2016 Midwest Vacation Guide

    Spring Getaways

    From festivals to waterfalls to outdoor activities, we highlight 12 fun getaways when the snow melts and spring has sprung.

    Photo courtesy of Visit Bemidji.

    Why visit in spring?
    “Spring is my favorite season of all,” says Susan Goudge, executive director, Visit Bemidji. “Experiencing the wonderment of spring in Bemidji offers a tapestry that’s second-to-none.” Why? Because the “earth comes alive as the lakes open, birds migrate, trees bud, and grass sprouts, providing a landscape of beauty after the long winter.” Likewise, she says, during the spring season people are in good spirits and feel more energized to get outside and be active.

    Lodging options: 
    In addition to resorts and campgrounds, Bemidji, approximately 220 miles north of the Twin Cities metro, is home to three hotels on the south shore of Lake Bemidji and a number of city-side hotels. 

    Where do the locals hang out?
    Pubs and breweries, parks (Itasca State Park, Waterfront  and Diamond Point parks, the skate park and 18-hole disc golf course at City Park), downtown, or along the 17-mile paved Lake Bemidji trail. The lakes that punctuate the region are also known for excellent fishing and boating.

    A year-round attraction:
    A visit to Bemidji wouldn’t be complete without a photo opp at the statues of Paul Bunyan and his faithful sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox, near the tourist information center (a good starting point for the Bemidji Art Walk). 


    Photo Courtesy of Visit Cook County.

    Cook County
    Why visit in spring?
    The unique geography of the Cook County area (Lutsen, Tofte, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail, and Grand Portage) makes the waterfall season—from mid-April to about mid-May—absolutely spectacular. Scenic Highway 61 is a corridor for hundreds of waterfalls in Cook County, from small “pop-up” waterfalls to the High Falls in Grand Portage State Park—the highest waterfall in the state, plummeting over 120 feet. As the weather warms, the snow melts on the inland Boundary Waters lakes and rolls down the Sawtooth Mountains, dropping into Lake Superior. “Waterfall season is the first sign of spring in Cook County,” says Linda Kratt, executive director for Visit Cook County. Visitors can enjoy viewing the waterfalls from their vehicles, from within canoes, or on foot. For the most dramatic impression, Kratt suggests hiking to and from the attractions. (Cook County includes over 386 miles of hiking trails.)

    Cook County lodging options:
    Rustic lodges, cabins, cottages, campsites, luxury condos, B&Bs, and vacation homes.  

    Where do the locals hang out?
    Two local breweries in Grand Marais are local hotspots with those living in town: Voyageur Brewing Company and the Gun Flint Tavern.  

    A cyclist’s paradise:
    Cook County is quickly becoming a premier location for cyclists, thanks to the region’s beautiful natural scenery and well-run and organized bike rides and races. In June, cyclists head to the North Shore for the Lutsen99er mountain bike race, and now they’ll have another race to consider: the Le Grand du Nord (French for “The Great North”) in Grand Marais on May 28, 2016, combining amazing gravel riding with one of the prettiest places on earth. There will be two routes during the Le Grand du Nord, 100-mile and 50-miles, starting and finishing in Grand Marais. Riders on the 100-mile course will roll out of the stunning Grand Marais harbor and gradually climb to just within a stone’s throw of Canada, taking in stunning North Shore ridgeline views. Registration is currently open, visit heckofthenorth.com for more information.


    Photo Courtesy of Caribou Highlands Lodge.

    Caribou Highlands Lodge
    Resort amenities:
    In addition to the prime North Shore location, Caribou Highlands Lodge, located in Lutsen, offers an abundance of resort amenities, including a heated indoor pool, two hot tubs, sauna, complimentary kids’ camp, and on-site restaurant and lounge, coffee shop, gift shop, and bakery.

    Why visit in spring?
    Waterfalls! Also? That invigorating North Shore air, breathtaking Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior scenery, rock-hounding, bonfires and s’mores, hiking along the rugged Superior Hiking Trail (listed in Backpacker magazine as a “top 10 hiking trail in the country”), and luxurious accommodations. 

    Where do the locals hang out?
    Moguls Grille and Tap Room (try the walleye cakes, nachos with Cajun sour cream, or signature cherry-smoked prime rib), or Papa Charlie’s for live music throughout the week. The Elevate Ski & Snowboard Festival, featuring all Doomtree artists, is April 1-2, 2016.


    Photo Courtesy of Visit Detroit Lakes.

