Midwest Vacation Guide 2010

It’s April, also known as Cabin Fever Season, when boredom gives way to restlessness and restlessness to irritability. Get out of the house and try something exciting and new in the Twin Cities area, or drive a few hours away to a location that blends wilderness and civilization, with silences so profound you can hear your heart beat. A change of environment will do your mind, body, and soul a world of good.

NORTH SHORE

The North Shore is a surrounded by spectacular woods, water, and wilderness. It’s home to the 200-mile Superior Hiking Trail, Superior National Forest, miles of Lake Superior shoreline, and friendly towns that specialize in “Minnesota nice.”

The city of Duluth, about a 2.5-hour drive from the Twin Cities metro, is full of outdoorsy activities, gorgeous mansions built by lumber and iron ore barons, and historic sites, but perhaps one of the most unique aspects of this busy port town is watching the Aerial Lift Bridge and the massive oceangoing freighters coming into port.

About an hour north of Duluth on Highway 61 is the town of Two Harbors, home to Grand Superior Lodge and Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior, sister resorts on Lake Superior’s shoreline. As part of a new Odyssey Resorts program, these two resorts—along with Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen—are rolling out a new program called Explore! with Odyssey Resorts, where guests can freely explore the activities and amenities offered at all Odyssey Resort locations (kayak at one; get a massage down the road at another, all at no additional charge.)

Guests are treated to peace and solitude at Cove Point Lodge in Beaver Bay, about a half hour’s drive from Lutsen. The secluded Scandinavian-style lodge is surrounded by 150 acres of woods and rocks, with all rooms facing Lake Superior—the ideal setting for a romantic getaway.

Whether in search of a romantic getaway or a family-friendly vacation complete with an itinerary for the kids, Lutsen Resort and Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior are popular North Shore destinations in the Lutsen-Tofte area, about a four-and-a-half hour drive from the Twin Cities metro. Both resorts offer guided activities (kayaking, fishing, hiking), naturalist programs, swimming pools, delicious on-site dining, a variety of lodging options, and bonfires on the beach. Bonus that they’re located so close to state parks, the Sawtooth Mountains, and thousands of acres of forest.

Don’t miss Lutsen Resort’s Spring Food & Wine Event this May in celebration of their 125th anniversary. Mark Lindsey, director of food and beverage, promises a wine list of over 200 wines (they’ve even won awards from Wine Spectator magazine) and memorable, mouth-watering meals.

From June 11-13, visit one of Bluefin Bay’s Family of Resorts—Bluefin Bay, Surfside on Lake Superior, and Temperance Landing (all located in the Lutsen-Tofte area) for a “Vow Renewal Weekend.” Guests of the Vow Renewal event can renew their vows in small group or private ceremonies throughout the scenic grounds of the three properties, with packages including professional photography, flowers, champagne, and a small celebratory reception.

Further up Highway 61 is Grand Marais, a harbor village located in the far northeast corner of the state, looking out across Lake Superior. The harbor is the centerpiece of town (Grand Marais is the only North Shore community whose downtown is right on the lake), but the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains and Superior National Forest just beyond makes the area one of the most unique in Minnesota. Stay at East Bay Suites in a completely renovated vacation condo, merging the history and gracious hospitality of the East Bay tradition (East Bay Suites was originally built as the Lakeside Hotel in the 1900s). After a day of exploring the area, relax with an in-suite massage.

Another lodging option in downtown Grand Marais is the Best Western Superior Inn, a clean, secure, smoke-free hotel with all rooms offering views of Lake Superior. Pets are allowed in designated rooms, not including the Renewal Steam Suites (featuring a spacious steam shower, five shower heads, hydrotherapy whirlpool, and spa gas fireplace), Superior Luxury Suites, and Grand Rooms.
 

NORTHERN

The air is cleaner, the stars twinkle brighter, and the wolves howl more loudly in Northern Minnesota—a place of wildlife, forests, and pristine lakes and rivers.

“It’s so important to get kids outside and away from their video games and texting,” says Denelle Cauble, executive director of Visit Bemidji. “Here in Bemidji you can really become immersed in nature—on biking and hiking trails, and by going fishing, canoeing, boating, geocaching, golfing, or wildlife watching.”

The Bemidji area offers some of the best birding around being so close to Bemidji State Park and Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s oldest state park (step across the Mississippi headwaters here).

Bemidji has as many artists per capita as the Twin Cities metro—a little-known fact to tourists. “We’re very cultural,” Cauble points out. And they’re also sports-oriented.

