Central Minnesota is the region consisting of the central portion of the state of Minnesota. Although no specific boundaries of the region exist, most definitions of what makes up the region would generally consist of the vast swath of 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, Granite Ridge, Great River,  Heart O'Lakes, Mid-State, and Pine to Prairie.
The economy of central Minnesota, like that of the United States as a whole, has largely shifted from agriculture and mining to industry and service in recent years. Agriculture is still important in the region, however, especially in the southern and western part of the region, where the land and soil is conducive to growing 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 also own expansive amounts of land in the heavily forested eastern and northern parts of the region, though the peak of logging activity has long passed. Paper production mills still continue to be operated, however, in the towns of Brainerd, Grand Rapids, and Sartell.
Tourism has become a very important industry in the region in the last few decades, fueled largely by the enormous number of lakes in the area. 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, which have made the area known as the "Brainerd Lakes Area" are probably the most well known, thanks in part to the many residents of the Twin Cities who own cabins or land either on or near the area’s biggest lakes. In addition, several esteemed resorts are located on the area’s large Gull Lake.
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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.
St. Cloud MSA (pop. 192,510)
- Saint Cloud (pop. 66,389)
- Sartell (pop. 16,523)
- Sauk Rapids (pop. 13,348)
- Waite Park (pop. 7,469)
- St. Joseph (pop. 6,820)
- St. Augusta (pop. 3,545)
Brainerd μSA (pop. 91,067)
Other Central Minnesota cities include:
- Bemidji (pop. 14,942)
- Fergus Falls (pop. 13,419) (one county east of the Wahpeton, ND μSA)
- Alexandria (pop. 13,568)
- Detroit Lakes (pop. 9,165) (one county east of the Fargo-Moorhead MSA)
- Little Falls (pop. 8,689)
Central Minnesota is home to the following colleges and universities:
- Bemidji State University
- College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University
- St. Cloud State University
- 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 people who hail from central Minnesota, with the names of cities they grew up in listed in parentheses, include:
- Judy Garland (Grand Rapids)
- Brian Kobilka (Little Falls)
- Charles Lindbergh (Little Falls)
- Sinclair Lewis (Sauk Centre)
- Eugene McCarthy (Watkins)
- Gig Young (St. Cloud)
- Lesley J. McNair (Verndale)
- Exploreminnesota.com guide to cities in central portion of state
- Charles Lindbergh State Historic Site
- Judy Garland Museum
- Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers
Convention and visitors bureaus in the region
- Alexandria Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Bemidji Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Brainerd Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Detroit Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Fergus Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Saint Cloud Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Wadena Chamber of Commerce