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The Ultimate MN Bucket List

The Ultimate MN Bucket List

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This is your summer, your year, your decade—however long it takes—to be a real Minnesotan, to do all those classic local things you’ve wanted to do but never have. Here’s our list of must-do’s, complete with everything you need to do them.

Plus a challenge: every time you check off an activity from the list, tweet a pic of the action to @MNMOmag, tagged #mnmobucketlist. Whoever completes the most activities—and lets us know about it—by Labor Day, September 2, 2013, wins a one-night stay at W Minneapolis – The Foshay.

We also invite you to share your own personal bucket list, whether you’ve tackled it or not, at mnmo.com/bucketlist or tweet us @MNMOmag. Now get out there and live a little!


1. Hike all the way around Lake Superior (see sidebar below).

2. Find a Showy Lady Slipper, the state flower. Your best bet: Lady Slipper Scenic Byway, between Blackduck and Highway 2, in late June. • ladyslipperscenicbyway.org

3. Harvest wild rice. First, you’ll need to get a permit. Then, head to one of the 700 lakes boasting Minnesota’s state grain, concentrated in Aitkin, Itasca, Cass, and St. Louis counties. • dnr.state.mn.us1854treatyauthority.org

4. Watch the start of the John Beargrease sled-dog marathon. beargrease.com

5. Drive the Great River Road down to Iowa. • mnmississippiriver.com

6. See a moose (while you still can). Your best bet: Try the Gunflint and Arrowhead trails near Grand Marais in October—mating season.

7. Hike out to the Witch Tree in Grand Portage. Ask for a guide at the Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center. • nps.gov/grpo

8. Visit the Northwest Angle, the surveying error that became the northernmost point in the Lower 48;  it’s accessable only by crossing Lake of the Woods or cutting through Canada.

9. Take a sauna in the Ely Steam Bath—one of only two family-owned saunas in the United States. Czech/Finn approved. • 127 First Ave. S., Ely; 218-365-2984

10. Canoe or Huck Finn the Mississippi River, from the headwaters in Itasca State Park all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Pack accordingly.

11. Run the Twin Cities Marathon. Love every uphill step of the final Summit Avenue stretch. • tcmevents.org

12. Collect agates along the shore of Lake Superior at Good Harbor Bay.

13. Go dogsledding in Ely, the sled-dog capital of the world. • dogsledding.com

14. Stay in cabin 26 at Burntside Lodge, located on a solitary point extending into Burntside Lake. • burntside.com

15. Catch an eelpout during the International Eelpout Festival in Walker. • eelpoutfestival.com

16. Bike the full Root River bike trail through the limestone bluffs and rolling hills surrounding Lanesboro. • rootrivertrail.org

17. See the Northern Lights. Get as far north and away from lights as possible and wait for midnight, when they tend to shine brightest.

18. Drive Highway 1. Begin in Ely, end when you hit Lake Superior. Accelerate through the curves.

19. Walk across the Mississippi River headwaters in Itasca State Park. • dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/itasca

20. See the Runestone in Alexandria (bonus: solve the mystery). • runestonemuseum.org

21. Explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Stay in the Tall Pines Yurt on Hooker Lake and book a fishing trip with the Boundary Waters Guide Service. • boundarycountry.com; boundarywatersguideservice.com

22. Camp on Isle Royale and experience the solitude of one of the country’s least-visited National Parks. • nps.gov/isro

23. Visit the Lost 40, 114 acres of old-growth trees in the Big Fork State Forest overlooked by loggers in 1882. Find the 300-year-old white pine. • dnr.state.mn.us/snas

24. Sink into an outdoor hot tub during a blizzard. Best place: beside Lake Superior, mere feet from the cozy Sweetgrass Cove Guesthouse near Grand Portage. Get a massage in your room the next day. • sweetgrasscove.com

WHAT IT’S LIKE: To hike all the way around Lake Superior

By author Mike Link of Willow River

My wife, Kate Crowley, and I were walking the Superior Hiking Trail one day in 2008, discussing our retirement. After running the Audubon Center for almost 40 years, we were wondering what comes next for us, when suddenly inspiration hit. Had anyone ever hiked around the entire shore of Lake Superior? As it turns out, we’re the only couple to do it. We started on April 29, 2010, hiking 1,555 miles on trails, the shoreline, and sometimes in the lake itself. We spent our days walking with the occasional stop in nearby communities to give presentations on keeping our largest resource of fresh water clean. At night we camped. On September 18, 2010—145 days later—we finished our full-circle hike around Lake Superior. The amazing thing is that neither of us ever had a day when we woke up and didn’t want to continue hiking. In fact, on the last day, I thought, “So what are we going to do next?

Garrison Keillor’s MN Bucket List

1. Walk across a frozen lake on a moonlit night with someone who is dear to you. Having done it once, you’ll want to do it again. Resist the urge to write a poem about this. Just do it.

2. Go to Sunday morning service at Boe Chapel at St. Olaf College and sit in the middle of the crowd and sing, blending your voice with the voices around you. Learn “The Frozen Logger,” “Girl from the North Country,” and “Children of the Heavenly Father,” and sing those, too.

3. The foundational Minnesota experience is to do a hard job for no money—visit the sick, tutor children who are struggling, help the homeless, build a dyke to save a town from flooding—which connects you to reality and lifts you up from narcissism. Minnesota is not for narcissists.

4.  Paddle a canoe down a small river, such as the Cannon, the Crow, the Rock, the Rum—watch out for barbed wire—or the upper Mississippi just below Lake Bemidji, and when you come to a shallow, still pool, lie in it naked and let the minnows nibble on you. Make sure you’re not easily visible from a road or house, lest you be subjected to public humiliation.

5. An hour or two before sunset, ride a bike down a county road out on the prairie, somewhere up between Thief River Falls and Moorhead. Stop now and then and feel the light fade toward gloaming.

6. Go to a church supper in a small town—a spaghetti dinner, fish fry, bean feed, barbecue, or potluck—and and offer to help with the cleanup. They won’t let you, but it’s a good way of meeting good people.   

7. Read Winter Dreams by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, and Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers. Reread Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on Plum Creek. Read Louis Jenkins.

8. Load up a manure spreader by hand and get on the tractor and broadcast it on a field of corn stubble. Remember to head into the wind.

9. Put a pot of water to boil on the stove. When it’s boiling, go out and pick sweet corn in the field. Husk it, boil it, and sit down and eat it, slathered with butter—15 minutes from the stalk to the table.

Keillor is hosting A Prairie Home Companion’s Radio Romance Tour.

What's on your bucket list? We'd love to hear at MNMO.com/BucketList.


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