“We’re in the process of building the Bemidji Event Center, a venue that will host sporting events, conferences, and conventions,” she says. “When it’s open we’ll have the capabilities of a national league. We’re really excited about that.”

As you discover the Mississippi’s headwaters, another lodging option is Bert’s Cabins in Itasca State Park—cozy log cabins with wood-burning fireplaces. Hiking trails, a heated pool, and a playground are located on-site.

The Leech Lake area is enticing to anglers, families, and groups. Some of the state’s most impressive parks, protected lands and recreation areas can be found here—from Itasca State Park to the Chippewa National Forest with its large population of nesting bald eagles, to the Shingobee Recreation Area and its “little Grand Canyon.” Just a few of the popular festivals include the Leech Lake Walleye Tournament June 5-6 and Moondance Jam July 15-17.

Trapper’s Landing Lodge on Leech Lake faces over 1,600 feet of Leech Lake shoreline, complete with a sandy beach and full-service marina with boat rental. Fishing, hunting, hiking and other outdoor activities fill guests’ days, but when they need a break, an outdoor pool, sauna and the BeachFire Bar & Grille are waiting. Trapper’s Landing offers the amenities and accommodations that make for a great family vacation and the sportsman’s attributes that come from being located on a world-class lake.
 

CENTRAL

The prairie meets the forest in this part of the state, where the glaciers carved their way through Minnesota thousands of years ago creating a perfect blend of lakes, wooded hills, and rolling prairie. Tourists are drawn to the lakes, parks, and variety of lodging options including lakeside cottages and campgrounds.

Dickerson’s Lake Florida Resort in Spicer is an 85-year-old fourth-generation family resort on Lake Florida. “From mid-summer on we cater to families with young children. We spoil them and hopefully they’ll want to come back,” says Connie Dickerson, who—along with her husband—owns the resort. The couple describe themselves as “directors of guest happiness,” and create fun for guests by serving homemade doughnuts at Sunday morning “mixers” and hosting pizza parties, hayrides and campfires.

“We have everything including innertubes, kayaks, fun bugs, hydro bikes, a canoe, paddleboat, sailboat, rowboats, bicycles, tricycles and wagons,” Dickerson says. “We are next door to the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center with great trails for hiking and excellent birding. Sibley State Park is just five miles north of the resort, and the Glacial Lakes Trail runs from Willmar to New London.” The Big Kahuna Fun Park, Meadowview Farm, and Glacial Ridge Winery are located in Spicer.

Attractions in the nearby city of Willmar include golf courses, the J&L Bison Ranch, KRA Speedway, museums, and performing arts venues (to name just a few).

While vacationing in Alexandria, stay at Holiday Inn of Alexandria, a full service hotel with a resort-like atmosphere. All 149 guest rooms have been updated with new furnishings, wireless Internet, and large work desks. Their huge recreation center includes an indoor pool, whirlpool, kiddie pool, sauna, volleyball, basketball, arcade, pool tables, and ping pong. The popular Rudy’s Redeye Grill is attached to the hotel.

If you’re looking for a golf vacation, look no further than Thumper Pond Golf Resort in Ottertail, about three hours from the Twin Cities. Surrounding the resort—which has an indoor waterpark for the kids and a spa for the adults—is an 18-hole Championship Golf Course. The location is also close to Ottertail Lake, known for excellent fishing.

With a history that includes Indian battlegrounds and logging camps, the Brainerd Lakes area is one of legends and folklore. The North Woods community features miles of trails, nationally-ranked golf courses and freshwater fishing, the perfect ingredients for a memorable vacation. The closest Brainerd Lakes area resort to the Twin Cities—Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge—is only two hours away.

“Our family has operated Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge continuously since my great grandparents started it in the 1800s,” says Chris Ruttger, president. “Our tradition is to treat guests like family. That means a lot to us.”

Families, couples, reunion groups, and golfers enjoy services at the Aveda spa, the championship 18-hole golf course, shops, restaurants and bars, kayaking, water skiing, fishing, and simply drifting on a pontoon or relaxing on the beach.

At the eco-friendly Lodge on Lake Detroit, a lakefront lifestyle hotel in the Detroit Lakes area, the focus is on positive energy, pampering, and fun. Guests enjoy receiving spa services at The Spa Within, going fishing or paddle-boating/kayaking, and making s’mores by the lake. There is never a shortage of things to do! Visit on April 24 for the first-ever “Cruising for Murder” Murder Mystery Weekend, including lodging, dinner, wine-tasting, crime-solving and live music.
 

