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For nature nuts, Ely is the last civilized stop before you reach the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. But it’s more than just an outfitters’ town. Budget Travel named it one of the “coolest small towns in America,” and the burg even scored a spot on National Geographic Traveler’s list of “50 places you must see.” The E in Ely stands for everything: breathtaking lake views, satisfying food, and relaxing spa treatments.
Get the morning started on a sweet note with a kolacky at Plum Bun Bakery and a steaming cup of locally brewed Gene Hicks coffee at the Chocolate Moose. Before the heat of the day hits, hike the five-mile Trezona trail overlooking Miner’s Lake or the six-mile Bass Lake Trail, full of unique rocks and plants. If you’re recovering from a hard paddle (or get blisters just thinking of canoeing), indulge at The Pebble Spa Company with a lemongrass hand rub or a wild-rice-and-spice scrub. And don’t miss the shopping treasures along Sheridan Street, from Piragis to Steger Mukluks to Mealey’s. Get up close to wildlife at the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center (featuring Ted, Honey, and Lucky Bear). Or, for a special experience, call for a tour of Listening Point—the writing shack and cabin that once belonged to ecologist and author Sigurd Olson, the man who basically made the Boundary Waters.
For happy hour, nurse a pint or get a growler of Joel Carlson’s microbrew to go at Boathouse Brewpub & Restaurant. For dinner, tuck into the wild-rice-and-walleye cakes at Rockwood Bar and Grill. Finish your meal with a shot of Pelinkovac, an Eastern European wormwood-based digestif that Ely old-timers swear by. For dessert, bring the day full circle and head back to the Chocolate Moose for pie and another mug of coffee.
When it’s time to hit the hay, book a room at A Stay Inn Ely B&B. Or, for a classic Northwoods experience, stay at the century-old Burntside Lodge. Focused on eco-friendliness? Check out the newly constructed Adventure Inn.
Where to go: Plum Bun Bakery, 147 W. Chapman St.; Rock Wood, 302 E. Sheridan St.; Chocolate Moose, 101 N. Central Ave.; Boathouse Brewpub, 47 E. Sheridan St.; The Pebble Spa Company, 232 W. Sheridan St.; International Wolf Center, 1396 Hwy. 169; North American Bear Center, 1926 Hwy. 169; Listening Point tours, 218-365-7890; A Stay Inn Ely, 112 W. Sheridan St.; Burntside Lodge, 2755 Burntside Lodge Road; Adventure Inn, 1145 E. Sheridan St.
4 Iron Range towns worth a visit
The Finns had enough sisu—that is, stubbornness—to stay in the coldest town in Minnesota. Tour their smartly constructed homes and saunas, some of the first in the state. Call ahead: 218-984-2084. Hwys. 135 and 21
Don a hard hat and dip nearly 2,400 feet in a “cage” and rail car into the Soudan Mine, or hike the conifer forest to see the famous Soudan Iron Formation. Hwy. 169, 2 miles east of Tower
See white pine more than 300 years old on the Lost 40, preserved thanks to a logging miscalculation in 1882. For directions, see dnr.state.mn.us/snas/sna01063/index.html
The Minnesota Discovery Center tells the Iron Range story through artifacts, visuals, and written and oral histories. Very family friendly.
1005 Discovery Dr., Chisholm
Hibbing is home to the world’s largest open-pit iron-ore mine—the entire town moved south once Frank Hibbing discovered that the settlement was sitting on the motherlode. Along with the iron ore, miners tapped into a wellspring of enterprising spirit: Bob Dylan, Kevin McHale, Roger Maris, author/attorney Vincent Bugliosi, and Jeno Paulucci—the founder of Michelina’s, Chun King, and Jeno’s Pizza Rolls—are all Hibbing natives.
Hull Rust Mahoning Mine
The entire town moved for this 3-mile-long, 2-mile-wide, 535-feet-deep pit, earning the nickname “Grand Canyon of the North.” And no, that’s not a blast from the past you see: the mine is still in use. To date, more than 800 million tons of ore have been shipped from it. 401 Penobscot Rd.
