Dream Weekends

Don’t worry about packing or planning. Just clear your calendar, hit the highway, dive in, and relax.

Here’s the deal: After a summer spent boating, gardening, grilling, and gorging on sweet corn at the state fair, you need a rest. So here’s our advice: Try a weekend on Lake Pepin or in Grand Marais, a stay at a Wisconsin spa or an urban retreat. Don’t worry about packing or planning. Just clear your calendar, hit the highway, dive in, and relax.

Relaxation, solitude, and special sand treatments await spa goers at a Wisconsin Dells retreat

By Elizabeth Dehn

SPAS ARE MY THING. All that pampering and purification? Sign me up. Give me a massage and a shot of wheat grass, and I’ll show you a new woman.

The Wisconsin Dells, however, are not my thing. Large, loud family resorts and themed indoor water parks with names like Atlantis and Copa Cabana? Not for me. So it was with more than some skepticism that my husband and I set out for the Dells this past spring to check out Sundara Inn & Spa. I had a hard time believing that total relaxation and the Dells could be anything but mutually exclusive. My husband had a hard time believing any place without Wi-Fi was worth the drive.

From the Twin Cities, we followed a series of kitschy billboards along Interstate 94 to the Dells, where a quiet, winding road led us to Sundara. I expected it to be pretty (sundara means “beautiful” in Sanskrit), but as we approached and the scene unfolded before us, the full impact of the place became apparent. Soaring stone structures appeared to have risen up from the earth and nestled into the densely wooded grounds. At the main building, waterfalls made soothing sounds and an infinity-edge pool flowed like a natural river.

Photo by Mary Thull

At check-in, the Sundara staff was extremely attentive. Too attentive. As new guests, we received an exhaustive tour of our room and detailed instructions on everything from how to use the Bose stereo to how to operate the Kohler Tower Shower (a high-tech fixture that sprayed, bathed, and proved endlessly entertaining to my husband). The orientation lasted 20 minutes—too much information, too much time. When would we get to relax?

Thankfully, our room was worth the wait. We spent the night in one of Sundara’s 26 suites. It was surprisingly spacious, uniquely decorated, and designed using feng-shui principles. We appreciated the luxury amenities, including signature bath products and plush robes, but it was the king-size featherbed that set the room apart from standard hotel accommodations. Piled high with enormous down pillows and super-soft linens, the bed was a dream. I might still be lying there if it weren’t for the arrival of my breakfast smoothie.

Every meal at Sundara is an opportunity to experience guilt-free room service. There’s no actual restaurant on site, so food is served in-suite, in a three-story rotunda overlooking the grounds, or poolside, where we requested to eat lunch. The kitchen turns out true spa food: fresh, healthful, and organic. Sundara sources its ingredients from sustainable farms around the country. From a mostly vegetarian menu of salads and small plates we both selected the portobello panini. The toasty sandwich arrived on chewy, nutty bread and was filled with the perfect proportions of mushroom, creamy cheese, and tangy basil-Dijon-mustard drizzle. Even my devoutly carnivorous companion didn’t miss the meat.

Photo by Mary Thull

We spent the afternoon doing what we came to do: spa. Let me start by saying that it’s totally possible (and perfectly acceptable) to enjoy a spa-like experience at Sundara without booking an actual “treatment.” All Sundara guests are welcome to use the spa facilities, including the fitness center, relaxation room, and purifying bath ritual. The latter is a co-ed, self-guided treatment designed to cleanse the skin and clear the mind. I was hooked. We began under a rainfall shower, exfoliating with ancient Cambrian sand excavated from bluffs along the Wisconsin River. All that sloughing and smoothing was invigorating (though my husband wasn’t happy about getting sand in his shorts). We continued detoxifying in a steam room, followed by a second, cooler shower. Finally, to enhance circulation, we alternated between an essential oil-infused whirlpool and icy-cold bath. The whole process is addicting and, contrary to how it might sound, completely foolproof.

After the bath ritual, we were ushered to one of Sundara’s “spa together” rooms for a couple’s massage. Like Sundara’s accommodations, the treatment rooms are both earthy and plush. The spa-together rooms in particular are a retreat unto themselves, with fireplaces, overflowing soaking baths, and windows that bring in natural light. Our massages incorporated aromatherapy, which Sundara creates using different essential oil blends. In the end, though, it didn’t matter which subtle scent we chose: Relax, Detoxify, Energize. By the time our therapists tiptoed out of the room, we were both asleep.

After a refreshing iced ginger tea and a catnap in the Relaxation Lounge, I received my first organic facial. Although the mostly natural treatment consisted of herb- and fruit-based products, they proved as effective in hydrating and evening out my freckled (i.e., sun-damaged) skin as the more “clinical” facials I’ve received. Plus, between cleansing, steaming, and masking, my esthetician treated me to mini-massages. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour. And I can’t think of a better way to do the Dells.

If You Go

Photo by Mary Thull


Sundara is open year-round, and no time of year is particularly crowded. Accommodation and spa treatment rates are typically discounted Monday through Thursday.


