Ultimate Up North Guide

Drivable destinations from Bemidji to Bayfield

The best places to stay, sights to see, and food to eat this summer, plus where to find award-winning golf courses, great sailing, top beaches, wilderness hiking, and more!

South Shore Postcard


The problem with postcards sent from Bayfield is that scenic images can’t fully convey the region’s charms—the sun rays pinging over the slumbering leviathans known as the Apostle Islands, the sound of a kayaker’s paddle slapping the waves in a sea cave, the civilizing effect of a round of croquet under the lighthouse on Raspberry Island, or the pleasure of spending an afternoon on the sandy crescent-shaped beach at Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island. The postcards don’t exude the scents of pine or apple cider or sun-baked fish guts—all of which have their season—or the press of people during the annual apple festival each fall. And let’s be clear: Even the most poetic note about riding a ferry from the mainland to La Pointe, the only town on Madeline Island, also known as the “Place of the Golden Flickers”—well, it can’t hold a candle to experiencing the surprising thrill and literal chill of the real thing. So don’t wait for someone else to send you a postcard from northeastern Wisconsin, extolling the fun of eating fish livers (a Bayfield tradition), taking a sunset cruise (we’d advise waiting till it’s warm), and tooling around on the country roads that crisscross the Bayfield Peninsula. Go see for yourself what it’s all about. Then drop us a line—a single, solitary line: You were so right.


STAY It’s off the beaten track, but Siskiwit Bay Lodge B&B may be among the most scenic places to stay on Lake Superior’s South Shore. Built to resemble an old-style lake resort, it has four rooms and gourmet breakfasts. 89405 Jack Pine Rd., Cornucopia, Wis., 866-882-6939, siskiwitbaylodge.com

EAT Maggie’s is where Bayfield insiders go when they want good, affordable food in a no-fuss environment. The black-bean nachos with green chili sauce and Monterrey jack cheese are legendary, but diners looking to “eat local” have lots to choose from, too: Cajun lake trout; sautéed whitefish; and even an
appetizer of sautéed whitefish livers—a local delicacy—prepared with green peppers, onions, and mushrooms. 257 Manypenny Ave., Bayfield, Wis., 715-779-5641; maggies-bayfield.com

SEE Learn about Native American cultures, boat-building, and Wisconsin history at the Madeline Island Museum. 226 Colonel Woods Ave., La Pointe, Wis., 715-747-2415, madelineislandmuseum.wisconsinhistory.org

DO Folk music, comedy, classical music, and spoken word. Nothing in the area beats the Big Top Chautauqua for local nightlife. 101 W. Bayfield St., Washburn, Wis., 888-244-8368, bigtop.org

Classic Lakeside Leisure


This is Minnesota’s quintessential up-north destination—the heart of lake country—and it’s all within a little more than two-hour drive (barring weekend traffic) of the Cities. With hundreds of lakes in the area, choices abound whether your water-sport pleasure runs to boating or fishing or swimming. Dozens of resorts offer the full smorgasbord of summertime fun: golfing, boating, fishing, dining, or just relaxing on the beach. If small and low-key is your style, a number of mom-and-pop operations in the area cater to families. No worries if the lakeside action pales. There’s always plenty going on: Arts in the Park, a juried show in Brainerd’s Gregory Park (July 3); the Two Rivers Music Fest and Craft Fair in Motley (July 23–July 25); Cajun Fest 2010 at Northern Lights Casino in Walker (August 91–21); and Street Fest on Seventh (formerly known as the Great Northern BBQ) in downtown Brainerd (August 28).


STAY Check into the glorious Grand View Lodge, and you’ll find plenty of amenities to please—whether you prefer to relax by golfing, fishing, swimming, boating, or decadent pampering at the lodge’s own Glacial Waters Spa. Or try a wine tasting at the Headwater’s Wine Cellar, hosted weekly by sommelier Timothy Edmunds. Rooms in the historic main lodge start at $350/night; cabins at $430/night; townhomes and villas $430/night; and golf-course suites, at $235/night. 23521 Nokomis Ave., Nisswa, 218-963-2234, grandviewlodge.com