Greyhound Bus Museum
Betcha didn’t know the main bus system in the United States was invented right in Hibbing. View vintage Greyhound buses and their inner workings, then relax in the rose garden. 1201 Greyhound Blvd.
Hibbing High School
Built for $4 million in 1922, Hibbing High School is a sight to behold—no expense was spared. Among the highlights: six David Ericson murals, solid marble steps, and Belgian cut-glass chandeliers in the auditorium, which are insured today for a quarter-million apiece. 800 21st St. E.
Paulucci Space Theatre
Named after food entrepreneur Jeno Paulucci, this planetarium gives names to all the night-sky sparklers you can actually see when in Hibbing, plus Imax-format films. Call a couple of days ahead for schedules or tours. 1502 E. 23rd St.
Hibbing Public Library
This library houses all the Bob Dylan memorabilia a fan could want, including a copy of his birth certificate, yearbook, and a life-size papier-mâché Bob. 2020 Fifth Ave. E.
Sunrise Bakery at the Lybba
Pick up the essential three P’s of Hibbing here: porchetta, pasties, and potica. Note: Bob and pals used to hang here and watch movies when it was still a working theater. 2135 First Ave.
Bob Dylan’s Childhood Home
It’s not open for touring, but when in Hibbing… at least drive or walk by. You can’t miss the Mediterranean two-story where Bob discovered rock ’n’ roll—look for gawkers trailing by with cameras and the garage door painted to look like the cover of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album. 2425 Seventh Ave. E.
Built in 1897 for Oliver Iron Mining Company’s superintendent Pentecost Mitchell, this was the first house moved to South Hibbing in 1918. Today, after much rehabilitation, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is a gorgeous B&B. 2125 Fourth Ave. E.
Paul Bunyan’s Backyard
Paul Bunyan may be Bemidji’s patron saint, but beneath this town’s lumberjack exterior broods a far more bohemian soul. Hip-hop and punk shows happen every weekend at Blue Ox Bar and Grill. Tattooed yogis shop for ginger chews at Harmony Natural Food Co-op. And teenage Tony Hawks, long banned from skating downtown, now practice board tricks legally at top-of-the-line Bemidji Skate Park. There’s even a flat-track roller-derby team, the Babe City Rollers. Tourists may come to Bemidji to escape the big city, but they can’t avoid the town’s plucky cosmopolitanism.
Start off with a tour. The self-guided Bemidji Sculpture Walk takes visitors through perhaps the most densely art-populated downtown in all of Minnesota. With more than 20 works from local and international artists (down from 50 last year), there is literally an installation on every block. By the time you’re through, you’ll have scouted out the best lunch destination, too: Wild Hare Bistro.
It’s a beatnik woodsman scene at this café-and-gallery, where the menu skews local and organic, and everything can be made to accommodate vegans, vegetarians, and the gluten-sensitive. For dessert, stroll a few blocks to Chocolates Plus, where you can sample the finest truffles this side of Switzerland. Down an “Aztec” truffle, made with chili oil and chipotle, and you’ll have enough kick to power you through a shopping spree.
Kelsey’s is the spot for jewelry, where self-taught designer Michael Kelsey makes magic with Minnesota’s state gem, the Lake Superior agate. Urban crafters need to hit up Yellow Umbrella and Bad Cat Creations, both too-cute boutiques featuring handmade creations from local artists. Grandma’s Attic packs more treasures into an antique mall than thought possible. And for an authentic lumberjack jacket—because you are still in Bemidji, after all—swing over to Woolen Mills.
For dinner, it’s a soul-warming shepherd’s pie and a pint of black-and-tan at Irish pub Brigid’s Cross. Pop in on Monday night for the pub quiz, but watch for ringers: profs from Bemidji State University tend to dominate the competition.