Sundara Inn & Spa.

In addition to its 26 suites in the main inn, Sundara rents private villas. Tucked away in the woods and a short walk from the main building, they are ideal for anyone seeking more space, privacy, or tranquility. The villas are constructed with renewable materials, like bamboo flooring, and equipped with large living spaces and gourmet kitchens. Several include a personal spa-treatment area, making it possible to never venture out. 920 Canyon Rd., Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, 888-735-8181, www.sundaraspa.com


Play golf.

Sundara offers spa and golf packages with the neighboring Wilderness Woods Golf Club. This fall, the club will expand to include a new 18-hole course by Hurdzan/Fry, creators of a number of noteworthy courses around the country. Like Sundara, Wild Rock Golf Club was designed to work in harmony with the environment.

Go hiking. For an abundance of recreational activities, explore one of the nearby state parks. Swim in the spring-fed lake or rock climb at Devil’s Lake State Park; hike along the sandstone bluffs at Rocky Arbor State Park; or kayak at Mirror Lake State Park.

Photo by Mary Thull

Tour a winery.

Located 25 miles southeast of the Wisconsin Dells, the Wollersheim Winery produces award-winning wine. Winemaker Philippe Coquard is originally from the Beaujolais region of France, and it shows in the Prairie Fumé 2006. Tours and wine tasting offered daily. 7876 Hwy. 188, Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, 800-847-9463, www.wollersheim.com



Built in 1943, the restaurant’s Prairie School design is the work of Frank Lloyd Wright protégé James Dresser. The eatery’s charm is courtesy of hosts Jeff and Jane Wimmer, a clubby bar that shakes a perfect Lemon Drop martini, sweet sea scallops (though the walleye is legendary), and a perfectly boozy tiramisu. 800 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy., Lake Delton, Wisconsin, 866-888-1861, www.del-bar.com  MM

Elizabeth Dehn is style editor at Minnesota Monthly.


Urban Retreat: Savor a Spa

The Place

The Marsh.

Sweep away the stress and surrender to the serenity of this Minnetonka spa. Melt tension with stone therapy, and rejuvenate with one of the many body and facial treatment options. 952-935-8905

Where to Stay

Bird House Inn & Gardens.

This Italianate B&B is housed in the historic James H. Clark House, and it’s only a short stroll away from Lake Minnetonka’s Excelsior Bay. The Meadowlark Room, with exclusive access to the inn’s veranda, provides a view of the courtyard and gardens. 952-474-0196

Where to Eat


This upscale Italian-inspired bistro focuses on lamb, fresh seafood, and homemade pasta and gnocchi. Molto bene! 952-474-8881

What to See

With live music every Friday and Saturday night, the Bayside Grille is the spot for weekend waterfront fun and entertainment. The venue hosts a different band each night, featuring an array of musical styles. 952-474-1113

Nightcap Destination

Jake O’Connor’s Public House.

Here’s a pub any good Irishman could call home. Owner Dermot Cowley spared no expense in bringing a bit of his native isle to Excelsior, as evidenced by the establishment’s handsome bar, hand-built by Irish woodworkers.


Travel Advisory

5 Things To Do Before Takeoff

Clean the car.

A fresh coat of wax shields your car from sun and dirt, and UV-blocking cleaners will protect the interior. Add a trash bag to keep your car well-groomed on the go.

Get a tuneup. Check lights, signals, wiper blades, fluid levels, belts, caps and hoses, filters, battery connections, tire pressure, and your spare tire.

Check your documents. Pack a road atlas or map, your registration, car owner’s manual, roadside-assistance card, insurance cards, itinerary, and emergency contacts.

Charge your cell phone.
And pack a charger. Check your phone’s range and roaming policy to avoid big bills.

Plan for emergencies.
Buy or assemble an emergency kit containing tools, duct tape, oil, coolant, fuses, and flares. Or, if you don’t know one end of a screwdriver from another, join a roadside-assistance service. Pack some extra snacks and water in case you have to wait for help.


Urban Retreat: Hit the links

The Place

Prior Lake

, home to two of the top public courses in the state. GPS-equipped carts help players navigate the links at Legends Golf Club, but don’t be fooled. With 50 acres of water hazards covering 13 holes, this 230-acre par 72 is no pushover. 952-226-4777 Not to be outdone, The Wilds Golf Club—designed by 1973 British Open champ Tom Weiskopf—boasts 150 feet of elevation changes and more than 70 strategically placed sand traps. Keep an eye out for Hole Number 6, Weiskopf’s personal fave. The 460-yard par 4 features a double fairway (that’s right, double) split by four bunkers. Beach, anyone? 952-445-3500

Where to Stay

Nature’s Inn Bed & Breakfast.

This log-cabin lodge has four suites, each uniquely decorated. 952-447-2272

Where to Eat

Perron’s Sul Lago.

Italian fare from the former chef at Minneapolis’s Capital Grille. 952-440-1411

What to See

Crofut Family Winery & Vineyard.

