DULUTH — Duluth's thriving sauna culture continues to heat up, with its first public floating sauna expected to launch in the St. Louis River this summer.
Cedar and Stone Nordic Sauna is building a full-scale wood-fired sauna on a 36-foot barge, to be moored in the privately managed slip between Pier B and Bayfront Festival Park. Owners hope to have it ready in time for July's Finn Fest.
Founder Justin Juntunen was inspired by the saunas he experienced in his travels to Finland and other Nordic countries.
"One was out floating on the Baltic," he said. "And we got in this little rowboat and this Finnish guy rows us out and leaves us on this raft to sauna and swim, and sauna and swim. And it was just magic."
Cedar and Stone began in 2019, and is the company behind the Duluth ice sauna. It runs public saunas on the property of Pier B Resort — with a plunge pool-styled raft in the slip — and builds custom saunas sold across the country. While you can find saunas built on top of pontoons, Juntunen says there's nothing in the country like what they're planning.
"Just about every harbor in the Nordic countries you can find one, and they really should exist here," he said, especially as hot and cold immersion therapy becomes more popular.
In Duluth, sauna culture has existed from the very beginning. A large Finnish bathhouse was built in the immigrant neighborhood known as Finn Town in the late 1800s, in what is now Canal Park. Several community saunas were found elsewhere in the growing city.
Juntunen's plan includes a barge with a diving platform, a rooftop deck and panoramic windows, with room for up to a dozen people in the sauna. It won't have motors yet, but it's a future goal to seek maritime approvals to take passengers on sauna tours of Lake Superior and the St. Louis River.
Co-owner Joel Vikre, also of Duluth's Vikre Distillery, said the dream would be to take passengers a bit up the shore to Glensheen Mansion when it holds its concerts on the pier. But mostly, the barge is another way for people to embrace the long and frigid Duluth winters and connect to their bodies.
After a sauna in January, "you could be standing outside in your skivvies and your body is steaming," Vikre said. "The rest of the time you have to layer up like you're headed to the North Pole. It's just a different way of interacting with our place."
The barge sauna will be the most expensive the company has built, clocking in at more than $100,000. They've begun raising money through an online campaign, asking customers to book sessions in advance to generate cash flow.
Part of the company's mission with the floating sauna is to educate users about the health of the river estuary, which has undergone decades of cleanup after a century of industrial pollution.
"Sauna is always intimately connected to water," Juntunen said, from throwing water on the rocks to jumping into a lake or rolling in the snow during a session. "It's a great way to get people to care about the estuary, and the bay and the river, to actually get people to jump in it."