    Detroit Lakes
    Why visit in spring?
    The Detroit Lakes area, a little over a three-hour drive northwest of the Twin Cities, is transformed into a birding mecca in spring. According to Cleone Stewart, tourism director, Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, visitors can attempt to spot more than 250 bird species during the 19th Annual Festival of Birds May 19-22, held at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area. The weekend includes organized birding field trips, educational workshops, and social gatherings (in recent years, birders have checked these species off their list: Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Rough-legged Hawk, Chestnut-collared Longspur, LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Rock Wren, Golden-winged and Northern Parula Warblers, Alder Flycatcher and Black-backed Woodpecker). Return later in the season for classic car shows, water carnivals, boat races, golf tournaments, or the WE Fest Country Music Festival, Dick Beardsley Marathon, or White Earth and Pine Point Pow Wows. Lodging is available at hotels, motels, and area campgrounds.

    Where do the locals hang out?
    Detroit Lakes has a mile of sugar-sand beach. Don’t have a boat? Rent one at the marina and cruise a lake, or drop a line and go fishing. Take the kids to the adjacent city park, catch a performance at the 800+ seat Historic Holmes Theatre, or park your car and stroll downtown.


    Photo Courtesy of Fair Hills Resort.

    Fair Hills Resort
    A 90-year tradition of hospitality:
    Located on the north shore of Pelican Lake just outside of Detroit Lakes lies  a hidden gem: Fair Hills Resort. This year marks the resort’s 90th anniversary, a long-standing point of pride for the Kaldahl-Schupp families. Current owners Beth and Dan Schupp represent fourth-generation owners (fun fact: they met when Dan was a guest at the resort!). 

    Why visit in spring?
    The Festival of Birds event, mountain biking at Detroit Mountain, hiking in Maplewood State Park, and golfing the  18-hole Prairie Links-style Wildflower Golf Course right at Fair Hills.

    Family-friendly activities:
    “Fair Hills is an all-inclusive resort that has something for everyone,” says Emily Schupp Meyers, creative director at the resort. There are 100 cabins over 40 acres, with supervised activities three times a day (everything from golf and tennis mixers to treasure hunts and torpedo rides), as well as yoga, water aerobics, and painting classes. Tour Pelican Lake from the resort’s 55-foot pontoon boat, grab a bite in the dining room, or  check out the weekly talent show, with entertaining songs and skits performed by staff. 


    Photo Courtesy of Visit Fergus Falls.

    Fergus Falls
    Why visit in spring?
    Fergus Falls, about 2.5 hours from the Twin Cities, features a revitalized downtown with quaint shops, cafes, and art galleries, a great getaway any time of year. In the spring, though, bird migration over the “flyway” really comes to life (Fergus Falls anchors the state’s 200-mile Pine to Prairie Birding Trail). Bike trails are back open, and anglers are out fishing, fishing, fishing on more than 1,000 lakes in Otter Tail County.

    A piece of the past:
    Check out the architectural beauty of the Kirkbride, a fortress-like building constructed in the early 1900s—it was the former Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane.  

    Where do the locals like to hang out?
    For restaurants, Union Pizza & Brewing Co., The Spot, City Baker, and Café 116; and for retail – The bric, Victor Lundeen Co., and The Market. 


    Photo Courtesy of Hawks View Cottages.

    Hawks View Cottages
    Why visit in spring?
    A drive along the Great River Road is especially pretty when everything is blooming. Once you arrive at your destination, Hawks View Cottages, located in historic Fountain City, Wis., you’ll get to experience “hawk’s eye views of the Mississippi River.” 

    Luxury bluffside cottages:
    Owned by Laurie and Brad Nilles, Hawks View Cottages consist of five secluded luxury bluffside cottages. Enjoy coffee or a cocktail on your private deck  or sunny porch, prepare a decadent meal in the full kitchen, relax in the whirlpool tub for two, and enjoy a Seven Hawks Vineyards wine sample. 

    Where do the locals like to hang out?
    The Monarch Public House and Golden Frog Saloon are two local favorites (that is, if you even want to leave your cottage). 


    Photo Courtesy of Northern Pine Lodge.

    Northern Pine Lodge
    Why visit in spring?
    The nights are cool and crisp, with a sky full of stars at Northern Pine Lodge, a family resort owned by Jonathan and Kelly Schupp. The resort, about 10 minutes from downtown Park Rapids on Potato Lake, is a little less crowded and a little more quiet in spring (Memorial weekend is the first weekend of the season).      

    Amenities offered:
    Stay in the lodge or in a cozy cottage or air-conditioned lakefront log cabin among 140 acres of pine and birch trees. Within the grounds guests can play tennis, shuffleboard, Ping-Pong, basketball, horseshoes, croquet, volleyball, badminton, or a round of mini golf, go hiking on trails through the woods, or borrow bikes and take the family exploring. In the summer, there’s a sandy swimming area. Additional amenities include an indoor and outdoor play area for the kids, and a recreational lodge with a library.