Tour Scott County’s first commercial winery, with 6.5 acres of vines. 952-492-3227

Nightcap Destination

Roll the dice at Mystic Lake Casino. Odds are you’ll have more fun than you’d like to admit, even if the closest thing to a cocktail you can get is a Shirley Temple. 952-445-9000



Shore Thing

Grand Marais has art, activities, and dining, but it’s also a perfect place for doing nothing at all

By Rachel Hutton

CHRISTINA AND I are sitting on the screened-in porch at the Pie Place, looking out over Lake Superior. My friend arrived in Minneapolis on the red-eye from California five hours ago, we hopped in the car, and now we’re here in Grand Marais—a remote place where we can catch up on all the things we can’t cram into cross-country phone calls. The waitress pours coffee; thankfully, it’s strong.

We look at the menu. Christina is a good sport and a good traveler: She instinctively orders like a native, selecting a breakfast dish called “Caribou Eyes.” Having heard rumors of a Finnish fish-eye soup served in these parts, I hope the “eyes” aren’t interpreted literally. I’m deciding between the buckwheat pancakes or the biscuits and gravy when a woman pipes up from another table. “You should get a scone,” she says. “They’re the absolute best.”

Photo by Mary Thull

Her advice is spot-on: The apricot-hazelnut scone tops any I’ve ever tried. By the time Christina finishes the Caribou Eyes—which turns out to be two eggs fried in two hollowed slices of toast, topped with cheese, sour cream, and salsa—the woman and her husband are advising us on which pie to order (blackberry-peach) and where to hike (the Devil’s Kettle waterfall). Our waiter chimes in with his recommendations—the banana-split pie, the Cascade River trail—and we set off to see the town with bellies as big as our ambitions.

When French-Canadian traders and Scandinavian fishermen arrived in Grand Marais’ crescent-shaped harbor centuries ago, they came with a full agenda: sell as much fish, fur, and lumber as possible. Today, the 1,300-resident town is less about commerce than quietude. A magnet for retirees, vacationers, artists, and outdoor-enthusiasts, Grand Marais draws all types to its charming, quarter-mile-square downtown.

Its reputation as a haven for artists was cemented 60 years ago, when the Grand Marais Arts Colony was founded as a summer outpost for what is now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was a place for creatives to ditch the distractions of urban life and clear their heads, to trade noise and grit for quiet and clarity. Today, the tiny town is home to four galleries, annual arts and jazz festivals, a theater company, and a 250-seat performance space.

Christina and I browse the local galleries. Our aesthetic tastes tend toward the rustic (we’re drawn to photographs of outdoor scenes), so we head over to the North House Folk School, where students learn how to build birch-bark canoes, coiled beehives, and wood-fired bread ovens. Wandering about the school’s cluster of brightly colored buildings, which look like a Scandinavian fishing village, we run into a man who tells us how he built his own sauna in a timber-framing class.

Photo by Mary Thull

As Grand Marais attracts more tourists, debate has swelled around how to accommodate growth without making the town feel commercial—a conflict symbolized by the Cobblestone Cove development built two years ago on the harbor’s edge. I’d hate to see Grand Marais change its vintage look, except in the case of accommodations, which are mostly limited to small motels and B&Bs. Christina and I are staying in a cabin with 1980s décor. Next time, we decide, we’ll book a room at the newly renovated East Bay Suites. Once a haunt of fishermen and lumberjacks in the 1900s, the East Bay Hotel reopened last year with rooms as slick and modern as urban condos.

If the character of Grand Marais is changing, its surroundings remain largely untouched. The best way to put things in perspective is to hike up nearby Eagle Mountain, the highest point in the state at 2,300 feet. “Where’s the mountain?” Christina asks as we head toward a hill that seems no steeper than a San Francisco street. The two-hour hike is only a moderate challenge (enough to work off the pie), but it rewards us with a grand vista: a blanket of treetops and a hazy strip of lake along the horizon.

The remoteness and natural beauty is, in part, what drives the area’s environmental ethic, best embodied by the Angry Trout Cafe. The Trout is known for its cloth napkins, reusable takeout containers, and locally produced food. Christina and I refuel from our hike with a meal of fresh whitefish and trout. We sip homemade maple-syrup sodas and discuss how surprised we are to find a restaurant this progressive in such a rural area. Our waitress explains that many locals, including her family, moved to the North Shore from the Twin Cities: They brought a worldly perspective but sought a slower pace.

After lunch, we decide that the bike rentals, sailing trips, and rosemaling classes will have to wait until next time. We abandon our to-do list and heed the advice we were given at the tourism office: “There’s so much to do in Grand Marais, but you don’t have to do any of it.” If we were in New York, we’d feel obligated to visit friends; in Nashville, we’d have to tour Graceland; in Yosemite, El Capitan would require conquering. But in Grand Marais, we can just relax.

For the next few days, we don’t accomplish much—except to make time for weightier conversations, those that take a while to wend into, about how much our lives have changed over a decade of friendship and how moves and marriages and mortgages will surely change them again. We also enjoy the goofy moments that arise from spending too much time together: Discovering we’ve packed the same shirt, we decide to wear them on the same day nonetheless.

