When the sun returns in full force, forests wake up and lakes ripple under a soft breeze, you know where to go: anywhere in Minnesota. With sparkling blue waters and towering green trees, the Land of 10,000 Lakes makes the best place to dive into the season. In this lush landscape, kids learn to water-ski, families play board games around weathered wooden tables and canoeists venture into pristine wilderness. Summer officially runs from June 20 through Sept. 22 — 13 glorious weeks. So you won’t miss out, we’ve found a range of places to hang your beach towel, from food-focused resorts and golf havens to places with top-notch kids’ programming.
Burntside Lodge: The historic cabins at Burntside Lodge, above, in Ely have kitchens, or at least small refrigerators and microwaves, but no one should be surprised if they go unused. The lodge’s legendary dining room is a charmer, on the chic side of rustic with a long row of windows overlooking sparkling Burntside Lake. But the real draw is the food that comes out of the swinging doors. Dishes like Parmesan-crusted walleye, seared duck breast with cherry-pistachio relish and others are prepared with ingredients not normally associated with a family-run resort in the North Woods: fava beans, endive, capers. A coffee bar offers coffee, cappuccino and fresh baked goods like blueberry scones and chocolate chip cookies.
Ely, Minn.; 1-218-365-3894; burntside.com
Lost Lake Lodge: The woodsy cabins at this classic resort near Nisswa nestle among not one but two bodies of water, Gull Lake and diminutive, spring-fed Lost Lake. Private walking paths lead to an on-site Indian burial ground. Among special treats, there is the farm-to-resort dining room that put Lost Lake on the foodie map with a stellar wine selection and attention to culinary detail. Here, ciabatta bread and homemade berry sauce heightens French toast, heirloom tomatoes refine a caprese salad and a lemon cream sauce enlivens Icelandic cod. Enjoy those goods in a woodsy dining room or on a patio overlooking Gull Lake.
Lake Shore, Minn.; 1-800-450-2681; lostlake.com
Nelson’s Resort: In the dining room at Nelson’s Resort, even the rustic big stone fireplace decorated with antique copper plates can’t outshine the food. This remote beauty on Crane Lake, with classic log cabins trimmed in yellow, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each meal features vegetables grown from the resort’s own expansive garden (lettuces and asparagus have already appeared on the menu this year) and made-from-scratch breads and desserts. Thursday night takes the cake, so to speak. That’s when the kitchen turns out a smorgasbord with roast turkey and beef, loads of salads and Swedish desserts; it’s been the highlight of the week since it debuted in the 1940s.
Crane Lake, Minn.; 1-800-433-0743; nelsonsresort.com
Sugar Lake Lodge: Bonfires on the beach, water skiing, kayaking, horseshoes, volleyball, a heated swimming pool: These are among the traditional offerings at Sugar Lake Lodge, near Grand Rapids. The white sand and aqua waters? Not so traditional. The Caribbean-like hues come from calcium deposits, which shine in the sun. The beach makes a nice place to hang with children. But if you want to hit the tennis courts or links for a grown-up game, there’s the daily Kids’ Kamp. Indoor and outdoor activities range from volleyball, bocce ball and nature hikes with a local naturalist to fishing and swimming. The resort has lodge rooms, cabins and villas with full kitchens.
Cohasset, Minn.; 1-800-450-4555; sugarlakelodge.com
Fair Hills Resort: Bamboo fishing poles (every child’s starter rod) and a heated kiddie pool (next to the standard-size version) signal this resort’s focus on children. Add a soda fountain, scavenger hunts, “happy bus rides” (on an extra-long golf cart), and weekly parades led by the Fair Hills Marching Band and Pete the Pelican, who shows up at ice cream socials, carnivals and other events. At the old-school resort on Pelican Lake, above, instructors teach fundamentals of a variety of sports, including water skiing and sailing, and recreation directors offer morning and afternoon activities for ages 4-7 and 8-14. Then there are the activities that transcend age: a giant slip waterslide on a hill and the slightly corny, highly charming homespun Hootenanny.
Detroit Lakes, Minn.; 1-800-323-2849; fairhillsresort.com
East Silent Lake Resort: You’ve heard of kids’ clubs. Sure, this resort in bucolic Otter Tail Lakes Country has one of those, but it also ups the fun — and the age bracket — with organized activities designed specifically for teens. While parents relax by the lake, the little ones can engage in a sand castle contest, make and enjoy homemade ice cream or paint a birdhouse. Teenagers, meanwhile, can water ski, ride a wakeboard behind a speedboat or play sand volleyball. The activities are available every day except Wednesday, when those in-the-know (that’s everyone) head to nearby Perham for the weekly turtle races.
