses a few buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to the American Bison. It’s also the third-oldest national park in Minnesota. If you want to get off the beaten track in Minnesota, the best way to do this is by renting a car. To get some great deals, feel free to use my Auto Europe special offer and save up to 10% on all car rentals (for more info, check out our review).

You may also like: the best fall destinations in the US

Soudan Underground Mine State Park

Soudan Underground Mine State Park

Located on the shore of Lake Vermilion, the Soudan Underground Mine is the first iron ore mine in Minnesota. Today, the mine is a National Historic Landmark and it’s open to visitors, giving them the unique opportunity to hop on a metal train that goes more than 900 yards below ground and see the last remaining active mining site.

House Of Balls, Minneapolis

House of Balls, Minneapolis

Sitting in the center of Minneapolis, House of Balls is the art gallery where the mundane turns into eccentrics. This original venue is the creation of the artist Allen Christian, who manufactures his sculptures from an amazing mix of materials such as old piano parts, carved balls, and even bowling balls. The gallery is proof that art is not merely a privilege of the eye but an experience that should be tactile, eliciting decisive involvement from its audience. Instead of being just a standard art gallery, the “House of Balls” is a virtual reality of creative thought for the artist, where everything is realizable and nothing is impossible.

Spam Museum, Austin

Spam Museum, Austin

The Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, is a fun excuse to dig deeper into the history of this odd canned meat. Established in 1937 by Hormel Foods, this museum that documents the history of Spam through its inception is one of our favorite hidden gems in Minnesota. Visitors can scan a wide variety of World War II-related memorabilia, and view different pieces made of spam tin and box boards. By using the means of interactive displays and exhibits, Spam Museum tells a fascinating story about the worldwide spread of a culinary phenomenon in a funny and intriguing way.

Sidewalk Harp, Minneapolis

Sidewalk Harp, Minneapolis

Next on our list of hidden gems in Minnesota, we have the Sidewalk Harp, a composition that immerses the viewer in the beauty and the grandeur of art, architecture, and music. A product of the genius mind of Jen Lewin, this public work of art allows those who get the nearest look to be musicians for a single moment. This harp-like structure measures 40 feet and is especially adored by motion-sensors LED lights that are amazingly visible under the Minnesota sky. With their hands following the air, visitors generate new melodies by each movement of hands producing different yet befitting notes.

Gunflint Trail

gunflint trail

Winding through lush pine forests and maple stands, the Gunflint Trail is a 57-mile-long remote wilderness road and one of the least frequented parts of the United States. It’s the perfect destination for hiking, camping, kayaking, birdwatching, and even wildlife encounters. There are several different hiking trails for everyone’s taste. Some of them are strenuous, some or not, but they all wind through crystal lakes and dense, lavish forests.

Do you like getting off the beaten track? Then, you should definitely check out my guide to hidden gems in Atlanta.

Pelican Lake

pelican lake hidden gems in minnesota

No visit to Minnesota is complete without a visit to some of its great lakes. Perhaps the most beautiful of them all is Pelican Lake. As its name implies, it’s an area of outstanding natural beauty where you can marvel at spectacular birds and wildlife. Pelican Lake also offers accommodation in some of the most charming cabins in the Midwest.

Split Rock Lighthouse

split rock lighthouse minnesota off the beaten track

This lighthouse might not fit in the category of hidden gems in Minnesota but it’s on this list due to its remoteness. The lighthouse was built more than 100 years ago but it got its glory only recently after being featured in ‘The Great Gatsby’ in 2013. Today, the lighthouse is a part of the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and one of the most picturesque places in the US.

In order to reach the lighthouse, you need to take a short trek through the forest. The place is open for visitors, incredibly well-preserved, and gives a great view of the entire Silver Bay.

The World’s Largest Ball Of Twine Rolled By An Individual

Twine Ball darwin hidden gems in minnesota

In the small town of Darwin, Minnesota, you’ll find a monument to patience and perseverance: the largest man-made Twine Ball in the world. Francis Johnson, a local farmer, spent 29 years rolling the behemoth which now weighs over 17,400 pounds and measures 12 feet in diameter. People from all over the world come to admire this symbol of perseverance, and the annual Twine Ball Day commemorates Johnson’s memory, encouraging others to see the beauty in the pursuit of their own endeavors.

Hidden Beach, Minneapolis

Hidden Beach, Minneapolis

This list of hidden gems in Minnesota couldn’t be complete without the Hidden Beach in Minneapolis, a picturesque black sand beach with unpretentious vibes and the perfect destination for swimming or picnicking. It’s the Twin Cities’ one and only nude beach that has now become a center of unity and diversity where individuals from all walks of life come to meet. The beach is named such because it sits sheltered from the masses and is a perfect peaceful getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. 

Pipestone National Monument

Pipestone National Monument

Located in Minnesota’s far southwest, you’ll find one of the oldest sacred places of Native Americans in the whole country. Native Americans used these rocks for making ceremonial stone pipes used for the traditional rituals of Plains Indians. Today, only Native Americans are allowed to quarry the Pipestone and if you visit during the summer months, you can witness some of the rare cultural demonstrations that take place at the Pipestone National Monument.

Enjoying this article? Also, check out my guide to California off the beaten track.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park hidden gems in minnesota

Stretching across 219,000 acres, the Voyagers National Park consists of 30 beautiful lakes and a series of interconnected waterways. These waterways were used by the early European settlers in the 17th century. The national park lies in the heart of the North American continent and it’s a great place for hiking, reconnecting with nature, seeing the Northern lights, and of course, going back in time and experiencing the life of the early voyageurs.

