I always file vacations under Independence. A time of outdoor exploration and inward reflection, planning and spontaneity. Upon returning from our North Shore Minnesota vacation, our family of four recapped it as a good choice all-around. We had considered Montana and Chicago as other destinations. Montana would amount to a lot of driving and with the state’s huge tourism budget, the lodges we looked at in late June for Glacier National Park were booked (You saw the bus ads and billboards, right?). We put that on the back-burner for next year. I was still holding out for Chicago, but in the end the lure of hiking and exploration won out.
We opted for a local vacation to the North Shore of Lake Superior – a four hour drive from the Twin Cities to Lutsen, where we stayed. The kids had never been so far as Duluth. I had only been up north that route once in the fall, once in June for Grandma’s Marathon and a few times for winter downhill skiing. My husband estimated maybe 30 visits that direction for him.
We set out on a Sunday morning for a Sunday – Wednesday vacation. It was nice to have Friday and Saturday to prep as well as a short Thursday – Friday work week upon return. At many of the lodges up north, they offer mid-week deals like three nights for the price of two, kids eat free and good twilight rates for golf. We chose Eagle Ridge in Lutsen and I’ll admit, it took me a good while to accept that it wasn’t in its all-snow covered glory. The rooms were average, but the views were all green with a glimpse of the great lake. The weather was beautiful, but chilly at times. Both kids had forgotten their sweatshirts somehow. We made due.
Sunday kicked off with 1:30 lunch at Two Harbors and a 4:00 check-in at Eagle Ridge Resort. We headed to Papa Charlie’s, the restaurant on site, around 6:30, but no one was hungry quite yet. By the time we worked up an appetite, it was nearly 9:00 and the Coho Cafe in Tofte, just seven miles south of Lutsen, was closing. We headed one more stop south on the route to the Bluefin Grille. Husband Chad was hesitant — the place looked pretty fancy. I reminded him it was a Sunday night and that we were on vacation. They might have had a kids’ menu, but the late night happy hour menu looked interesting and shareable. Two bacon and cheddar and two bbq’d pork with coleslaw sliders, fried onion green beans, green salad and cheese empanadas later, everyone, except 6-yr-old Calvin who was sleeping, was satisfied. I think the tab came to $26. Super reasonable.
Monday morning, after coffee doused with creme to kill the unmistakable hotel water flavor (note, remember to bring in water always), we headed to Cascade River State Park for a hike on the Superior National Trail. We didn’t have a map, so relied on signage. I felt we could have been more prepared – had we not learned from previous hiking experiences that you need to plan? The views along the trail, high above the river whose water and foam is likened to a rootbeer float, lasted 15 minutes before we diverged away from the river to Lookout Mountain. We made it halfway to a significant vista to make it feel like the summit, popped a few gummi bears, and headed back. All total, 1.5 hours worth.
Another 20 minutes north and we arrived in Grand Marais, starving. We grabbed a few sandwiches to split and drove up the coast a bit more. This town was reminiscent of small town Alaska for me. We parked on the pier by the U.S. Coast Guard Station, skipped some rocks, built some rock structures and climbed the lighthouse steps. We spent a few hours there, then ventured into town to pay a visit to the Angry Trout. It was here my normally extatic son, ready to eat at a moment’s notice, was experiencing the first of high fever and exhaustion spikes. He pouted a bit and whined and we coined the term Trout Lip.
After a mandatory late aft nap, we headed back to the arcade within close walking distance at Papa Charlie’s for Ms PacMan, Arctic Cat, golf, darts and the like. Calvin assured me he was up for it. We stayed close to camp that eve, heading to the shared campfire area that hosted Eagle Ridge’s nightly gathering with complimentary stuff for s’mores. We met some nice folk there, perfected golden brown marshmallow roasting and toasted some hot dogs. A bubbly woman from Prior Lake, of grandmotherly age, gushed, “are you all here on Crowd Cut?” … “no we’re not here on the Crowd Cut,” admittedly they had never even heard of it.
By Tuesday, Calvin’s temp was really climbing and his patience with the outdoors was waning. While my husband and 8-yr-old daughter hiked, I hung back so Calvin could take the mid-morning nap he so needed. We bypassed canoeing, golf and hiking and opted for the Gondola ride across the ski trails of Lutsen to the top of Moose Mountain and the Summit Chalet. We packed a lunch and left around 10:30. Tickets were a bit pricey, but we decided worth it. The views were spectacular and the thrill of the gondola was entertainment enough for the kids.
More napping for Calvin. He was not going to cut our vacation short! He was rested and well enough, once again, for Buck Hunter and Arctic Cat around 4:30. Kids could eat free with an adult entree purchase at Papa Charlies for our entire stay. We didn’t take advantage of this once due to kids menu burn-out at the end of summer. We ordered a lone app from Papa’s, otherwise ate our stash from Trader Joe’s we brought and three nice meals of all grown-up stuff and shared everything. Tonight, we hit the Coho Cafe in Tofte around 6:00 for pizza, ravioli and dessert, right from the dessert bar. Completely satisfying meal.
We checked out around 10:00am Wednesday and headed back with a few stops to see Split Rock Lighthouse, just newly listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks as of August 15, 2011, and a visit to Vitta Pizza, just opened mid-June this year, in downtown Duluth. Calvin was barely holding out – feverish and shivering for the last part of the drive. Without passing go (our home), we went straight to the pediatrician and got in a visit before closing time. No ear infection, pneumonia or strep, just a six-day virus. Fantastic!
Lesson learned: pre-vacation planning and resting are a necessity to make things go smoothly. Calvin’s fever might have set us back a bit from original plans, but we probably got more rest than we normally would on vacation, if you look on the bright side. As far as location, up north for Twin Citians is a good deal (see Minnesota Monthly August 2011 for statewide ideas). We agreed that trips to far-off destinations are one thing, but exploring what’s right outside your backdoor is a whole other enlightening idea.