North, South, East, and West: Cool Small Towns Around Rochester

If you’re looking for entertainment this summer, why not explore some of the eclectic small towns around Rochester? There are too many to mention in just one article, so take a day trip or weekend away, and let us know what you find! 

Due North

Zumbrota stands out as a fantastic small town only a half-hour drive north of Rochester. Zumbrota is notable not only for being the home of Minnesota’s last authentic covered bridge, but also for the quaint downtown area, numerous historic buildings and wide array of great independently-owned shopping opportunities. 

In the background of the many art festivals, fashion shows and other exciting annual events that Zumbrota hosts is a stronghold of locally-owned shops. A trip to Zumbrota promises no end of tempting handcrafted,
heirloom-quality goods, from the gorgeous shoes and handbags at Luya Shoes and Other Fine Things, to the handmade jewelry, paintings and other artisan goods at Crossings at Carnegie. While you’re visiting, check out the historic State Theatre and the History Center or book a night for camping in the Covered Bridge Park. 

Down South 

A short 15-minute drive south of Rochester, Stewartville offers a great escape from the city. Check out the miles of hiking and biking trails that connect Bear Cave Park along the Root River to Meadow Park, or spend the afternoon picnicking in the pavilions, playing sand volleyball or fishing in the pond at Florence Park. Pack a few blankets and lawn chairs and be sure to catch an outdoor movie in the park held once a month throughout the summer. 

The Stewartville Farmers Market is held every Wednesday on Main Street from May 25 to September 28, and offers delicious goods from home-based businesses and food vendors. All products are sourced locally to support local families and businesses. 

Looking for a challenge for yourself or for your kids? Look no further than Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch, where you’ll find the thrill of a zip line, multiple challenge
courses, a bouldering wall, archery, trail rides and more. 

Good morning Sunshine 

A half-hour drive to the east of Rochester, St. Charles is widely known as the gateway to Whitewater State Park, yet also offers a unique variety of fun summer activities. If you’re looking to catch some rays, the Mel Brownell Aquatic Center is open from June 4 to August 21, 1-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., every day. 

If you’re looking for something completely new, participate in the St. Charles GeoCaching Adventure, an open activity that involves using a GPS to find hidden containers. There are three caches hidden within the city limits, and the challenge is to find and collect a card from each cache, which can be subsequently cashed in to purchase a commemorative St. Charles medallion. The challenge is hosted throughout the summer. 

St. Charles’ Gladiolus Days is a unique festival held August 21-28, a festival of flowers that compliments the natural beauty of the picturesque limestone bluffs and deep ravines of the area. Be sure to check out the schedule of events online.

Ride Off into the Sunset

A half hour to the west of Rochester, Mantorville is home to one of the best places in SE Minnesota to watch live theatre at the Mantorville Theatre Company in the historic 1917 Opera House. Whether you’re looking to get involved and want to audition for a role in the melodramas or are happy enough just to go and watch, the theatre welcomes all.

Charming, historic downtown Mantorville also offers the Mantorville Art Guild, an art gallery and classroom space, the Mantorville Brewing microbrewery, the Milton House and canoeing, fishing or camping at Riverside Park. Or, if you’re just looking for an easy day out, take a stroll along Main Street and enjoy the many independent restaurants and shops along the way.

When you are out exploring this summer, take pictures and send them to or post on the RochesterWomen magazine Facebook page. You may be featured in a future issue!

Amanda Wingren is a freelance writer.