The Lost 40

The Lost 40 hidden gems in minnesota

The Lost 40 is an untouched forest that spreads over a surface of almost 150 acres. Trees in this forest were left to grow without disturbance and some of them are more than 100 meters tall. However, the reason why these trees were allowed to grow without disturbance was a curious mapping error. This mapping error made loggers think that the place where the forest was located was underwater. Hence, loggers never made it here, thus preserving the giant pine trees you can find in the forest today.

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Niagara Cave, Harmony

Niagara Cave hidden gems in minnesota

Northwest Angle

Going as deep as one mile below ground and featuring an underground waterfall, Niagara Cave is one of the most spectacular natural caves in the Midwest. Here, you have a rare opportunity to see underground canyon-like passageways and fascinating rock formations. The cave was discovered in the 1920s but has been around for millions of years.

A local farmer came across the cave accidentally while searching for his lost pigs. However, it wasn’t until 100 years later that the cave got its glory. Since 2015, Niagara Cave is the only cave in the world to go 100% solar (the cave’s energy use is completely provided by solar panels).

minnesota off the beaten path

The Northwest Angle is the only part of the US (outside of Alaska) located north of the 49th parallel. The Angle shares a land border with Canada but it’s separated from Minnesota by Lake of the Woods. This makes the Angle an exclave of the United States and one of the strangest borders in the Americas. How did this happen? The 1783 Treaty of Paris between the Americans and the British stated that the border between the US and the Northern British Territories runs between the Lake of the Woods and the northwest course of the Mississippi River.

However, the source of the river was still unknown to explorers at the time. This made the identification of this northwest corner a bit tricky. However, that didn’t stop them from choosing the spot rather randomly and the rest is history. Today, the Northwest Angle is home to only 119 people and most of this land belongs to the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

Enjoying this article? Then you’ll surely like our 3-day itinerary for Napa Valley.

Mystery Cave State Park

mystery cave state park hidden gems in minnesota

The Mystery Cave State Park is named after one of the most prominent sights in the park- the Mystery Cave. Inside the cave, you’ll see spectacular rock formations, squid fossils ingrained in the cave walls, and thousands of bats. The temperature in the cave also never changes- it remains 49 degrees (9.5 Celsius) throughout the year, despite the outside temperature.

This park is also a great place for outdoor enthusiasts and people who seek wildlife encounter opportunities. The park is home to some rare species like timber rattlesnakes and glacial snails but also a lot of raccoons, beavers, deer, opossums, squirrels, etc.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also like this list of hidden gems in New York.

The Minnesota-Shaped Forest


Finally, we round up this list of hidden gems in Minnesota with the Minnesota-Shaped Forest. Technically, you can only notice this while looking at it from above but the forest known as the Minnesota Forest has the exact same shape as the geographical map of the state of Minnesota.

The forest was designed by forest engineering genius, Bill Lockner and was only recently discovered by Google Maps’ aerial view. While Bill was cleaning dying trees in the 1990s’, he decided to have some fun; he gave the forest the shape of Minnesota’s map. Today, not a lot of people know about it, but this forest surely has the potential of becoming one of the most popular attractions in the region.

Helpful Tips For Discovering Hidden Gems In Minnesota

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As you can see, Minnesota has a lot of interesting things to experience to indulge in, from cultural activities, winter sports, and downhill ice skating competition to exploring the great American outdoors, experiencing wildlife encounters, and numerous hiking and camping opportunities. Did you know about these hidden gems in Minnesota? Do you think you could add more to this list? Let us know in the comments!

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Soumya Gayatri

Monday 15th of July 2019

I always look forward to your offbeat destination posts. So glad found this extensive list on the hidden gems in Minnesota. I am curious to explore the Underground mines and the Niagara cave. They look fascinating. Also intrigued by the Lost 40. Such an interesting reason why these trees grew as tall as they did.

Passport Symphony

Thursday 18th of July 2019

Thank you, Soumya! I'm really glad to hear you liked this. As always stay tuned, more hidden gems are coming soon :)

Alexander Popkov

Sunday 7th of April 2019

Somehow, reminds a lot of Northern Norway. I would say, I would feel really comfortable exploring the nature of Minnesota. These are some lovely outdoors.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 10th of April 2019

I haven't been to Norway yet but I have heard a few people saying that too. I hope you get the chance to visit someday

Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions

Saturday 6th of April 2019

I love travel blog posts that feature destinations that are "hidden in plain sight," so to speak! Everything you cover here is beautiful, especially the attractions on the shore of the lake. I had never heard of or seen the lighthouse before, and it looks like it's set in such beautiful surroundings. That forest in the shape of Minnesota is also really interesting and funny! I'm surprised someone was able to make that and then able to wait for it to be discovered on Google Maps. What a fun and informative post, thank you for sharing!

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 10th of April 2019

Thank you, Kevin! I'm really glad to hear you enjoy this kind of posts. Stay tuned, there's a lot more to come :)

Thelittlelai: Beyond limits

Friday 5th of April 2019

Wow, I love how you were able to gather all these hidden gems that Minnesota has to proffer in one blog post. I haven't heard anything about all these stunning places, and I wish I can here soon. The Minneopa is something I should not miss to visit, since I'm a huge fan of waterfalls, and it gives me a refreshing feeling. Thank you so much for this.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 10th of April 2019

I'm really glad to hear you enjoyed this article so much! Thank you for stopping by and dropping a comment


Friday 5th of April 2019

I never knew that Minnesota has wonderful natural gems. I used to know about this place for great University. But now definitely check these places. I would love to go for Minneopa falls and Gunplint trail as both places have wonderful photo opportunities. Thanks for sharing a hidden gem with us.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 10th of April 2019

It sure does, Yukti :) Thank you for stopping by and dropping a comment