On our last evening, we dine at Chez Jude, a restaurant in a cozy craftsman-style house that’s run by a chef with a worldly pedigree. Christina and I share a Spanish wine and sirloin burgers. The fireplace flickers and the lights glow yellow as friends and couples enjoy each other’s company. We linger well past closing, as if the dining room were our own.

If You Go

Chez Jude / Photo by Mary Thull


Grand Marais is about a five-hour drive from the Twin Cities, just 40 miles from the Canadian border. Summer is its most popular tourist season: The Fisherman’s Picnic runs August 2 to 6, and the Sawtooth Challenge Festival is August 24 to 25. For details, visit www.grandmarais.com.


East Bay Suites.

With full kitchens, fireplaces, and flat-screen TVs, these waterfront suites are fully equipped. 21 Wisconsin St., 800-414-2807, www.eastbaysuites.com

The Inn at Terrace Point. Designed by an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Inn is perched on a rocky overlook just south of Grand Marais. At mile marker 104 on Hwy. 61, 877-387-3318, www.innatterracepoint.com

Cobblestone Cove Villas. Luxury townhomes right at edge of Grand Marais harbor. 17 S. Broadway, 800-247-6020, www.cobblestonecovevillas.com


Learn a craft.

The North House Folk School offers more than 225 courses on traditional crafts, from birch-bark weaving to basic blacksmithing. 500 W. Hwy. 61, 888-387-9762, www.northhouse.org

Take an art class. You can study printmaking, painting, ceramics and more at the Grand Marais Art Colony, the state’s first artists’ colony. 120 W. Third Ave., 800-385-9585, www.grandmaraisartcolony.org

Go hiking. Pick up hiking tips and trail maps at the U.S. Forest Service office. 2020 W. Hwy. 61, 218-387-1750

World’s Best Donuts
Photo by Mary Thull


The Pie Place.

Nearly 20 different kinds. Try the raspberry-rhubarb streusel. 2017 W. Hwy. 61, 218-387-1513

Angry Trout Cafe. The fish and chips is the freshest catch in town. 416 W. Hwy. 61, 218-387-1265, www.angrytroutcafe.com

Chez Jude. A surprising find on the rustic road that runs along the North Shore. Intimate digs for fine dining, ranging from the wood-roasted duck breast to a juicy rack of lamb. 411 W. Hwy. 61, 218-387-9113, www.chezjude.com

World’s Best Donuts. The name pretty much says it all. 10 E. Wisconsin St., 218-387-1345, www.worldsbestdonutsmn.com

Gun Flint Tavern. The local watering hole has a great roof deck and serves 40 different microbrews. 111 Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-1563, www.gunflinttavern.com

Sven & Ole’s. Legendary pizzeria known for its Uffda Zah. 9 W. Wisconsin St., 218-387-1713, www.svenandoles.com MM

Rachel Hutton is associate editor of Minnesota Monthly.


Urban Retreat: Set Sail

The Place

White Bear Lake. Go from nautical novice to savvy seafarer with Northern Breezes Sailing School. Under the guidance of expert instructors, landlubbers can learn the basics of operating a 22- to 23-foot keelboat. And with classes limited to just three crewmen per captain, you’ll have all the attention you need to ensure your sailor’s knots are ship-shape. 763-542-9707

Where to Stay

Covington Inn.

A barge-toting tugboat in another life, this floating B&B, moored along the Mighty Mississip’, features four finely furnished staterooms. 651-292-1411

Where to Eat

Ursula’s Wine Bar & Cafe.

With its 140-bottle wine list, this White Bear Lake café has the right libation for just about any dish chef Andrew Whalen can cook up. This month, he features an herb-smoked chicken breast with greens and Thai-peanut dressing, grilled sweet potato, and grilled cantaloupe. 651-429-9600

What to See

Pine Tree Apple Orchard.

If the 15 varieties at this second-generation, family-owned orchard aren’t enough to tempt you, the onsite bakery will make you succumb. 651-429-7202

Nightcap Destination


Sit back, relax, and take in a Golden Sunset (the cocktail, that is) on the outdoor patio, complete with a fireplace for those cooler summer nights. 651-426-9222


Travel Advisory

How to Eat Healthy on the Road

Skip the chips and Culver’s. Barth Anderson at the Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis offers the following suggestions for car snacks or an easy, healthful picnic lunch.

Fun Fruits
Pre-cut muskmelons into bite-sized pieces. (Locally grown versions are usually sweeter and juicier than commercial varieties.) And kids adore the sweet plum-apricot hybrids known as pluots. And they’re perfectly natural.

Peeled sunchokes are crunchy and refreshing. Locally grown organic carrots are rare in Minnesota but well worth the hunt in late August. And a bowl of crisp, cold sugar-snap peas is hard to beat when the heat is on.

Fruity Salsa on the Quick
Chop four or five juicy white nectarines and add to your favorite 16-ounce jar of salsa. Serve with baked tortilla chips or pita wedges.