SOUTHERN

Fields of corn and soybeans, ponds and wetlands, rolling countryside, rural communities, and inviting storybook downtowns summarize Southern Minnesota. It is a place of unbelievable beauty.

“Surrounded by farmland and prairie, you would never know that Owatonna is located just one hour south of Minnesota’s booming Twin Cities,” says Lisa Havelka, Owatonna Tourism Director.

Owatonna, boasting the legend of Chief Wabena’s frail daughter, Princess Owatonna, who drank from the healing mineral waters of Maple Creek and was cured of her illness, has a magic all its own. Not only is Owatonna rich in small-town charm, it boasts world famous architecture (check out the National Farmer’s Bank downtown, designed by the world famous architect Louis H. Sullivan) and the first Cabela’s in Minnesota, one of the largest tourist attractions in the state (second only to the Mall of America).

Go on a walking tour of the city, see ‘Big Al,’ a 12-foot-long alligator at the Rad Zoo, float down the lazy river at the River Springs Outdoor Water Park, or visit during a festival like the Steele County Free Fair (August 17-22), the Festival of Arts in Central Park, or the Historical Society Extravaganza at the Village of Yesteryear.

With the Mississippi River on one side of town and majestic limestone bluffs on the other, Winona is also a memorable vacation destination. This charming city—located in southeastern Minnesota—is home to historically significant buildings, a variety of dining, shopping, and lodging options, and numerous recreational opportunities. Winona has also earned a reputation as an arts and cultural mecca, with four museums, a vineyard, and interesting festivals taking place throughout the year. The Marine Art Museum located on the Mississippi River in town features four galleries of world-class marine art and artifacts, Impressionism and Hudson River School artists, traveling exhibits and regional folk art.

Don’t miss these exciting spring/summer events in Winona: the Annual Bluff Country Studio Tour April 23-25, the 100-mile Garage Sale April 30-May 2, the Great Dakota Gathering and Homecoming June 5-6, the Trinona triathlon June 13, Steamboat Days June 16-21, the Minnesota Beethoven Festival June 27-July 18, the Annual Dixieland Jazz Festival July 10, the Great River Shakespeare Festival June 25-Aug. 1, the Winona History Center Open House July 18, and Taste of Winona/Arts Auction July 31.
 

TWIN CITIES

“Getting away” doesn’t always mean having to pack up and get out of town. Sometimes getting away can be as simple as exploring sites close to home.

One unique way to spend a spring or summer day is at the Saint Croix Vineyards in Stillwater. Award-winning Minnesota wines range from the dark, intense, oak-aged Frontenac to the semi-sweet Vignoles, reminiscent of a fine German Riesling. The tasting room opens again April 15.

Midwest Mountaineering, locally owned and operated since 1971, is hosting its 50th Outdoor Adventure Expo April 23-25. The fact that Backpacker Magazine named them the “2010 Retailer of the Year” is evident in the staff’s extensive knowledge of places and products. Those who want to learn more about canoeing, kayaking, climbing, hiking, or any outdoor adventure should come to the Expo, featuring 100 presentations on 13 different stages at the store and on the U of M campus. Over 70 exhibitors will fill big-top tents, with everything in the store and under the tents on sale. A huge canoe and kayak demo will precede the Expo on April 22 from 3-8 p.m. at Lake Nokomis, and on April 24 over 200 canoes and kayaks will be auctioned off at widely varying prices.

In addition to all of the free presentations, The Radical Reels Film Festival, a presentation of National Geographic Adventure, plus The Real Paddling Film Festival will be held during the weekend. See www.outdooradventureexpo.com for more details.

If indoor adventure is more your speed, visit The General Store of Minnetonka. According to Jenny Putnam, marketing manager, “The General Store of Minnetonka is a multi-level gift store that features home décor, jewelry, clothing, gifts, kids’ toys, handmade items from local artists and so much more.”

They are truly a shopping destination—with 20,000-square-feet of gifts and goods in endless variety and a Café featuring homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and incredible desserts, you could easily spend a day there.

On July 30, the store is sponsoring a concert, “The Original Stars from American Bandstand” featuring Fabian and Bobby Vee. The concert will be held at Minnetonka High School at 7:30 p.m. Visit www.generalstoreofminnetonka.com or 952-935-7131 for tickets and additional information.

