Minnesota : Safety by City
- Brooklyn Park
- Detroit Lakes
- Fergus Falls
- Grand Marais
- Grand Portage
- International Falls
- Maple Grove
- New Ulm
- Red Wing
- St. Cloud
- St. Paul
- Two Harbors
Bemidji, Minnesota, is a Northwoods community nestled near several of the 10,000 lakes the state has to offer (technically, there are more than 14,000).
The city is the midway point between Duluth and Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Bemidji has several notable aspects, including being the first city on the Mississippi River and the “home” of folklore legend Paul Bunyan.
It’s a multicultural destination with three tribal nations in the region.
The Bemidji Lakes region has plenty of hotels, from quick overnight stays on the main highway to resort destinations with sweeping lakefront views and extensive amenities.
You can camp or rent a cabin, and all are located close to town or far away from any other people.
Winter sports are just as popular as summer activities.
Bemidji is also known as the curling capital, which is an ice sport where stones are slid toward a target and is one of the most popular Winter Olympics competitions.
Bemidji might be a city most people have never heard of, but it is getting a lot of tourism attention since Smithsonian Magazine ranked it as one of the top small towns to visit in 2022.
In addition to the traditional outdoor events, there are festivals and celebrations held throughout the year.
Warnings & Dangers in Bemidji
OVERALL RISK : LOW
I'm going to put an asterisk on the *low risk here. While the crime rates aren't enough to make you second-guess a visit, if you're simply looking for the safety Northwoods community, Bemidji isn't that. It has faced more violent crime increases and police staffing issues that are having a direct result on crime rates.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Paul Bunyan Transit is a small transportation system here with on-demand services available. It's not robust enough to rely on, but it could come in handy. Taxis and rideshares will be hard to come by. Having your own vehicle or using a bicycle to get around would be your two best options. All options are a low risk, but you should get a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle if you're going into the woods.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
The theft rate here is 500% higher than the national average. Based on that fact alone, you should treat it as a medium risk. 5 of the thefts were pickpockets or purse snatchings, and 40% of thefts were shoplifting. Car break-ins account for 22% of thefts. It just helps to know someone is looking to steal something in Bemidji - just don't give them that crime of opportunity.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW
Bemidji and surrounding Beltrami County get severe weather throughout the year. In the past few years, tornadoes have swept through several times - one even staying on the ground for 200 yards in Bemidji. Winter weather like blizzards and ice storms are possible too. With so many lakes nearby, flooding will also be a concern. You should also know about ice safety when the lakes freeze over, as too many people fall through thin ice each year.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
For as much as people steal here, robberies aren't nearly as common. Just four highway robberies happened in 2021, with an average take of $6. Use extra caution at night and don't walk around alone, but you are far more likely to see your car broken into than a gunman holding you up.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
This is a low risk for a large terror concern, but the United States sees Lone Wolf acts and hate crimes in random cities. That's why it's important to report anything suspicious you see, even if you aren't 100% sure there's a real problem.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Several fraud and scam alerts popped up in 2022, but most are spamming calls or spoofed text messages targeted at residents in this city of 15,000 people. The one warning to heed is renting a home or cabin through a reputable agency, not a third-party website like Craigslist. The Chamber of Commerce can help connect you to a legitimate business.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women should use the same caution as men when visiting Bemidji. The crime rates are just uncharacteristically high for this part of the state. As a college town and a place with decent nightlife, you should limit how much you drink and never take drinks from a stranger. Avoid any temptation to go on a boat or hike with someone you just met.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. One concern you should note if you're staying at a rustic or old hotel/resort/cabin is that lead in the pipes can impact water quality after it has been treated. Avoid this risk by letting tap water run for a minute or two after being stagnant. Boiling water won't help protect against lead.
Safest Places to Visit in Bemidji
Visit Bemidji’s tourism website is newly updated and robust with maps, attractions, events, loading, and restaurant lists.
A new tourism guide is available to download, and the guide is updated each year.
You’ll find information about the city’s history, the neighborhoods, and the economic drivers, in addition to attractions, hotels, tour companies, rentals, and restaurants.
