According to information compiled by the Washington Post from the USDA, Minnesota is just an awful place to live and Wisconsin doesn't fair much better. The compilation of data the Washington Post used to rank the desirability of each county comes from the USDA's Natural Amenities Scale, which analyzes how desirable it is to live in each county in the country is based on a number of factors. The key data points include climate, topography, and water area - things that reflect environmental qualities most people prefer when choosing a place to live or visit.

Sure, the climate in Minnesota and Wisconsin gets kind of cold and "undesirable" in the winter months, but there are plenty of topographical features and water to more than make up for the few months of less than perfect weather. Even still, Minnesota and Wisconsin rank very poorly in overall rankings on this scale; with Red Lake County in Northwest Minnesota ranking dead last in the entire country in desirability as a place to live.

You can see in the map below, the Upper Midwest fared pretty poorly overall, with seven of the 15 worst counties in the United States in Minnesota. Here's a ranking of the worst in Minnesota:

  • Red Lake County - Worst in the country (3,111/3,111)
  • Wilkin County - 2nd worst in the country (3,110/3,111)
  • Norman County - 4th worst in the country (3,108/3,111)
  • Mower County - 6th  worst in the country (3,106/3,111)
  • Dodge County - 8th worst in the country (3,104/3,111)
  • Pennington County - 10th worst in the country (3,102/3,111)
  • Kittson County - 11th worst in the country (3,101/3,111)

There's been a heated debate on social media about the Washington Post essentially calling Minnesota "ugly", with Senator Al Franken even jumping in on the debate on Twitter. By the definitions set in the data from the USDA, these counties do make sense falling low in the rankings. They're all pretty flat and mostly in farm country without too much in the way of natural waterways. It's just jarring that our beautiful state would have so many "ugly" counties in it.

Shockingly, the Twin Ports region and the North Shore/South Shore performed pretty poorly as well. Again, climate and weather plays a factor in the negatives working against the region, but the rich topographic features and abundance of waterways (including Lake Superior) didn't seem to make too much of a difference for any of the region's counties beside Cook County, which scored pretty well. Here's how the region's counties ranked:

  • Cook County, MN - 310 of 3,111
  • Lake County, MN - 1,264 of 3,111
  • Bayfield County, WI - 1,853 of3,111
  • Ashland County, WI - 1,896 of 3,111
  • St. Louis County, MN - 1,921 of 3,111 (Tie)
  • Douglas County, WI - 1,921 of 3,111 (Tie)
  • Carlton County, MN - 2,637 of 3,111

Outside of Cook County, which falls in the top 10% of all counties and Carlton, which falls in the bottom 20%, the rest of the counties fall in the middle of the pack. Thousands of tourists visiting each year must know something the data behind these rankings doesn't reflect.