Where to go: Blue Ox Bar and Grill, 128 First St. NW; Harmony Co-Op, 117 Third St. NW; Bemidji Skate Park, 1224 23rd St. NW.; Wild Hare Bistro, 523 Minnesota Ave. NW; Chocolates Plus, 315 Beltrami Ave. NW; Kelsey’s Jewelry, 318 Beltrami Ave. NW; Yellow Umbrella, 204 Third St.; Bad Cat Creations, 315 Irving Ave. NW; Grandma’s Attic, 502 Third St. NW; Woolen Mills, 301 Irvine Ave. NW; Brigid’s Cross, 317 Beltrami Ave. NW
EAT LIKE AN OX
4 Bemidji eateries that satisfy
Minnesota Nice Café
Wild-rice omelets, fresh sausage, and pancakes you could land a plane on—the stick-to-your-ribs breakfast you’d expect in the land of lumberjacks. 414 Beltrami
Located on a thin strip of isthmus between Lake Bemidji and Lake Irvine, this upscale restaurant offers great views and classic supper-club fare, like cashew-crusted halibut and prime rib. 824 Paul Bunyan Dr. S.
Plan on loosening your belt after eating at this old-school pizza joint, which serves up dense, topping-laden pies that require a fork and knife. 422 15th St. NW
A breath of Mediterranean, this romantically lit Italian restaurant does well with veal marsala, ravioli in a lobster sauce, and spectacular cannoli. 300 Beltrami
More Than Just Muskie
Walker is an angler’s paradise. It’s built so close to Leech Lake that Main Street is practically a dock, and a billboard-sized welcome sign declares without a hint of doubt that the town is the “Muskie Capital of the Nation.” But you don’t have to fish to have fun. In fact, Walker’s downtown is so distractingly diverse that travelers with any number of interests could pass a whole day or two here without ever casting a line.
The Girly Girl
The Aveda-sanctioned Beehive Salon (506 Michigan Ave. W.) offers a full menu of pampering, from pedicures and massages to paraffin hand dips. Across the street, in a pastel-painted former church, The Cabin Up North (409 Michigan Ave. W.) imports women’s summer styles from southern California. Shop for scented candles at the grandmotherly Christmas Point Wild Rice Co. (523 Minnesota Ave. W.), and then nose through a few romance novels at Little Apple Bookstore (513 Main St.).
The Beer Snob
No joke, one of the state’s newest microbreweries is located in a teeny metal shed hidden in a clearing in the woods just outside Walker. Three times a week, Leech Lake Brewing Company (195 Walker Industries Blvd.) opens its miniature taproom to sell 64-ounce growlers and offer samples of its six brews, including the Loch Leech Monster, a popular Scottish ale. Of course, you can always grab a Grain Belt at macho sports bar Benson’s (400 Minnesota Ave. W.).
The Art Lover
Walker is a haven for woodworking, and the specialty of the town’s galleries is the “lake carving”: a layered, three-dimensional model, cut with a scroll saw, that depicts the depth of a local body of water. Check out Tory Kaupang’s masterpieces at the Artist Mall of Walker (406 Minnesota Ave.), or peruse a whole wall’s worth—plus a fleet of hand carved, basswood birds—at Carol and Jeff Groth’s Whittle Shop (514 Minnesota Ave.).
The R&R Seeker
Unwinding is at its most elegant at Chase on the Lake resort (502 Cleveland Blvd.), where you can melt into a chakra massage at The Copper Door spa, kick back with a craft cocktail on the lakeside patio of 502 restaurant, or even bowl a few frames at the private, onsite bowling facility, Chaser’s Alley. For a dinner out, treat yourself to some finer-than-fine-dining at white-tablecloth steakhouse The Boulders (8363 Lake Land Trail NW).
Little Town on the Prairie
Forget hokey antique shops and faux roadside diners. When it comes to genuine Americana, Luverne is the real deal. Just ask Ken Burns: when the legendary filmmaker sought out four “quintessentially American towns” for his common-man oeuvre, the 2007 World War II documentary The War, Luverne topped the list. Four years later, this idyllic Mayberry still seems poised for movie-star treatment.
A visit starts at the Brandenburg Gallery, the official showroom for one of the world’s top nature photographers, Luverne native and National Geographic veteran Jim Brandenburg. Inside a quartzite-clad former jail, visitors can peruse more than 100 photos, from famous shots of arctic wolves to sweeping, prairie-land vistas captured at nearby Blue Mounds State Park and Touch the Sky Prairie.