Summer Slivers
Spread some lush, cool triple-cream cheese on a halved focaccia wedge; add sliced cherry tomatoes and a sprig of dill or basil from your garden.

Love Boats
Fill pitted and halved Medjool dates with honey butter, apple butter, or a thick fruit spread.


Urban Retreat: Unearth Antiquities

The Place

Downtown Stillwater.

Travel back in time without leaving Main Street. You may discover something to show off the next time Antiques Roadshow is in town.

Where to Stay

William Sauntry Mansion.

What better way to get inspired when hunting for historic items than by staying in a historic home? This 25-room inn, built in 1881 by the lumber tycoon who gave the manor its name, features all the fineries of the 19th century, along with a few comforts of the 21st as well. 651-430-2653

Where to Eat

Bayport Cookery

(located south of Stillwater). A seasonally inspired menu and five-course meals combine to create a dining experience fit for a king. Note: Book as far ahead as possible, as the restaurant is often packed during this month’s popular Garlic Fest. 651-430-1066

What to See

Stillwater Trolley.

Check out the sights of the “birthplace of Minnesota,” including the state’s first courthouse, Stillwater’s 19th-century homes and churches, and Pioneer Park, the former estate of lumber baron Isaac Staples. 651-430-0352

Nightcap Destination

Ruby Begonia’s.

Music lovers will get a kick out of this modern-day Stillwater saloon, which on any given night is probably hosting two bands at the same time. 651-351-5380


Travel Advisory

8 Extras You Should Always Pack


Avoid stubbing your toe or waking your travel companions in the middle of the night.

Postcard stamps
Bring ’em along and all that’s left to do is write “Miss you!” Extra credit: pre-addressed mailing labels.

Audio books
Pass the drive time with a good yarn. Check out a book on CD from your local library or buy tracks online at www.audible.com.

Ground coffee and filters
You’ll enjoy the in-room coffee pot more when it’s brewing your favorite grind.

Sealable sacks
Plastic bags in a variety of sizes (even gallon-size) keep liquid toiletries, dirty laundry, wet swimsuits, and sandy shoes in their place.

You never know when you’ll need to uncork a great bottle of Zin or pinot.

Tide pen
This compact, no-mess tool is the next best thing to laundry facilities. Bonus: a dab of detergent takes the sting out of a bug bite.

Travel candle
A candle tin with a soothing aroma adds a little luxury to any accommodation, especially a smoky room. Don’t forget the matches!



Striking Range

Even duffers have a shot at redemption on these inspiring Iron Range courses

By David Mahoney

MY BALL ROLLED confidently across the green, homing in on the cup like a bird returning to its nest. It came right up to the lip of the hole…and stopped. Hope and dejection flip-flopped inside me as I stared at the ball for what seemed an eternity. Then finally, slowly, the ball toppled into the cup. I let out a whoop.

I only earned a bogey, but for an occasional weekend golf warrior like me, even that can be a victory of sorts—all the more so when it’s snatched from the jaws of defeat. From the sixth tee of the Quarry at Giants Ridge, I had managed to avoid two yawning sand craters in front of the fairway landing. But my approach shot sailed into the trees to the left of the green, resulting in a lost ball. So when my long putt dropped, I felt an exhilarating sense of redemption. Maybe I wasn’t a total links loser after all.

Photo by Mary Thull

The potential for redemption is something the Quarry, near Biwabik, offers in spades, and not just to golfers. Like the other, older course at Giants Ridge, known as the Legend, the Quarry is a symbol of economic hope for Minnesota’s Iron Range. Historically at the mercy of the boom-and-bust cycles of the mining industry, Rangers have looked for new ways to attract dollars to the region. Tourism—and, in particular, golf—has become one of the more enticing lures. So when the opportunity to spend a weekend sampling the area’s new courses came our way, a friend and I took the bait—hook, line, and sinker.

Strangely enough, the guy responsible for putting links on the landscape has no direct connection to the Range. Jeff Brauer, a Texan, first came to the area in the mid-1990s to design the Legend, carved from the forest adjacent to the Giants Ridge ski area. His encore came in 2003, when the Quarry opened on the site of an abandoned sand-and-gravel mine just a few miles south. It was quickly followed by the Wilderness at Fortune Bay, a casino course that lies half-an-hour’s drive north, on the shore of Lake Vermilion.

Brauer’s Iron Range tracks have been remarkably well received. The Quarry and the Wilderness were each singled out as the “Best New Upscale Public Golf Course in America” in the respective years of their openings by Golf Digest. A writer for the same magazine praised the Quarry as “hands-down the finest course in Minnesota.”

Being the duffer that I am, I can’t confidently confirm that last claim. For nature lovers, the Legend’s woodsy setting may give it the edge over the Quarry, while the split fairways at the Wilderness—holding out the possibility of big payoffs on risky shots—may make it the first choice for nervy gamblers.

