By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Brock and Chase Jurgensen's My North
In their HGTV show Rustic Renovation, brothers Brock and Chase Jurgensen crisscross Minnesota rehabbing, restoring and reimagining family cabins and lake homes. While they do go all over the state on the show, they mainly stay within in a two hour drive of the Twin Cities, which got us thinking: What are the best “up north” options within that two hour window? Those perfectly-situated destinations where you can establish your family’s next annual tradition without spending too much time behind the wheel? Here are a few of our favorites.
Just 45 minutes northeast of the Twin Cities lies the seriously undersung Chisago Lakes area. Originally settled by Swedish immigrants in the mid-1800s, the region’s three main hubs (Chisago City, Center City and Lindstrom) are connected by a vast chain of lakes and rivers to create a downright pastoral setting that’s close enough for an impromptu vacation. Franconia Sculpture Park, the Ironhorse Railroad Park and Pleasant Valley Orchard are all great stops, but if we had to choose one absolute must-do, it is to canoe, kayak or boat the Chisago Lakes Water Trail—a water-only route that links all of the area’s ten lakes and their corresponding on-the-water bars, restaurants and shops.
It’s less than a two hour drive north from the Twin Cities until you reach Minnesota’s second largest inland lake, and you know what that means: shoreline resorts. Lake Mille Lacs butters its bread with a rich fishing scene, but it’s good for all sorts of other fun on top of that. From golfing at a place like Izatys Resort, giving the lever a pull at Grand Casino Mille Lacs, or simply eating at solid local greasy spoons like the Sunrise Cafe (Aiken) or Muggs of Mille Lacs (Wahkon), there’s something for the whole family on Lake Mille Lacs.
Spicer’s Green Lake is Chase and Brock’s personal favorite as that’s where their family has owned a cabin since they were kids. At only a one hour and forty-five minute drive northwest from the Twin Cities, Green Lake is close enough to quickly reach, while just far enough away to feel like you’ve really escaped. At nearly 6,000 acres, Green Lake itself is massive and good for just about any on-the-water activity, but it’s got more than just fresh water. Spicer also has a family fun center with everything from go carts to mini golf (Big Kahuna), a winery (Glacial Ridge) and even their very own Zorbaz restaurant/ party bar. Vacationing on Green Lake has been a family tradition for Brock and Chase’s entire lives, and coming from a couple of cabin connoisseurs like the Jurgensens, that’s a hefty endorsement.
Perched in the sweet spot of central Minnesota where the plains end and the northwoods begin, it’s easy to see how Alexandria chose its city slogan: “Easy to get to, hard to leave.” The lakes around Alex are ample, with multi-bay Lake Darling functioning as the figurehead, and nearby lakes like Geneva and Le Homme Dieu help to reinforce that lake town vibe. Alexandria must-stops include Carlos Creek Winery, the Runestone Museum which houses both the Kensington Runestone on the inside and the city’s unofficial mascot, “Big Ole” (a 25-foot-tall Viking statue), on the outside, plus solid eats at places like the Boulder Tap House for burgers and beer and the Interlachen Inn for something a little more upscale.