Wander for Wolves

By Drew Wood / Inspired by Tyus Jones' My North

When it comes to naming our pro sports teams, Minnesota is anything but indiscriminate. The Twins are a hat tip to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul; the Vikings are a nod to the legendary Nordic conquerors rumored to have made it all the way to Minnesota some 2,000 years ago; the Wild hearken to the state’s embarrassment of natural riches; the Lynx draw inspiration from the bobcat-like felines that inhabit the northeast corner of the state; and the Timberwolves are an animal that northern Minnesota has thousands of. From places dedicated to the study of actual wolves, to resorts named after them, here are five northern Minnesota destinations that’ll make you howl.

International Wolf Center, Ely

International Wolf CenterLearn literally everything there is to know about wolves in a setting where you’re surrounded by them at one the world’s foremost wolf activism and educational centers (that just happens to be a few miles from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to boot). Dedicated to saving native wolf populations by educating humans about them, when you’re not deep in the center’s woods howling at them (they howl back!) and learning how to track them, you can head inside and watch their five “ambassador” wolves exist in their enclosed natural habitat.

Lemon Wolf Cafe, Beaver Bay

No matter the time of year, there’s nothing quite like heading north from Duluth on the northland’s equivalent of the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 61. Two logical destinations up 61—a nationally designated scenic byway—are Lutsen and Grand Marais, but any traveler would be wise to pull off around suppertime at Lemon Wolf, a cafe so quaint and honest it’s downright magical. The Lake Superior herring, caught by local fisherman, is a steal at $16, and you can’t go wrong with the grilled walleye sandwich, either.

Wolf Bay Lodge, Cook

Boating on Lake VermilionSituated on a northern finger of Lake Vermilion extending into northeast Minnesota’s Kabetogama State Forest, Wolf Bay Lodge specializes in outpost-style wilderness living. It’s got three trapper-style cabins available to rent spring through fall, but it’s the saloon and restaurant’s perch just feet off Vermilion that make it notable, whether you’re pulling up on a snowmobile or a fishing boat.

Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, Finland

Adventure ropes courses, rock climbing, orienteering, canoeing/kayaking, astronomy and a raptor aviary (not to mention more wolves, deer, moose, martens and eagles than you can fathom) can all be found on a 2,000-plus acre ridge overlooking Lake Superior and flanked by the Baptism River. Whether you’re going to the environmental learning center for family camp, an adult wilderness trip, or simply stopping in to test drive it for the day, at a only a little more than an hour north of Duluth, Wolf Ridge is well worth the journey.

Timber Wolf Lodge, Babbitt

Drive four hours north from the Twin Cities, slicing through Iron Range towns like Eveleth and Virginia, and eventually you’ll come to the town of Babbitt, at the southern edge of the Superior National Forest. There, tucked into the forestland on the eastern shore of Bear Island Lake, sits a bucolic timber-hewn lodge that has all the comforts of the city, with none of the noise, traffic or other annoyances. With a mix of cabins and RV parking, Timber Wolf is both a solid place to rest between jaunts to the International Wolf Center, day trips into the Boundary Waters, excursions to late environmentalist and writer Sigurd Olson’s homestead (Listening Point), or to lounge around and enjoy fishing and sunset cruises on the lake.

My North is a weekly video series created in partnership with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Explore Minnesota. If you missed Tyus Jones' story, view it here.

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