Photo by Mary Thull

What I can say, though, is that there’s something about the Quarry’s quirky relationship to its site that hooked me in a way that no other course has. The holes rise and fall with the rough-hewn contours of the picked-over landscape. Sand pits up to 40 feet deep provide natural hazards, and spoil piles rise up like dunes on a classic Irish course. Rusted remnants of mining equipment left half-buried in the ground offer mute testimony to the course’s hardscrabble roots.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to be as tough as a miner to navigate the course with some success. My golf partner and I mostly stuck to the relatively forgiving white tees, though we opted for the more challenging blues when they offered an appealing prospect. Often, before I made my club selections, I consulted a helpful yardage guide showing distances to safe landing spots among the pits and spoils.

After our round, we relaxed on the patio behind the clubhouse, enjoying chicken-on-ciabatta sandwiches, quaffing cold microbrewery ales, and savoring the fact that tomorrow would bring another chance to shave our scores. Below us lay an attractive little lake, its steep iron-red banks studded with young birches. I later learned this was the old Embarrass Mine Pit, now sometimes called Lake Mine. Abandoned and allowed to fill with water, it’s now the deepest man-made lake in the Mesabi Range, remarkable for the clarity of its water. Anglers regularly fish it for trout.

If a deep scar like that can be transformed into a productive fishery, I mused, there may be hope for my golf game yet.

If You Go

Photo by Mary Thull


Giants Ridge is about a three-hour drive from the Twin Cities; Fortune Bay is about half an hour farther north. Both courses are open May through mid-October. For more details on Iron Range activities, visit www.irontrail.org.


Villas at Giants Ridge.

This cluster of condominiums sits on a pretty stretch of Wynne (pronounced “wine”) Lake between the two Giants Ridge courses. Fishing boats and paddleboats are available for guests’ use, as are a tennis court and outdoor pool. Biwabik, 800-843-7434, www.villasatgiantsridge.com

The Lodge at Giants Ridge. Adjacent to the Legend course, this 92-suite hotel has a restaurant, cocktail lounge, indoor pool, and a spa where you can work out the kinks in your golf swing. Biwabik, 877-442-6877, www.lodgeatgiantsridge.com


The Legend/The Quarry at Giants Ridge.

The resort’s original course, the Legend was carved out of the forest just north of the ski area. The Quarry, built on the site of an abandoned sand and gravel mine, is one of the most distinctive courses in the state. Summer green fees: $79 weekdays, $89 weekends; includes cart, range balls, and yardage book. Biwabik, 800-688-7669, www.giantsridge.com/courses

The Wilderness at Fortune Bay. Split fairways up the risk/reward ante at this casino course on the south shore of Lake Vermilion. State-of-the-art GPS systems on the carts take the guesswork out of club selection. Summer green fees: $84 weekdays, $90 weekends; includes GPS-equipped cart and range balls. Tower, 800-992-4680, www.thewildernessgolf.com


The Whistling Bird Café & Bar.

You might not expect to find a Jamaican restaurant in a small Iron Range town, but proprietor and Jamaica native Toney Curtis serves up an authentic island experience—complete with reggae music, jerk dishes of all kinds, and Red Stripe beer. Dinner only; reservations recommended. 101 Broadway St., Gilbert, 218-741-7544, www.whistlingbirdcafeandbar.com

Alden’s Restaurant. Solid diner fare is served at this family restaurant on Biwabik’s appealing Main Street. Owner and avid golfer Alden Rhode can provide insider knowledge on local courses along with your breakfast. 209 Main St., Biwabik, 218-865-6371

Bay View Lodge. After a round of golf at the Wilderness, grab a spot on the multilevel deck and enjoy a view of Lake Vermilion, along with a burger or a shrimp basket. 2001 Bay View Dr., Tower, 800-628-1607, www.bayviewlodge.com  MM

David Mahoney is a frequent contributor to Minnesota Monthly.


Travel Advisory

How to Find the Cheapest Gas

Don’t let the high cost of fuel sap your enthusiasm for road-tripping. A little planning, some Internet sleuthing, and a cell phone can save you a small fortune.

Check prices in advance.
The website Minnesotagasprices.com offers detailed information on regional gas prices, searchable by town or Zip Code. Price-per-gallon costs are listed from lowest to highest and updated often. Plus, an easy-to-use mapping feature allows you to zoom in on particular stations so you won’t have to stop and ask for directions to Pump ’n Munch.

Plan your stops.
Tracing your intended route, make a list of the lowest-cost stations. Tally the miles between each stop and multiply your car’s miles-per-gallon by the number of gallons the tank can hold to ensure you’ll go the distance.

Call for a “cheap” quote.
Gasbuddy.com offers a free text-messaging service that broadcasts lists of cheap-gas sources via cell phone. Send a text message (or ask the sullen teen in the back seat to fire off one) to gas@gasbuddy.com. Specify a town and state or Zip Code in the body of the message and, bingo, within a few minutes you’ll get an automated text message highlighting five stations in the area with the lowest gas prices. 


Urban Retreat: Muse on Modern Art

The Place

Walker Art Center.

Known for its it cutting-edge contemporary collection, the Walker gets nostalgic this fall, gazing back past postmodernism and pop art to that ur-age: the modern era. A blockbuster show about Picasso and American art (through September 9) is followed by an exhibit of works by Frida Kahlo (opening October 27). 612-375-7600

Where to Stay

Chambers Hotel.