Dent, Minn.; 1-800-242-6904; eastsilentresort.com
Madden’s on Gull Lake: Like to play sports on grass? Madden’s keeps manicured grounds for croquet and lawn bowling. But the real draws at this Brainerd-area beauty are the three golf courses. Pine Beach East, designed in 1926, gets accolades for historic charm. Pine Beach West is designed to be played in under four hours. The Classic ranks among Golf Digest’s top courses in Minnesota. The resort will keep nongolfers busy, too, with a spa, four swimming pools, an outdoor hot tub overlooking Gull Lake, trapshooting and badminton.
Brainerd, Minn.; 1-800-233-2934; maddens.com
Cragun’s Resort: Three golf courses mark Cragun’s as a prime destination for the sport. Two were designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.: Bobby’s Legacy, named after the designer, and Dutch’s Legacy, whose back nine winds among wetlands and marshes. Both Legacy courses have Audubon Signature Sanctuary status. There is also the Reversible Nine course, a beginner course that can be played in either direction (it switches daily). Those who find swinging a club too intimidating can play FootGolf on the course, which involves kicking a soccer ball into a large hole.
Brainerd, Minn.; 1-800-272-4867; craguns.com
Grand View Lodge: Those classic Up North colors — bold green and sparkling blue — interplay beautifully on the three golf courses at Grand View Lodge, above. The Preserve and the Pines weave through some of Minnesota’s best forest and wetlands. The family-friendly Gardens is on the main grounds of Grand View, the historic resort on Gull Lake. Throughout the season, the resort offers junior golf camps, beginner nights, rookie clinics, corporate putting clinics and contests, and private/group lessons. Plus, a range of lodging options makes hitting the links a breeze, with course-adjacent townhouses, suites and villas. (For parents, the popular kids’ club also helps by occupying the young ones with a range of activities.) The expansive grounds of Grand View also include seven restaurants, including a pub in the remodeled clubhouse of the Preserve, which features one of the best deck views in Minnesota.
Nisswa, Minn.; 1-866-801-2951; grandviewlodge.com
Gunflint Lodge: The lodge and its surrounding cabins look out over Gunflint Lake, right, which seems to beckon adventurers — and the staff is happy to help with that. From this North Woods compound on the Gunflint Trail, guests can paddle straight into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The lodge offers several canoe and kayak excursions, including the Granite River day canoe paddle, which winds past rapids, waterfalls and rocky outcroppings. There are also day hikes; one to go berry picking. Kids-only adventures include a hobo hike and a bug safari.
Grand Marais, Minn.; 1-800-328-3325; gunflint.com
Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior: This resort known for its sandy beach and red-hued historic lodge is a secret adventure powerhouse. Want to take a day hike on the Superior Hiking Trail? The staff offers guided hikes and free shuttle service to guests who want to hoof it alone and end the trail at their car. Three-hour sea kayaking expeditions on the big lake are also free for guests 14 and older. Families with children under 14 can head inland to Caribou Lake for a calmer kayaking session. Free fly-fishing instructions also come with lodging.
Lutsen, Minn.; 1-800-258-8736; lutsenresort.com
Wildwood Resort: Everything about this mom-and-pop is classic, with one important distinction: Each of the nine cabins has been rebuilt, and now sport cedar siding and green roofs (so they blend into the their woodsy surroundings) as well as huge, modern windows. The cabins, above, are positioned so each has an uninterrupted view of Bass Lake. They also are equipped with gas fireplaces, air conditioning, dishwashers, Wi-Fi and the kind of large, open living rooms that let families sprawl. At its heart, though, this small cloister of cabins is a true Up North lake resort, with ice cream in the lodge, a game room and hydrobikes at the beach.
Grand Rapids, Minn.; 1-888-328-5858; wildwoodresort.net
Pehrson Lodge Resort: Prepare for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Sometime in mid-July, Pehrson Lodge Resort on expansive Lake Vermilion will open the doors to a brand-new 72,000-square-foot lodge. Under construction now, the lodge will be the centerpiece of the resort. It will house the main office, a gift shop, an exercise room, a big flat-screen TV and a game room with table games, pool and pingpong. Indoor-outdoor patios will keep the focus on the lake. It’s out with the old — the original lodge building was more than 100 years old — and in with the new. The woodsy replacement will feature solar panels and rain gardens.
Cook, Minn.; 1-218-666-5478; pehrsonlodge.com