EAT Go to Iven’s on the Bay for the martinis, but stay for the exquisitely prepped food. Everything, from the mayo to the yummy chocolate-fudge and raspberry strudel, is made from scratch. 19090 Hwy. 371 N., Brainerd, 218-829-6666, ivensonthebay.com

SEE The 27-foot-tall statue of Paul (who will greet the kids by name) at Paul Bunyan Land. Or, step back in time at Pioneer Village. 17553 State Hwy. 18, Brainerd, 218-764-2524, paulbunyanland.com

DO Watch the turtle races in Nisswa, Wednesdays at 2 p.m., June 9–August 18 (for more info call, 218-963-2620). Too slow? Learn to drive a racecar at Brainerd International Raceway Performance Driving School. 5523 Birchdale Rd., Brainerd, 218-824-7223, brainerdraceway.com

Celebrate the Summer


Summer in Duluth is brief, but the town celebrates the season with an endless lineup of festivals and events. Duluth welcomes 3.5 million tourists a year. For some, the draw is running in or cheering on competitors at Grandma’s Marathon (June 19), which finishes near Grandma’s Restaurant in Canal Park. For others, the action is at the Duluth Air Show (July 17–18), which features the USAF Thunderbirds this year. Summer’s high note is the Bayfront Blues Festival (August 13–15), when musicians and music lovers gather by the shore for three days of blues. The festival, in its 21st year, fills two stages with local and national acts in Bayfront Festival Park along Lake Superior. Visitors also delight in the art fairs (at Park Point in June and at Glensheen in August) and the arrival of tall ships (July 28-August 3). Take a break to stroll the shops and restaurants of Canal Park or learn about the city’s maritime history. There’s plenty to see at the Great Lakes Floating Maritime Museum and the S.S. William A. Irvin, both open for tours. The Great Lakes Aquarium and the Omnimax Theatre at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center are also worth a stop.


STAY Views of Lake Superior and access to the lakewalk make The Inn on Lake Superior a comfortable and convenient destination. Enjoy free beachside s’mores each night. $109-$189/night. 350 Canal Park Dr., Duluth, 888-668-4352, theinnonlakesuperior.com

EAT Fitger’s entertainment and brewery complex has shops and restaurants with a view. Drink locally brewed beers and dine on burgers at The Brewhouse (218-279-2739, brewhouse.net) or stay late and listen to live music at the Red Star (218-723-7827, redstarclub.us). 600 E. Superior St., Duluth.

SEE The can’t-miss Duluth landmark: the Aerial Lift Bridge, a highlight of the 3-mile lakewalk. Off Lake Avenue in Canal Park.

DO Love history, architecture, and a good mystery? Tour Glensheen, the historic Congdon estate and the notorious setting for a true tale of Minnesota murder and intrigue. 3300 London Rd., Duluth, 218-726-8910, d.umn.edu/glen

Outdoor Family Fun


Just three hours from the twin cities is Wisconsin’s north-woods playground. The Hayward Lakes-area draws anglers and cyclists all summer long to its 55,000 acres of lakes and extensive Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association off-road bike trail system. The area celebrates the seasons with the 50-kilometer American Birkebeiner each February and the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival bike race each September. Wander down Main Street in downtown Hayward to browse a variety of shops and cafes. But be warned: No child will let you leave without stopping at Tremblay’s Sweet Shop, beloved for its fudge. Stop by the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum for your chance to walk through the belly of a giant muskie. The nearly 150-foot-long muskie is the highlight of a museum that features 300 mounted fresh water fish. Fish really do hold a place of honor in Hayward, especially during the Muskie Festival (June 24–27), a family-fun celebration with activities for all ages. For a unique Hayward experience, watch real lumberjacks chop, roll, and climb at the annual Lumberjack World Championships (July 23–25). Make the most of the lakes and trails during summertime visits by swimming, renting a boat, tubing on the Namekagon River, or joining a horseback-riding tour.