On Main Street, tour the Palace Theater, the historic 1915 vaudeville playhouse where The War had its world premiere. The venue dazzles with antiquated, art-deco elegance, from the original projection screen to the still-functioning Geneva organ in the orchestra pit. Prefer your films al fresco? Hit up the 1950s-era Verne Drive-In Theater at dusk.
For more nostalgia, stroll down to Renfro Variety, a five-and-dime store so authentic it has a chatty 95-year-old woman behind the cash register. “If you can’t find it at my shop, you don’t need it,” says owner Margaret Vegge, who, since 1948, has stocked everything from hairnets to handkerchiefs, toy tiaras to tank tops.
For lunch, it’s The Coffey Haus, a sunny bistro that pairs urbane tastes (espresso, gourmet sodas, Tuscan chicken panini) with small-town comfort. If it’s kitsch you’re craving—or maybe just a burger topped with a fried egg—try Vinnie’s Dang Fine Dine, just south of town, a zany micro-diner packed into a pastel-striped tin shed.
Tucker the kids out at the City Park, one of the state’s largest civic playgrounds. Or head north to Prairie Heights ranch. Schoolteacher-turned-bison-wrangler Jeanne Bowron takes cartloads of kids out to the prairie, where they can hand-feed molasses plugs to a herd of friendly beasts.
Where to go: Brandenburg Gallery, 213 E. Luverne St.; Blue Mounds State Park, 1410 161st St.; Palace Theater, 104 E. Main St.; Verne Drive In Theater, 1607 1/2 S. Kniss Ave.; Renfro Variety, 206 E. Main St.; The Coffey Haus, 111 E. Main St.; Vinnie’s Dang Fine Dine, 306 W. Hatting St.; Prairie Heights Bison, 37 Rural Route 1
Spanning some 1,800 acres, Blue Mounds State Park can feel like a country unto itself—or, with its wide-open eeriness, another planet. 1410 161st St.
Ditch the Drive
Bring a bike and cruise from Luverne’s Main Street directly into the park via the gorgeously wooded, six-mile Blue Mound Trail.
On the first day of fall, stand at the park’s great mystery, the 1,200-foot-long equinox marker known as the Stone Wall. Face west. and the sun will set exactly where the rocks disappear into the horizon.
Feeling brave? Rappel down the park’s spectacular mile-and-a-half-long cliff line. Just don’t look down; it’s a 100-foot drop to the base.
Touch the Sky
Visit the Native American “vision quest” site at nearby Touch the Sky Prairie, where strange rock outcroppings freckle a 1,000-acre expanse of untouched grassland.
Spirits in Red Rock
This tiny town stands next to one of the most sacred American Indian sites in the Midwest: the Pipestone National Monument. For centuries, Plains Indians of all tribes made pilgrimages here, digging pits into the prairie and unearthing a strange mineral: a kidney-bean-colored rock, as soft as a fingernail, which craftsmen would then shape into “calumets,” the most holy of ceremonial pipes. This “pipestone” still defines the town today—from the odd reddish color of its architecture to the spiritual hues of its past.
Pipestone National Monument
Tour the present-day quarries—some 50 holes punched into a 283-acre, flower-spotted prairie—and you’ll see American Indian men and women engaged in a very physical form of prayer: burning tobacco, smudging their tools with sage, and then attacking rock fissures with sledge hammers and pry bars. Pipe-making demonstrations occur daily in the visitors’ center. 36 N. Reservation Ave.
The Calumet Inn
This fortress-like 1888 inn is clad in maroon quartzite (rubble from the pipestone quarries) and features antique rooms with claw-foot tubs, pull-chain toilets, and Victorian furniture. 104 W. Main St.
Pipestone County, where wind speeds hold at a steady 18 mph, boasts over 200 turbines. A network of access roads makes it easy to drive right up to one and marvel at the giant machines.
Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers
The nation’s only Native American organization to be officially recognized by the federal government as a “church,” Keepers works to preserve the tradition of the pipe. View authentic calumets at the headquarters, including the 30-foot-tall behemoth installed on the front lawn.
