Arts & Culture

Minnesota’s Most Mysterious Places

August 13, 2013 6:00 AM

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster

Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster

William Kent Krueger writes the New York Times bestselling Cork O’Connor mystery series, which is set in Minnesota’s great Northwoods.  His work features many of Minnesota’s best known geographic locations, among them the North Shore of Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  In addition to Krueger’s latest mystery, Tamarack County, he is also the author of Ordinary Grace, an award-winning novel set in an earlier time in a small town in the beautiful Minnesota River Valley.  His research has taken him to communities in every corner of the state, and his love of his homeland and its people is a hallmark of his fiction. Find out more at

Mystery in Minnesota is my bread and butter. I encounter it almost every day in wonderments large and small.  Sometimes these encounters are happenstance, but over the years, I’ve discovered places certain to fill me with a profound sense of awe arising from the mysteries at the heart of these particular locations.  Let me tell you about a few.

Oberg Mountain
8901 Grand Ave Place
Duluth, MN 55808
(218) 626-4300
Superior National Forest

The North Shore of Minnesota is in the running for most beautiful place on earth.  Two-thirds of the way to the Canadian border and just west of Highway 61 stands a singular promontory crowned with mysterious glory.  This is Oberg Mountain.  To reach the top requires a brief but challenging hike.  The reward is worth the effort.  To stand on a lip of rock and look out across the vast blue of Kitchigami (Lake Superior) stretching to the horizon, or to be blinded by the flames of color burning through the forests of the Sawbill Mountains in fall is to be overwhelmed with a sense of unfathomable mystery at the how and why of such beauty.  I always climb down stunned to silence and with a deep sense of peace and gratitude.

The Northwest Angle
Northwest Angle State Forest

Some mysteries are man-made.  Take Minnesota’s Northwest Angle.  The Angle (as it’s known) is the northern most point in the lower forty-eight states, but to get there, you have to leave the country, cross into Canada, drive fifty miles of back road, and, at the Angle, reenter the U.S.  Or you can cut across forty miles of open water on Lake of the Woods.  It’s a head scratcher to be sure.  But a trip to the Angle is something you’ll never forget.  Perched on an enormous body of water that contains more than 14,000 islands, the Angle is an isolated outpost, a geographic anomaly, and a mysterious locale that feels as if it’s at the edge of the earth.

Photo Credit: The Palmer House Hotel

Photo Credit: The Palmer House Hotel

The Palmer House Hotel
500 Sinclair Lewis Avenue
Sauk Centre MN 56378
(320) 351- 9100

I’m a nut for haunted houses.  If I weren’t a writer, I’d be a ghost hunter.  Minnesota has lots of haunted places, but none with more paranormal activity than the Palmer House in Sauke Centre. Sinclair Lewis worked here as a kid, and who knows?  Maybe he’s still there, among the many spirits that manifest themselves in the hotel’s rooms and corridors.  The Palmer House has been featured on the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures.”  You can stay the night—it’s a lovely old place—or simply make arrangements to take the haunted tour.  Either way, all your tingly senses are in for a treat.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

The Minnesota River Valley

There are ghosts here, too, but they’re dramatic and sad and historic.  The history of the Minnesota River Valley is written in blood.  It’s the site of the Dakota Conflict of 1862.  Along the length of the Minnesota River, battles were fought and lives lost, and the result was the largest mass execution in our nation’s history.  In Mankato, on December 26, 1862, thirty-eight Dakota warriors were hung for their participation in the uprising.  You can tour this remarkable territory by following the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway.  It’s a place where history and geography collide, and I guarantee that it will move you in ways that only your heart will understand.

William Kent Krueger’s latest mystery Tamarack County will be published by Atria, a division of sister company Simon & Schuster, on August 20, 2013. You can find out more about the novel or pre-order here.


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