Man peeks at a pair of jacks while playing poker at a casino

Place Your Bets on Northwest Minnesota

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Peeking at a pair of Jacks while playing poker at the casino / © Studio Romantic -

Place Your Bets on Northwest Minnesota

By Jerard Fagerberg

The northwest corner of Minnesota feels like outlaw territory.

Casinos dot the landscape, and ATV trails snake off into the backcountry along highways, ditches and county roads—the ideal destination for a raucous guys' getaway. So a few summers ago, I gathered my buddies and we burned northward for a weekend escape in Northwest Minnesota.

Stop 1: Playing Poker at Shooting Star Casino

Mahnomen’s Shooting Star Casino was the first post on the road. Shooting Star is little more than a stucco lodge on the White Earth Reservation, but it’s one of the larger casinos in the region. This no-frills card den is where you can make the trip.

We strolled right by the slot machines to the three-card poker tables. Bets last longer there than at the blackjack tables, and a big win can send you sailing the rest of the weekend.

That was not our luck.

Some in the group busted early. Some hung around and busted late. In either case, the drink carts were busy, and the night ran long.

ATV rider on a dirt trail

Find Adventure on the ATV trails in Thief River Falls / Textron Arctic Cat

Stop 2: ATVing the Fourtown-Grygla Trails

After two nights at Shooting Star, we traded its neon lights for a chance to explore the Fourtown-Grygla ATV trails. We rolled into Grygla and unloaded our trailer of ATVs (we brought our own, but you can have rentals delivered from the Twin Cities or Brainerd). With 170 miles of trails on the Fourtown-Grygla system alone, it was easy to forget any lost bets. 

We opened the throttles wide, the snorts of our ATVs battling as we toured the edges of Beltrami Island State Forest. When the trails broke into the trees, we were glancing out the sides of our goggles, hoping to spy some wildlife. But the only bear that afternoon was my hangover from the night before, and I quenched it with two-stroke engine exhaust. 

Row of slot machines at Seven Clans Casino in Warroad

A row of slot machines at Seven Clans Casino in Warroad

Stop 3: Slots & Blackjack at Seven Clans Casino in Warroad

The adventure continued toward the U.S.-Canada border, with a final stop in Warroad and the Seven Clans Casino. We spent the morning at Warroad Estates Golf Course, only 10 minutes from the hotel, wagering over putts. Lowest score got the best chair at the blackjack table, highest two had to share beds.

Of the state’s three Seven Clans Casino locations, Warroad is the only one that serves alcohol, so it was the obvious option for our group’s final stop. One last shot at a jackpot.

The night started coy with slots, but it wasn’t long before well drinks had us throwing chips together to make the blackjack minimums. On the last night of your trip, there’s not much else to do but go for it.

We must’ve sworn it was our last hand a dozen times, just to ante up for the next hand. Every split or double felt like it would be the one that switched our luck, each dealer flop a cresting frontier. We were chasing, we knew it and we loved it.

The Beers We Drank Along the Way

The taprooms of Northwest Minnesota make for perfect pit stops on the road north.

Start at Bemidji Brewing, a standby known for their classic styles. In nearby Moorhead, Junkyard Brewing does the exact opposite, with over-the-top candy stouts and bizarre sours dominating the menu. We loaded the trunk with crowlers to share back home.

In the tiny town of Hallock, only 25 miles from Manitoba, Revelation Ale Works sits in the most remote location of any brewery in Minnesota. There, we became part of the select class of travelers to drink their decadent Peanut Butter Stout on site.

Jerard Fagerberg

Jerard Fagerberg is a beer, music and culture writer living in Minneapolis. His name is not Jared, though lotsa people tend to get that wrong. Follow him on Twitter @jgfagerberg.