Perham named "One of the Best Small Towns to Visit in 2018" by Smithsonian Magazine
Perham, Minnesota (Population: 3,335)
On your mark, get set, and go straight to central Minnesota for Perham’s 40th annual International Turtle Races, a weekly occurrence in this “heart of Otter Tail County” on Wednesday mornings, June through August. Perham’s shelled reptiles and their out-of-state competitors are local icons, vying against each other for turtle bragging rights all summer long. Turtles start out in the center of a paved ring at Turtle Park, located next door to Perham’s area chamber, and must be first to maneuver their way to the outside ring to win. Heat winners then compete against one another for the top three slots. Each annual season kicks off with a June Turtle Fest, complete with a (human) half-marathon and grand parade. It’s all just a bit of the small-town allure that makes Perham special.
Otter Tail County is an all-season destination that’s home to more lakes that any other county in the country—over 1,100 of them—with Perham nestled among them. The county is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, hosting numerous events that include walking tours and September plays honoring the area’s history and heritage and held in numerous towns, including Perham.
Downtown Perham is filled with unique specialty shops and eateries: places like Nest, part-kitchenware retailer, part-cafe, with its own drive-through coffee window; and the two-story Gathering Grounds Coffee Shoppe, hailed for its soup and sandwich lunches, as well as the selection of jewelry, books and antiques at its gift shop—all housed in a two-story century-old downtown structure. For Minnesota craft beers and burgers, be sure and stop by locally owned Brew Ales & Eats.
Perham is home to the country’s only museum based entirely on the oral history of American veterans, and the Perham Center for the Arts, an art, music and theater venue, occupies the city’s century-old, former Saint Stanislaus Catholic Church. A downtown must-see is Perham’s Waves of Discovery Mural, comprised of various bits of mosaics, agates, fossils and fused glass, and featuring more than 50 hidden symbols, from one of the many artists’ initials to a series of dragon flies. Small-town pride is evident in everything from June’s annual Rib Cook-Off to a December Parade of Lights, complete with floats and a lighting of town’s Christmas tree.
The greater Otter Tail area offers a ton of outdoor activities as well—from fly fishing holes to more than two dozen campgrounds and resorts. Snowmobiling is especially popular, with over 250 miles of trails winding around lakes and through forests of maple and birch, as is cross country skiing. The county’s Otter Trail Scenic Byway meanders past Native American hunting grounds, over oak-tree-covered hills and alongside vast wetlands.
By Laura Kiniry
Source, images, credits & more information: Smithsonian Mag