The Best of Chisago Lakes
Something to do, eat, and see in the five small towns that make up one big community
Summer in Minnesota is all about the sunshine. And the water. And the food, the drinks, the mini-vacays. So pack up the family, grab your go-to crew, and check out some of the hidden gems of our state—like the five small towns that make up the Chisago Lakes community. Only 45 minutes north of the Twin Cities, it’s the perfect place to spend your valuable time, hard-earned cash, and not-so-explosive-anymore energy with something to do, see, and eat in each of the unique communities. Drive through, stop at a few, or extend your stay for the entire week; this summer guide takes you along the best of Highway 8.
The first stop in Chisago Lakes is Chisago City. It’s the home of a former Girl Scout camp, a popular skateboard park, and ice skating rink, and it will even host the 14th Annual Chisago Lakes Toughman Triathalon at Paradise Park on July 29. The town boasts unique stores with repurposed and handmade goods, several neighborhood bars, and plenty of history to keep the whole family interested and on-board.
To Do: The Ironhorse Railroad Museum has provided rich railroad history since 1963. The museum has vintage locomotives and train engines, a 1.5-mile scenic train ride, more than 100,000 artifacts and railroad memorabilia, and an 1895 railroad depot. Plus, as an extra bonus, there’s a petting zoo nearby.
To See: You won’t be able to miss the lime green, giant Adirondack-style chair in Moberg Park even if you wanted to. The larger-than-life chair is part of a local nonprofit group’s effort to draw in visitors after summer construction did a number on local businesses. (The colossal chair in Chisago City is only one of five—there’s a massive photo-op in each town!)
To Eat: Wagon Wheel Café and Pizza can literally deliver their entire menu—or you can take a seat and stay a while. The cafe serves breakfast all day and has more soup, salad, burger, and pizza options than your taste buds will ever know how to process. Stop by Winehaven Winery for a tasting and vineyard tour, or drop in to Brink’s Market, Deli and Bakery for a sweet treat.
Lindstrom, known as “America’s Little Sweden,” is busy and bustling with tourists and motorists in the summer months. The second stop of Chisago Lakes is entirely surrounded by water, but the land they do have is more than enough for a good time. The city's full of pride for its its Swedish heritage with food, shops and monuments, and it has a one-of-a-kind coffee pot water tower. Lindstrom is also the ideal stop for outdoor enthusiasts with 12 parks, more than 100 acres of trails, and ample beaches.
To Do: Shop ‘til you drop! Check out the 9,000-square-foot Lindstrom Antique Mall or Flapper Janes for antiques, furniture, artwork, vintage sporting goods, and collectibles. Nearby, kitchen goods store The Oven Mitt sells new, nifty, and clever products for cooking, baking, grilling, cocktails, and even cleaning up. Or, you can head to In the Moment Boutique for gifts, clothing, and jewelry or to Miss Elsie’s Yarnery for knitting classes and quality yarn.
To See: Cool off at Gustaf’s Up North Gallery. The gallery offers artisan crafts, Scandinavian fine art, photography, and furniture to appreciate and share. Some artwork is for sale, but others are display only.
To Eat: The Sweet Swede Fudge Shoppe is everything you’d hope it would be. Super creamy, gourmet fudge has been flying out the doors to retailers and local customers since 2007. Be sure to give their lingonberry chocolate fudge a taste—it’s apparently the fudge that put The Sweet Swede on the map. Need a drink? Lindstrom Tea Company and Northwoods Roasterie & Coffee Shop will quench your thirst.
COURTESY OF JOHNSROAD7/FOTOLIA
Center City boasts Victorian-style homes, gorgeous lake views, and a long-standing business district. With Center City Days (July 27-29) and Hazelfest (Aug. 4) coming up, you’ll want to carve out the time to make Center City a must-stop.
To Do: Spend your afternoon along the 18 miles of the St. Croix River. The Wild River State Park has 6,803 acres of land filled with 35 miles of trails, 96 campground sites, and excellent facilities for camping, canoeing, and horseback riding.
To Eat: Crush your craving at Phil’s Grill, a casual dining spot that serves breakfast and lunch daily with weekly specials. For dinner (and maybe dancing), Al’s Center Saloon will be open late with fantastic food, drinks, and live music.
COURTESY MICHAEL SHAKE/FOTOLIA
Don’t let the fact that Shafer is a farming community keep you away from all it has to offer. Mesmerizing views of the St. Croix Valley often cause passersby to wander and reflect, and don’t be surprised if you become swept away by the unique barns, infinite landscapes, pastures, and awe-inspiring nature in the area.
To Do: Franconia Sculpture Park, a nonprofit arts organization, welcomes more than 100,000 visitors each year. Located in the St. Croix River Valley, the 43-acre sculpture park runs community art programs and has active residencies for 40 artists each year, not to mention the beautiful sculpture and free exhibitions they have for the public to enjoy.
To See: The Lars J. Thorsander House has been a bed and breakfast since 1982. On the property, there’s an original 1869 log-style home that features barn wood from an old stable. If you’d prefer something more modern (and if you’re lucky and it happens to be a Tuesday), stop by wedding venue Bloom Lake Barn for their weekly open house.
To Eat: Ole’s Crossroad Bar & Grill was welcomed into the Shafer community earlier this month at their grand opening. Try their featured burger of the month, participate in the regular meat raffle, and let your competitive side run wild at the bean bag tournament June 30. Shafer Saloon & Grill also has great options and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks for big groups, kids, and families. They deliver, they do take-out, and they have outdoor seating, too. What more could a clan of tuckered out and hungry travelers hope for?
COURTESY OF STANDRET/FOTOLIA
All good things must come to an end. This last stop on the Chisago Lakes strip is full of scenic views and recreation. Winding roads, carved rock, lush forests, and more all contribute to Taylors Falls charm. This summer, make your way out to Wannigan Days on July 20 through the 22, or discover the best hot spots to find your canoeing, kayaking, and fishing fix.
To Do: For the sporty (and not yet exhausted) group, Adventure Falls Mini Golf is the perfect afternoon escapade. It features ponds, streams, and waterfalls interspersed between 18 challenging and fun mini golf holes. For something a little more daring, Wild Mountain Recreation has a waterpark, alpine slides, go karts, and Freefall XP to get your adrenaline pumping. (Not sure what Freefall XP is? Check out this video.)
To See: See the world’s largest kettle holes, gaze at gorgeous rock formations carved from glaciers, and experience The Old Man of Dalles (a natural rock face) on a 45- or 80-minute Taylors Falls boat excursion.
To Eat: Before you head home, grab some grub at The Drive In Restaurant. It will take you back to the 1950s with the best burgers, homemade root beer, and plenty of poodle skirts. Other options include Wild Mountain Winery for tasting, Coffee Talk for an afternoon fix, or old-time parlour Schoony’s Malt Shop & Pizzeria.