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Plan the Perfect Winter Getaway in Minnesota

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Whitetail Woods in Farmington has two camper cabins open year-round / Paul Vincent
Places to Stay // Article

Plan the Perfect Winter Getaway in Minnesota

By James Riemermann

A winter getaway in Minnesota can be warm and cozy, with fireplaces, saunas, whirlpools and intimate dinners in an elegant lodge. It can also be a bracing adventure in the elements, traveling through the pristine white woods on cross-country skis, snowshoes, a dogsled or snowmobile.

Perhaps best of all, you can create your own perfect blend of indoor and outdoor pleasures, with days spent exploring the distinctly spare beauty of Minnesota’s snow-covered woods and waters, and evenings taking in the warmth and comfort of a beautiful lodge, cabin, bed-and-breakfast or luxurious hotel.

Find your ideal place to stay—one focused on romance, the outdoors, family fun or pure relaxation—and make this a Minnesota winter to remember.

A winter cabin in the woods on the Gunflint Trail

A winter cabin in the woods on the Gunflint Trail

Resorts

More than 350 resorts throughout Minnesota are open in winter. Most are in the northern parts of the state, almost all of which are on lakes or rivers, but a number can be found in southern Minnesota and on the outskirts of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Almost a third of Minnesota’s winter resorts have on-site access to cross-country ski trails, and some rent skis, snowshoes and even snowmobiles. Gunflint Lodge on the Gunflint Trail and Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd provide all three, and several ski resorts service Lutsen Mountain on Lake Superior, Minnesota’s largest downhill ski area and also a top cross-country ski destination.

Other options available at the more full-featured resorts include indoor pools, saunas, a whirlpool or fireplace in the room, spas and more. About 130 of these resorts have restaurants on-site, including some of the more elegant dining rooms you’ll find in the state, in beautifully remote lakeside settings.

The colorful yet formal Naniboujou Lodge dining room in Grand Marais / Spruce Creek Photography

Naniboujou Lodge dining room in Grand Marais / Spruce Creek Photography

One of the most impressive is at Naniboujou Lodge and Restaurant, near Grand Marais on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the dining room’s 20-foot domed ceiling and walls are covered with colorful designs in a Cree Indian pattern. The room also features a 20-foot-high stone fireplace said to be the largest of its kind in Minnesota.

Many lakeside resorts rent heated ice houses and provide gear for ice fishing. If ice fishing is your top priority, check out the fully appointed “sleeper” ice houses on some of the state’s larger lakes, such as Lake Mille LacsLeech LakeLake WinnibigoshishUpper Red Lake and Lake of the Woods.

Holes to fish through are pre-drilled on the lakes’ hottest fishing spots. Top-end sleepers have bunks for up to six people, propane heat, lights, stove and oven, table and chairs, a restroom and drinking water.

The JailHouse B&B in Preston Minnesota during winter

The JailHouse Inn in Preston

Bed-and-Breakfasts

For a homier type of getaway, try one of Minnesota’s nearly 150 bed-and-breakfasts. Many are in large, elegant homes or mansions with distinctly decorated rooms, often with a whirlpool and fireplace. B&Bs can be found throughout the state, with a large concentration in charming southern Minnesota river towns, such as LanesboroHarmony and Rushford, along the Root River in Bluff Country.

Named for the tall, wooded bluffs along the many rivers of the region, Bluff Country is rich with restaurants, craft shops and small art galleries. For cross-country skiers, the scenic and relatively easy 42-mile Root River Trail runs along an old railway route and is groomed whenever there’s enough snow.

The Mississippi River towns of Winona and Red Wing are home to some lovely B&Bs, as well. The famous quality of Red Wing Pottery and Red Wing Shoes make it worth a visit to their respective museums and factory stores. Winona is home to several fine art museums and galleries, and hosts the Frozen River Film Festival every February.

Other great bed-and-breakfast towns include Stillwater and Taylors Falls on the St. Croix River, and DuluthGrand Marais and Two Harbors on the North Shore.

A room at the Hewing Hotel Dubuque Double in Minneapolis's North Loop

Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis' North Loop / rau+barber, courtesy of Hewing Hotel and Meet Minneapolis

Hotels

If your top priority is indoor fun—whether for romance, family time, or exploring the city from a plush home base—Minnesota’s hundreds of hotels have a huge range of amenities and services. If you’re traveling with the kids, many hotels and motels have indoor pools, and more than a dozen have waterparks, where all-day passes are included in the daily rate.

For an urban escape, hotels in downtown Minneapolis are connected to a fully developed skyway system, which offers access to a wealth of shopping, restaurants, entertainment and more without the need for a coat and mittens. Downtown St. Paul’s skyways lead to the renowned Minnesota Children’s Museum and Science Museum of Minnesota, popular with kids of all ages, as well as restaurants and coffee shops.

Duluth and Rochester also have hotels on skyways leading to popular destinations, and Rochester’s is augmented by underground tunnels.

Girl at Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark in Bloomington

It's always 84 degrees at Great Wolf Lodge in Bloomington 

Then there’s Bloomington’s Mall of America, now with two hotels on-site and many others nearby offering frequent shuttles to the mall. The vast center offers a dizzying array of hundreds of shops and stores, restaurants, movie theaters, plus miniature golf, Nickelodeon Universe amusement park and Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, all under one roof.

Gaming lovers can choose from more than a dozen casino hotels and resorts throughout the state, with slot machines, blackjack, poker and other card games. Many have multiple restaurants, pools, whirlpools, saunas, spas, and nightclubs with live entertainment.

Man looking out into the winter woods from a camper cabin

Inside a camper cabin at Whitetail Woods Regional Park in Farmington / Paul Vincent

Winter Camping

There are ways to stay warm and comfortable while camping in winter, such as camper cabins with heat and electricity in many state parks, and Mongolian-style yurts—large domed canvas-covered tents with wood floors, beds or cots available at select resorts and state parks.

Boundary Country Trekking on the Gunflint Trail offers yurt lodging as well as fully outfitted yurt-to-yurt (or lodge-to-lodge) ski trips. You can rent the yurt and ski or snowshoe in with your own gear, or take an outfitted trip where the hosts deliver gear to the yurt and personally prepare or bring in homemade meals. A favorite is the Mongolian fire pot dinner—a sort of fondue of vegetables and meats cooked in a savory broth over charcoal.

Fenske Lake Cabins near Ely has a large, luxurious yurt on 40 acres at the edge of the Boundary Waters, accessible by ski or snowmobile. White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures hosts dogsled trips of varying lengths with lodging in a yurt, also on the edge of the Boundary Waters.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has yurts that sleep up to seven at Afton and Glendalough state parks and Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. More than 20 state parks have camper cabins available year-round, many of which are heated and have electricity. All have a fire ring and grill. No cooking is allowed inside the cabins except in crockpots.

James Riemermann

James Riemermann is a retired writer and editor. Raised in St. Paul, he's a city boy who feels more at home in the woods. Sitting by a campfire on the shore of a quiet north woods lake is his idea of paradise.