Last winter, husband Glenn and I discovered a great winter getaway less than a two-hour drive south on Highway 61 from Thunder Bay - Minnesota's Lutsen Resort. A natural wilderness retreat with fine dining, Lutsen exudes a comfortable-cozy yet exotic feel and offers excellent complementary baby-boomer outdoorsy activities (soft adventure, no extreme sports).
Lutsen Lodge is Minnesota's first resort, its origins reverting back to 1881 when Swedish-born Charles Axel Nelson homesteaded here after seeing the property while working as a fishing boat captain. He built a cabin at the site of the present Main Lodge and together with his wife Anna, welcomed lodgers to their expanding homestead where he cooked hearty Swedish meals and added a guide service. In 1890, the lodgings were named Lutzen House, after the Battle of Lutzen (1632) during which the King of Sweden was killed; however, by 1893, the lodge's spelling had changed to Lutsen.
For nearly 100 years, until 1980, three generations of Nelsons operated the resort, welcoming both the famous and infamous (Al Capone). Current owners Scott Harrison and Nancy Burns, are a couple dedicated to maintaining the historic Lutsen legacy but with 21st century additions, such as a spa and wellness centre.
With Lutsen Resort as our anchor, staying in the one of the Poplar River Condominiums that overlook Lake Superior, we were ready for outdoor adventure. Have you heard of rivering? Also called rivereering or river skiing, it's a term northern Minnesota locals use to describe the sport of snowshoeing or skiing on frozen rivers and streams. When Lutsen's guide Bryan Hansel asked if we wanted to try snowshoeing on the frozen Onion River - about 3.4 miles away - we didn't hesitate to say yes (even though I hadn't snow-shoed for over 20 years).
We put on our snowshoes in the parking lot of Ray Berglund Roadside Parking Area and led by Bryan (an expert in outdoor skills), headed down to the snow-covered ice of Onion River. There's an interesting story how the river derived its name from a Paul Bunyan legend. The wild onions were so plentiful in the area that when Bunyan's logging crew of giants, the Seven Axeman, were cutting timber, they shed huge tears. Bunyan had to keep a close watch that the tears wouldn't flood the nearby waterway, which became known as Onion River.
Rivering upstream was exhilarating. At the base of a beautiful 35-foot frozen waterfall, Bryan broke a bush trail to help us to the top, and wow, what an amazing view of Lake Superior from that viewpoint.
We continued rivering until we reached a small canyon with towering red cliffs. In the spring, this spot would be inaccessible, filled with fast-moving high dangerous water, but today it was quiet natural treasure. Just past the canyon, we turned around and headed back down the river.
Next day, Lutsen made arrangements for us to dog sled in Superior National Forest with Stoney Creek Kennels, owned by Rita and Bill Wehseler. Rita has been sled racing for over nine years and in 2001, was the first woman ever to finish the Can-Am 250 race in Maine. At the sled site on Sawbill Trail, Rita's beautiful Alaskan Husky sled dogs romped playfully, but the moment Rita hooked them to the sled and gave the signal to start pulling, the dogs became an elite team of powerful, disciplined athletes, running as a unit. We sat back in the sled as Rita and her incredible dog team took us on a thrilling hour-long cruise through beautiful forest scenery.
Our Lutsen exotic winter getaway offered a bit of everything - outdoor adventures, spacious accommodations, fine dining in their Lakeside Dining Room and later, sitting on lawn chairs in the snow at an evening beach bonfire! Best of all, it was just a short drive away to our American neighbours in Minnesota.
Elle Andra-Warner is an author, travel journalist and photographer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
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Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/