Spring, summer, and autumn are all wonderful in their own way—but despite getting a (sometimes) bad rap, winter is pretty amazing, too. Winter is peaceful, tranquil, restful. It is the calming snow-covered sounds of Mother Nature on a quiet morning, the smoky smell of wood-burning fireplaces, a mug of hot chocolate warming your hands, a vivid blue sky against a blanket of white, warm, buttery bread dipped in hearty stew. Winter is the thrill of the holidays, the excitement of ski vacations, the novelty of partying on ice. Just follow our suggestions on the following pages, and when the forecast calls for snow and cold, you’ll be ready to seize the deep freeze and make the most of your winter playground.
UP NORTH *
Experience some of the region’s best scenery and winter recreation in Duluth, on the shore of Lake Superior. Ski Spirit Mountain, explore miles of multi-use trails on foot, snowshoes, or cross-country skis, do a little ice fishing on Lake Superior, and—while visiting around the holidays—don’t miss the Bentleyville Tour of Lights at BayFront Festival Park.
“Bentleyville Tour of Lights is a nonprofit corporation that organizes a free, annual family holiday light show complete with Santa, holiday music, and fire pits for roasting marshmallows,” explains Nathan Bentley, event coordinator. “It’s all surrounded by a magical atmosphere geared toward young and old with a community mission of raising nonperishable food items and new unwrapped toys for families in need.”
Unlike traditional light displays typically enjoyed from a vehicle, Bentleyville is a four-acre, outdoor Christmas experience, Bentley says. Visitors stroll through the park and enjoy the sounds of the holiday season, visit with Santa Claus, and watch the faces of children light up with excitement!
Santa will visit children every day from Saturday, Nov. 28 – Wednesday Dec. 23.
Free hot beverages and cookies will be served from the Cookie House, free popcorn will be served from the Pop Corn Box, and marshmallows can be picked up at the Marshmallow Hut and roasted at one of 15 fire pits.
Cove Point Lodge
The Snow Gods tend to smile on the North Shore, and Cove Point Lodge in Beaver Bay, about a half hour’s drive from the Tofte/Lutsen area, is no exception. Located just outside the Superior Hiking Trail, near Gooseberry Falls, Tettegouche State Park, and the Gitchi-Gami Bike Trail, you’ll find plenty of snow for snowmobiling, skiing, or snowshoeing (complimentary snowshoes are available). If Old Man Winter is raging outside, stay inside the Scandinavian-style lodge and use the swimming pool, hot tub, or library. An intimate dining room has a great selection of seasonal meals and an extensive wine list. Cove Point is surrounded by 150 acres of woods and rocks, complete with a postcard-perfect view of Lake Superior. All rooms face Lake Superior and include fireplaces and/or Jacuzzis to combat the cold. covepointlodge.com
Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior is at the center of winter activities along the North Shore. There are over 250 km of groomed and tracked trails for cross-country skiers and over 100 miles of snowmobile paths throughout the Sawtooth Mountains, Superior National Forest, and along the North Shore. Guests can go ice skating on the Bluefin Bay Ice Rink, watch outdoor movies (complete with hot chocolate and goodies), or join a guided snowshoe tour.
For a unique experience, try a guided moonlight cross-country skiing tour. You can bring your own ski equipment or use complimentary gear, available at the Guest Services Center.
If carving down chutes is more your speed, Bluefin Bay is just down the road from Lutsen Mountains. Daily shuttle bus rides are available to Bluefin guests.
If your ideal winter getaway includes staying put rather than braving the elements, you can relax in a seaside vacation home (the views of Lake Superior are incredible), soak in the outdoor hot tub or indoor whirlpool, dine at one of the on-site restaurants, snuggle in front of a cozy wood fire, or book a massage at the Superior Waters Wellness Center.
Lutsen Mountains isn’t nicknamed the “Vail of the Midwest” for nothing. Offering the most ski acreage in the state—with 92 runs and 1,000 feet of vertical drop—it offers downhill terrain not typically found in the Midwest. Scenic runs wind through woods, the expert runs are steep, and the North Shore views from the top of the mountains are some of the best in the state.
