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Central Minnesota
A political map of the Central Minnesota region provided from, a Minnesota State agency.

Central Minnesota is the central part of the state of Minnesota. No definitive boundaries of the region exist, but most definitions would include the land north of Interstate 94, east of U.S. Highway 59, south of U.S. Highway 2, and west of U.S. Highway 169.


The northern portion of the region contains many softwood forests, including the expansive Chippewa National Forest. The western and southern portions of the region, meanwhile, are dotted with rolling prairie, and as such, contain the largest agricultural operations in the region. The eastern part of the region contains a great deal of both hardwood and softwood forests, and once had rich iron ore deposits. The now-depleted Cuyuna Range, which formed the southwestern border of the large Iron Range region of Minnesota, was located near Crosby and Ironton at the eastern edge of the region.

One thing the entire region of central Minnesota has in common, however, is its abundance of lakes. Indeed, many of the lakes that make Minnesota the "land of 10,000 lakes" can be found in the central part of the state. A typical image conjured up of central Minnesota is likely to include the many large and small lakes that surround the central Minnesota cities of St. Cloud (by far the region's largest city), Alexandria, Brainerd, and Grand Rapids.

Two lakes situated within the region, Mille Lacs Lake, with an area of 206 mi² (534 km²), and Leech Lake, with an area of 175 mi² (453 km²), are, respectively, the second and third largest lakes located entirely within Minnesota. The Mississippi River winds extensively through the region from its source at Lake Itasca.

Area high school athletic conferences acknowledge the region's location and natural geography with names including Central Lakes,[1] Granite Ridge, Great River, [2] Heart O'Lakes,[3] Mid-State,[4] and Pine to Prairie.[5]


The ethnic makeup of central Minnesota is largely representative of the first settlers who came to the region. People of German and Scandinavian heritage by far make up the majority of the region’s residents, though there is also a sizable Native American population. Two of the state’s largest reservations, the Leech Lake Indian Reservation and the White Earth Indian Reservation, are located within the boundaries of central Minnesota. In addition, the small Mille Lacs Indian Reservation is also located within the region, along the southshores of Mille Lacs Lake, from near the city of Garrison to Isle.

Although the 1996 film Fargo and its television series are largely set in the region’s cities of Brainerd and Bemidji, the accents of those living in central Minnesota are not nearly as pronounced as those in the franchise. The central Minnesotan dialect can be said to be analogous to that of the entire Upper Midwest.


Central Minnesota is home to one MSA and one μSA.

St. Cloud MSA (pop. 192,510)

Brainerd μSA (pop. 91,067)

Other Central Minnesota cities include:


Central Minnesota's economy, like that of the United States as a whole, has recently shifted away from agriculture and mining toward industry and service. But agriculture is still important in the region, especially the southern and western parts, where the land and soil is conducive to crops such as corn and soybeans. Dairy farms also dot the region in areas where crops cannot easily be grown, but their numbers have been drastically dwindling in recent years. Paper companies own expansive amounts of land in the region's heavily forested eastern and northern parts, but logging activity has long since peaked. Paper production mills continue to operate in Brainerd and Sartell.

Tourism has become an important industry in the region in the last few decades, fueled largely by its lakes. Many of the region's cities see their populations swell in the summer, when people from the larger metropolitan areas of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Duluth, Fargo, and Grand Forks come to enjoy fishing and other outdoor activities on the region's lakes. The cluster of lakes around Brainerd known as the Brainerd Lakes Area are probably the best-known, thanks in part to the many Twin Cities residents who own cabins or land on or near the area's biggest lakes. In addition, several esteemed resorts are on Gull Lake.

Higher education

Central Minnesota is home to the following colleges and universities:

Four-year colleges

Two-year colleges

  • Alexandria Technical and Community College
  • Central Lakes College
  • Minnesota State Community and Technical College (Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, and Wadena campuses)
  • Northwest Technical College
  • St. Cloud Technical and Community College

Notable residents

Notable people who hail from central Minnesota, with the names of cities they grew up in listed in parentheses, include:

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