The town’s best lunch option, this 24-hour diner serves up heaping hot beef sandwiches drenched in gravy, homemade mashed potatoes, and pillowy slabs of raisin sour-cream pie. 110 Eighth Ave. SE
VISIT NEW LONDON
Undercover Art Town
At first glance, New London has the same quaint traits as many a small town: historic buildings, warm-hearted residents, a postcard-like setting. But beneath its Leave It to Beaver exterior, the City on the Pond buzzes with enough creative energy to power all of central Minnesota, if not the entire state. You just have to know where to get plugged in.
Start your artistic adventure at Kaleidoscope Gallery, a cooperative operated by nine local artists. Browse the array of pottery, paintings, baskets, and jewelry, and say hello to whichever of the artists happens to be manning the front desk that day. For more pottery, head up the hill to Mayor Bill Gossman’s studio, an intimate nook housing his wood-fired porcelain and stoneware gems. Be sure to take a peek at the massive three-chamber, wood-burning kiln he built in his backyard.
Avoid an art overload and duck into Heritage Falls Market. There, enjoy a free cup of locally roasted coffee and pay heed to your heritage by browsing the huge cache of Scandinavian goods. At Quilted 4 You, watch custom-designed quilts be made, then wander across the hall to Dancing Goat Studio, where Kim Wendlandt sells her recycled-book purses.
Get back on the art track at Pottery Workshop, where New London’s established and aspiring potters sell their creations. Tote your new ceramic wares to The Happy Sol, a women’s apparel and gift boutique. Mix and match accessory options at Bead Jam, which boasts more beads than a Girl Scout swap meet. More browsing can be found at Mill Pond Mercantile, the region’s queen bee of home décor, gifts, baking goods, and more. Refuel with an espresso drink from Java on Main and a freshly baked treat from New London Bakery, or head to McKale’s Family Restaurant for the daily lunch special and a slice of homemade pie.
If you’re there on a Friday, stay for the Little Crow Ski Team show at 7:30 p.m. in Neer Park. The team, which has won multiple national and regional championships, includes barefoot skiers, jumpers, and members talented (and crazy) enough to build a 22-person pyramid—on the water.
Where to go: Kaleidoscope Gallery, 326 Main St. S.; Gossman Pottery, 313 First Ave. SE; Heritage Falls Market, 42 Main St. S.; Quilted 4 You, 28 Main St. S.; Dancing Goat Studio, 28 Main St. S.; Pottery Workshop, 17 Central Ave. W.; Bead Jam, 13 Main St. N.; Mill Pond Mercantile, 24 Main St. N.; Java on Main, 31 Main St. N.; New London Bakery, 21 Main St. N.; McKale’s Family Restaurant, 10 Ash St. SE; Little Crow Ski Team, 311 Second Ave. SE
Glacial Ridge Winery
One of seven stops on Minnesota’s Heartland Wine Trail, is just two miles south of New London and produces some mighty fine vintages. Stop in for a tour, stay for some wine. 15455 County Rd. 131, Spicer; glacialridgewinery.com
Every Thursday from June till the second week of September, Glacial Ridge hosts free concerts on their outdoor stage, ranging from rock to bluegrass to jazz. Bring a chair, grab a glass, settle in, and savor summer.
Tour and Taste
After getting a science lesson on the art of wine-making, pick out a few of your favorites to sip the afternoon away: $8 gets you a full wine-flight plus a commemorative Glacial Ridge Winery wine glass.
Stomp the Yard
On September 10, put your toes to the test with the annual grape stomp. After you’ve had your fill of squishing and squashing, stick around for a glass of wine (made without the help of feet) and live entertainment.
History on Hold
Once dubbed the “Queen of the Prairies,” Litchfield packs more charm and history into its small-town setting than many of its big city neighbors. From the preserved main-street storefronts to the mint-condition, century-old Victorian homes to the ongoing renovations of the original opera house, history matters here. Come see why.
226 Sibley Ave. N.
This local haunt dishes up the heartiest homemade breakfasts in town, never skimping on portions. The bacon is especially good: crispy and delicious.
Deann’s Country Village Shoppe
115 Sibley Ave. N.
Unexpectedly spacious, DeAnn’s is a homemaker’s paradise, offering everything from candles and greeting cards to kitchen supplies and baby clothes. It’s like Martha Stewart magazine come to life.