STAY Located just outside Hayward in Cable, Wis., and built in the 1920s, Garmisch is a lakeside retreat with a German touch. $95-$195/night. 23040 Garmisch Rd., Cable, 800-794-2204, garmischresort.com

EAT After a long day biking and swimming, families love to sit down for a slice at the log-lodge eatery, Coop’s Pizza Parloure. $11–$30. 10588 California Ave., Hayward, 715-634-3027, coopspizza.com

SEE See how big you look next to the four-and-a-half-story-high muskie at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum. 10360 Hall of Fame Dr., Hayward, 715-634-4440, freshwater-fishing.org

DO The area claims to be the “Golf Capitol of Wisconsin,” and for good reason: Six golf courses are nearby, offering plenty of award-winning play for the serious golfers in the family. And, for the younger set, there’s Towering Pines Miniature Golf.   10688 State Hwy. 77 W., Hayward, 715-634-7788, toweringpinesminigolf.com

Links, Lakes, and Luxe Lodging

Golf doesn’t get much better than at two side-by-side resort courses near Brainerd

In its most recent “Best Places to Play” rankings of publicly accessible golf courses, Golf Digest awarded its coveted five-star rating to only 23 courses in the country. Two of them—The Classic at Madden’s and Cragun’s Dutch Legacy—happen to be in Minnesota. As luck would have it, they’re so close together that you could hit a tee shot from one and land it on the other. Better still, the two Brainerd-area resort courses are within easy striking distance of Twin Cities golfers looking for a supremely convenient golf getaway.

The Classic and Dutch Legacy were skillfully sculpted out of an idyllic patch of land and water near the south end of Gull Lake: the former by longtime Madden’s golf superintendent Scott Hoffman; and the latter by renowned course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. Both courses feature magnificent north-woods scenery by the bucketful, with the fairways of The Classic rolling up and down through the hardwood forest and Dutch Legacy’s links threading their way around wetlands.

Golfers playing from the tips will find themselves challenged not only by some serious yardage (such as the 634-yard 13th hole at The Classic) but also by liberal doses of sand and water. But players whose enthusiasm is greater than their expertise needn’t despair: Five sets of tees at each course allow you to pick an appropriate level of difficulty for your handicap. Even first-timers can make smart shot choices with the aid of a detailed course guide at The Classic and cart-mounted GPS screens at Dutch Legacy.

Although there’s no lodging directly on either of the courses, their parent resorts offer plenty of options just a mile or two away. And if your weekend isn’t complete without a fairway view, you can book one of Madden’s spacious golf villas overlooking the historic Pine Beach East course, the first 18-hole resort course in the state.

8 Up North Clubs

The Wilderness at Fortune Bay
A long-hitters’ dream at more than 7,200 yards from the back tees, The Wilderness offers four additional sets of tees for all skill levels. Named one of Golfweek’s “Top 40” casino courses in the nation in 2009, the course wraps around Lake Vermilion and offers views of both lakeshore and red- and white pine woods. Stay at the attached Fortune Bay Resort Casino while you play. 1450 Bois Forte Rd., Tower, 800-992-4680, golfthewilderness.com

Giants Ridge: The Legend & The Quarry
Head to Giants Ridge Golf & Ski Resort for some of the best golf in Minnesota. Consistently recognized by Golf Digest, The Legend and The Quarry have proven themselves enjoyable to play, as well as breathtaking. The nearby Lodge at Giants Ridge offers dining, and hiking and biking trails. 6325 Wynne Creek Dr., Biwabik, 218-865-3000, giantsridge.com

Whitefish Golf Club
A classic golf course described as “player-friendly” by general manager Steve Bengston, this course definitely isn’t the longest you’ll ever play—it’s 5,500 yards from the red tees and nearly 6,500 yards from the blue. The trick is to steer clear of the plentiful woods. This northern course combines seclusion and affordability. 7883 County Rd. 16, Pequot Lakes, 218-543-4900, whitefishgolf.com

Clifton Highlands
The greens can make or break your round at this beautiful Wisconsin golf course, designed to test your shot-making skills. Clifton will have you using every club in your bag. Golf Digest ranked it as one of the best and most affordable places to play in Wisconsin. For something different, take the tram to the 3-par facility, a scenic 9-hole course set on top of a hill that overlooks Wisconsin and Minnesota countryside. N6890 1230th St., Prescott, Wis., 715-262-5141, cliftonhighlands.com

