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There’s a saying that goes “Survive a Midwest winter and everything else is easy.” It’s not just about surviving winter, though, it’s about thriving during the coldest months of the year. One way to do this is to leave the comfort of your igloo and explore, explore, explore. We highlight a few of the best travel destinations.
Lake Superior is a kaleidoscope of water and sky—sometimes sparkling and sometimes moody—dramatic in winter, spring, summer, and fall. Covering 31,280 square miles (the size of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island combined), it’s also the largest freshwater lake in the world, and provides an unforgettable backdrop to destinations along the shore, such as Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior and Cove Point Lodge. The area is laced with cross country ski and snowmobile trails, home to downhill skiing and boarding at Lutsen Mountains – the Midwest’s largest ski resort, and the perfect place to explore on snowshoes.
Bluefin Bay guests can relax and simply enjoy the calming snow-covered sounds of Mother Nature on a quiet morning, the smoky smell of wood-burning fireplaces, and the brilliant hues of a vivid blue sky against a blanket of white. The well-designed and appointed Bluefin Bay offers both hotel rooms and luxury townhome accommodations, complete with crackling fireplaces, private Jacuzzis, lake views and vistas that rival those anywhere, and access to a year-round outdoor pool and hot tub, an indoor pool, two award-winning restaurants and spa services at the North Shore’s only destination spa – Waves of Superior Spa. Bluefin Bay is located less than 10 minutes from the Lutsen Mountain Ski Area with free shuttles all winter. bluefinbay.com
Cove Point Lodge is a Scandinavian-style lodge located on 150 heavily wooded acres, approximately four miles east of Split Rock. covepointlodge.com
When you regularly get 120 inches of snow and you sit further north than nearly all of Minnesota, it’s easy to claim best of winter. But Cook County does more than claim. It delivers like a perfectly thrown snowball. In Cook County—which includes the city of Grand Marais, Lutsen + Tofte, Grand Portage, and the Gunflint Trail—you will find:
• Nearly 450 miles of wilderness snowmobile trails.
• The largest groomed cross-country skiing trail system in North America (400 km).
• Lutsen Mountains, the Midwest’s largest ski resort.
• The 57-mile Gunflint Trail scenic byway.
• Restaurants. Lodges. Galleries. A casino.
• And a mittened fistful of winter events. Oh, and not to mention two million acres of the Boundary Waters, plus the world’s largest freshwater backdrop. Donorth.mn
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. Over 160 km. of challenging and scenic trails can be enjoyed at Bemidji’s eight trail sites. Most trails are groomed and tracked for both classical and skating ski techniques. The Montebello Trail offers a lighted trail for night skiing, open until 10 p.m., and the Buena Vista Ski Area, home to the internationally famous Minnesota Finlandia Ski Marathon, is recognized as having some of the finest trails and scenery in the Midwest (and 16 downhill runs, the longest at 2,000 feet with a 230 foot drop).
“The Finlandia is truly an international event, drawing elite skiers from around the world,” explains Cindy Habedank with Visit Bemidji. “The Minnesota Finlandia is a world-class athletic event, open to everyone.”
The Meadow Lake Trail is perfect for the non-groomed back-country skiing enthusiast (you can even bring your dog), the Three Island Trail offers 14 miles of gently rolling trails perfect for beginners and families, and includes the most scenic and popular trail in Bemidji which parallels the briskly moving snow-capped waters of the Turtle River, and at Lake Bemidji State Park, scenic trails wind through the forest and skirt the lake. The area also draws snowmobilers, with 14,000 miles of trails, many of which are groomed and well-marked with directional and caution signs. visitbemidji.com
Going to an indoor waterpark in the dead of winter is a pretty surefire way to beat the winter blahs, and Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center—located two hours northwest of Minneapolis off I-94 in Alexandria—has one of the best indoor waterparks around. The 38,000-square-foot indoor waterpark features three exhilarating four-story slides, a “Lazy River” innertube ride, a tropical whirlpool spa, and plenty of excitement for the little ones. The fun continues with an indoor pool, whirlpool, fitness center, spa facility, on-site restaurants and lounge, and a huge indoor tennis facility (open year-round). 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 (sleds are available free of charge), or play broomball or hockey on the Lake Darling rink.
