With a pottery mug of locally roasted Fika coffee, a comfy chair and natural light spilling into the cozy dome, it was tempting to spend the whole day staying put. Maybe grab a book, take a nap and watch the juncos and woodpeckers flit through birch and balsam with the distant blue shimmer of Lake Superior.
After all, the four geodesic domes at Klarhet, near Lutsen, are intended to provide a simple, nature-focused escape from the digital dings and demands of daily life, to recharge and to reconnect with your own thoughts and intentions.
Klarhet — Swedish and Norwegian for "clarity" — is among a handful of newer resorts fueling a trend toward creative, minimalist accommodations. In some ways, these new vacation rentals draw on Minnesota's classic model of basic housekeeping cabins. But the new wave of lodging features modern designs with expansive views, cushy mattresses and crisp comforters, and little details such as handcrafted dishes, local art or books to liven up efficient, often "tiny" spaces.
Inside the 450-square-foot polyester-vinyl Klarhet hemispheres — made by Oregon's Pacific Domes — guests will find a kitchenette, a king bed and chairs facing the broad window, and a bathroom with walk-in shower. A queen bed in a loft can accommodate two more guests. Sunlight or moonlight streams through skylights. Vents and curtains help keep the domes cool during the summer, while a wood pellet-burning stove and in-ground heat take the chill off during other seasons.
Nicole and Kirk Leand, who began renting out their first finished domes in 2021, are using the unique lodgings to help create a sustainable food forest on their 25 acres off Ski Hill Road. They hope to eventually build a barn and a greenhouse, provide fresh produce, host an apiary, make goat cheese, offer tours and do classes in a demonstration kitchen as they build up a nutrient-rich soil. Guests can already enjoy fresh eggs and greet colorful chickens and Nigerian dwarf goats.
"We really love farming, being outside and being in nature as much as possible," said Nicole Leand, who met Kirk on a Boundary Waters camping trip. She says leaving the Twin Cities for northern Minnesota has inspired dome guests to take risks and to pursue their own dreams.
"We felt like this has always been our home," she said.
Klarhet: 233 Ski Hill Road, Lutsen, Minn.; liveklarhet.com.
Tiny in Tofte, cozy in Cuyuna
More former city dwellers have found their happy places in the woods. Kelsey Braun and Chris Austin built the tiny rental cabins of Cuyuna Cove in Crosby, Minn., in 2019. Now they're now finishing up five more small cabins known as Tofte Trails, set to open later this summer on the North Shore. Each includes kitchenettes and bathrooms and mimics the intimacy of a small space, which the couple experienced while living in a camper together.
While Cuyuna Cove draws mountain and fat-tire bikers and paddlers to central Minnesota (the original property will add seasonal bungalows this year), Braun and Austin expect their Tofte cabins will attract hikers, skiers and snowmobilers seeking easy access to the Superior Hiking Trail and Superior National Forest.
Tofte Trails cabins will also feature their own vibe with reclaimed southern Minnesota barnwood providing a vintage feel. Floor-to-ceiling windows will frame the property's wooded ravines and streams, plus distant views of Lake Superior.
"We're blurring the line of where nature ends and a structure begins," said Braun.
"People aren't engaging with nature anymore. People are so stressed, and anxiety levels are through the roof," said Austin, tapping his experience as a physical therapist. "Our whole point is to push you to nature's doorstep."
Jon Staff grew up near Bemidji and going to cabins near Cass Lake. But he didn't rediscover the healing power of the outdoors until he burned out working at a hyper-demanding start-up on the East Coast. He recovered during eight months in an Airstream trailer, traveling 8,000 miles around the Southwest.
Then he and a fellow Harvard graduate, Pete Davis, hatched the idea for Getaway — tiny secluded cabins within two hours of major cities — and launched their first "outpost" in 2015 in New Hampshire. They've since gone national with 30 outposts nationwide and several more set to open this year.
Getaway Kettle River opened in 2021 with a whopping 49 cabins, each 140 to 200 square feet, near the town of Willow River and Banning State Park. Spaced out for privacy, they look like black ice-fishing houses tucked into the woods. They have queen beds, a two-burner stove, sink and kitchen basics, a flush toilet and shower, outdoor chairs and a fire pit.
The indoor shelf includes for a box for putting away electronics, a Bluetooth speaker, a deck of cards, and a copy of Staff and Davis' book, "How to Get Away: Finding Balance in Our Overworked, Overcrowded, Always-On World," for anyone still needing convincing.
Some cabins also allow dogs and include an outdoor lead and pet bowls.
Staff said cabins from his Minnesota childhood influenced their business plan, but he also wanted to make it simpler and more accessible, without the one-week minimum many traditional summer cabins require. Guests can stay as little as one night. Students, military, first responders and health care providers can get discounts.
"If guests can take one thing away from their Getaway experience," he said, "it's that taking a break from city living and constant work can ultimately lead to a happier and healthier life."
Getaway Kettle River: 77112 Long Lake Road, Willow River, Minn. (getaway.house/minneapolis).
Tiny cabin summer
Here's a look at other, newer small-scale lodging you'll find in Minnesota:
Wambolts, one of the oldest resorts in the state, has 14 vintage cabins along Upper Bottle Lake north of Park Rapids, but two modern tiny cabins designed and built by Latitude Studios have been added, using repurposed shipping containers and featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. One has a rooftop deck (wamboltscabins.com).
Prairie Island Campground
Two tiny houses joined Winona's municipal campground in 2020 and 2021, with views of the Mississippi River and Wisconsin bluffs. Custom decor includes hand-painted Sanborn canoe paddles, books by local authors, dishes from local artists and posters for their popular Boats and Bluegrass festival (there's also a live music series through the summer). Guests can rent kayaks to explore the calm backwaters (prairieislandcampground.com).
Ski Hill Cabins & Saunas
Ski Hill Cabins in Lutsen will open its first units by late July with minimalist Scandinavian design, but beds and not-so-tiny socializing space for up to 10 people. Each of the four cabins will include a private sauna with space for eight and a large window overlooking the forest (skihillcabins.com).
North Shore Camping Co.
This glamping option opened in May along the ridge above Hwy. 61 in Beaver Bay. When finished, it will have 11 canvas tent sites with beds, a potbelly stove for warmth, solar-powered electric chargers, cookware and camping essentials. Guests have a shared hub for showers, restrooms and gathering, and can use nearby Cove Point Lodge's pool, hot tub and sauna. Bike rentals will be available for the Gitchi-Gami State Trail and Split Rock Wilds mountain bike trails (northshorecampingco.com).
A former hockey camp in Nisswa reopened last September as an event center alongside Clark Lake with modern, minimalist rooms and cabins. You won't find a TV, but guests can hop on the Paul Bunyan State Trail and paddle from the 1,400-foot beach area to picnic on a private island. Lakeside cabins boast floor-to-ceiling views of the blue lake and ancient pines. This is expected to be the first of many similar resorts across the country (naturelink.us).