Half-hotel, half-art gallery, this crossroads of all things cool is home to more than 200 contemporary works from the private collection of hotel owner Ralph Burnet. Featured artists include Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Angus Fairhurst, Subodh Gupta, Morimura, Ahn Sung-Ha, and Minnesota photographer Alec Soth, among others. 612-767-6900

Where to Eat

Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21 at the Walker continues to attract the glitterati, but if you’re looking for something fresh and pungent, give Saffron a try. 612-746-5533

What to See

If you haven’t had your fill of visual victuals, feast on fresh works at local galleries. Starter plate: Rogue Buddha, 612-331-3889; Rosalux, 612-747-3942; and Form + Content, 612-436-1151.

Nightcap Destination

Chambers’ rooftop bar.

What better place to check out Minneapolis’s modern skyline?


Travel Advisory

How to Survive a Drive

Put your seat in proper position.

With your feet on the pedals, your knees should be bent and level with (or slightly higher than) your hips. The seat should support your lower back up to the shoulders.

Know your role. Are you the captain or the first mate? Divide tasks to conquer unfamiliar roads. Navigators can read maps, tune the radio, and answer the calls from the kids. Drivers should keep their eyes on the road.

Consider a satellite-radio subscription. A subscription to XM or SIRIUS gets you sports, talk, weather, and dozens of commercial-free music stations, anywhere in the country. Satellite receivers can work in any car with a radio.

Wear sunglasses. Road glare can give you a temporary headache, but ultraviolet light can permanently damage your eyes. Polarized lenses cut even more glare for safer driving.


Urban Retreat: See a Show

The Place

Guthrie Theater.

Whatever you think of the new blue box on the river, the metro’s premier playhouse knows how to stage a show. In 1776, which plays through August 26, the birth of a nation is set to showstopping tunes. And in Private Lives, a comedy by the British wit Noel Coward, two pairs of honeymooners spit and spar—with uproarious results (through September 2). 612-377-2224

Where to Stay

Westin Minneapolis.

Downtown’s newest inn occupies the former Farmers & Mechanics Bank building. 612-333-4006

Where to Eat

Restaurant Alma.

Avoid the crowds at Cue and Spoonriver and take a stroll across the Stone Arch Bridge to this casual yet upscale joint, where the menu changes seasonally. 612-379-4909

What to See

Magical History Tour.

In the words of McCartney and Lennon, “Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour.” The future and the past collide on this three-hour Segway tour of the Minneapolis riverfront. 952-888-9200

Nightcap Destination

112 Eatery.

Scoring a table at this popular café isn’t easy—and the great food at feel-good prices makes it easy to see why. Try dining late-night: The Chinese fried eggs taste just as good at midnight as they do at 7 p.m. 612-343-7696



Romancing The River

Adventure and amour are plentiful along the Mississippi’s most picturesque expanse

By Tim Gihring

IF YOU’RE LUCKY, someday you will find yourself in Lake City, standing outside a trailer home. If you’re very lucky, you will not be wearing pants. Instead, you will be dressed as my girlfriend and I were—in swimsuits and windbreakers—waiting for your luxurious sailboat ride on Lake Pepin and wondering how trailers, even in a park as neatly kept as this one beside the marina, can remain in the midst of such beauty.

And yet they do, because Minnesotans are programmed to head north in the summer instead of south, missing out on what are likely the 25 prettiest and quirkiest miles of the Mississippi River. The shoreline remains remarkably free of cabins, resorts, and other venues catering to people determined to have fun; not a single Waverunner or wakeboard breaks the lake’s silence. In a place where you must create your own entertainment, my girlfriend and I figured, we could learn something about the real Minnesota, and perhaps about each other.

Photo by Mary Thull

Only sailboaters accord Lake Pepin the respect it deserves—Lake City is the largest small-boat marina on the river. Sailing, then, seemed the best way both to see the lake and to test my theory that when you hit the water in anything with a mast you become that guy from the Nautica ads, the unshaven one standing on the bow with a grin that says We both know what I was doing until five minutes ago, and it didn’t involve raising a sail.

Two captains, David Sheridan and Jay Luck, offer private cruises on Lake Pepin, in large, sleek sailboats that make Jet-Skis feel like bath toys. Sheridan has the windblown look of someone who prefers to experience life at a brisk 7 knots or above. All that’s required of his guests, he tells us, is to “Keep the water out and the people in. After that, most sins are forgiven.” On our tour, Sheridan explains why this bulge in the Mississippi is considered a lake: The current slows down here, significantly. He also introduces us to the thrill of heeling: When the boat dips far to the side, it’s the perfect opportunity to wrap your arms around your sweetheart. (She needn’t know it’s mostly for ballast.)

On Luck’s boat, we learn the graciousness of sailing. Luck’s sailing partner, Lori Love (Luck and Love were married this summer in perhaps the most auspicious wedding ever), brings out a bottle of wine and a tray of gourmet snacks. In addition, Love practices Lomi Lomi massage, a Thai-Hawaiian hybrid that guests can experience right on deck.

