The appeal: Writer Ilan Shamir’s “advice from a lake” could also sum up a summer vacation in Okoboji, Iowa: “Be clear. Make positive ripples. Look beneath the surface. Stay calm. Shore up friendships. Take time to reflect. Be full of life.” The resort town, located on the Iowa Great Lakes Region, is positioned along a chain of five interconnected lakes in northwestern Iowa. In the summer months, visitors are drawn to the water—boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding, sailing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. When not on the water, take to the 60+ miles of hard surface trails. Other attractions include the summer stock playhouse, theaters, museums, galleries, restaurants, boutiques, a very lively nightlife, and taprooms. A visit wouldn’t be complete without a trip the Historic Arnolds Park Amusement Park, featuring one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters in the world.
Summer events: Okoboji has one of the best Fourth of July fireworks displays in the Midwest—set off from barges in the center of the lake and timed to music. There’s also summer theater performances, concerts in the park, flea markets, and the antique and wooden boat show “2016 Rendezvous” July 29-30. vacationokoboji.com
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately three hours south (take 35S to 90W).”‹
Take the scenic route: Take the Wisconsin Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway, on Wisconsin 35. From the north, enjoy the drive along MN 95 or Wisconsin 35, and follow the St. Croix River. Once you get to Hudson, one of the best views of the city is from Birkmose Park off Coulee Road.
Life on the water: One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Hudson is on the St. Croix River. Through Afton-Hudson Cruise Lines, you can spend a sunny afternoon on a riverboat tour, taking in scenic views of the river and bluffs (and area wildlife) on both sides of the river. Afterwards, dine at local establishments Barker’s Bar and Grill, San Pedro’s Cafe, Pier 500, The Nova, or Urban Olive and Vine.
Summer events: Visit Hudson July 1-4, 2016 for Booster Days, the town’s Annual Independence Day celebration, including a carnival, live music in the bandshell, a fishing contest, a parade through downtown Hudson (July 2), and fireworks at dusk in Lakefront Park (July 3). discoverhudsonwi.com
- Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 27 miles; about a half-hour drive
St. Croix Valley: St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin
Taylors Falls, Minnesota
Take the scenic route: Take I-35 north to Highway 97 near Forest Lake, then at 97, head east to the St. Croix River. Highway 97 goes through Scandia and reaches Highway 95—head north to Franconia Sculpture Park, then follow Highway 8 east down into the gorge leading to Taylors Falls. Interstate Park (on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin side) attracts hikers, campers, climbers, canoeists, and photographers.
Appeal of the summer drive: In less than an hour, you can be away from your desk and on the bluff line overlooking the wild and scenic St. Croix River!
Your final stop: The Upper St. Croix, where you can appreciate stunning views, wildlife, marvelous food, fun shops, a lively art scene, and outdoor recreation.
Summer events: Every Friday from June through August, enjoy Music on the Overlook (MOTO), a free concert series held in downtown St. Croix Falls at the Overlook Deck. thestcroixvalley.com
- Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 50 miles; about an hour’s drive
Fountain City, Wisconsin
Take the scenic route: Named by the Huffington Post as the “prettiest drive in the United States” (edging out a highway in Hawaii!), Wisconsin’s Highway 35— otherwise known as part of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway—will take you through charming communities with views of dramatic limestone bluffs and the Mississippi River.
Hawks View Cottages: Once you arrive in Fountain City, stay in a unique two-story “treehouse” at Hawks View Cottages, featuring bright, airy, open spaces with comfortable beds, a full kitchen, private deck, porch, and whirlpool tub for two. Each cottage is located in a peaceful, wooded site. Prepare for stairs.
Inside tips: Bird-watching is abundant. Look for bald eagles, pelicans, and arctic swans. Appreciate the natural beauty of the area by biking down the Great River State Trail, or hiking in Merrick Park along the river.
Attractions in the area: Seven Hawks Vineyards, just a mile away, offers wine tastings, dine at the Monarch House, shop in neighboring towns, or tour the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum across the river in Winona. hawksview.net
- Distance from the Twin Cities:105 miles down-stream (6 miles north of Winona)
Take the scenic route: For the perfect summer day-trip experience, picturesque Northfield is just a short drive away. Follow I-35 S to Highway 19 and stop on your way at the Bridgewater Produce Farmers’ Market, where fresh fruit stands (watermelon and strawberries) offer a nice reprieve from the usual gas station snack experience. St. Olaf College, just west of Northfield on Highway19, offers a “beautiful drive around the campus,” says Lisa Peterson, Northfield director of tourism. Before pulling into town, “You can see the impressive building architecture and landscaping.”