Accommodations at Arrowwood range from lodge rooms and suites with lakefront views to luxurious four-bedroom townhomes. arrowwoodresort.com
Another fantastic lodging option in the area is the Holiday Inn Alexandria, a full-service hotel with a spacious indoor recreation center including a swimming pool, whirlpool, wading pool, sauna, fitness center, game room, volleyball court, basketball, pool table and ping-pong. Classic American fare is served in Rudy’s Redeye Grill. For the snowmobilers, miles of scenic Minnesota trails are connected from the parking lot. Andes Tower Hills, just minutes from the resort, offers downhill skiing, tubing, and snowboarding. hialexandria.com
As if a lush and inviting hotel experience wasn’t enough, now there’s one more excuse for a girls’ getaway—fun themed weekends at the Lodge on Lake Detroit: the “Hunting Getaway Weekend” during hunting opener Nov. 5-6 and a “Womens’ Wellness Weekend” Nov. 12-13, 2010. The Hunting Getaway includes a comedy show, spa time at the on-site The Spa Within, and live music; the Womens’ Wellness Weekend includes spa time, wine glass painting, and a (sure to be hilarious) murder mystery event. Attendees will receive “character cards” prior to the event so they can bring an appropriate costume to add to the fun of the dinner/wine-tasting/murder mystery (and you thought you’d never get to wear those old bridesmaid dresses again!) Guests staying at the Lodge on Lake Detroit in the winter months can reserve an ice house for a nominal fee. The Lodge on Lake Detroit is not your typical lodge, it is a lakefront lifestyle hotel. All 55 rooms and suites face Big Detroit Lake to take advantage of the sunsets; most feature private balconies or lake walk-outs.
The focus at the hotel is on positive energy, pampering and experiencing the beauty of the Detroit Lakes area.
With the Mississippi River on one side of town and majestic limestone bluffs on the other, a more beautiful place than Winona is hard to find. This charming city—located in southeastern Minnesota—is home to historically significant buildings, a variety of dining, shopping, and lodging options, and numerous recreational opportunities.
Winona has also 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). While visiting, stay at a B&B, hotel/motel, or cottage, inn, or lodge. visitwinona.com
Sights and Attractions:
• Garvin Heights Overlook – Spectacular views of the Winona area from 545 feet above the Mississippi is 20-30 miles up and down the valley.
• Frozen River Film Festival – The Frozen River Film Festival, set in 2011 from Jan. 26-30, identifies and offers programs that engage, educate, and activate people to become involved in the world. These programs provide a unique perspective on issues not often covered in the local media.
• Cross-country skiing at Frontenac State Park, Great River Bluffs Park, and St. Mary’s University.
Shooting Star Casino, located in Mahnomen, is “the ultimate meteor ride to fun,” says Mallory Ellis, media supervisor. Exciting promotions and offers make Shooting Star a hot-spot in the chilly months for gamers (poker, slots, black jack and bingo), partiers, or those wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. The resort offers entertainment (big-name bands such as Maroon 5 have performed there), a delicious gourmet restaurant (2 One 8), specials at Sereniitee Spa, and an indoor pool. starcasino.com
Winter in Minnesota is a cause for celebration in Brainerd. Ice fishing shacks dot the lakes and snowmobiles zip along the snowy trails. While vacationing in the area, stay at The Lodge at Brainerd Lakes. The full-service lodge offers activities, dining, and spacious, clean, not-your-typical box chain guest rooms (there’s a reason, after all, they refer to them as cabins!). Visit the 30,000-square-foot Paul Bunyan Waterpark, order meals and cocktails at the on-site Lodge Grill & Bar (check out the happy hour), unwind in the indoor/outdoor hot tub, and enjoy the hospitality of a cheerful, helpful, enthusiastic staff. lodgehotelsbrainerd.com
Events and Attractions:
• Brainerd Jaycees 2011 21st Annual $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza – Ice fishing’s largest prize package will be up for grabs as thousands of anglers—the event regularly draws a crowd of nearly 10,000 ice-fishing participants—take to the ice on Jan. 22, 2011.
• Antique Snowmobile Rendezvous – This antique and vintage snowmobile show, set for Jan. 21-23, includes trail rides and competitions. The races will include only snowmobiles built in 1966 or earlier.
• Arctic Blast Snowmobile Rally – Snowmobile with current and former Vikings players and cheerleaders Feb. 12-13. Gather prize tickets from designated Blast Points for a chance to win thousands of dollars in prizes while raising dollars to benefit the Vikings Children’s Fund.
• Ski Gull – A great skiing, snowboarding, and tubing experience to snow bunnies of all levels, located in Nisswa.
• Gull Lake Frozen Fore – Sledding, shooting hockey pucks, golfing in the snow, and snow-bowling are amongst the family-friendly winter activities that make the Gull Lake Frozen Fore, beginning Feb. 25, one of the most exciting winter events in the Lakes Area. Snowmobile or shuttle between nine different resorts and restaurants on Gull Lake as you participate in these winter challenges.