Cricket Meadow Tea
113 Sibley Ave. N.
Do as the British do and enjoy a spot ’o tea with your lunch. The food is made fresh using local, organic ingredients, and the shop’s signature Sunny Harvest bread tastes like heaven with a drop of honey.
Forest City Stockade
Highway 24 and 309th St., Forest City
Play pioneer for an hour or two and see what life was like for the first Meeker County settlers. For a true blast-from-the-past, attend the 28th annual Summer Rendezvous, held August 20-21, which includes food, demonstrations, wagon rides, and other family-friendly events.
109 Sibley Ave. N.
The original tin ceiling and wood-planked floor of this 1880s building are just as fabulous as the antiques they house: well-preserved Post and Life magazines, delicate teacups, retro housewares, and countless other treasures of yore.
Litchfield Opera House
136 Marshall Ave. N.
Built in 1900, little Litchfield’s opera house used to be the belle of the burg. Today, volunteers have come together to restore the building it to its former glory. Stop in and take a peek at the before-and-after photos—you’ll see why.
100 Sibley Ave. N.
Some say it’s cluttered, others haphazard, but everyone agrees that this corner antique store is your best bet for mindless browsing. Just be careful not to get lost among the knickknacks and thingamabobs.
311 Sibley Ave. N.
For a midmorning sugar boost, get a malt from Parkview Café. Once you’ve decided on a flavor (try the grasshopper), head to Central Park across the street to savor your treat beneath a shady tree.
The Grand Army of the Republic Hall & Meeker County Historical Society Museum
308 Marshall Ave. N.
Brush up on your Civil War history at one of the last authentic G.A.R. Halls in the country. Photos, battle maps, paintings, and original furnishings fill the front of the historic building, while the Meeker County Historical Society Museum takes up the rest. See how our ancestors lived in 1868, hear a tune on the 1914 Edison Amberola phonograph, and boost your patriotism while perusing war propaganda dating back to the Civil War.
Anderson Gardens Arboretum
Take a moment or two to soak up the last rays of the day in Litchfield’s miniature Garden of Eden: a petite, well-maintained oasis brimming with shady trees, blooming flowers, cozy benches, and a romantic gazebo overlooking the lake.
Peter’s on Lake Ripley
405 W. Pleasure Dr.
World-class ribs in central Minnesota? You betcha. And, if you time it right, you’ll even get a show thanks to the sunset over scenic Lake Ripley.
Call Your Bluff
To get to little Lanesboro, population 754, you go up then down, up then down until you bottom out in a bowl of limestone. Where are you? You’ve gone deep, man, well-tucked into what locals call bluff country and geologists call the driftless area, spared by the last glaciers to become a kind of Midwestern Appalachia of steep ridges, narrow valleys, and organic ice cream. To explore it, pluck a rental bike from the rafters of Little River General Store and pedal into the countryside on the Root River State Trail, or rent a kayak from Root River Outfitters and hit the water. Back in town, grab some lunch at Pedal Pushers Café, where owners Angie and Scott Taylor have elevated the burgers-and-beer concept with grass-fed beef. Or savor the sausages next door at Das Wurst Haus, where Arv Fabian makes the brats, the mustard to slather on them, and the root beer to wash it all down, even as he escapes from the kitchen to play his concertina (don’t call it an accordion!).
Walk off the weight by browsing the work of regional artists at the smartly curated Lanesboro Art Center or the vintage hats and natural-fiber women’s wear at the new Bittersweet Boutique. Take some fresh produce home from the new Lanesboro Local Marketplace (the town claims to be Minnesota’s rhubarb capital) or, if it’s Saturday, from the farmers’ market in Sylvan Park (for fantastic jam, look for the Amish buggies). In the evening, try the Scandinavian small-plate smorgasbord at Kari’s—the Taylors’ other, more upscale restaurant—which connects directly to the Commonweal Theatre, an unusually ambitious community troupe (what other small-town theater offers both Ibsen and Sylvia?). Have a nightcap on the patio of Riverside on the Root, the river burbling beside you. Then retire to the berth of your choosing—Lanesboro also claims the title of Minnesota’s B&B capital. Want privacy? Try Belle Rive, a house of your own right up against the bluff and bike trail. Or get the full Victorian, breakfast-big-as-a-boulder experience at Anna V’s, where you’re liable to become driftless yourself.