Look for the Paul Bunyan statue with his trusty Ox named Babe, and you’ll be at the tourism headquarters, where even more information is available.
Just a short walk away is the statue of Chief Bemidji, a real person who first settled on the lake front.
Visit the Beltrami County History Center to learn about the early days of the land and the evolution to the city and region you get to enjoy today.
Use #bemidji or #visitbemidji to see other social media posts about travel adventures.
The city and surrounding lakes offer activities for each season.
- Cross-country skiing
- Bike trails
- ATV trails
- Disc Golf
Paul Bunyan Animal Land is home to almost 100 animals from around the world.
Get up close with a bear or pet a camel.
It’s not an elaborate zoo, but it’s a small-town favorite in this corner of Minnesota.
NOTE: Please check the hours on this attraction, as the website provided is now a spam link, and the park is likely closed in the winter.
Walk downtown and explore the shops and restaurants while seeing the Sculpture Walk.
This art installation has been ranked as one of the best in the state since it started in 1999.
The Watermark Art Center is another great place to explore the artsy side of Bemidji.
Camp Rabideau is 30 minutes away and is a historical landmark.
This was once a Civilian Conservation Camp during the Great Depression, teaching valuable skills to the unemployed.
A one-mile trail is available for self-guided tours.
If you want a guided tour, schedule that ahead of time.
Headwaters Science Center is truly an educational and interactive experience for everyone.
Hands-on exhibits span from toddlers to teenagers, and adults can enjoy Science After Dark events.
A 210-gallon saltwater aquarium is also on site.
Bemidji State Park and Itasca State Park are two of the most popular outdoor recreation areas.
Bemidji State Park is closer, but Itasca allows you to walk across the headwaters of the Mississippi River – a body of water that goes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Buena Vista State Forest opens a whole new wilderness area of options to explore.
Places to Avoid in Bemidji
Bemidji isn’t large enough to have bad neighborhoods, and crime isn’t high enough to have the places too dangerous to drive through – but you should always stay on main roads and in well-lit areas.
It helps to know that there are three Native American tribal lands around Bemidji that are governed and enforced within the tribe.
For example, if you visit the casino in Red Lake, you’ll be on tribal land.
It is policed by tribal law enforcement.
It shouldn’t impact any decision you make of where to travel, but respect that you are on sovereign territory.
State laws do not apply here, but tribal and federal laws do.
Don’t assume because this is a tourism region that means roads will always be cleared right away after snowstorms and all roads are smooth and paved.
Minnesotans are used to rough winters and don’t let it stop them from exploring the outdoors, but they also aren’t going to worry about a few potholes or let a gravel, snowy road stop them.
If you aren’t in for a rugged ride, stick close to the shoreline and city, as there are plenty of adventures across the region for all comfort levels.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Bemidji
- Bemidji does have its own police department with updated crime statistics posted each month. There’s also a community crime map where you can do an interactive search for recent criminal activity. For example, you might want to know how many car break-ins happened within a mile of your hotel in the pasts month or how many assaults happened near a restaurant in the past year.
- Sign up for CodeRED notifications, so you stay on top of developing weather throughout the year. You’ll get notified of watches, warnings, and storm-related safety incidents. If you are camping, bring a NOAA battery-powered radio to get those same notifications even if you don’t have mobile phone service.
- The Beltrami County Emergency Management Facebook page is regularly updated with important information, from minor sleet accumulations to tornado siren testing to major storms approaching. It’s a great resource for those active on social media.
- The Bemidji Police Department also posts a lot on Facebook, which is a nice change of pace from some smaller communities in northern Minnesota that don’t. While I’m baffled at the number of lost dogs and cats reported on the page, there are some great safety tips and wanted people posted on there too.
- If you have a crime tip you want to share with the police department, do so anonymously through Crime Stoppers of Minnesota. Fill out a form online or call 1-800-222-8477. This could be useful for spotting graffiti, learning about drug activity at a bar, or seeing the aftermath of a car break-in. It doesn’t matter if you are the victim of the crime or not – any bit of information helps.