Grand View Lodge: Deacon’s Lodge,The Pines, The Preserve, and The Garden Course
Grand View Lodge offers several award-winning courses. Deacon’s Lodge, named by Golfweek magazine as the best course in Minnesota, features almost 7,000 yards of golf from its longest tees. The bent-grass fairways lead you on a par 72 quest on the course designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer. The Pines consists of three challenging 9-hole sets for a total of 27 championship holes: The Marsh, The Woods, and The Lakes.  Aptly named for its lovely setting, The Preserve combines golf with nature in an 18-hole, par 72 course. The Garden, a 9-hole par 35 course on the lodge’s main grounds, is perfect for family or a relaxing outing with friends. 23521 Nokomis Ave., Nisswa, 866-801-2951, grandviewlodge.com

Superior National at Lutsen
Golf with Lake Superior in sight at this Lutsen course. Named the number-one course to play in Minnesota in 2009 by Golf Digest, it course gives golfers the opportunity to battle its challenging elevation changes and rolling slopes over 27 different holes. A classic layout, it still offers a unique experience: In additional to golfers on the course, you may also see deer, foxes, timber wolves, and the occasional moose. 5731 Hwy. 61, Lutsen, 218-663-7195, superiornational.com

Black Bear Golf Course
This treasure is just south of Cloquet off I-35 north. A driving range and two practice greens accompany the 18-hole, par-72 championship course. Swing away on this woodland course, then head over to the adjacent Black Bear Casino Resort for a different kind of relaxation. 1791 Hwy. 210, Carlton, 218-878-2485, golfatthebear.com

Bike a Virgin Forest


Itasca, Minnesota’s oldest state park, is famous as the headwaters of the Mississippi. In the late 1800s, lawyer and surveyor Jacob Brower began a determined campaign to save the headwaters forests from loggers, and the Legislature established Itasca as a state park in 1891 (though logging didn’t end until 1920).  Remaining stands of virgin pine, including some of the largest individual red and white pine in the state, give Itasca much of its character today. The park is best sized up by a drive or bike ride around 11-mile Wilderness Drive, a hilly, winding road, much of it one-way. Take time to stroll through Preacher’s Grove, a park-like stand of 300-year-old red pines. For interesting side trips, follow the Bohall Trail into the park’s Wilderness Sanctuary or visit the Bison Kill Site, where spear-wielding Indians ambushed and butchered a herd of bison 8,000 years ago. From the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center, cyclists can complete the loop back to the headwaters along the shore of Lake Itasca on a 6-mile paved trail closed to cars. Don’t have a bike of your own? Rent one from Itasca Sports Rental near the headwaters. Park information: 218-699-7251.


STAY Douglas Lodge is a grand, classic log building, where rooms are $75–$127/night. Or, try a state park cabin, some of which accommodate up to eight, $103–$214. Most are built of logs. 866-857-2757 or stayatmnparks.com

EAT The Douglas Lodge restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (including wine and beer). Open 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily. 218-266-2124.

SEE Follow the Aiton Heights Trail to the old fire tower, which you can climb for a tremendous 360-degree view of the park.

DO Snap a portrait of family or friends knee-deep in the Mississippi as it glides from Lake Itasca. Post the photos on Facebook to impress friends in the river towns of St. Louis and New Orleans.

7 Awesome Beaches

McCarthy Beach

Side Lake
If you’re heading north this summer, set down your beach towel at McCarthy Beach State Park adjacent to Sturgeon Lake north of Hibbing. The sandy beach along its shore was rated one of the top 17 beaches in the country by Highways magazine. Take your choice: Wade out into the shallows that extend for hundreds of feet or stroll down the half mile of shoreline. 7622 McCarthy Beach Rd., Side Lake, 218-254-7979, dnr.state.mn.us/mccarthy_beach

Minnesota Point

Who knew the longest natural freshwater sandbar in the world was located in Duluth? This 10-mile expanse gives swimmers a great view of the city’s not-to-be-missed Aerial Lift Bridge. Despite the notoriously cold waters of the great lake, the beautiful sandy beach of Park Point has plenty of shoreline to spare. Enjoy a brisk swim, and then head to Canal Park across the bridge where you’ll find the city’s nightlife scene in full swing. Intersection of 45th Street and Minnesota Avenue, Duluth, 218-730-4300, duluthmn.gov

