Weekend Guide: Lutsen Has Skiing and Much More

It’s high time to head to the mountains of Lutsen

A skiier going off a jump at Lutsen Mountains.
Shred powder at Lutsen Mountains

Photo courtesy Lutsen Mountains

Charles Axel Nelson recognized Lutsen’s appeal back in 1885. For $12, he purchased 160 acres of land on Lake Superior at the mouth of the Poplar River. On the Swedish immigrant’s homestead, a settlement soon rose up, and then a township that he named after the Battle of Lutzen, which killed Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus.

Nelson and his wife, Anna, regularly hosted travelers in their large home, known as “Lutzen House,” pioneering Minnesota’s first resort, Lutsen. Their descendants opened the state’s first ski resort in 1948, aiming to make Lutsen a year-round destination.

It worked. Today, Lutsen Mountains ski resort has become the premier place for downhill skiing in the Midwest, with four mountain peaks and 1,000 acres of skiable terrain. The area gets about 10 feet of lake-effect snow annually. When supplemented with artificial snow, this can stretch the ski season into May. A new 360-degree webcam on the top of Eagle Mountain displays conditions live, and, pending approval from the U.S. Forest Service (which could take up to two years), the ski resort plans to double its skiable terrain over 25 years.

Cross-country skiers at Lutsen Resort.
Ski cross-country at Lutsen Resort

Photo courtesy Lutsen Resort

But the tiny, unincorporated community, much closer to Thunder Bay than the Twin Cities, has also grown to be more than just a magnet for alpine skiing. It lies between the north shore of Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountain Range, and is also within the bounds of the Superior National Forest, which has made the region a picturesque outpost that draws many disciplines of outdoor thrill-seeking.

On the Superior Hiking Trail, you’ll find excellent opportunities for snowshoeing, particularly for those craving an off-the-beaten-path adventure. The nearby Sugarbush Trails, some of which allow skijoring (skiing with dogs), are paradise for cross-country skiers. They feature nearly 50 miles of groomed trails with gorgeous views of Lake Superior and great options for the novice, intermediate, and expert. Area lodges, including Lutsen Resort, offer guests access to equipment and guided tours. There are also outfitters in Tofte and Lutsen.

The original Lutsen Resort (now under separate ownership from Lutsen Mountains) came under new ownership in August, when Scott Harrison and Nancy Burns retired after owning it for three decades. New co-owner Bryce Campbell, who now runs Lutsen Resort with his mother, Sheila, says he fell in love with the resort as a “nerd” who buys books on historic lodges.

“We’re dedicated to maintaining the historic feel of the lodge while finding ways to enhance it,” he says, hinting that the resort will make an announcement soon about winter amenities they’ll be adding for 2019-20.

By September, the Campbells launched a new menu and upgraded the resort’s acclaimed lakeside restaurant. The Strand Waterfront Dining Room still offers traditional Swedish meatballs with lingonberries, but the eatery now emphasizes north-shore cuisine. Patrons can expect fish and game as well as seasonal variation in the menu. Oenophiles will appreciate the Strand Waterfront Dining and Wine Bar’s vast selection of 136 wines. Reservations are recommended.

A bottle of wine from North Shore Winery sitting on a sled outdoors.
Take home a bottle from North Shore Winery

Photo courtesy North Shore Winery

Plus, there’s more to do away from the slopes. North Shore Winery and Sawtooth Mountain Cider House are a must-stop for those looking for a sip-and-stay. They’re conveniently located on the way to the ski hill. Cozy up in the tasting room and order a flight of wine or cider. Grapes are trucked in from Lodi, California, and the cidery sources Minnesota apples and other hyper-local ingredients, like maple syrup.

Bags of Fika Coffee.
Make your own Fika Coffee blends

photo courtesy Fika Coffee

For a caffeine fix, head to Fika Coffee, Lutsen’s coffee roaster. Fika, meaning “coffee break” in Swedish, roasts small batches of sustainably sourced beans and has Wi-Fi, too.

Visitors can also fuel up, literally and figuratively, at Lockport Marketplace and Deli. It’s a gas station, general store, gift shop, and eatery. Breakfast and lunch include Finnish pasties with rutabaga, so you know they’re legit. It’s a hospitable dining room that’s in the spirit of Grandma’s–or, perhaps, Charles and Anna Nelson’s–kitchen.

Eat, Play, Stay in Lutsen

The Cascade Restaurant & Pub

This place is worth the 10-mile drive from Lutsen proper. Friendly staff serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, and tasty snacks such as coconut-crusted walleye fingers. Warm up in the winter with a happy-hour hot toddy or Irish coffee.

Lodge Living

Skiers can stay at Eagle Ridge Resort or Caribou Highlands Lodge; they both offer ski-in, ski-out convenience. Lutsen Resort is lakeside and provides shuttle access to Lutsen Mountains as well as amenities such as a full-service spa.

A live music show at Papa Charlie's.
Papa Charlie’s

Photo courtesy Lutsen Mountains

Papa Charlie’s

Skiers and non-skiers alike can appreciate Papa Charlie’s for its array of live music, with shows up to seven nights a week. Nationally known artists such as Trampled by Turtles, Lissie, Wookiefoot, and Cloud Cult will perform this winter in the intimate, 600-person venue. Cascade Restaurant & Pub and the North Shore Winery also host live music.

As a freelance writer in Belgium, Lissa Maki got to write about beer and bike rides, and there was no going back to a “normal” job. She now lives in Duluth and loves to go on micro-adventures around Lake Superior, especially when they involve beer at Castle Danger Brewing in Two Harbors. Maki reports for Perfect Duluth Day and has contributed to The Growler, All About Beer, American Brewer, and more.