If you’re planning a trip to Otter Tail County and happen to call their visitors bureau in the process, the specially made jingle you’ll hear on the other end nicely sums up what you should expect during a long weekend there: a warm, sometimes quirky, quintessential small-town Minnesota experience.
Located in west-central Minnesota, Otter Tail is one of the state’s largest counties at over 2,200 square miles, encompassing 21 towns from tiny Vining (pop. 78) to the county seat of Fergus Falls (pop. 13,000). One of the standout features of Otter Tail County is its mesmerizing natural environment. Comprised of rolling prairie lands—and the most lakes in any U.S. county, including the namesake Otter Tail Lake—the county exudes a classic, laid-back Minnesota lakeside vibe. While there’s always something happening in Otter Tail, there’s a special reason to visit in 2018: It’s the county’s 150th anniversary.
The best way to explore the region is by picking one place to stay for the weekend and venturing out from there. Make the most of your precious time away by using our lodging database to find the perfect spot to start and end your daily adventures. The best part is, whether you stay in a yurt at Glendalough State Park, a hotel in Fergus Falls or a B&B in Perham, you’re never more than a hop, skip and a jump away from all of Otter Tail County’s many charming attractions.
Day 1: Explore Otter Tail’s Multitude of Small Towns
Start your three-day weekend in Fergus Falls, the county’s biggest small town and hub for arts and culture. The Center for the Arts focuses on all things performance art, while the Lakes Region Arts Council and the Kaddatz Art Galleries specialize in visual art. Next, head over to The Market to swoop up some souvenirs like a pair of classic Minnetonka Moccasins, or fancy soaps and other bath products perfect for pampering. While you’re there, be sure to stop at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center to soak up some knowledge about the 325 acres of prairie wetlands that span the northern Great Plains.
After traipsing around Fergus Falls, head over to the town that Smithsonian magazine named one of the “20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2018,” Perham. First, there are the International Turtle Races that take place every Wednesday morning from June to August. Believe it or not, people come from all over the world to compete. The races kick off alongside Turtle Fest, a series of festivities throughout the month of June that include a half-marathon, street dance, brew fest and a parade.
Of course, there’s plenty to do in Perham all year long, like sipping coffee at Gathering Grounds, a two-story coffee shop housed in a 100-year-old building. Visitors can also peruse the handmade goods sold at Your Porch, which run the gamut from kids toys to health and beauty products and a surprisingly large selection of teas. For dinner, a night in Perham gives you the chance to finally make it to Zorbaz after hearing about it forever. A Minnesota take on a beach bar, Zorbaz is an “up north” favorite for pizza, nachos, burritos and fun summer drinks adorned with plastic bobbers instead of paper umbrellas.
Day 2: Get Outdoorsy on Otter Tail Lake
Wake up and head straight to Otter Tail Lake to relax by the water, fish for your lunch, swim, kayak, boat, or undertake any of the other activities that can be done on an almost 14,000-acre body of water. Most of the lake is less than 15 feet deep—ideal conditions for catching smallmouth and largemouth bass—but ardent anglers will also find active populations of walleye, northern pike and crappie.
No gear? No problem. Recreational outfitters can set you up with a rental stand-up paddleboard or kayak, while sports outfitters provide rod and reel rentals and guided fishing adventures. When it comes to dining, the Otter Supper Club and Beach Bums Bar and Eatery are both in line with the relaxed vibe of a day on the lake.
Day 3: Take to the Trails
For some outdoor fun on land, consider a bike ride along one of the region’s many scenic trails. The Glendalough Trail serves up 11 miles of easy terrain that’s perfect for family outings, or pick up the appropriately named, 55-mile Central Lakes State Trail in Fergus Falls.
Hikers should certainly hit a segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a beast of a trail that spans seven states and slices right through Otter Tail County. For something shorter, Glendalough State Park is chock full of dazzling hikes like the brief 3.3-mile Annie Battle Lake Trail.
Playing a round at one of the 10 (yes, that’s right—10!) golf courses in the county is another excellent outdoor activity. For those who prefer driving on the road more than the range, a cruise along the 150-mile Otter Trail Scenic Byway loop is another great way to take in the scenery before heading home after a relaxing yet adventurous weekend in Otter Tail County.