River-side culture and history: Once in the city, spend a day exploring Northfield’s historic downtown for unique shopping and dining options. Some establishments worth visiting are the independent Content Bookstore and the James Gang Hideaway Coffeehouse and Winebar, both featured in the upcoming holiday movie, Love Always, Santa. Meanwhile history lovers can delve into the town’s exciting past at the Northfield Historical Society and learn about the epic defeat of Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang that took place in 1876.
Summer events: For added excitement, day-trippers can plan their drive around one of the town’s many summer festivals, including the Crazy Daze Shopping Spree and Vintage Band Festival July 28-30, the Outlaw Run motorcycle ride August 27, and the Defeat of Jesse James Days September 7-11. visitingnorthfield.com
- Distance from the Twin Cities: 38 miles south; about a 45-minute drive
Appeal of the drive: It’s quick and easy—all interstate.
The destination: Arrowwood Resort is the quintessential summer vacation. Stay in a modern townhome, spacious cottage, or request a room with a balcony and lakeside views for beautiful morning sunrises over Lake Darling. Enjoy dinner and drinks at Arrowwood Resort’s outdoor Deck Bar & Grill, booking a massage at Darling Reflections Spa, golfing 18-holes on the Championship Golf Course, going horseback riding, or playing tennis. The kids love the massive indoor waterpark and swimming pool.
Area attractions: The Maritime Museum and Carlos Creek Winery are within a short drive of Arrowwood (although once you get to the resort, odds are high that you won’t want to leave).
Summer festivals/events: The spectacular Star Storm Fireworks Display July 4, the Classic Boat Show July 8-9 and Art in the Park July 30-31. arrowwoodresort.com
- Distance from the Twin Cities: 130 miles; about a two-hour drive
Two Harbors, Minnesota
Take the scenic route: Just beyond Duluth’s Kitchi-Gammi Park (aka Brighton Beach) take the scenic route to Two Harbors. (This is part of the route for Grandma’s Marathon in June.)
The destination: Grand Superior Lodge, an authentic log resort, hugs the shore of Lake Superior amongst aged pines and mature birch and aspen. This is classic North Shore lodging, with a mix of cabins, four-bedroom log homes, cozy lodge rooms, and lakeside suites decorated in a “North Woods” décor. Some rooms are even pet-friendly. On-site amenities include a pool (with a fantastic lake view), hot tub, sauna, exercise room, and Splashing Rock Restaurant, where you can dine inside or outdoor on the deck.
Area attractions: The resort is just down the street from two North Shore icons: Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse, both providing opportunities for nature walks, naturalist programs, history lessons, wildlife-viewing, and beautiful North Shore scenery. The Superior Hiking Trail is close as well—the Castle Danger Trailhead is just two miles away. After just 10 minutes of hiking, you’ll be atop Wolf Rock, one of the most spectacular Lake Superior and Northwoods overlooks. Other popular outdoor activities include biking (free two-hour bike rentals are offered to guests), kayaking, and birding. grandsuperior.com
- Distance from the Twin Cities: About a three-hour drive
Cook County, Minnesota
Take the scenic route: From Duluth, drive legendary Highway 61, also named the North Shore National Scenic Drive. (The drive to Cook County is so scenic, the word “scenic” is part of the route’s official name.) Scenic Highway 61 showcases pine, birch, aspen, and wildflowers on one side of the road; views of the world’s largest freshwater lake on the other.
Area attractions: Amidst Cook County’s wild beauty, there is culture, history, and a little bit of quirkiness. There’s North House Folk School and the Grand Marais Art Colony; the lighthouse and Artists’ Point in Grand Marais; four of the North Shore’s uncrowded state parks; over a dozen eateries, including perennial favorites like Sven & Ole’s, the Angry Trout Café, and World’s Best Donuts; a destination spa and a treetop zip line tour; and mountain biking, family biking on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail, Boundary Waters paddling, sea kayaking, and virtually infinite hiking. In short, there’s always something new to see and try. visitcookcounty.com
- Distance from the Twin Cities: 230 miles, about a four-hour drive (Cook County consists of four communities, Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail, and Grand Portage).
The appeal: In the heart of the Brainerd Lakes Area, Nisswa is a favorite vacation destination for spending quality time with the family. Stay in a cottage or lodge room at Good Ol’ Days Family Resort, located on Lower Cullen Lake, right on the Paul Bunyan Trail, only six blocks from shopping and activities in downtown Nisswa.