Jay Luck has a surprisingly dry sense of humor for a guy who’s spent his life on water. He takes kids out on pirate cruises, during which he flies the skull and crossbones, says Aaarr a lot, and offers water balloons to loft at passing (and presumably consenting) boaters. He loves to tell stories—like about the man who called to book a cruise and asked, “Do you mind if I bring a younger woman along?” Turns out the man was 96, his companion a spry 70. After the cruise, he told Luck it had been the best day of his life. Lying side by side on the teak, four sails flapping above us, my girlfriend and I find ourselves spouting similar cliches, like “There’s something about being on the water”—we’re simply speechless.

Photo by Mary Thull

Come nightfall, we cross the river to Stockholm, a Wisconsin town of roughly 100 residents (depending on which sign you see on the way in), where apparently everyone owns a shop: The place is filled with antique shops, art galleries, even a bakery for pets (terrier turnover, $3). We’re staying at the Great River Bed and Breakfast, where owner Leland Krebs checks us in and then vanishes (his home is just down the road). He books just one couple per night, ensuring total privacy for guests.

The B&B is an old farmhouse, with walls more than a foot thick, impeccably decora-ted: photos of Ireland and Ely; furniture with clean, simple lines; and not a doily in sight. We sit awhile in each room, just because we can. And in the morning, Krebs returns to prepare a breakfast of muffins, melons, and raspberries. A former cyclist, he tells us he had once biked across the entire country. He has also been a bartender, a farmer, and, I later learned, a player in international real estate, particularly in the Caribbean. A rich life, or a series of dreams that became a life.

Over the course of the weekend, my girlfriend and I will get our share of exercise—renting bikes to ride the leafy Cannon Valley Trail, hiking through Frontenac State Park to peer at Lake Pepin from 450 feet up. But the most invigorating moment, perhaps, comes while we are sitting on a bench high above the farmhouse, alone in an enormous field. As the Mississippi meanders below, we contemplate Krebs’s path. We talk about his past and our futures, plotting, and we begin to understand the attraction of this bluff country. From up here, you can see the possibilities in life.

We are still plotting later that day when we arrive for an early dinner at the Harbor View Café, scoring the last table in a place as famous for its long lines as its from-scratch cooking. On the bookshelves lining the dining room, we notice a volume called The Decline of Pleasure. Having just devoured mahi-mahi and salmon (exquisitely cooked in parchment paper) and confessed further vacation dreams (her: sailing in the Mediterranean; me: having someone else sail us around the Mediterranean), I can only conclude that the author of Decline has never been to Pepin.

Photo by Mary Thull

If You Go


Depending on how you feel about people in pioneer dress, Laura Ingalls Wilder Days, held September 8 to 9, is the time to visit Pepin or the time to avoid it. Fall is the best time to see the Mississippi River bluffs aglow with color.


Great River Bed and Breakfast.

A unique B&B for solo travelers or couples who want the whole place to themselves. The owner returns in the morning to make a light breakfast. Stockholm, Wisconsin, 800-657-4756, www.greatriverbedandbreakfast.com

The Octagon House Bed & Breakfast. A classic B&B experience, with Victorian furnishings and a four-course breakfast. 927 W. Third St., Red Wing, 651-388-1778, www.octagon-house.com


Set sail.

Based in Lake City on Lake Pepin, Jay Luck offers private couple cruises for $195, as well as group sunset cruises, pirate cruises for kids, day cruises, and longer expeditions. 612-868-8177, www.luckassociates.com. David Sheridan, based in Pepin, Wisconsin, does private couple cruises for $195. Group cruises, sunset and starlight cruises, and sailing instruction are also available. 715-442-4424, www.sailpepin.com

Peddle or paddle. Recreational rentals are available at Cannon Falls Canoe and Bike. 615 N. Fifth St., Cannon Falls, 507-263-4657, www.cannonfallscanoeandbike.com

Go for a dip. Welch Mill Canoeing and Tubing offers options for beating the heat, cooling your heels, or just drifting along while admiring the spectacular fall colors along the Cannon River. Welch, 651-388-9857, www.welchmillcanoeandtube.com


Harbor View Café:

No credit cards, no reservations—and absolutely no regrets. The salmon, coq au vin, and other carefully prepared entrées at this now-classic café on the waterfront are just that good. 314 First St., Pepin, Wisconsin, 715-442-3893, www.harborviewpepin.com

Harbor Restaurant & Bar: This riverside roadhouse imports Jamaican cooks and servers every summer to create an island atmosphere, complete with jerk cooking and live music. N673 825th St., Hager City, Wisconsin, 715-792-2417, www.redwing.net/~harbor

Staghead Restaurant: It looks like an ordinary bar and grill, but serves such creative, high-quality entrées as salmon with curry and pork medallions in cherry sauce. 219 Bush St., Red Wing, 651-388-6581  MM

Tim Gihring is senior writer at Minnesota Monthly.