Monday, August 27, 2012

A Great Northern Minnesota Getaway

Devoted to maximizing our summer trips, we just got back from an extended weekend in northern Minnesota thanks to terrific hospitality from our wonderful families.

The tour initiated in Grand Rapids to visit Megan, Matt, and their German Shepherd Elsa in their new home. The company was our reason to visit, but we got a nice touch of the city's character at Brewed Awakenings, a local coffee shop focused on organic ingredients and bursting with small town charm. Spending only a short time in the city, talking with my sister, and going to a few shops showed me a community with immense pride in its artistic and friendly atmosphere.

We then trekked to Side Lake, where Anna's parents were our next gracious hosts at the wonderful Pine Beach Resort. Books, boat rides, and bonfires are regulars up there, but this time we had an added bonus of Dave and Anna putting on a water ski clinic.
Water Skiing Pine Beach Resort
The next day came and with it, a new drive up to Ely. Quick digression here, but driving up north with flush pines, lake views, and unoccupied roads is such a relief from the busy city traffic. Driving up north is a highlight that truly portrays the open road feeling.

We stopped short of Ely at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park, the state's oldest iron ore mine reopened as a tourist attraction. Those who are claustrophobic or quiver at the sight of bats might want to steer away. An original elevator shaft takes you half a mile underground. You ride iron ore carts and try (huge emphasis on try) to grasp what it was like working that far underground.

Soudan was considered the "Cadillac" of mines in terms of working conditions, but this gives you a better appreciation for what a miner's life was like. A humbling experience complete with historic insights into the region known as the iron range. Cool fact, one square foot of iron ore mined out of Soudan weighed about 325 pounds. Now imagine that early miners did not even have hard hats at times. Probably why the worker who cleared ceilings of loose rock took home the biggest paycheck!

We proceeded to Ely and stopped by the water, checked out the downtown shops, and ate a fantastic lunch at the Chocolate Moose. We were not there for the area's main attraction, the boundary waters, which is a pristine wilderness area for those who like to canoe, camp, and appreciate nature.
Burntside Lounge
Finally, for dinner we headed to Burntside Lodge, the oldest operating guest lodge in Ely and an entry on the National Register of Historic Places. Elegant yet rustic, the grounds and accommodations were well maintained but  still casual and reflective of the deep woods location. Great menu of food and an extensive drink list more common to trendy, downtown restaurants, this is the place to go.
We headed back to Side Lake to wrap up the weekend. The drive back was accommodated with one of the most vibrant sunsets I have ever seen.
Pine Beach Resort
We did a whirlwind tour of the area, but whether or not you are traveling as a family with small kids, a couple, or a group of friends, these are great locations to unwind, be outdoors, and enjoy an affordable and relaxing vacation. All of our stops have the ingredients of an excellent getaway. The state is a playground of natural sights and quaint small towns, and anytime you want to know more, just ask the stranger you pass. Minnesota nice may have originated here.


  1. LOVE! Thanks for visiting!! Please come again :)

  2. Any time! Excited to see progress on the house.