Don't have a reservation at the lake this summer? Here are your options

Here's what you can do to still enjoy Minnesota this summer.

A boat navigates the waters of Namakan Lake near Kettle Falls in Voyageurs National Park.
A boat navigates the waters of Namakan Lake near Kettle Falls in Voyageurs National Park.

— Leila Navidi • Star Tribune

Snagging a coveted week at Minnesota's resorts can be a challenge, as past guests usually get first dibs on their same accommodations for the following year. Some families have held onto the same week for generations.

In 2021, resorts have also experienced an uptick in interest from both families craving an overdue getaway to new customers who discovered them last year when they needed to travel close to home.

"Typically, we'd be close to full [for the summer] by mid-May," said Mike Schwieters, owner of Boyd Lodge. "We've been booked like this since the end of March, and people are calling every day."

Madden's Resort saw an influx of brand-new guests last year. "Fifty percent of our guests [in 2020] had never been here before," said Abbey Pieper, chief sales and marketing officer at Madden's. "That was such a gift."

A surge in camping last year boosted reservations about 30 percent above normal for Voyageurs National Park's remote island campsites, with similar bumps in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Interest in the outdoors and camping is just as strong this year.

Grand Marais' municipal campground is booked solid through August, said Linda Jurek, executive director of Visit Cook County Tourism. Resorts along the Gunflint Trail have done well with their off-the-beaten-path locations and options for day paddles or hikes into the BWCA.

All in all, travelers who once might have headed out of state or country might rediscover the allure of a timeless lake vacation within a day's drive.

"We're looking forward to an even better summer than last year," Jurek said, "and last summer was a record-breaker."

You're not completely out of luck if you don't have reservations. But you may need to consider alternatives and adapt accordingly. Here are some tips from those in the field and Explore Minnesota:

• Plan for late August or fall, if possible. Early June and late August are traditionally the best times for scoring a reservation last-minute or without a full-week commitment.

• Check for midweek campsites, consider more southern state park getaways or try state forest campgrounds, which may be more rustic but could have more openings than the parks.

• Check for last-minute cancellations with larger resorts, VRBO, Airbnb and other agencies.

• Go beyond the lake cabin with different lodging styles, such as International Falls' Cantilever boutique hotel and distillery near Rainy Lake; the Northern Rail Traincar Inn in Two Harbors; or Naniboujou or Grand Portage Lodge on Minnesota's northeastern tip.

• Go south, not north. As most Minnesotans equate summer with driving north, turn the car south to the hilly charm of Bluff Country or the prairies and towns of southwest Minnesota.

• Plan a city getaway and focus on museums, attractions, dining, shopping and urban parks you've always meant to visit.

• Downscale to day trips. Make a mini-bucket list of places to eat and things to see within a one- or two-hour drive.

• Plan a summer of picnics at some of the state's seriously beautiful spots, especially at state parks, on bluffs, or along lakes and rivers. Combine it with a day of hiking, biking or swimming.