Akeley, Minnesota, pop. 432, claims to be the birthplace of mythical folk hero Paul Bunyan. There aren’t many who don’t know the tales of the giant northwoods lumberjack, and there are statues of Paul in almost every state in the US. Plenty of other towns and states claim to be his home, but Akeley has the crib too, parked right behind the giant kneeling statue of the big guy. His outstretched hand is the perfect photo opportunity and there is a small park located here too. Paul is about 30 feet tall kneeling, and over 40′ if he was afoot.
Also behind the statue is the Paul Bunyan Historical Museum, which documents the history of the area. Akeley once was home to the largest sawmill in the state and had a population of over 3,000 in the early 1900’s. Now it sits as a touristy small town between Park Rapids and Walker.
While in the area: Akeley is located on the Lakes Country Scenic Byway, which spans through Minnesota’s lakes and pines, and through the Chippewa National Forest. It also sits on the Crow Wing chain of lakes, so there is no shortage of things to do. Or, jump on your bike and cruise down the Heartland Trail.
Just down the road from our home base of operations is a small town called Menagha, MN. It’s just south of Park Rapids about 15 minutes and is right on the edge of a small lake called Spirit Lake. Here in Menahga you will find a statue of the mythical patron saint of Finland, St. Urho. According to local folklore, St. Urho drove away grasshoppers out of Finland a la St Patrick and the snakes in Ireland. His alleged catch phrase is “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!“ (“Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!”) Coincidentally, his day is celebrated on March 16th. He stands here in town with a grasshopper impaled in his pitchfork.
Apparently the idea of St. Urho was conceived by a Minnesota native back in the 50’s since the Finn’s weren’t getting enough recognition like the Irish with St. Patty’s Day and all that. There is also a St. Urho chainsaw-carved statue in Finland, MN as well (below).
While in the area: Just north of Menagha is a pretty solid golf course called Blueberry Pines. Or, head up to Park Rapids and hook up with the Heartland Trail, a 49-mile paved bike trail winding through lakes and forests along a former train railway.
Finland is in the beautiful Sawtooth Mountain area along Lake Superior’s rugged Northshore, and close to the secretive “Reverse Road” as well as the Illgen Falls Cabin.
Blue Earth, MN sits in the middle of Minnesota right along the southern edge. It is the mid-point of Interstate 90, which runs from Seattle to Boston. Here they decided to put up a 50-foot tall Jolly Green Giant statue, which reportedly draws in 10,000 tourists a year. There is also a small statue of “Sprout,” the Giant’s sidekick, and a Green Giant Museum.
North of Blue Earth on HWY 169 in the Minnesota River Valley is another Jolly Green Giant. This one is part of a sign and has been there as long as I can remember. The Minnesota Valley Canning Company was started in 1903 here in Le Sueur, MN and was later bought by Minnesota-based General Mills.This one is tough to get a picture of, as it is only visible from the Highway and there really isn’t anywhere to pull over here. Good luck!
There are also a few vintage Green Giant signs around LeSueur as well.
While in the area: Check out the The Dr. William W. Mayo House, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, and has been restored to its look in 1860. Mayo went on to found the world renowned Mayo Clinic in MN.
This one is pretty far off the beaten path. Nodine is a tiny town home to little more than a church, a few businesses, and some homes. It’s on the extreme southeastern corner of the state, almost to Wisconsin, right on the edge of bluff country.
One of my personal favorites, the Nodine Culvert Man stands about 30 feet tall. He is right outside of the Nodine Culvert Company, and is made entirely of shaped metal. The cowboy hat is a nice touch. Easy to find right on the eastern edge of town.
While in the area: Great River Bluffs State Park is just minutes north of here. Great hiking with outstanding views of the Mississippi River from high up on the bluffs. The Dorer Hardwood State Forest is also great for hiking.
Without question, one of the all-time great roadside attractions in the state of Minnesota is Big Ole. This larger-than-life norseman statue is found right down by the lake in the tourist-friendly Alexandria, MN. Big Ole represents the Nordic history in this town’s past – the controversial claim that Vikings were exploring this area as early as the 14th century. Read more about that.