From Rochester to Roseau, there are more than 10,000 reasons to love summer in Minnesota. And whether you want to sail, swim, fish, scuba, or sunbathe in the nude (really), we’ve found the best places for you to experience the BEST TIME OF YEAR.
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Best Place to Fish (If You’re Not a Fisherman)As one of the state’s best-known fishing meccas, Mille Lacs offers fertile waters for catching everything from walleye to perch. But the lake also happens to be one of the few big enough to accommodate fishing launches: large boats—often decked out with stereos, bathrooms, and grills—that can accommodate large groups who want to fish together. Best of all, you don’t need any experience—or equipment—to enjoy the trip. Most launches furnish bait, tackle, and a guide. Only the lies are up to you. For a list of launch providers, visit millelacs.com.
Best Place to Build a CabinIf you’ve got a cool $3.7 million, you can buy a prime slice of lakefront property on Lake Minnetonka, where…what’s that? Your cabin fund was invested in Bear Stearns stock? Then take our tip and head up to Rainy Lake, near International Falls, where you can snap up spectacular lots right on the water for less than $200,000. The lake boasts crystal clear water, fantastic fishing, and plenty of space to stretch out. Plus, during the warmer months, you can paddle over to Voyageurs National Park to enjoy spectacular wildlife and nature walks.
My Lake Story
by Jack Gordon
The speed of it, that’s what was remarkable. In a flash—a finger snap, really—our little half-assed, three-person, amateur wildlife-rescue mission had turned into a self-organizing recovery operation involving at least 15 people, every one them absolutely committed to the mission. We didn’t have to ask for help. We didn’t even need to finish explaining ourselves.
You’d think that loons, even with official state-bird status, would be a take-’em-or-leave-’em kind of species, what with the hooting and wailing and yodeling and caterwauling at all hours. Then again, maybe they serve as a natural-selection factor for lake dwellers. If you don’t enjoy an eerie, prehistoric symphony at 2 a.m., after all, why would you want a cabin in northern Minnesota?
I knew there was a prevailing pro-loon sentiment on our own Cass County lake, but I had no idea how fiercely the birds are prized until Junior ran into trouble.
The whole thing began when Keith, my neighbor, spied the young loon through binoculars a few days earlier. Something was clearly wrong with the bird, and someone needed to help. So the three of us—my wife, Keith, and I—set out in an aluminum fishing boat to find him. We brought a long-handled net, needle-nosed pliers, and a pair of heavy work gloves. Acting on a hot tip from another neighbor, we tracked Junior to a small bay on the far side of the lake.
My plan to kill the engine and use the oars to approach him was deeply flawed, I realize that now. In the four months since his spring birth, Junior must have grown accustomed to motorboats. Who knows what we looked like, lumbering toward him with great, thrashing wooden wings out to our sides? A hungry pterodactyl, maybe, only less maneuverable.
But the oar business did attract the attention of some cabin people on shore. There were a dozen of them, easily, part of a get-together involving neighbors, visiting relatives…I never learned. The point is, they were engaged in something. They weren’t just standing around with nothing to do.
The bigger point is, I don’t think they were unusual. I believe that practically any lake people we ran into would have reacted the same way they did.
We pointed at Junior, swimming lazily about 10 yards offshore. Our recruiting speech, in its entirety, went as follows:
“We’re after this loon. He’s got some fishing line wrapped around his bill. He can’t eat, so he’s going to starve. We’re trying to….”
In that instant, our rescue force quintupled. No questions. No hesitation. The only talking was tactical, and not much of that. Two guys waded into the lake and began to herd Junior toward a dock, our boat more or less blocking any attempt to escape by sea.
We tossed our net to somebody on shore, who scooped the bird out of the water. We worked the boat in closer and handed the pliers to a woman who reached for them.
I was not about to give up the gloves, so I stood in the boat and held the loon on the dock while the woman slowly, carefully, unwound the fishing line from his bill, then from around his long, pointed tongue. The whole crowd hovered over the operation in silence. I’m pretty sure that everyone shared the same thoughts:
1. This is so cool I can’t stand it.
2. Hand over the gloves, you bastard. I want to hold the loon.
The fishing line came out of Junior’s gullet clean as a whistle: No hook, no hideous moment when the woman with the pliers encountered any resistance whatsoever. When we set out in the boat an hour earlier, I had given us maybe a 1 in 50 chance of netting the bird at all, never mind extracting the line without feeling that awful tug. Now the mission was an incredible triumph. Junior swam away, appearing none the worse for his ordeal.
It was too easy, of course. The loon had seemed all right, though surprisingly docile. But he must have been very weak to let us catch him that way. Later, I found out that he didn’t make it. I knew that there would be no special quality to my sense of mourning. I had a lot of company.
Jack Gordon is a frequent contributor to Minnesota Monthly. He lives in Eden Prairie.
Best Lake to Catch Your LimitLeech Lake almost lost its reputation as a great fishing lake a few years ago, when cormorants were migrating to the Midwest in droves, and the birds were killing walleye and yellow perch at a devastating pace. But after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in to reduce their population, the fish bounced back quickly. Thanks to high natural reproduction and local stocking programs, Leech Lake and its pristine water has been reestablished as a great numbers lake. Troll the reed beds early in the season if you’re hoping to hit your limit.
Best Place to SwimBad Medicine Lake lacks nutrients. That may be bad for certain types of critters, but it’s good for you, since it means the lake, southwest of Itasca State Park, is extraordinarily clear; instead of phosphorous-and-nitrogen-rich runoff, it’s fed by cool, clean ground water. Indeed, its transparency is more than 30 feet deep in spots—greater than one-third its maximum depth. And while Bad Medicine is famous as a rainbow trout fishery, the lake is also a great spot for swimmers and scuba divers, says Don Tschudi, who has owned the Bad Medicine Lake Resort & Campgrounds for nearly 50 years. “You don’t have to worry about that swimmer’s itch,” he says.
Best Place to SailFramed by 400-foot-high bluffs and coursing with the engorged Mississippi River, Lake Pepin doesn’t feel like a lake so much as a chute, a Brobdingnagian wind tunnel. Yet, it’s here that the river slows just enough that sailboats can maneuver with relative abandon, and it feels almost Baltic in its exotic wind-battered expanse and various ports to call on. You’re just an ordinary, comfortable tourist here until you leave land, and a man with a boat becomes a man against nature—a mariner in Minnesota.
5 Festivals1. Boundary Waters Blues Festival
August 21–23, Ely
World-class blues and, wait for it, a wheel of meat, on Fall Lake.
June 27–29, Lake City
Food, parades, and water-ski shows celebrating the eponymous invention.
3. Bean Hole Days
July 8–9, Pequot Lakes
Anything that begins with the “Burying of the Beans Ceremony” has to be fun.
4. Bullhead Days
June 6–8, Waterville
Fireworks, parades, carnivals, and best of all, fried-bullhead street vendors. Enough said.
July 23–27, Duluth
The celebration of Finn culture comes to Duluth. Notable guests: Osmo Vänskä and Finland’s prez.