Complete Winter Traveler
Whether you’re traveling across town, journeying over the river and through the woods, or boarding a plane to an exciting destination, this guide will help you make the most of exploring the great outdoors (and the cozy indoors, too!)
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With dramatic ice formations of Lake Superior on one side and the snow-covered Superior National Forest on the other, the winter scenery at Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior is beautiful on its own, but when you add upscale lodging accommodations (some units including fireplaces and Jacuzzis), a year-round outdoor hot tub, an award-winning restaurant, and moonlit strolls along the shoreline of the world’s largest freshwater lake, you’ve pretty much hit the romance jackpot. (There’s a reason, after all, that Minnesota Monthly named Bluefin Bay “most romantic resort.”)
Lovebirds can appreciate the natural beauty of the Lutsen/Tofte area on complimentary cross-country skis, snowshoes, or ice skates, or head down the road for skiing or boarding at Lutsen Mountains—the largest ski area in the Midwest—for sweeping coastline views. Bluefin also offers guided ski and hike options to guests new to snow sports.
“There’s unmistakable romance that comes with being this close to Lake Superior,” says Lori Schaefer, marketing director for the Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts (Bluefin Bay, Surfside, and Temperance Landing). “After a full day of outdoor adventure, there’s nothing more romantic than cuddling up together next to a warm, crackling fire while looking over the snowy shores and icy waters of Lake Superior.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUEFIN BAY
Winter getaway specials include “Stay and Play” packages with discounted lodging and lift tickets to Lutsen Mountains, “Gales of November and December” specials (three nights for the price of two), and the popular “Extended Stay” package, with discounts to those staying five nights or longer. Accommodations range from hotel-style guestrooms and suites to studio condos and luxury townhomes.
Privacy, peace and quiet, and a complete immersion in nature create a unique and romantic experience at Hawks View Cottages, located 45 minutes north of Lacrosse, Wisconsin in the small town of Fountain City. The cottages—set on a steep, wooded bluff—offer unforgettable “hawk’s eyes views” of the Mississippi River in winter, when the trees have shed their leaves. Described as an “elevated sanctuary” by one guest (or, more simply, treehouses for adults), the two-story cottages are clean, comfortable, and well-stocked, and feature plush robes, fireplaces, Jacuzzis, and a bottle of complimentary wine. The location is within walking distance of historic Fountain City, and within a short drive of Alma (rent snowshoes at Riverland Outfitters), Winona, and Wabasha, home of the National Eagle Center.
At The Lodge on Lake Detroit, owners Scott Mehlhaff and Chris Holland-Mehlhaff realize that every couple—whether newlyweds or celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary—needs a romantic getaway every now and then, without “real world” distractions or interference. All rooms and suites of this beautiful, eco-friendly hotel face the lake to take advantage of the views (and the sunsets). In addition to scenic lake views and sunsets, guests enjoy an extensive menu of select spa treatments available at the on-site day spa, and daily Sunset Serenades in the two-story lobby. For the most romantic stay, book a Renewal Spa Suite, featuring an aromatherapy whirlpool tub and fireplace, and arrange for pre-arrival “extras” including roses, rose petal turndown, champagne or wine, even an in-room couples massage.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BEARSKIN LODGE
“Our guests want to experience the wonders of a Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness adventure by day, but return to a cozy fireplace, warm shower, and soft pillow at night,” explains Sue McCoughlan, who co-owns Bearskin Lodge, about halfway up the Gunflint Trail, along with her husband Bob.
The four lodges and 11 classic cabins (with fully-supplied kitchens) are on East Bearskin Lake, a quiet BWCAW entry point. According to their website, “Up here, your log-cabin lodging is a walk through the woods, a stone’s throw from the water, and a world away from the work and worries of next week.” Go cross-country skiing through the deep woods (keep going after sundown on 1.5 km of lighted trails), backcountry snowshoeing, mushing, ice fishing, or skate or play broomball on the groomed, lighted rink.
At Bearskin, it’s all about unplugging and reconnecting with one another in a beautiful setting among white pines and birch trees—the perfect blend of wilderness and luxury.
