As a boy spending his summers along the banks of the Mississippi River in Little Falls, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., would lay by the great river and daydream under the blue sky. Sometimes he'd spot bald eagles coasting overhead.
Later, as a 25-year old pilot, he became an instant worldwide celebrity after flying the first trans-Atlantic solo, non-stop flight in May, 1927.
About flying, Lindbergh (nicknamed "The Lone Eagle") said, "...pilots have the freedom of wind with the expanse of sky." Perhaps he first tasted the freedom of wind and the expanse of sky in Little Falls.
The natural world that Lindbergh came to love in Little Falls remains an imposing presence. Just 96 miles from the Twin Cities, Little Falls continues to define itself by the Mississippi and the surrounding forests and fields. The fastest route to Little Falls follows Hwy. 10 northwest of the Cities directly to town. For a bucolic detour, turn right onto Hwy. 25 west of Becker and drive north to Pierz. Turn west onto Hwy. 27 to reach Little Falls (pop. 8,140). Or you can trace the Great River Road from the Twin Cities as it winds along a network of county roads.
Though Lindbergh is the town's most famous native son, the city's story is most closely linked to the Mississippi River. Lumbering was the major industry in the early years of Little Falls (est. in 1848), where dams built near the small waterfalls powered local sawmills.
Two of Little Falls' most distinctive homes housed the famous "Pine Tree Bachelors." Charles A. Weyerhaeuser and Richard "Drew" Musser, as young men in their mid-20s, managed the Pine Tree Lumber Company for their fathers. As the bachelors married, they built lavish neighboring homes in 1898. Furnished with antiques and original heirlooms, both homes are available for conferences, special events and tours through the Linden Hill Historical Event Center.
You can still glimpse a fragment of the towering pine forests that lured the lumber industry to Little Falls. Nestled under giant white pine trees on a 70-acre tract, the Pine Grove Zoo and Primeval Park is a family favorite. Our kids loved watching the timberwolves, tigers and other exotic and native animals. The rustic log shelter became a cozy refuge during a brief shower.
Across town, take a stroll through another grove of grand red and white pines in Charles A. Lindbergh State Park. The park is the site of the Lindbergh farm and is named for the aviator's father, who owned the land. Charles Jr. managed the farm full time for two years before he went to college in 1920. Step across the road towards the Mississippi to tour the Lindbergh House and Interpretive Center, both managed by the Minnesota Historical Society.
Little Falls is also home to some unusual, engaging museums. The Minnesota Military Museum and the Camp Ripley Environmental Center are both just a short drive north of town. The Larson Boat Museum highlights over 50 years of boat building in Little Falls. The Minnesota Fishing Museum and Education Center is a tribute to freshwater fishing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Downtown, park the car and wander through the National Historic District with its handsome brick buildings and wall-size murals. On Wednesdays and Saturdays through late fall, you can browse the Farmers Market. The 36th Annual Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair, with over 700 juried exhibitors, will cover the downtown on September 6 and 7.
Top off your Little Falls jaunt with a meal at the unusual Black and White Café downtown.