Intrigued by the natural beauty of rolling hills, dense forests and beautiful lakes and rivers, outdoor enthusiasts have flocked to Wisconsin since the late 1800s. Today the area continues to attract visitors for lake recreation, snowmobiling along one of the country’s top trail systems, and some pretty amazing skiing.
Granite Peak Ski Area in Wausau, Wis. is just a three-hour drive from the Twin Cities metro, a short road trip to the largest and tallest hill in Wisconsin. Not only is the ski resort actually a mountain and not just a glorified ski hill, with 74 runs and 700 feet of vertical, the prices are affordable (check out online ordering package deals). The Rib Mountain terrain offers everything from a children’s ski program (complete with a Sun Kid Wonder Carpet) to some challenging black diamond runs, shredders love the rails, boxes, and jumps at six different terrain parks, and since last year, Granite Peak has more than doubled the tree skiing acreage for a total of 45 acres over 16 runs and glades. Granite Peak also offers visitors a state-of-the-art snowmaking system, and a new six-person high-speed chairlift, ski school facility, and rental equipment. The chalet features floor-to-ceiling fireplaces with mountain-view seating (and delicious food), and a slopeside patio is complete with table heaters, a fire pit, and an outdoor grilling area. Enjoy discounted rates during special Family Festival Weekends (January, February, and March), take advantage of the Romantic Getaway Package, or visit during the city’s Badger State Winter Games. Enjoy the company of friends, family, or perfect strangers at the base of the mountain, where Wausau offers everything for the perfect ski vacation: hotels and romantic B&Bs, a lively nightlife scene, excellent restaurants, a variety of cultural entertainment options, great shopping, and fun weekend festivals. skigranitepeak.com
When the temperature drops, Eagle Canyon near Thunder Bay is magically transformed into North America’s finest ice climbing park. Water is constantly pumped from the canyon floor to the top of the cliffs where it slowly and evenly disperses over the canyon walls to create an incredible, always-changing 2,000-foot wall of ice. Eagle Canyon Adventures is Canada’s first artificial ice park and boasts world-class ice climbing ranging in difficulty from Class II to VI.
Our friendly neighbor to the North also offers phenomenal ice fishing, dog sledding, sleigh rides at area parks and farms, snowmobiling opportunities, and both alpine and Nordic skiing. thunderbay.ca
Fly Away this Winter
When you’d rather be slipping on sandals than sliding on ice, turn to the travel professionals at Carrousel Travel. Founded in 1977, the company has over 30 years of travel industry knowledge and experience. Whether your perfect winter getaway includes a trip to an exotic tropical island resort, a luxury cruise, adventure safari, or exciting tour, the staff at Carrousel can help you narrow down your options to find the right fit. They even have certified destination specialists for vacations to Disney, Australia, the South Pacific, Europe, Africa and Asia. So no matter where you’re going, Carrousel can help you create the most exciting, memorable and worry-free vacation of your dreams. carrouseltravel.com
Stay Warm and Dry While Playing Outside
Don’t be a prisoner to the deep freeze. Stay warm and dry while skiing, snowboarding, skating, snowmobiling, ice fishing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, even winter camping by following these tips:
• Dress in layers. Your base layer should be a type of lightweight synthetic material like Under Armour, Bergelene, Capilene, polypropylene, silk, or SmartWool. Avoid wearing cotton next to your skin (cotton absorbs moisture, and if you sweat, you’re going to get chilled). Your next layer, the insulating or mid-layer, is the sweater, ski vest, sweatshirt or fleece that you wear between your base layer and jacket. Choose mid-layer clothing that keeps you comfortable yet allows full freedom of movement. Your outer layer should be waterproof and wind-resistant. This includes snowpants and jackets.
• Wear waterproof, insulated boots to help avoid hypothermia or frostbite.
• Wear a fleece or wool hat. (Half of your body heat can be lost through an uncovered head.)
• On your face/neck, wear a moisturizing sunscreen, goggles, and a neck warmer. When the wind is blowing, consider a neoprene mask.
• Stay hydrated. Dehydration affects your body’s ability to regulate body heat and increases the risk of frostbite. Fluids, especially water, are as important in cold weather as in the heat. Avoid caffeine and alcohol—these items are dehydrating.
• Stay active to maintain body heat.
• Take frequent breaks from the cold.
Find what you need for winter adventures at Midwest Mountaineering, located in the Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis. By providing the best gear and clothing for winter sports like cross country skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, nordic skating, skijoring, dogsledding, telemark skiing, and winter camping, its no wonder Midwest Mountaineering was named the National Retailer of the Year. midwestmtn.com