Find Unique Treasures in These 8 Northwest Minnesota Towns
By Lisa Meyers McClintick
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Summer can be the best season to shop in northwest Minnesota, when resort towns such as Park Rapids, Walker and Detroit Lakes are in full swing. Tiny hamlets like Dorset, along the easy-to-bike Heartland Trail, buzz with activity as shoppers seek books for dockside reading, comfy slip-on shoes, and souvenirs that remind them of life at the lake long after the fall winds blow trees bare.
Outside of summer, the region offers an enticing variety of year-round boutiques and unique stores, from quaint and quirky to classy and chic. And don’t forget practical: You can find everything for staying warm through the winter, whether you’re seeking burly Paul Bunyan plaid or brightly colored snowmobile duds.
Here are eight northwest towns worthy of a shopping spree:
This town’s classic Main Street bustles with up-north boutiques selling everything from cozy flannel pajamas and moose-themed decor to cribbage boards shaped like local lakes. Looking to outfit your “man cave”? Don't miss Toys for Boys on Highway 34 west of town. It’s loaded with 1950s and ’60s collectibles (think Betty Boop and Elvis), jukeboxes, pedal cars and vintage garage signs.
Keep a camera handy for the 30 giant, creatively painted sunfish that decorate this popular resort town. Browse for gifts at Red Willow, find a new fabric at Red Pine Quilt Shop, or pick up something one-of-a-kind at Sulaine’s Antiques.
As home to one of the nation’s biggest country music events—the three-day WE Fest, held each summer—Detroit Lakes is also the perfect place to snag a superfan T-shirt.
Artistic gifts and vibrant interpretations of Red River Valley landscapes are on display at the Rourke Art Museum in a historic former post office. To tap into the area’s Scandinavian roots, head to the Hjemkomst Center. Tucked into an oxbow of the Red River, the iconic museum was built around a replica Viking ship that sailed to Norway in 1982, and offers a gift shop rich with cookbooks, history books and crafts.
Few visitors can resist a selfie with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox on the shore of Lake Bemidji, but don’t miss a stroll across the street to stores that reflect the city’s heritage and culture. Find thick wool blankets and lumberjack-inspired clothing at Bemidji Woolen Mills, Native American crafts at Morell’s Chippewa Trading Post, and a variety of gift and souvenir shops—with the added bonus of artsy sculptures scattered throughout downtown.
For local artwork, check out the 1917 Old Schoolhouse on the city’s southern edge or the Great River Gallery.
Thief River Falls
Thief River Falls
Powersports enthusiasts will find logoed apparel and outdoor gear for snowmobile, traditional ATV and UTV adventures on the home turf of Textron Arctic Cat. The town is also well stocked with other sporting goods, from deer hunting stands to hockey gear and more.
Take a stroll among late-1800s buildings on Crookston’s South Broadway to find treats such as Chippers: salty-sweet chocolate-covered potato chips with a satisfying crunch. They’re a fitting combination in a region known for sugar beets and potatoes, and they blend in well among more traditional chocolates and sweets at the century-old Widman’s Candy Shop.
Other stores, such as Willow and Ivy, carry a variety of gifts and antiques that often reflect the area’s agricultural heritage.
A rainbow of kayaks outside Reed’s Sporting Goods set the stage for outdoor fun that begins less than a block away at Walker’s Leech Lake, one of Minnesota’s largest bodies of water. The store is a good place to start for on-the-water advice, tackle and outdoor gear (especially ice fishing or International Eelpout Festival essentials).
Walker’s downtown also attracts shoppers with clothing boutiques, purveyors of kitchenware and locally harvested wild rice, an old-fashioned candy shop, and galleries featuring loons, north woods art and photography.
East Grand Forks
East Grand Forks
Get everything you need for outdoor recreation and fun at Cabela’s, conveniently located downtown near walking trails and two blocks from campsites at Red River State Recreation Area. Shoppers who prefer something flashier can browse boutiques such as Glamorous Reruns.
Lisa Meyers McClintick is a prolific travel writer for outlets including USA Today, Midwest Living, the Star Tribune and her website lisamcclintick.com. A mom of three, she especially enjoys family travel, hands-on learning vacations, local food and farms, living history and outdoor adventures.
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