North Shore Winter Guide
The snowiest months are among the best times to visit Lake Superior—as long as you know the best spots to stay and play
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Lutsen / Grand Marais
Drive Time: 4 to 5 hours
WHERE TO STAY
Al Capone once stayed at Lutsen, and, for sport, riddled his cabin with bullet holes. When Lutsen founder C.A.A. Nelson surveyed the damage, he demanded that Capone pay him an extra $20. Surprisingly, the gangster obliged.
Though the current owners have significantly expanded Lutsen’s holdings to include additional condos, cabins, and townhomes, they’ve maintained the property’s natural aesthetic and the historic main lodge, established in 1885. The latter is no small feat due to the structure’s age, but the owners are committed to its preservation as part of Minnesota’s rich past. The main lobby lures guests with a roaring fire and oversize burlap checkerboards, and the log cabins are especially cozy—each with a full kitchen and a wood-fire stove.
You can easily find your way up Oberg Mountain with its eight impressive overlooks, but Lutsen’s expert activities staff also offers daily snowshoe and cross-country ski tours throughout the area. They’ll take care of the driving and equipment and provide fascinating tidbits. (Those “moose tracks” are, in fact, from a snowshoe hare!) $$
In the historic Naniboujou Lodge’s dining room, the domed, canoe-shaped ceiling painted in bold Cree Indian designs is positively awe-inspiring. The kaleidoscope of primary colors brings to mind that classic Sesame Street video that goes behind-the-scenes of a crayon factory. One almost expects meals (served weekends-only in winter) to be presented by elves and garden gnomes.
You can practically spit to Canada from Naniboujou’s deck—or head to the shore’s northernmost state park, Judge C. R. Magney, with its 3,000 acres of trails and the incredible Devil’s Kettle Waterfall, in which half of the Brule River disappears into an enormous pothole. Bring a deck of cards and avoid any sensitive family discussions, as you won’t find phones, television, or Internet in any of the rooms (cell service also is spotty). The Twitter withdrawal will only last a day or two. $$$
If seagulls begin to flock at Seagull House, don’t panic—they don’t answer to Hitchcock’s call. More likely, they were drawn to the mother ship—from an aerial view, Seagull House was designed to resemble one of them. John “Jack” Howe, Frank Lloyd Wright’s chief draftsman, designed the house in 1982, utilizing Wright’s philosophy of “organic architecture,” through which buildings are integrated into their natural surroundings.
Built from red cedar, now worn to gray, the home blends in with the craggy shoreline. Inside it’s modern—angular with sleek lines and custom built-ins. With three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a full kitchen, it can accommodate a family with room to spare. It’s a short drive to Grand Marais and to the area’s many hiking and ski trails, but that’s not its main draw. Instead, light a fire in the home’s impressive granite fireplace, and park yourself in front of its expansive windows for an unparalleled, seagull’s-eye view of Lake Superior. $$$
East Bay Suites
Enjoy an “urban” experience at East Bay Suites in downtown Grand Marias. These modern apartments offer gas fireplaces, flat-screen televisions, and full kitchens. The sport here is shopping and dining: Walk to Sivertson Gallery (sivertson.com) for local art, and meet all your Woolrich, Carhartt, and vintage toy needs at Joynes Ben Franklin (joynesbenfranklin.com). Indulge in that third Lake Superior Ale at the Gun Flint Tavern (gunflinttavern.com) and toddle back to your abode. $$
Thomsonite Beach Inn and Suites
There’s nothing glamorous about Thomsonite Beach Inn and Suites. The 1970s-era rooms are clean and simply appointed (some with kitchens and fireplaces). There is no main lodge, no sauna, and no ski-hill shuttle. You’ll have to settle for affordable rates, incredible Lake Superior views from a private beach, and the soothing sound of waves lulling you to sleep. $
WHAT TO DO
Explore Lutsen Mountains:
In 1945, two lumberjacks cleared Lutsen’s first two downhill ski runs with hand axes and saws. Today it boasts 92 alpine runs across four mountains—pretty serious pow for a plains state (lutsen.com). Take a gondola ride to the top of Moose Mountain and feel like you’re in the Alps, complete with panoramic views (and cold brews) on an outdoor deck. After hours, there’s live music at mountainside bar, Papa Charlie’s, also the best place to pick up a snow bunny.
Forget Cooking (sort of):
Your best dining options are in Grand Marais, but there’s a catch: Winter hours are flaky. Some restaurants close completely in winter, while others are only open weekends. If you time it right, cowboy-themed Hughie’s Taco House serves a mean sauerkraut taco (we are, after all, in the Midwest). The Pie Place Café (thepieplacecafe.com) is somewhat mis-advertised: The pie is delicious, but so are the entrées, particularly the three-meat maple meatloaf and the classic chicken potpie. For upscale fare—free-range chicken and demi-glace—try the Crooked Spoon Café (crookedspooncafe.com). Get gritty at My Sister’s Place (mysistersplacerestaurant.com), where the gizzards go down surprisingly easy.
Fashion a Knife:
Catch up on all those essential life skills you’re missing at North House Folk School (northhouse.org). Tricks taught include how to make a timber-frame cabin, birch-bark skis, a Norwegian skiff, a wooden bowl, and an antler basket among a host of other traditional crafts. Classes run all winter. After-class activities may include Norwegian movies and a wood-fire pizza party.
Drive to Siberia:
Drive up the Gunflint Trail in the dead of winter and you may feel as though you’re driving through the Siberian tundra. (Fill up your gas tank before you go, as there are no gas stations, and you’ll see barely another car on the road.) It’s an otherworldly experience, however: perfectly serene with untouched snow and, if you’re lucky, a moose sighting. You’ll end at the historic Gunflint Lodge (gunflint.com) where you can warm up with a bowl of its signature walleye chowder while overlooking frozen Gunflint Lake.
Meet Me at the Spa
Does Carol Einwalter perform most of her massages on lumberjacks? The owner of WatersMeet Spa and Wellness Center at Lutsen Resort doesn’t miss a muscle. Hers are massages for working people with serious aches and pains. While some spas can feel as though the masseuse is simply playing patty-cake on your back, Einwalter kneads, digs, and stretches each muscle into submission. An elbow to the shoulder blade never felt so good.
Einwalter introduced massage to the area more than 20 years ago, when resorts wanted nothing to do with it. (“At that time, they considered it unseemly,” she says.) Lutsen finally took the bait and offered her space in its main lodge. With demand for her services continually increasing, the resort ultimately built her a separate, on-site structure a few years ago. The space’s Mission-meets-north-woods style has a hint of Asian influence, which gives it a monastic feel that instantly puts one at peace. The rooms are spare but enormous, with windows that peek onto Lake Superior.
Einwalter conducts a thorough intake prior to each service, inquiring as to one’s massage history, desired level of pressure, scent preferences (she uses primarily Aveda products), prior injuries, and problem areas. Massage is the spa’s main offering, but the treatment options are plentiful, with services dedicated to the hands, feet, face, neck, and/or shoulders; prenatal massage; sports massage for those with chronic pain or injuries; and deep-tissue and hot-stone therapies (the stones are gathered straight off of Superior’s lakeshore). One can also indulge in a body polish treatment—a full-body exfoliation followed by massage—and reiki, which is intended to stimulate energy points throughout the body through gentle pressure from the practitioner’s hands.
WatersMeet does not currently offer manicure/pedicures, or waxing. (To be peeled, extracted, and more traditionally pampered, head to Bluefin’s Waves of Superior Spa, which offers more fragrances, services, and ambiance.) Einwalter, like a true artisan, is focused on her craft: making
your mogul-worn body feel as good as new.