Whether you decide to experience the natural beauty of the North Shore, the fine dining in Stillwater, or the arts scene in Chicago, we'll tell you where to go and what to do.
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A Date with the Lake in Lutsen
The moose arrives as if on cue; as if some resourceful stage manager just shooed him in, stage right. A vague hiking-inside-a-nature-flick sensation began about an hour back, atop Oberg Mountain, when our guide stepped aside, Vanna-like, announcing, “This is your first whoa-ho moment.” And so we walked out onto a chunk of ancient lava bedrock overlooking Lake Superior and a sky so classically clear and blue you could see the Apostle Islands without squinting. Later, white deer heinies bounded through the spruce as a neon-orange sun escorted us down the Sawtooth Mountains. Then, that moose. Bare-headed and spindly legged, nonchalantly sizing up our passenger van. Whoa-ho indeed.
Nature has a tendency to lay it on thick here in the Arrowhead, Minnesota’s triangular northeastern tip. Would you expect anything less from a place where the Superior National Forest’s four-million pine-addled and water-pocked acres bump up against Austria-sized Lake Superior’s craggy North Shore? It’s beautifully inescapable, even from inside our cushy Surfside on Superior condo (surfsideonsuperior.com), the newest of the accommodations at the Bluefin Bay family of resorts, in Tofte (bluefinbay.com). The evening my friend Romelle and I arrive, we raise the shades on the two-story windows, and—pow!—full moon caught in a Lake Superior sunset. It takes all we have to look away long enough to pour the champagne. I love how just sitting there sipping something, watching that ocean-like lake’s perpetual back-and-forth with the sky, feels like vacation time well spent.
We begin mapping out the morning’s hike. Then we give up and ask the guest-services staff’s advice. As lifelong friends, Mel and I have somehow managed to find ourselves on roughly the same page for more than 25 years, and this is no exception. We both crave a lovely, yet vigorous morning-long hike, one that gets us back in time for lunch before appointments at Bluefin’s Waves of Superior Spa. Within minutes, our concierge has not only identified a five-mile hike promising lake views and Temperance River rapids, but she’s lined up a shuttle that will drop our car off at one endpoint and us at the other. The shuttle is complimentary, as are loaner bikes, gear, guided hikes and kayak trips, yoga classes, s’mores packets, and more.
During dinner at Bluefin Grille, Mel and I sit side by side, neither willing to turn our backs on That View. Our glutes have been worked and handily pummeled; our souls gently expanded. We sip wine, chat, and wait for our locally sourced something-or-other as a bowling ball of a moon begins its ascent, laying a thick glossy path of light onto the water. Seriously. It’s like somebody pressed a button.
Drive up shore. Plan for pit stops along scenic Highway 61, such as Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls, or Lou’s Fish House in Two Harbors.
Lake Superior Fish Sampler—house-smoked salmon, mustard-seed yogurt, horseradish, and crackers, plus mixed greens salad—in Bluefin Grille’s bar. Also: s’mores at the waterside bonfire.
Breakfast at Bluefin’s healthy-local-casual Coho Café & Bakery. Try the Café Scramble with house-baked seven-grain toast.
Biking or guided kayaking.
Lunch in condo.
Relax, read, or hot tub overlooking lake.
Guided geology beach tour/agate hunting.
Condo pizza party (take out or take-and-bake from Coho).
Catch the shuttle for Carlton Peak-to-Temperance River hike.
Light lunch at Bluefin's Waves of Superior Spa Café, now run by North Shore chef Judi Barsness, of Chez Jude fame.
Indulge in a Girls’ Getaway Spa package.
Happy hour and getting ready for the evening at the condo.
Dinner at Bluefin Grille. Pan-fried walleye with porcini wild rice, natch.
Live music at Bluefin Grille’s bar.
Yoga in the Tofte Room.
Drive to Cascade River State Park, 20 minutes up Highway 61, for a short loop to take in all the falls and eat a picnic.
Pack up. Grab a scone and lattes from Coho before heading home. Find last-minute gifts at WatersEdge Trading Post next door (watersedgetrading.com).
Get On a Boat!
Outdoorsiness doesn’t get much more high-end than chartering your own private boat, complete with chef. Sail Nouveau trips set sail from Bayfield, Wisconsin, along Lake Superior’s south shore, and venture into the pristine Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for swimming, hiking, or just up-close admiring. You can even play captain, should the urge strike. The luxury fleet runs from 42-foot catamarans to 57-foot monohull sailboats, accommodating up to six people for an overnight trip. Don’t forget the champagne, fancypants. • All-inclusive three-day trips start at $1,675/person. sailnouveau.com
Love Lake Life
When the town and the lake share a name, you can generally bet that lake’s a stunner. Case in point: Lake Geneva, in the southeastern corner of Wisconsin, a classic vacation town with golf courses, boat tours, fancy restaurants, and a bunch of resorts both old school and luxury (we’re lookin’ at you, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa). A zipline adventure park injects some zest into the pristine natural scene with eight zips, including the 1,100-foot, 35 mph finale. We dare you. • lakegenevawi.com