Throughout my life I have spent many weeks vacationing in Northern Minnesota. Our family has stayed at a resort on Battle Lake and a couple different resorts on Cass Lake. I’ve written about the area before (here, here, and here), but there is still more to write.
Land of 10,000 Lakes
Minnesota’s nickname is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” – the state actually has close to 12,000 lakes that each cover at least 10 acres. When our daughters were young, we would count the lakes we saw out of the car window on our way to the resort. Whoever sat on the right side of the vehicle would be the winner of the contest – it took several years for the girls to figure out that there were just more lakes on that side of the road.
Many vacation activities in Northern Minnesota are focused around lakes – fishing, boating, and other water sports. Our family participated in all of these, but one of my favorite places to enjoy the lake is from the shore. Nothing compares to listening to the waves splash onto the shore while knitting or working on a quilt.
Fishing and Water Sports
For years my family fished in Minnesota, catching a portion of our limit of freshwater perch, walleye, and pan fish. Although we tried to justify the cost of vacation by the fish we were able to bring home, the numbers didn’t really add up. The fish probably cost us hundreds of dollars per pound, but it felt good to account for at least some of the expenses.
Tubing behind the boat was popular when my daughters were young, but I didn’t give in to buying our family a ski tube until they all learned to water ski. My youngest must have really wanted the tube because she learned to ski at a younger age than her sisters. Eventually, she became the best skier in the family and the only one besides her mom to be able to slalom (ski on one ski).
In addition to motor-boating, other popular boats are self propelled. Our family has enjoyed paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks at different lakes over the years. I find non-motorized boats especially enticing early in the morning when the lake is still waking up.
Animals, Birds, and Vegetation
In addition to fish, Minnesota is home to other interesting wildlife. Glendalough State Park and the surrounding area is populated by deer that come out to graze in the early evening. Located in Ottertail County, the 335 acre park encompasses Annie Battle Lake. There is a paved bike trail that surrounds the lake, in addition to hiking trails and cross country skiing trails.
Loons populate many of the lakes – their easily recognizable call can be heard long before the bird is spotted. Eagles abound in some areas – we’ve seen many around Cass Lake. Watching them soar over the water and nest in the trees is a magnificent sight.
Some of our favorite fishing spots are only accessible by motoring slowly through a narrow channel. We travel with the motor partially out of the water to avoid rocks or trees that have fallen into the channel. On this journey, it is not unusual to see a turtle sunning on a log.
The channels weave their way through shallow water and swamp grasses. Clumps of cattails add a jog to the path. White, yellow, and occasionally pink water lilies give a pop of unexpected color to the green background.
Located in Clearwater County, Itasca State Park is home to Lake Itasca and the Mississippi River Headwaters. Although some present-day geologists question the validity of the claim, Lake Itasca has been the accepted source of the river since it was discovered by Henry Schoolcraft in 1832. The state park, Minnesota’s oldest, was established in 1891; the headwaters marker was erected in the 1930s.
A short hike from the visitors center brings you to the marked point of the Mississippi Headwaters. My family and I have crossed the “Mighty” Mississippi in this area. Stepping stones cross the creek where visitors can ford barely getting their feet wet.
Itasca State Park covers over 32,000 acres with 100 lakes. There are over 100 miles of hiking trails including the 1.5 mile Headwaters Loop. Fishing, canoeing, and tubing are popular on the lakes and the small Mississippi River stream. Adventurers in canoes start here in their quest to follow the river, which flows over 2500 miles until it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
Although I enjoy the offerings of nature, sometimes I just want to go shopping. Years ago, we shopped at Fergus Falls’ Crazy Daze – the annual sidewalk sale. Eventually, we drove the other direction and shopped in Alexandria instead. Even the small town of Battle Lake had favorite shops. In the Cass Lake area, we usually shop in Bemidji or Walker.
Although we can shop at home, the stores in Minnesota carry unique merchandise – or so it seems. I do shop differently when I’m on vacation. At home, I shop for things I need – usually at large department or discount stores. When I’m on vacation, I shop for the extras in small, family-owned businesses.
Often, when I’m on vacation, I’ve shopped for antiques or gifts. When I shopped in Alexandria, I would wander through each of the multi-floor antique shops. Over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of Japanese Lusterware – most of it in the Cherry Blossom pattern.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to shop in Alexandria again. Again, I wandered through the many floors of antiques, looking for Lusterware. I found very little (no Cherry Blossom) – and none of it came home with me. I think since I already have a collection, I am fussier about what I purchase.
Another town we have shopped in was Osakis -10 minutes up the road from Alexandria. I stopped there this past weekend, too, and visited the antique shop. The tea room, where we used to eat lunch, has gone out of business. It’s sad, since it was always a favorite, but locals are hoping someone will revive it.
On vacation, my family usually doesn’t eat in chain restaurants – primarily because there aren’t many available. The places we vacation are located in small towns. Although there are nearby larger towns with chain restaurants, we’d rather eat locally.
Over the years, we’ve collected a list of favorite places to eat. One of our favorites is Zorbaz on the Lake. Started in 1969, Zorbaz is a small local chain that serves pizza and Mexican food. Each of the eleven restaurants is located on a body of water and is accessible by boat or car. Check one out if you are in the area.
Going to the Lake
Just writing about Northern Minnesota makes me anxious to go back. And yet, I realize that I’ve only mentioned two out of the nearly 12,000 lakes in the state (and only one of 49 states). Do you vacation at a lake every summer?What lakes have you been to? Do you return to the same lake or do you vacation at different places each year? Do you have special lakeside memories? Share your thoughts below.