Snail Lake Beach

Thirty-five acres of shoreline, picnic areas, and biking trails make this gem a great place to play after a long work week. Tucked within the 450-acre Snail Lake Regional Park in Ramsey County, the area also offers hiking trails in wetlands, grasslands, and oak woods, and glimpses of wildlife in the midst of a highly developed area. Take a hike through the park or kick back on the beach—both make for a day well spent. 4200 Snail Lake Boulevard, Shoreview, 651-777-1707, friendsoftheparks.org/Parks/snaillake.htm

Riverfront Park and Beach

The sandy expanse along the river with a play area and pavilion near the shore offer plenty of options for family fun. Located just 30 miles outside of Minneapolis, this picture-perfect location—locals claim it as the best beach in the state—makes for a serene cool-down spot on hot summer days. Between 19th and 20th Streets along Riviera Street, Lake St. Croix Beach, lscb.govoffice.com

Lake Nokomis

Nokomis has several beaches, but the main beach is the main attraction, featuring a buoyed-in swimming area, lifeguards to keep an eye on swimmers, and bathroom facilities at the top of the beach. Food vendors set up shop along the shore, and, if you tire of swimming, you can always take a walk around the scenic lake or grassy fields nearby. 5001 Lake Nokomis Pkwy. W. Mpls., 612-370-4923, minneapolisparks.org

Thomas Beach

No list of Minnesota beaches would be complete without Minneapolis’s Lake Calhoun. This lake in the southwestern part of the city boasts picnic areas, paved walkways and bike lanes, and several beaches as well. Jog down to Thomas Beach to swim with the city’s picturesque skyline in the background, or pull up a towel and catch some sun on the broad, grassy area nearby. Thomas Ave. S. and West Calhoun Pkwy., Mpls., 612-230-6400, minneapolisparks.org

Excelsior Commons

If Lake Calhoun is too close for comfort, head to Excelsior. You’ll find a sandy beach on the shore of Lake Minnetonka, as well as tennis courts, baseball diamonds, picnic areas, and a playground for the kids. Pull up a chair and watch sailboats drift by. Ice cream and snacks conveniently located near the beach. And if you get ambitious, the picturesque town of Excelsior is perfect for an afternoon stroll. Just off Lake Street, at the north end of town, 952-474-5233, ci.excelsior.mn.us

Sail Big Water

Leech Lake

Renowned for a “muskie rampage” a half-century ago, when anglers landed dozens of these trophy fish during one week in July, Leech Lake (112,000 acres) remains a popular hotspot for muskies, big pike, walleyes, and, in winter, the reviled fish that provides the inspiration for the annual International Eelpout Festival. Yet the windswept expanse of lake with 640 miles of shoreline is perfect for another water activity—sailing. “It’s a monstrous lake,” says Gary Davis, owner of Captain Gary Sailboat Charters out of Hiawatha Beach Resort, north of Walker. “There are no crowds.” Much of the lake’s shoreline is owned by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and U.S. Forest Service, so little is or will be developed. Davis takes families and couples on half-day or daylong cruises on a 23-foot boat that accommodates six comfortably. His trips include picnics and beach parties. “I sell fun and romance,” he says. He is one of two charter captains on Leech. (Tom Beriou is the other: Fleet Sails, 218-547-1188, fleetsails.com). For shore-side activities, head to Walker, focal point of the Leech Lake tourist trade. Shop for gifts and sporting goods in town.


STAY Hiawatha Beach Resort’s new lodge, with indoor pool and hot tub. Lodge rooms, $213­–$764/night; cottages, $179­–$906/night. Rooms and cottages sleep up to 16. The resort rents houseboats, pontoons, and fishing boats. 10904 Steamboat Bay Loop NW, Walker; 800-442-3224, hiawathabeach.com

EAT 502 Restaurant at Chase on the Lake hotel, with lakeside views. Casual, but refined. Try the 502 Ribs bourbon barbeque; half rack $18, full rack $25. 502 Cleveland Blvd., Walker, 218-547-7777, chaseonthelake.com

SEE Bald eagles are common along the lake’s shoreline. During the dark days when DDT decimated the eagle population in the Lower 48, the Chippewa National Forest was a last redoubt.

DO Four-hour sail for up to six people with Captain Gary Sailboat Charters, $200. 970-216-8844. goldenpond@arvig.net