Minnesota is the “land of 10,000 lakes”, with Lake Superior being chief among all of them. Despite being an inland state more than 1000 miles away from either ocean, Lake Superior serves as the state’s gateway to the Atlantic Ocean thanks to the series of man-made canals that have been constructed. This has done wonders for the state’s economy past and present. But for tourists, the only thing that seems to matter is that more than 4,000 square miles of lakes and rivers grace Minnesota, providing visitors with a perfect playground for outdoor activities.
Minnesota’s geography and landscape is indeed an outdoor paradise. There are more than 100 state parks and forests to go with the “10,000 lakes” (12,000 is closer to the actual number). Minnesota is also the birthplace of the mighty Mississippi River, which starts at a spot on Lake Itasca Park and is the only point where the river can be crossed without a bridge or boat. Its Lake Superior, meanwhile, is the largest freshwater lake in the world. Minnesota is also green and brown, brushed with dense forests, open-ended prairies and pastures, and mining fields of iron ore.
Before the arrival of Europeans, Minnesota was populated by Native Americans, namely the Dakota (Sioux), the Anishinaabe, and later the Ojibwe. French fur traders explored and claimed the region in the 17th century, and traded it at times with the Spanish. Through conquest, the British took over control of Minnesota, east of the Mississippi River while the area west remained under the French. After the Revolutionary War, the Americans assumed the British territory of Minnesota. With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the area west of the Mississippi became American territory as well.
During the 19th century, the Sioux and Ojibwe were gradually driven off the lands and forced into smaller reservations. Eventually, this led to the Dakota War of 1862 when 38 Sioux Indians were executed and the rest banished to the Crow Creek Reservation in Nebraska.
For much of the late 19th century and well into the 20th century, Minnesota thrived on wheat farming and the logging of its forests. Mining took place after iron ore was discovered in the 1880s. This led to the development of Duluth as one of the largest inland ports in the world, as iron was shipped from Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes to the Atlantic and beyond.
After WWII, Minnesota became a center of high-technology, producing computers and military and medical equipment. Today, in addition to its traditional industries, Minnesota remains prominent in high- and biotechnology and is home to a number of fine universities and hospitals. Its diversified economy places Minnesota among the wealthiest residents in the country, with a median income of over $55,000.
Minnesota features four tourist regions: the north, the northeast, the metro area, and the south. The north region encompasses both north-central and northwest Minnesota and consists of prairies and forests. The north is also home to the source of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca Park, where you’ll find bogs, prairies and the legendary land of lumberjack Paul Bunyan. Visitors are drawn to this scenic countryside setting for the boating, ice fishing, biking, hiking, and golfing. The main cities in the north are Bemidji, and Fergus Falls.
The northeast region of Minnesota has often been referred to as the “Arrowhead” and features wilderness lakes along the Canadian border, including Lake Superior where you can cross-country ski along forest trails like the Gunflint. With rivers, rapids, and waterfalls everywhere, the northeast provides the perfect setting for camping trips and other outdoor adventures. You can enjoy snowmobiling, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in the winter. In the summer, you can canoe, kayak, boat, fish, hike, bike, and also golf. The main city in this region is Duluth, Minnesota’s main port for Lake Superior. There are also smaller towns like Two Harbors, Proctor, Grand Marais, Grand Rapids, and Soudan that feature art galleries and heritage museums. The main cities in the northeast are Duluth, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Two Harbors, Virginia, and Ely.
The metro area of Minnesota encompasses Minneapolis and St. Paul and the metropolitan and suburban area beyond. Minneapolis and St. Paul together are known as the Twin Cities with Minneapolis projecting a more modern character and St. Paul a more historical one. Both offer an array of cultural and historical attractions, including art galleries, performing arts, old architecture, fine dining, and shopping centers including the second largest mall in the United States – the Mall of America in Bloomington. But even in Minnesota’s two biggest cities and within its suburbs, you’ll find parks, lakes, rivers, and trees all around.
The south consists of valleys, prairies, grasslands, and woodlands. In the southeast, you’ll find the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers winding across farmland. The south features scenic bike trails, historic architecture, resorts by Minnesota’s southern lakes region where you can fish for Trout, Bass, and Northern Pike, and numerous historic Dakota Indian sites like the Upper Sioux Agency State Park in Granite Falls or the Traverse des Sioux in St Peter. The main cities in the south are Rochester, Pipestone, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, Winona, and Owatonna.