Lutsen is such a popular spot that people came from 30 states last year (including Texas, Florida, and New York), but the majority of the 100,000 annual skiers are from the Twin Cities area. Excellent skiing and boarding is just part of the draw. Lutsen offers on-mountain dining and entertainment—providing an aprés-ski experience—along with groomed, tracked trails for Nordic skiing, dog sledding, backcountry snowshoeing, and sleigh rides.
A Lutsen getaway is less expensive than a Rocky Mountain vacation, too. Purchase lift tickets online (up to 72 hours in advance of arrival) and save both time and money. Lutsen also partners with the best lodging facilities to offer the lowest prices on ski and stay packages. lutsen.com
Under glistening snow, Ely becomes the perfect destination for every winter activity. With an average annual snowfall of 84 inches, the winter season starts in early December and lasts into April. Approximately 4 hours from the Twin Cities, Ely offers a unique blend of wilderness trails and groomed, tracked trails for everything from skiing to dog sledding to snowmobiling. Listen to the winter birds or head to a remote wilderness lake, where you can enjoy your catch of the day over an open fire.
In Ely, the “winter blues” don’t exist. Winter is a celebration with events like the Art Walk, Winter Festival, Fun Run Snowmobile Ride, and WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race. A trip to Ely won’t be complete unless you explore its restaurants, museums, galleries, and shops featuring out-of-the ordinary décor plus unique made-in-Ely gifts.
At the end of the day, relax in the warmth and comfort of your soon-to-be favorite lodging establishment-in town or at the edge of the lake. After dark, you may even be lucky enough to see the northern lights dancing across the sky or hear the spine-tingling call of a timber wolf.
A winter getaway in Ely is an experience you’ll never forget and will repeat year after year. Contact the Ely Travel Counselors at 1-800-777-7281 or ely.org to plan your Ely experience.
DOWN SOUTH *
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, just 25 minutes south of the Twin Cities in Prior Lake. Not only does Mystic Lake boast the state’s largest gaming floor with 4,000 slot machines, 100 blackjack tables, and a spectacular bingo hall for daily matinee and evening sessions, it also has seven restaurants (including Ribbons Steakhouse and an award-winning buffet), a 600-room hotel, and live entertainment.
Listen to free live entertainment on the gaming floor while you’re in the casino, or check out the beautiful Mystic Showroom – featuring acts ranging from country and rock to comedy and Broadway shows.
The hotel features clean, spacious, comfortable rooms, an atrium pool, and access to a 230,000-square-foot fitness center – complete with a rock wall and two indoor ice-skating rinks. Head over to The Spa, located on the second floor near the swimming pool, and unwind with a hot stone massage, body wrap, foot massage or some aromatherapy.
“We stayed one night and could have stayed longer,” one visitor commented of her experience. “The room was immaculate with a beautiful view of the golf course. The staff was friendly and went above and beyond. I would highly recommend staying at Mystic Lake. Five stars!” mysticlake.com
Inns of the Valley
When the weather outside is frightful, visit one of the 14 Inns of the Scenic St. Croix Valley and snuggle next to a fireplace in an overstuffed chair, sip hot cocoa, and enjoy homemade cookies. Wake to the smell of fresh-ground coffee brewing and cinnamon rolls baking in the oven. Eat a hearty breakfast before snowshoeing at Carpenter Nature Center along the bluffs of the St. Croix River, seeing live theater at St. Croix Falls Festival Theater, or enjoying a nice dinner in one of the many charming towns dotting the valley.
Visit during Nov. 21-22 for the Three Rivers Wine Trail’s Wine and Chocolate Event and receive a special discount (stay two nights and get 25 percent off the second night). Speaking of chocolate, don’t forget the Inns of the Valley Chocolate March every Sunday in March. Tickets to this annual “march” make a great Christmas gift.
Another fun event is the Holiday Tour, December 6, where guests are encouraged to “inn-hop.” The $15 fee can be credited toward a gift certificate at any one of the beautifully decorated inns that day. The inns are located along the St. Croix River as far north as Center City and St. Croix Falls, and as far south as Hastings and River Falls. innsofthevalley.com
Going to an indoor waterpark in the dead of winter is a 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. Andes Tower Hills, just 17 miles from the resort, offers downhill skiing, tubing, and snowboarding.