Have guests coming into town this summer, or just want to do something different? Consider going on a Segway Magical History Tour. “Have fun riding a sci-fi Segway and get a little history at the same time,” says Bill Neuenschwander, owner.

Housed out of the Minnesota History Center, the Magical History Tour will take riders through St. Paul on Gen2 Segways, seeing sites such as the James J. Hill House, Summit Lookout Park, houses of F. Scott Fitzgerald, St. Paul Cathedral, State Capitol, and old hangout spots of some notorious St. Paul Gangsters.

“We turned the Segways into time machines, not just personal transporters,” Neuenschwander comments. The season runs from April 1-November 1. In the case of inclement weather, tours are canceled and guests are provided a full refund.

There are just as many lodging options in the Twin Cities area as there are types of food on a stick at the State Fair, but some of the best include Le Bourget Aero Suites in Bloomington (Le Bourget was the airport near Paris where American aviator and Minnesota native Charles Lindbergh flew in to back in 1927) and any of the wonderful B&Bs found on www.minnesotabedandbreakfasts.org. While on the site, search for green travel, retreats, or B&Bs near specific attractions.
 

NORTH DAKOTA

If you’ve never visited North Dakota, you should. Not only because of the gently rolling plains (North Dakota is the country’s No. 1 producer of sunflowers) and numerous outdoor attractions, but because the entire state feels like a welcoming, friendly small town rich in heritage and history.

“Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis and Clark, Sakakawea and Sitting Bull all created their legends here and you can explore the same trails, rivers and parks they found… but you will have much better accommodations, dining options, entertainment and experienced guides,” jokes Sara Otte Coleman, director of tourism for the North Dakota Department of Commerce.

The state has 115 golf courses (the most golf courses per capita of any other state), national and state parks and grassland areas, and excellent shopping, hunting, fishing (the Red River is a hotspot for award-winning catfish), mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing, birding, and hiking. The arts are alive and well in the state, too, with more galleries, museums, and entertainment venues than you might expect of a state with a population of only 640,000. Just recently, the Historic Fargo Theatre, the region’s only “art house” cinema, added a second screen to meet demand.

“We are AAA’s most affordable state, and a Cambridge study identified us as the friendliest state,” says Otte Coleman. “Last year was a growth year for tourism in North Dakota because many people were seeking a genuine, lower-cost, relaxing vacation destination.”

The Fargo-Moorhead area, about 3.5 hours west of the metro, is unique in that it is two cities in two states with a perfect blend of hip metropolitan and cozy small-town. Fargo—North Dakota’s largest city—is in the state’s southeast corner near the Minnesota border, and right next door is Moorhead.

“Thanks to a successful revitalization of the historic downtowns there are a lot of things to see that you would not have seen several years ago,” says Brian Matson, marketing director for the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau. “If you visited us in the past, you might want to visit again, a lot has changed.”

The vibrant downtown area is perfect for a romantic getaway, fun night on the town, or family-friendly vacation. Kids love the children’s museum and Red River Zoo, and guests of all ages enjoy the Scandinavian Hjemkomost Festival June 25-27, Fargo’s Downtown Street Fair July 15-17, and the Blues Festival July 30-31.

Visitors in North Dakota are encouraged to take the challenge, “I am Legendary… Are you?” where they can share videos, photos, trip blogs and more at www.RULegendary.com.
 

SOUTH DAKOTA

Powwows. Buffalo safaris. Mount Rushmore. The Badlands. The Crazy Horse Memorial. A vacation in South Dakota isn’t your average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill vacation—it’s a combination of breathtaking scenery, one-of-a-kind attractions, and fascinating stories about the Gold Rush, Native American history, and the Wild West.

While in South Dakota, make sure to spend some time in Rapid City, located on the edge of the legendary Black Hills. Rapid City is 20 minutes from Mount Rushmore, 45 minutes from outdoor adventure at Custer State Park, and within an hour’s drive of Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Badlands National Park and Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Unique attractions in Rapid City include life-sized City of Presidents statues on every street corner downtown, Storybook Island, Dinosaur Park, Reptile Gardens and Bear Country USA. Bear Country is a drive-thru park featuring North American wildlife roaming free in their natural habitats. Reptile Gardens is home to one of the world’s largest collection of reptiles and exotic flowers.