    Nearby attractions:
    Itasca State Park and the Heartland Bike Trail are within a short drive of the resort.


    Photo Courtesy of Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau.

    Hudson, Wis.
    Why visit in spring?
    Hudson, only 20 miles east of the Twin Cities, offers some pretty great golfing in spring, as well as restaurants with patios (some overlooking the St. Croix River). Take in the scenery on your motorcycle or bicycle, explore Willow Falls at Willow River State Park, or check out the artOpener Studio Tour (extending from Stillwater to Hudson and River Falls, Wis.). Celebrate spring with a theater production or concert.  

    Lodging options:
    Stay in a romantic bed and breakfast inn, or reserve rooms at a hotel in town, perfect for family getaways, sports tournaments, weddings, or reunions.

    Where do the locals hang out? 
    Those who live in or near Hudson know the place to be is along—or on—the St. Croix River. Historic Hudson is also a destination for boutique shoppers and foodies. 


    Photo Courtesy of Northfield CVB.

    Why visit in spring?
    Northfield is a quaint little town about 45 miles south of the Twin Cities metro, just about the perfect distance for a romantic weekend or girls’ getaway. Home to two colleges, St. Olaf and Carleton, there’s a vibrant atmosphere and lively energy here with plenty of things to do, including shopping, visiting historic attractions, and dining at casual or high-end restaurants. Listen to live music at the underground Brit pub The Contented Cow, track Jesse James along the Outlaw Trail, canoe or kayak along the Cannon River (there are plenty of good access points), or drive to nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, a wildflower garden in spring, and the only place in the world where you can find the endangered dwarf trout lily. 

    Lodging options:
    Stay at the historic Archer House River Inn downtown, or Froggy Bottoms River Suites just off the main drag. 


    Photo Courtesy of Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge.

    Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge
    Why visit in spring?
    “It’s pretty quiet here in spring,” says Randy Ruttger, owner, Ruttger’s  Birchmont Lodge in Bemidji. “It’s a nice time to visit if you like to get  away from things.” This family resort, located on the northwest shore of Lake Bemidji, has a 100-year history of old-fashioned hospitality. 

    A nostalgic resort: 
    Rooms in the main lodge, suites, or cottages date back to the mid-1900s. “A lot of folks think this old resort—with all its history—is pretty cool,” says Ruttger. “Many of our guests have been coming for generations.” Adding to the appeal is an on-site restaurant, lounge, and lakeside patio (enjoy a glass of wine while the kids play 15 feet away on the beach), and a fitness center, indoor pool, sauna, whirlpool, and game area.

    Outdoor adventure:
    Explore the Bog Walk at Lake Bemidji State Park, just one mile away, or head to Itasca State Park, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Rent a mountain bike or children’s bike from the resort if you don’t bring your own. Downtown Bemidji, a short drive away, is home to both unique shops and Bemidji Brewing Company, a small craft brewery and taproom. In the summer months, the resort  offers a supervised children’s recreation program. 


    Photo Courtesy of Treasure Island.

    Treasure Island Resort and Casino
    Why is spring a good time to visit?
    Just 40 minutes from the Twin Cities (in the small town of Welch), less than 15 minutes from downtown Red Wing, you’ll find Treasure Island Resort and Casino. Just recently, Treasure Island opened the $19 million 40,000-square-foot Lagoon water park (the second largest of its kind among the 18 Native American casinos in the state) and full-service Wave Spa, with a variety of services and spa packages available. Be one of the first to check out these beautiful new amenities within the 500-room Caribbean-themed casino resort.

    So much to do, so little time:  
    In addition to over 2,200 slots, 46 table games, an eight-table poker room, and a 500-seat high stakes bingo hall, Treasure Island boasts several restaurants, including the new upscale dining restaurant Tado Steakhouse, completely renovated Tradewinds Buffet, and Mongo Bay, Currents Restaurant, Pryme Thyme sub shop, Island Perk and Xtreme Café. Grab a drink with friends or dance the night away at the Parlay Lounge, see a concert or show in the 30,000 square-foot Island Event Center (Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo are performing April 22; Kenny Rogers will be on stage May 14), spend time at Island Xtreme Bowl, a 24-lane bowling center, arcade, and lounge, or book a cruise on the 100-passenger yacht. As one guest said, “If you want to go to Las Vegas but you’re on a budget or don’t want to fly, this casino has it all.”


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