Where to go: Little River General Store, 105 Coffee St.; Root River State Trail, 100 Milwaukee Rd.; Root River Outfitters, 109 Parkway Ave. S.; Pedal Pushers Café, 121 Parkway Ave. N.; Das Wurst Haus, 117 Parkway Ave. N.; Lanesboro Art Center, 103 Parkway Ave. N.; Bittersweet, 107 Parkway Ave. N.; Lanesboro Local, 207 Parkway Ave. N.; Sylvan Park, 202 Parkway Ave. S.; Kari’s, 210 Parkway Ave. N.; Commonweal Theatre, 208 Parkway Ave. N.; Riverside on the Root, 109 Parkway Ave. S., Belle Rive, 302 Ashburn St.; Anna V’s, 507 Fillmore Ave. S.
OUT AND ABOUT
5 quick trips from Lanesboro
At Whalan’s Stand Still Parade in May, spectators move while marchers stay put. Hit the Aroma Pie Shop for a slice of homemade happiness.
618 Main St.
A scenic drive on Highway 10 leads to the 116-year-old Highland Store and Café, serving smoothies and organic breakfasts all day. 22485 391st Ave.
Part of Highway 16’s Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway, the five-mile drive to Preston offers peerless vantages.
Try the high-ropes course and go canoeing at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center.
28097 Goodview Dr., eagle-bluff.org
Mystery Cave State Park pairs spelunking tours with a restored 1800s village, abandoned after the railroad bypassed it. 21071 County Rd. 118, Preston
VISIT SPRING GROVE
Culture in the Country
Spring Grove is a town on the verge, just a B&B and soap store away from being swarmed with red hats. For now, though, it’s all yours— the first Norwegian settlement in Minnesota, the wellspring of our state stereotypes. Here, the city hall is a radhus, the folk school teaches rosemaling, and visitors are guests, not tourists, inevitably asked to dance if there’s a concert at the heritage center. Take it from Tim Blanski, who moved here from St. Paul a decade ago to build elegantly rustic furniture: “This place is real. No airs. Just good living.”
Tim Blanski builds furniture from salvaged barn wood and polished burls in his Granary Woodshops (18668 County Rd. 4) on a bucolic spread north of town. The four-year-old Bluff Country Artists Gallery (111 W. Main St.) showcases Blanski’s work alongside local pottery, paintings, etc. Each spring, artists welcome visitors during the Bluff Country Studio Art Tour (bluffcountrystudioarttour.com). Ye Olde Opera House (155 W. Main St.) stages plays downtown and at its bluff-side barn.
This is coulee country, filled with quirky names like Hippie Valley and Yucatan Valley, and Redford-ready trout streams known mostly to fishermen and rattlesnakes. Hike to overlooks in nearby Beaver Valley Creek State Park. Drive the 12 miles south from Spring Grove to Dorchester, Iowa, on County Road 16 for a ride on a gorgeous ridge. Or take County Road 4 north of town to Rooster Valley Road, a twisting loop that’s spectacular in the fall.
Spring Grove’s population is still nearly 90 percent Norwegian, and the new Giants of the Earth Heritage Center (163 W. Main St.) is evidence of the Nordic roots. Its folk music and dance performances are popular with gray-hairs and trendy high-schoolers alike. The center’s ambitious folk school has classes on everything from Norwegian sweater-making to learning to speak the native tongue. You can even have your DNA traced to see if you’re Norwegian.
Minnesota’s largest Amish community resides just west of Spring Grove. You’ll find pies, jams, and more on Saturdays at the Amish Farmers’ Market four miles south of Harmony on Highway 52. QUARTER/quarter (25 Center St.), a smart new restaurant and wine bar in Harmony, serves comfort food fresh from the gardens of chef Steven Larson, formerly of D’Amico Cucina. And don’t leave town without some locally made Spring Grove soda.