- For those visiting in winter, don’t expect to see snowplows out unless there is at least one inch of snow on the ground. The plows won’t head out until the snow has stopped, so hunker down during that time. If any ice or sleet is accompanying a snowstorm, stay off the roads. Even the best vehicles can’t be controlled on sheets of icy roads.
- 511 Minnesota is the state’s Department of Transportation road safety program. There’s a website and app. You can create an account and save your preferred routes to get alerts about accidents, closures, and construction—plan for construction delays through spring, summer, and fall. Be patient, and don’t get baited into road rage.
- Anglers and hunters need a license from the state Department of Natural Resources. A fishing license is much easier to get than a hunting license. Review all the requirements well in advance.
- Don’t park on Bemidji streets overnight if there is snow in the forecast. Police here won’t hesitate to tow a car that blocks the snowplows from clearing the roadway. Retrieving your car will be at your own expense.
- Summer visitors should use the DNR website to review the beach safety and water quality reports for their lake of choice. Water quality samples are taken weekly from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Winter visitors should check out the same website for the Ice Safety section. No ice thickness reports are officially provided, so if you don’t know how to check the depth of ice on a lake or stream, it’s critical you learn how.
So... How Safe Is Bemidji Really?
Bemidji is facing the same challenge as many communities in America – rising violent crime with not enough police staff to keep it under control.
On top of that, the city has a nearly 25% poverty rate with an average income of $42,000 a year.
Desperate times make desperate people do potentially dangerous things, like petty theft or drug dealing.
“It’s nationwide — violent crime is up,” Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin emphasized during a meeting with the city council.
“There are elements that every agency can do their part to improve, but right now, we have to deal with violent crime, and we’re doing our best to do that within the city.”
While the nationwide average for violent crime is 396 per 100,000 people, in Bemidji, that number is 590 per 100,000 people.
The theft rate skyrockets five times about the national average, fueled by shoplifting and car break-ins.
Drug crimes are a big concern here with overdoses following a nationwide growing trend.
Between December 1, 2022, and January 25, 2023, Bemidji had 35 overdoses, nine of which were deadly.
The opioid problem in America has gone far beyond “Just Say No.”
Pills made to look like prescription drugs are laced with potentially lethal amounts of fentanyl that are not detectable by the drug user.
The majority of the police department has less than five years of experience, and pay is lower than city’s of comparable size.
Despite that, the police chief says progress s being made.
“Of our comparable cities, we have the highest clearance rate of any of those cities, which means that we solve more crimes even though we have fewer people,” Chief Mastin said.
“I attribute that to our staff — we have awesome officers and detectives.”
Bemidji has a lot to offer in the city and surrounding lake areas.
It just has a little more grit and crime to it than in other cities like Ely or Grand Marais.
How Does Bemidji Compare?
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- Visas - Visitors need a U.S. visa matching the purpose of the trip (travel, work, student), and travel visas take the longest. Don't try to take shortcuts, as you will have to start the process over if you're denied. A passport will also be required. If the passport is within six months of expiring at any point of your trip, get your passport renewed before the trip.
- Currency - You will only be able to use the U.S. Dollar here. Exchange currency at your hometown bank to get the lowest fees and best rates. Some American banks will buy back unused currency for a small fee.
- Weather - Err on the side of cold when you pack, as the temperatures are rarely scorching hot here, even in the summer. You should pack casual, comfortable clothing that can handle rugged outdoor adventures and will wash easily if they get wet in the lakes. Sunscreen is needed year-round, and opt for an eco-friendly sunscreen. It will cost more than a standard bottle, but it will also help keep contaminants out of the lake water. You'll need bug spray from spring through fall.
- Airports - Bemidji is so remote that you should use the regional airport in the city to get to Minneapolis. There are airports in nearby states, or you can drive to Minneapolis, but you'll be on the road from 2.5 to 4 hours to get to those.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance gives peace of mind and refunds if extreme or winter weather cancels or delays trips. Before you book a rental home, cabin, boat, or tour, ask what the refund policy is and if there is an insurance policy you can purchase in addition to the base price.
Bemidji Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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