By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Lindsay Whalen's My North
For Minnesota Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen, there is one major downside to winning WNBA championships for a living—it means most of your summer is spent in a gym, instead of outside exploring Minnesota. That’s why the first thing this Hutchinson native is going to do when she retires is take a long weekend at her grandparents’ cabin on Lake Bemidji, just like when she was a kid. But since that’s still a few years away, maybe you can put this Bemidji itinerary to use so Lindsay Whalen can live vicariously through your adventures.
Paul & Babe
Sure, Bemidji’s Paul & Babe statues aren’t the only odes to Minnesota’s mythical lumberjack, but they’re the original, the most iconic. One of the most photographed roadside landmarks in the country, it took 737 man-hours and 2.5 tons of plaster to build this 18-foot tall mustachioed logger and his trusty ox in the late 1930s. Their nostalgic splendor even earned them a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, so they’re guaranteed to be around for many years to come—even way off in the future when Lindsay Whalen finally has her chance to get back up to Bemidji.
Little known fact: the first portion of the Mississippi River flows northward. Littler known fact: it doesn’t really change directions until it hits Lake Bemidji, where it flows through going north, but eventually makes an exit heading west, before officially beginning its southbound journey to the Gulf. And if you think that’s mind-blowing, wait until you go to the headwaters in Itasca State Park, 20 minutes south of “the First City on the Mississippi.” There, exiting a northern portion of Lake Itasca is a modest creek, narrow enough to step across: the headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi.
Turns out, when local boy Paul Bunyan was crisscrossing the state felling trees and digging rivers, he missed a spot—144 acres, to be precise. It’s actually not his fault though. In truth it was the fault of a land surveyor who, in 1882, accidentally plotted the 144 acres that would become known as the “Lost 40” as wetland instead of forest. The result is a dense, hulking mass of old-growth forest that is unlike anything else in the state, with three- to four-century-old white spruce, balsam fir and red pine, and a one-mile self-guided hiking trail for you to experience it all first hand.
One of the hallmarks of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration was the establishment of Civilian Conservation Corps camps, wherein the unemployed masses assembled to learn new trades before tackling projects ranging from road and bridge construction to fire fighting. Today, only a few of the 2,650 camps remain standing, one of which can be found on the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway just outside of Bemidji: Camp Rabideau. Built in 1935 in the heart of what would become the Chippewa National Forest, Rabideau (a National Historic Landmark) is available for self-guided and staff-guided tours from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Covered Wagon Rides
Bemidji’s Buena Vista Ski Area is well known as a fun winter destination, but you might want to stick around even after the snow melts. That’s because in summer and fall they offer “Top of the World” (an old Bemidji tagline) covered wagon rides. The narrated tour begins at Buena Vista’s Lumberjack Hall of Fame, then follows the Leech Lake-Red Lake Trail—a route that was no stranger to covered wagons 150 years prior—and includes views of the Continental Divide.