Seek Out These 5 Hidden Gem Attractions in Minnesota

By Erica Wacker

Where can you visit the hometown of Dorothy, see thousands of ancient Native American carvings, and find fine art next to a gas station? All of these, and other off-the-radar attractions, can be discovered only in Minnesota.

Hjemkomst Viking ship

The Hjemkomst Viking ship once sailed to Norway / Davin Wait, Historical & Cultural Society of Clay County

Hjemkomst Center, Moorhead

The Scandinavian heritage and more recent history of Clay County come to life at the Hjemkomst Center, part of the Historical & Cultural Society of Clay County in Moorhead. One of the main attractions is the replica Viking ship, which a local resident constructed out of more than 100 oak trees. Although the builder died in 1980, family members kept his dream alive and successfully sailed the vessel from Duluth to Norway two years later.

Another impressive sight at the center is the replica Norwegian stave church, modeled after one that is still standing in Vik, Norway. The church was constructed on-site in the late '90s out of cedar, redwood and pine; it’s now a popular venue for wedding ceremonies and christenings.

Metal elephant statue at Nyberg Sculpture Park

The Nyberg Sculpture Park has helped turn Vining into a popular and unique tourist attraction

Nyberg Sculpture Park, Vining

Half an hour east of Fergus Falls, the tiny town of Vining has become a tourist attraction thanks to the oversize sculptures all made by one man, local artist Ken Nyberg. Adjacent to a gas station, Nyberg Sculpture Park is home to about 10 sculptures that include a pair of pliers squishing a bug, an elephant made entirely out of lawnmower blades, and a watermelon being cut with a knife—an homage to the town’s annual Watermelon Day.

Beyond the park, Nyberg’s work can be seen scattered throughout the region, including an otter in Ottertail, a stethoscope in Henning, and a Spartan on the M State campus in Fergus Falls.

Judy Garland Museum, Grand Rapids

Best known for her role as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” Judy Garland is not from Kansas but from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where she was born by the name Frances Ethel Gumm in 1922. Her childhood home on the outskirts of town is open for tours, as is the attached Judy Garland Museum, which houses memorabilia from her life and career, including the carriage used in the film’s Emerald City scene.

The annual Wizard of Oz Festival and related Judy Garland Festival in June include festivities like a “Toto Too” dog talent contest, a red sneaker walk, special guests and costumed revelers.

Jeffers Petroglyphs in Comfrey

Jeffers Petroglyphs, Comfrey / Kyle Krenz

Jeffers Petroglyphs, Comfrey

More than 5,000 images of people, animals and tools carved into rock make up the Jeffers Petroglyphs, a spiritual and historic site about an hour west of Mankato near Comfrey. Some of the carvings date back 9,000 years while others are only a couple hundred years old, making Jeffers one of the oldest, continuously used sacred sites in the world.

The journey begins at the visitor center, where hands-on exhibits and a multimedia presentation explain the history and significance of the surrounding site. Outside, a tour guide points out the Native American carvings along the petroglyphs trail while discussing their possible meanings and the people who made them.

The site opens for the season Memorial Day weekend through September, and is open for group tours only October-May.

Pavek Museum, St. Louis Park

For anyone who remembers when the radio or a black-and-white TV was the height of home entertainment, the Pavek Museum in St. Louis Park is a must-see. The extensive collection of antique radios, televisions and broadcast equipment may even coax younger generations to look up from their handheld screens.

Some of the museum’s biggest highlights are interactive in nature. Visitors can try to play an RCA Theremin (the only instrument that’s played without the performer touching it), attempt to tune a 1920s radio, or play a record on a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox for a nickel.

The museum also hosts special events, has workshops for kids and adults, and inducts TV and radio legends into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Erica Wacker

Erica Wacker is a Midwesterner through and through, growing up in Illinois, going to college in Wisconsin, and settling down in Minnesota. She loves to run, travel with her family, and go to concerts to relive her youth.