Explore the Great Indoors: Four Favorites for a Winter Visit
If you're always busy playing outdoors on your summer and fall trips, maybe you've missed seeing some of Minnesota's interesting indoor spots. The Twin Cities area, of course, is packed with great museums and historic sites to explore year-round. But in many other places in the state, some tourism destinations close down for the winter. But others are open, at least on weekends, and winter is a great time to visit some of these popular sites that draw crowds in the summer.
Glensheen Estate, Duluth
One of the grandest homes ever built in the state, this 39-room mansion along the shore of Lake Superior was home to the Congdon family. During the winter, tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays, and there are several special events. A romantic Valentine's Dinner is scheduled for Feb. 11 and 14.
This beautiful home, completed in 1908, still has many of the original furnishings and tours provide a fascinating look at the life of an affluent family a century ago. Glensheen was home to Chester and Clara Congdon and their several children. The last Congdon to live here was the youngest daughter, who tragically was murdered in the home, along with her nurse, in 1977. The estate is now owned by the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and Glensheen tours are one of the highlights of a Duluth visit. Standard tours are $15 for those aged 13 and up; lower admission for kids and seniors.
International Wolf Center, Ely
Fairy tales are full of wolf lore, but the real facts about wolves make a more interesting story, and one well told at this unique interpretive center at the edge of a north woods town. The resident wolves can be observed in their outdoor habitat just outside a large window, and are featured in daily programs on wolf biology. The Wolf Center is open Fridays and Saturdays in the winter, and it offers special weekend trips, from a field trip on wolf howling to a cross-country ski adventure tracking radio-collared wolves in the wild. Check their website for the schedule of special programs. The exhibit Wolves and Humans shows wolf behavior and lore and threats to the wolf’s survival. A children’s exhibit replicates the den of a pup named Little Wolf and tells the story of his first year of development. Ely is a winter destination for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and dogsled trips, and the Wolf Center is a must-see on an Ely getaway. Check the website for current admission prices.
SPAM Museum, Austin
Long before there was e-mail spam, there was the real SPAM-the canned ham product made by Hormel Foods since 1937. It sustained U.S. troops during World War II, was a family staple for decades, and is still sold today. In fact, it's something of a pop icon. It was invented in Minnesota and continues to be made here. Austin, Minnesota proudly calls itself "SPAM Town USA." The SPAM Museum here, open daily with free admission, tells the interesting story of this product and its role in the war and even the history of advertising; the first singing radio ad touted the benefits of SPAM in 1940. Take the SPAM Game Show quiz, check out recipes using the product, and browse the gift shop.
National Eagle Center, Wabasha
Some areas of the Mississippi River in southeast Minnesota stay unfrozen throughout the winter, and draw a concentration of bald eagles that winter here and feed on the river's fish. Often, dozens can be seen sitting on trees along the river, swooping for food, or sitting on the ice. So, it's a prime location for this center dedicated to eagles, now in a striking, new facility along the shore in this quaint rivertown. Winter is the best time to visit, since there are likely to be bald eagles along the river just outside the center. The center has observation decks and spotting scopes so you can take a close look at the eagles in the wild.
Inside, you can see the center's five live, rescued eagles up close any time. And three times a day (at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m.) the eagles are part of programs when they're fed while the audience learns more about eagles. There are also several exhibits, both about the biology of eagles and about their cultural significance as the nation's symbol and to American Indian traditions. Each weekend during March there will be special programs about eagles, featuring naturalists, artists and musicians. The Eagle Center is open daily; admission is $5-8, depending on age.