Hunt For Agates and Hinckley’s Most Iconic Pastry on the Way to Moose Lake

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Agates sourced from Lake Superior 
Trip on a Tankful // Article

Hunt For Agates and Hinckley’s Most Iconic Pastry on the Way to Moose Lake

By Andrew Parks

Rather than speed past Moose Lake on your way to Duluth, why not hit the brakes and soak up the Agate Capital of the World and other easy-to-miss essentials along the way? Our Trip on a Tankful itinerary has you covered with everything from Insta-worthy roadside attractions to fresh-baked pecan buns.

Leader lettering on building in Cambridge, Minnesota

Leader in Cambridge, Minnesota / Andrew Parks

1. Eat brunch in a department store at Leader

The A.W. Johnson Family has owned and operated its Cambridge shop since 1918, but its restaurant space is more of a recent development spurred on by hometown hero Erick Harcey. The acclaimed chef decided to take a break from the restaurant industry recently, but the spirit of his elevated all-day eats remains. Look out for hints of Harcey’s Scandinavian background in such dynamic rotating dishes as Norwegian butter cookies, a veggie melt on rye with provolone, braised cabbage, potato salad and lingonberry-sage aioli, and an open-faced smörgås topped with cucumbers, egg, dill, herbed ricotta and smoked salmon.

Goose Creek Safety Rest Area

Goose Creek Safety Rest Area  / Andrew Parks

2. Marvel at a sculptural rest stop

Between its creekside views, immaculate facilities and a soft play area that could pass for a mini sculpture park, Goose Creek’s ultramodern leg-stretcher looks as if it belongs in an architecture magazine. Which explains why it received an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 2019.

“The building is such a beautiful object in the landscape,” one juror wrote, “but the more I studied it, the more I realized I was also appreciating the safety afforded by its openness and transparency. As a woman, I would feel safe there, even if I were traveling alone or late at night. I would feel comfortable exploring the landscape on that lovely exterior loop.”

World's Largest Walleye statue. Rush City

The World's Largest Walleye statue in Rush City / Andrew Parks

3. Ogle the “World’s Largest Walleye”

A Rush City gas station is quite proud of its 2,000-pound catch, which is looking bright and shiny as of late due to a fresh coat of metallic paint. If only we could shake the hands of the mighty fisherman who caught it. (Paul Bunyan according to an adjacent “plaque”.)

Woman at Hinckley Fire Museum

Learn about the infamous Hinckley wildfire of 1894 at the Hinckley Fire Museum 

4. Pay tribute to the past at the Hinckley Fire Museum

Hundreds of Hinckley residents lost their lives on Sept. 1, 1894, when a firestorm wrecked a quarter-million acres in an afternoon and left this once-thriving logging town in shambles. Find out how it all happened at the Hinckley Fire Museum, which examines the day’s tragic events, along with the heroes that helped save more than 150 people and key artifacts that survived one of the state’s worst natural disasters. The newly restored Hinckley Fire Monument is also nearby, offering another chance to honor the many people who died that one fateful day.

A caramel roll from Tobie's Station in Hinckley

A pecan-studded caramel roll from Tobie's Station  / Andrew Parks

5. Take a fika break at Tobie’s Station

On a lighter note, Hinckley is also the home of the one bakery Minnesotans simply have to hit on their way Up North. Tobie’s keeps its takeout cases full of pillowy, buttery caramel rolls (with or without pecans) at its beloved restaurant and the gas station it runs next door. The latter even has a little Caribou Coffee stand inside it, making it easy to pair one of Tobie’s best-in-class baked goods with a nitro cold brew or creamy latte from another Minnesota-made original.

Man standing holding a painting in Blacklock Gallery, Moose Lake

Blacklock Gallery in Moose Lake  / Andrew Parks

6. Meet a major photographer at Blacklock Gallery

If you’re looking to own one of Craig Blacklock’s stunning Lake Superior prints, be sure to swing by his small workspace/gallery. Many of his kayak-sourced land and water shots are on display, along with stacks of self-published coffee table books and glimpses of whatever the Moose Lake native happens to be working on right now. (His next art show — a survey of abstract pieces that appear to shimmer and shake as the sun rises and sets — is poised to be a game changer for the photographer, who’s far better known for more literal work.)

A pint on the patio at Moose Lake Brewing Company 

A pint on the patio at Moose Lake Brewing Company  / Andrew Parks

7. Sip a waterside pint at Moose Lake Brewing Company

The best view of Moosehead Lake — not to be confused with the town’s namesake — is from the patio of this small-but-mighty craft brewery. If you’re here in the summer, you can’t go wrong with a Slow Your Row; the Berliner Weisse offsets its sourness with sweet cherry puree and boasts a low ABV so you can feel perfectly fine ordering another round. Far less forgiving is the Whiskey Chip Stout, a winter warmer with a hazelnut and vanilla finish.

Rocks laid out on table in Moose Lake State Park, Agate Center

The Agate Center at Moose Lake State Park  / Andrew Parks

8. Study Minnesota’s state rock at the Agate Center

The visitor center at Moose Lake State Park has an entire room dedicated to the multicolored chalcedony and quartz masterpieces that are surprisingly common in the region. So common, in fact, that Moose Lake has an Agate Days festival every summer. If you can’t make it, you can always try your luck at the public agate pits the park lists alongside its trail maps outside the park office. Just make sure to secure a permit online beforehand. 

Medicine Creek Farm in Finlayson

Medicine Creek Farm

9. Stay at a regenerative farm in Finlayson

Up to five people can fit in the fully salvaged timber barn Hannah Bernhardt and Jason Misik opened to the public at Medicine Creek Farm earlier this summer. Between its two bedrooms, one bathroom, full kitchen and living room, it offers both pastoral views and the creature comforts many of us need at the height of skeeter season.

Broasted chicken from The Brass Rail, Grandy

Broasted chicken from The Brass Rail / Andrew Parks

10. Plow through a plate of broasted chicken at The Brass Rail

If there’s one thing we Minnesotans ought to thank Wisconsin for, it’s the pressure-fried supper club solution Beloit inventor L.A.M. Phelan blessed the Midwest with in 1956. Arguably better than anything you’ll ever find south of the Mason-Dixon line (sacrilege, we know!), it’s a proprietary triumph of the human spirit, and the reason why you need to stop in this town of less than 100 people on the way back to the Twin Cities. 

Andrew Parks

Andrew Parks is the multimedia editor at Explore Minnesota. His past lives include copywriting and content strategy for such clients as Food & Wine, Apple, Condé Nast Traveler, Bandcamp, AFAR, Bon Appétit, and Red Bull.