PHOTO COURTESY OF VISITBEMIDJI.COM
According to Cross Country Skier magazine, Bemidji is one of the most attractive areas to ski in the country. That’s right, the entire country. In fact, the Minnesota Finlandia Ski Marathon (set this year on February 14), draws elite skiers from around the world to the course at Buena Vista. (And lucky you can get to Bemidji within a few hours—no flight required.) There are over 100 km of challenging and scenic trails in the area—most groomed and tracked for both classical and skating ski techniques—winding through the north woods. (Candelit ski tours are held at Lake Bemidji State Park.) Bemidji is also home to 400 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, ice fishing hotspots (including Upper Red Lake, infamous for monster walleye and crappies), and family-friendly indoor attractions Bemidji Bowl, Headwaters Science Center, Circus Arcade, and some of the best specialty shopping around. Visit December 11 to see The Beach Boys at The Sanford Center, December 11 to see Martina McBride, or December 17 to see Love and Theft; or—if you’re feeling adventurous—visit February 7-8, 2015 for Winterfest on Lake Bemidji, featuring pond hockey, curling, ice golfing, and more. Lodging options include lakefront hotels and cozy resorts with direct access to cross-country ski trails.
Situated along the U.S.- Canadian border, Kabetogama Lake, one of four major lakes that make up Voyageurs National Park, has miles of pristine undeveloped shoreline and 25,000 acres of clean, cool water. In short, it’s a wild, untapped treasure. Not only should it be on every Minnesota angler’s ice fishing bucket list (think walleye, northern pike, jumbo perch, bass and crappies), it’s perfect for the outdoor enthusiast with miles of snowmobile and cross-country ski trails. Established in 1975, Minnesota’s only National Park commemorates a key stretch of waterway canoed by 18th century French-Canadian Voyageurs who transported goods and furs along the international border lakes. At Kabetogama Lake, you can leave the demands of “everyday life” behind and just relax.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LUTSEN MOUNTAINS
Lutsen Mountains isn’t nicknamed the “Vail of the Midwest” for nothing. Offering the most ski acreage in the state—with 95 runs and over 1,000 feet of vertical drop—it offers downhill terrain not typical of the Midwest. Scenic runs wind through woods, expert chutes rightly earn their double-black diamond status, and you won’t find a better panoramic vantage point of Lake Superior anywhere else. (It’s not the Rockies but it’s just as stunning in its own way.)
People have been known to come from across the country, but the majority of the 100,000 annual skiers are from the Twin Cities area. Excellent skiing and boarding is just part of the draw. Lutsen offers on-mountain dining and entertainment—providing an aprés-ski experience—along with groomed, tracked trails for Nordic skiing, dog sledding, backcountry snowshoeing, and sleigh rides.
For the best savings, purchase lift tickets online and seek out ski and stay lodging packages.
Contrary to popular belief, Iowa isn’t all cornfields and farms. The Iowa Great Lakes Area, or more specifically—the Okoboji area (“Boji” to those in-the-know) is a fun, affordable, close-to-home escape. The area has a rich history, vibrant arts community, lively nightlife scene, and is home to the University of Okobji Winter Games, set this year January 23-25, 2015. Iowans sieze the deep freeze and make the most of winter with a Winter Games lineup including broomball, flag football, a chili cook-off, ice hockey, snowmobile races, a polar plunge, and a fireworks show. (Like the Fourth of July, only in the middle of winter.).
PHOTO COURTESY OF ARROWWOOD RESORT AND CONFERENCE CENTER
It may be winter outside, but it’s summer inside at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center’s 38,000 square foot Big Splash Indoor Waterpark. Located just two hours west of the Twin Cities on the shore of Lake Darling in Alexandria, there’s enough at Arrowwood to keep little ones and adults entertained for days. In addition to the massive waterpark, other indoor amenities include de-stressing at Darling Reflections Spa, dining at one of the on-site restaurants, or taking part in organized indoor activities (painting is especially popular). If you want to play outside, you can rent a snowmobile, cross-country skis, or ice skates, try ice fishing, hit the Snow Center sledding hill, or play broomball or hockey on the Lake Darling rink. Andes Tower Hills, just a short drive away, offers downhill skiing, tubing, and snowboarding. Accommodations at Arrowwood range from lodge rooms and suites with lakefront views to luxurious four-bedroom townhomes. Special winter packages include “Winter Adventure,” “Family Fun,” and “Spa,” customized to what interests you most.
