Eat, Play, Stay in Minnesota: Knife River

Cold weather brings out some of the best of this town north of Duluth
A Knife River train
A train ferries passengers as part of Knife River’s Julebyen festival

Photo by Paul von Goertz

Our Nov/Dec issue looks into the North Shore tradition of the Julebyen festival (Dec. 4-5) in Knife River, Minnesota—a historic fishing village about 20 minutes north of Duluth on Scenic Highway 61. For those making the trip, here are some other things to check out in the area.

Eat: There’s no more quintessential North Shore eatery than Russ Kendall’s Smoke House in Knife River, featuring “expertly cured fish smoked in our own smoke houses the old-fashioned way.” These protein-rich smoked delicacies come wrapped in newspaper, and they’re the ultimate finger food. Russ Kendall’s is open year-round, so winter may become your favorite picnic season yet with a stop here.

Play: Take a shot at fat-tire biking in the snow. The North Shore is the perfect entry point. Try riding the snowy, groomed trails of the Lake County Demonstration Forest, or drive up the shore 20 miles to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to access more than eight miles of bike trails. Call Spokengear bike shop in Two Harbors for bike rentals and up-to-the-minute trail conditions.

Stay: Gooseberry Cabins on the shore of Lake Superior is a family-owned resort with seven year-round cabins and a guest house. Perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, this lakeside retreat is 12 miles north of Two Harbors.


WinterGlo Festival

The WinterGlo Festival is hosted by the Grand Rapids Downtown Business Association. It’s an annual celebration to kick off the winter holiday season. WinterGlo’s 2021 edition will commence on Friday, Dec 3 at 4pm to coincide with the Grand Rapids Arts First Friday Art Walk. Santa will then arrive around 5pm on a horse-drawn sleigh. WinterGlo events take place all around the greater Grand Rapids area throughout the weekend. See for more details. December 3-5, Grand Rapids and surrounding area

Duluth Winter Village

Visitors to Julebyen can make it a whole Northland weekend of crafts and treats by taking a stroll at the Duluth Winter Village, which features 29 outdoor vendors housed in wooden cabins at their new home behind the DECC. Started on the grounds of Glensheen Mansion in 2016, the Duluth Winter Village had tested the limits of the historic estate, with the last attendance growing to over 20,000 people.

Lucie Amundsen, the DECC’s Communications Director, recounts that Duluth is a perfect location to host a Christmas market: “Moving the Duluth Winter Village to this central location really cements Duluth’s long history of being the Christmas City of the Northland. We have many holiday-focused activities now that people can do in one place. That includes the Christmas City Express Train, charming Canal Park and Downtown shopping districts, and Bentleyville’s Tour of Lights.”

This year’s Winter Village will continue to feature popular local businesses, great food and drink, and of course the beloved llamas and goats. Promising additions will include ample parking on-site and an indoor “Yule Lodge,” located in the DECC’s Pioneer Hall, warmly decorated for enjoying special holiday beverages and foods. December 4-5, Duluth Entertainment Convention Center

Winter Solstice Shadow Puppet Show

The audience stands outdoors, but the performers are indoors in the “Red Building” at North House Folk School for this annual solstice celebration. A shadow screen is put up in the doorway, and the band and the puppeteers perform inside. An original 30-minute performance features topics ranging from local fauna to astronomy. A potluck supper follows in the “Blue Building” along with a bonfire on the beach. If you wish to stay after the show, bring a dish to share and your own plate and utensils. You are also invited to bring a “gloomie” to burn in the fire—any item or symbol of something you are ready to get rid of. The Winter Solstice shadow puppet show has been taking place in Grand Marais since 2007.

Director Jim Ouray explains, “Most people are busy getting ready for the holidays on December 21, so the scale of the production and the audience is smaller than our Summer Solstice pageant. Shadow puppetry is an ancient art form well-known in many parts of the world but somewhat rare in the U.S. The show is usually amusing, and we like it to be uplifting. It’s on the longest night of the year, and it’s very much a seasonal celebration. We explore the interplay of darkness and light and the shadow side of life. Being together with people is an important part of solstice time, and visitors can even help make the show. For a week or two before the solstice, people can come to our production meetings, where we make the puppets, and get involved.” December 21, 6 p.m., North House Folk School, Grand Marais

Christopher Pascone is a Minnesota outdoorsperson who lives in Duluth with his wife and three daughters. He went to Macalester College in St. Paul, and now teaches in the School District of Superior (WI) and Northwood Technical College. His passions are exploring the outdoors with his family and urban farming. He prioritizes low-tech adventures with a paddle, skis, or fishing equipment.