Once you’re at the lake: Explore the Brainerd Lakes area via an 85-mile circle route around Gull Lake, through the charming small town of Pequot Lakes (Wilderness Resort Villas is a favorite lodging option, complete with a private, sandy beach on Middle Cullen Lake), and into the Cuyuna Iron Range.
Turtle power: Every Wednesday throughout the summer, a large crowd gathers around the Official Nisswa Turtle Track downtown to watch the Nisswa Turtle Races, a longstanding tradition in the community. goodoldaysresort.com • wildernessresortvillas.com
- Distance from the Twin Cities: Under three hours, via US 10W
Take the scenic route: Just south of Grand Marais, Minnesota 61 connects with Minnesota 1 from Lake Superior to Ely, the gateway city into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, one of the state’s most popular ecological treasures and adventure outposts.
The destination: If you don’t want to portage or camp, but still want to appreciate the natural beauty of Ely, Grand Ely Lodge Resort & Conference Center (or just “GEL” to the locals) is the place to stay in town. Built on the shore of Shagawa Lake, only minutes from the Boundary Waters, the rustic-looking lodge features an indoor pool, whirlpool and sauna, on-site game room (a favorite with the kids), lounge, and restaurant. Accommodations include extra-spacious two-room suites, a family-friendly kids’ one-room suite, and deluxe king and whirlpool rooms ideal for couples.
Area attractions: Explore Shagawa Lake with a complimentary canoe, paddleboat, or kayak, rent a deluxe fishing boat or pontoon and fish for smallmouth bass, walleye, and pike, hike or bike down the Trezona Trail (just across the street from the resort), visit the International Wolf Center, North American Bear Center, or head to downtown Ely—only a mile from the lodge—to pick up souvenirs at charming shops (and see why Budget Travel named Ely “the Coolest Small Town in America”). grandelylodge.com
- Distance from the Twin Cities: It’s approximately 240 miles from Minneapolis to Ely, or about a four-and-a-half hour drive (Ely is 35 miles from the Ontario border and 112 miles northeast of Duluth)
Scenic byways: When driving north to Bemidji, the journey there is just as beautiful as the destination. Follow the majestic Great River Road to the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi – bubbling up from Bemidji’s iconic Itasca State Park. Hop on I-494E in St. Paul for the chance to witness one of the nation’s best scenic byways. When you cross the Mississippi and head north on US 10/US 61, you’re on your way.
The destination: When the same family has successfully run a resort for more than 110 years, you know that family takes great pride in what they do and do it well. This is the case at Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge, run by the Ruttger family. Guests can stay in a lakefront room, townhome, cottage, or romantic whirlpool suite with a fireplace, spread out along a natural sand beach. Families return for the location, the supervised kids’ activities, the chef offerings at the on-site restaurant (try the walleye), and the “rainy day” options, including an indoor pool, sauna, whirlpool, and game area. When the weather cooperates, enjoy dinner and a glass of wine on the patio while the kids play 15 feet away on the beach, take a canoe or kayak out on the lake free of charge, then make s’mores at twilight. ruttger.com
Distance from the Twin Cities: 215 miles north, 3.5 -hour drive
Go on an RV Adventure this Summer
When looking for an alternative way to travel this summer, consider renting or buying an RV. Family-owned and operated since 1999, Shorewood RV Center in Anoka—the exclusive Airstream, Entegra, and Tiffin dealership in Minnesota—not only carries select manufacturers who produce some of the highest-quality RVs in the industry, they offer competitive pricing and take pride in providing a positive customer experience.
According to Jody Niskanen, Shorewood RV Center’s director of marketing, “The only way to build this business is to focus on building relationships with our customers.” Even first-time RV renters and owners needn’t worry about the process, Niskanen says, “our team at Shorewood RV welcomes all customers as part of our family.”
Road tripping from hotel to hotel can alter the vacation experience, where an RV, Niskanen says, “gives you the chance to enjoy the journey.” You can go at your own pace and set your own schedule, it’s truly an adventure. Benefits include the amenities of home—air conditioning, heat, a compact kitchen and bathroom, comfortable beds—plus bonus aspects like having the opportunity to bring your pets along, storage for outdoor gear like mountain bikes and kayaks, and enjoying the best of both world’s: the ability to cook gourmet meals inside and later sit around the campfire right outside your door.
Overnight parking and electrical hookups are offered as part of the rental, says Niskanen, “just to make RV servicing more convenient.”
Ditch the hot, cramped tents, scattered hotels, and awkward overnight visits with extended family and experience the freedom that only an RV can provide. For more information, visit shorewoodrv.com. For a list of RV parks and campgrounds, visit gorving.com.