Winter in the City
PHOTO COURTESY OF FARGO MOORHEAD CV
“My two favorite things about Fargo-Moorhead in winter are the lighted trees that run along Broadway in downtown Fargo, and the occasional hoarfrost you see early in the morning,” says Nicole Holden, Fargo-Moorhead director of marketing. “The [ice crystals] don’t last long, but they make for breathtaking photos. Our area is truly beautiful in the winter.”
It’s not only beautiful, but fun, too. Adults enjoy a plethora of shopping and dining offerings—and the energy that comes with being in a fun college town—while kids like holiday events such as Santa Village at Rheault Farm November 29-December 23, Santa Fly-In at the Fargo Air Museum every Saturday in December leading up to Christmas, and the old-fashioned “Christmas on the Prairie” at Bonanzaville December 6. See a play, musical, or choir concert, catch a Fargo Force USHL hockey game at Scheels Arena, go sledding, or go cross-country skiing on trails within city limits.
There are more than 60 hotels in the area, ranging from budget-friendly (close to your favorite attraction or sporting event) to full-service, conveniently located near restaurants and shops.
Located west of the Twin Cities on the shore of Crow River, New London is a small town that celebrates the holidays in a big way. Owners of independent shops, art galleries, and restaurants—along with the local winery, community theater, and coffee shop—all get into the spirit of the season with festive decor and special offers. In addition to excellent dining and shopping options, visitors hit the trails on cross country skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles, go ice fishing, and enjoy the beauty, peace, and solitude of winter camping at Sibley State Park. Visit this charming city December 13 for Candlelight Christmas, January 24 for the Winter Art and Wine Show at Glacial Ridge Winery, or head to the nearby town of Spicer in January and February for Winterfest, with fireworks, a giant ice slide, and more. Visitors will find B&Bs, resorts, and hotels within a 15-mile radius of New London.
PHOTO BY GRIFF WIGLEY
Winter in the liberal arts college town of Northfield, just 45 miles south of the Twin Cities, could best be described as “Norman Rockwell-esque,” says Lisa Havelka, Northfield tourism director. “There’s something special in the air,” she says, influenced by the small town style on Main Street, the boutique shopping countdown to Christmas, and the overall good will of the community.
The annual Winter Walk, though, sets this small town apart from others, when downtown is aglow with candlelight. Set this year on December 11 from 5-9 p.m., Winter Walk channels holidays from long ago with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, caroling, horse-drawn wagon rides, shopping and dining specials, and visits from Santa and Rudolph.
Other great times to get into the holiday spirit are at the St. Olaf Christmas Festival December 4-7 (one of the oldest musical celebrations in the U.S.); and December 12-14 for the Northfield Arts Guild (NAG) dance troupe’s version of the Nutcracker (aka “NAGcracker); or NAGs theater presentation of Inspecting Carol (A Christmas Carol meets The Inspector General).
When the snow falls and temperatures drop, go on a Shoe & Brew Winery Tour at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park/Cannon River Winery, snowmobiling along The Waterford Trail (through forests, open fields, and pastures), cross-country skiing at The Carleton Arboretum (follow trails along the Cannon River), or indoor skating at Northfield Arena.
There are seven major lodging properties in Northfield, everything from a B&B to inns, hotels, and motels.
PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT WINONA
In recent years, the charming southeastern river city of Winona has earned a reputation as an arts and cultural mecca, with four museums (the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Watkins Museum/Store, Polish Museum, and the Winona County Historical Museum), Garvin Heights Vineyard, and Sugar Loaf Antiques and Crafts (120 vendors in one building). It’s also home to the Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF), set this year from February 18-22, 2015. The festival brings together dozens of fascinating independent documentaries on every subject as well as workshops, speakers, music, and food.
Unforgetable Day Trips
PHOTO COURTESY OF VISIT WINONA
Winter is prime eagle viewing time at the National Eagle Center, when hundreds of bald and golden eagles migrate down to the Wabasha area. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the National Eagle Center offers amazing eagle viewing and photography opportunities from indoors or out on the observation deck. See a live eagle program, meet the five rescued eagles, and explore interactive exhibits! Want to see more? Go on a guided winter eagle viewing bus tour, led by the center’s knowledgeable education director. Registration is available on the website.