Accommodations at Arrowwood range from lodge rooms and suites with lakefront views to luxurious four-bedroom townhomes.
NEARBY STATES *
Three Forks Ranch, Wyoming
A stay at Three Forks Ranch is the perfect cure for the winter blues. “Winter is magical here,” says Jay Linderman, general manager. “A quiet solitude besets the land.” The Lodge and Spa at Three Forks Ranch is a year-round luxury destination, featuring only 15 bedrooms and a 6,000-square-foot spa. In the winter, the area offers miles of cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and sleigh and dog sled trails, as well as alpine skiing and snowboarding forty miles away at Steamboat Springs in Colorado. (Three Forks straddles the Colorado and Wyoming border.)
Winter packages are all-inclusive, with outdoor activities, spa treatments, lodging, dining, airport ground shuttle, and beverages included. Complimentary stays are available on four and five night packages.
After a day of adventure, return to Three Forks for a massage, sip a glass of wine in the lounge, and enjoy a wonderful meal in the dining room.
Fly directly to Yampa Valley Regional Airport (in Hayden, Colorado) and a complimentary ground shuttle will bring you to the ranch.
Granite Peak Ski Area, Wausau, Wisc.
As we rolled past Granite Peak the feeling of excitement began to set in as the lights gleamed off the fresh snow covering the 75 runs. It was a relief to realize that this mountain is actually a mountain and not just a glorified hill. And after hours on the road, we could tell we were going to have fun on the different runs and multiple terrain parks and halfpipe,” posted a reviewer of Granite Peak at onthesnow.com.
Granite Peak Ski Area, in Wausau Wis., is only a three-hour drive from the Twin Cities—a short drive to the largest and tallest mountain in Wisconsin. The prices are affordable (check online package deals at skigranitepeak.com), the Rib Mountain terrain offers everything from a children’s ski program to challenging black diamond runs, and at the base of the mountain lies Wausau, filled with small town charm and big city chic. Stay at a family-friendly hotel or romantic B&B and enjoy a lively nightlife scene, excellent restaurants, cultural entertainment, great shopping, and fun weekend festivals—in addition to some of the best powder around. skigranitepeak.com
Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo
Over 8,000 people will gather to catch the excitement of winter at the 49th Bi-Annual Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo will be held November 20-22 from 4-9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday.
It will be held at Midwest Mountaineering, 309 Cedar Ave. So., Minneapolis, in big-top tents behind the store, in the outdoor winter camping village, and down the block at the University of Minnesota West Bank Campus.
There will be over 80 presentations about silent sport winter activities, ranging from “Choosing cross country skis” to enthralling major expedition slide shows and movies. Featured speakers are John Huston and Tyler Fish, “The North Pole;” Lonnie Dupre, “The North Pole;” Mike Farris, “Mt. Everest;” Bretwood Higman and Erin McKitterick, “Hiking the entire BC / Alaska coastline;” Eric Simula, “Arrowhead Journey- 1,000 miles by birchbark canoe;” Rod and Sharon Johnson, “Best of the Pacific Crest Trail, Kilimanjaro, New Zealand and Australia;” and Dave Watson, “Skiing from 27,500 feet on K2.”
In addition to excellent presentations, there will be 70 exhibitors representing outfitters, resorts, manufacturers, magazines, outing clubs, environmental groups, trail associations, and more. All presentations and exhibitor areas are open at no charge.
The first stop on the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour will be Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the University of Minnesota’s Willey Hall, capacity 1,000. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at www.midwestmtn.com/tickets and at the store. Everything will be on sale including skis, snowshoes, canoes and kayaks, all outdoor clothing, and camping gear. And be sure to check out the winter camping village, too. It will include an igloo made of real snow, a traditional winter camping tent heated with a wood stove, and a heated yurt.
For more information about the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo, call 612-339-3433, 1-888-999-1077 or visit www.outdooradventureexpo.com.
Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
Cove Point Lodge
Ely Chamber of Commerce
Granite Peak Ski Area
Hawks View Cottages
Inns of the Valley
Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
St. Croix River Inn
Saint Croix Vineyards & Winery
Seven Hawks Vineyards
The Lodge and Spa