For those interested in history, Hot Springs in the Black Hills area—a short drive from Rapid City—was named one of the dozen best places to see by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The heritage and history of South Dakota also pervades the region of Southeast South Dakota. When you visit, you’ll find every landmark tells a story, from the quartzite cliffs of Palisades State Park near Garretson, to the falls of the Big Sioux River, at Sioux Falls, to the picturesque chalkstone bluffs of the Missouri River west of Yankton. Tranquil scenes of canoes on a lazy river, shady campsites, woodland trails, and colorful ethnic festivals greet guests. Every event, from threshing bees to powwows, captures the spirit of the people now and in the past. “We’re a very diverse area with something for everyone,” says Jacquie Fuks, executive director of Southeast South Dakota Tourism. Adventure seekers love the fishing, kayak/canoeing (there are 175 lakes and three major rivers in the area), hunting, camping, rock climbing, geocaching, and hiking/biking; wine enthusiasts appreciate the many wineries in the region; families enjoy the Butterfly House, Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science, museums featuring pioneer and Native American culture, and the Lewis & Clark Trail, and everyone has fun at unique festivals such as Riverboat Days, Spirit of the West, Schmeckfest, Czech Days, Rockin Ribfest, and Quilts & Vines.
 

IOWA

If you are interested in renting a vacation home for a week on a large lake with so much recreational activity in the area that you’ll run out of time before you run out of things to do, think Iowa.

“I think people will be very surprised that Iowa isn’t all cornfields and farms—we have a lot of wonderful vacation destinations for families,” says Stacy Rosemore, Okoboji Tourism Committee tourism director.

The Iowa Great Lakes area—made up of Arnolds Park, Okoboji, West Okoboji, Spirit Lake, Milford, and Wahpeton, commonly referred to as the Okoboji area, is a fun, affordable, close-to-home place to escape. This beautiful chain of lakes area, just a three-hour drive from the Twin Cities, covers 15,000 acres and has been a family vacation destination for generations.

“West Lake Okoboji is one of only three clear blue lakes in the world,” Rosemore says. The other two are Lake Geneva in Switzerland and Lake Louise in Canada.

In addition to every kind of water recreation imaginable, the Iowa Great Lakes Area is rich in history, has a vibrant arts community, and features enough fun and entertainment to keep you busy for days on end. Attractions include the Historic Arnolds Park amusement park (home to one of the only functioning wooden rollercoasters in the world), off-road go-kart track, mountain boarding on Okoboji’s South campus (a cross between skateboarding and snowboarding), 23 miles of multi-use trails, 52 miles of bike routes, numerous golf courses, the Dickinson County Nature Center, Preservation Plaza, Pearson Lakes Art Center, museums, Okoboji Summer Theatre, Treasure Village Children’s Theatre, the Queen II excursion boat, and great shopping and dining. Guests can stay in over 34 lodging facilities or at state or privately-owned campgrounds.

This summer, don’t miss these University of Okoboji events: the Cycling Classic Campus Ride June 26 (featuring 25, 50, and 100-mile rides around the Iowa Great Lakes), and the Triathlon, Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K on July 17.
 

WISCONSIN

Intrigued by the natural beauty of rolling hills, dense forests and beautiful lakes and rivers, people have flocked to Wisconsin since the late 1800s. Today the area continues to attract visitors for fishing and boating, and features some of the country’s top hiking and biking trail systems. In Hudson, Wisconsin, a river town that still retains the character and architecture of decades past, visitors make the most of the St. Croix River—now a protected National Scenic Waterway. In addition to offering awesome water recreation, the area is home to Victorian-era bed and breakfast inns, excellent golfing, the Phipps Center for the Arts (dedicated to the continuing pursuit and development of the performing and visual arts), the 3,155-acre Willow River State Park, and unique gift shops and restaurants in a vibrant downtown area.

Located about two hours east of the Twin Cities, in Chetek, Wisconsin, Canoe Bay is a tranquil retreat on 280 woodsy acres. There is no noise, and visitors have no obligations other than to rest and relax. The resort is the only Relais & Chateaux property in the Midwest; a designation given to hotels and restaurants for their charm, prestige and high culinary standards. It is elegant, romantic, and offers an impressive wine list and new chef’s menu each night (dinner jacket is appropriate but not required).

Located at the gateway to the Apostle Islands on the south shore of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin, the Madeline Island Ferry Line provides passenger, bicycle and car transportation between the picturesque towns of LaPointe and Bayfield. The 25-minute trip provides spectacular views of the Lake itself and several of the 22 Apostle Islands. The ferry ride itself is a worthwhile attraction.

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