Diversity is not usually the first word that comes to mind when you think of Minnesota, but it should be. From skyscrapers to sod houses, from timeless steamboat towns on the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers to Wobegonic farm country in the west, and from Minneapolis’s world-class arts scene to a record-setting ball of twine, even seasoned travelers are likely to be impressed.
The one thing just about everyone does know about Minnesota is that this is some beautiful country. The boreal forests of the northeast fade into the tallgrass prairie of the southwest, and in between are the lakes — far more than the sloganned 10,000. I’ve been around the globe but have yet to find any place more beautiful than the Boundary Waters — thousands of lakes rimmed by ancient bedrock and littered with islands.
Just next door, the rocky Lake Superior shore, lined with cliffs and waterfalls, is as lovely a coast as you’ll ever see. In the south, towering bluffs reach high above the Mississippi River, largely unchanged since Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau rode by in steamboats.
Other than mountain climbing, your options for getting out into this glorious wilderness are endless. With one million acres, but no roads, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness just might be the best quiet-water paddling in the world. Bikers can bypass the traffic since Minnesota is a leader in rail-to-trail conversions. Rock hounds can scale some of the best walls between Seneca and Boulder. And, of course, the fun doesn’t stop when the snow falls: from snowboards to dogsleds, you can try it all.
While it’s easy to joke about Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage — which does in fact live on in church-basement lutefisk dinners and the quiet exclamation, “Uff-da!” — that doesn’t do justice to the state’s real ethnic diversity. Native American communities in the north work hard to maintain their traditions, and Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in the United States and the largest urban Hmong population in the world, as well as sizable and established Mexican, Russian, Tibetan, Asian, and East African communities.
Add in the state’s high wages and low cost of living, and it’s not surprising when Minnesota regularly tops nationwide rankings in quality of life. Don’t be surprised if, after your visit, you just can’t bring yourself to leave: Every year thousands of people arrive as visitors and return as residents.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition