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Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

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Amy Rea Amy Rea
Amy Rea is a freelance writer and author of Minnesota, Land of 10,000...
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By Amy Rea, Flyover Land

Remember the setting of the movie Dirty Dancing? A resort where people would go for their summer vacations, back when it was common to take all summer for the moms and kids, with dads visiting on weekends? Think that only existed out East, or in movies?

Nope.

maddens bridge Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

Madden’s Resort near Brainerd has been a major player in the summer relaxation market for decades before Dirty Dancing came into being. Madden’s has its roots, ironically, in the Great Depression. The land on Gull Lake had been under development by an entrepreneur who envisioned a golf and hotel haven, but when the Depression struck, the original owners first leased, then sold the property to Jim and Jack Madden.

maddens golf Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

In its early years, Madden’s was a haven for flappers and gangsters, as the county seat of Walker was a difficult journey of 60 miles away. Prohibition? Who cared?

It was also a haven for people seeking refuge from brutal summer heat in cities like St. Louis and Kansas City. Remember, there was no air conditioning then, and Brainerd was an oasis of coolness in comparison. The journey was an arduous one; imagine driving a Model T from Kansas City — some visitors referred to it as a “nine-tire trip.” Today there are still third- and fourth-generation families from warmer climes who still come to Madden’s — it’s a family tradition.

maddens bridge Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

Madden’s is a seasonal resort, open April-October each year. The original hotel from 1929 is still in place, but as the decades have passed, additional types of accommodations have been added, from duplexes to cabins to deluxe golf villas. One thing nearly all the accommodations have in common is no cooking facilities (except for four units). There are several restaurants and cafes onsite, including this lovely space which has three sides of windows overlooking Gull Lake.

maddens rest Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

The resort is intended to be a vacation spot for the entire family, and the work of cooking is handled by Madden’s staff, who even grow raised-bed gardens in the summer to supplement their meals.

maddens chefs garden Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

(Tomorrow I’ll talk about Madden’s restaurant over on my other blog, A Closer Look at Flyover Land.)

Madden’s itself is less a resort and more of a self-contained village. You can sign up for the meal plan, or buy meals ala carte. You can golf; you can do pretty much any kind of water sport (including getting some water skiing lessons); you can relax at the beach, or play some sand volleyball.

maddens volleyball Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

A visit the spa is highly recommended (new this year: the spa services are handled by Spalon Montage.

maddens spa Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

Rent a bike or go hiking on the property’s trails; take in a Saturday or Sunday Mass at St. Thomas, onsite; play tennis or croquet.

maddens croquet Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

Madden’s has hosted national croquet tournaments, with competitors outfitted in dress whites. How cool would that be to watch?

Maybe you need some ice cream. Or some wine or spirits to enhance your vacation. No worries — they’re all here.

maddens shops Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

Or wander over to the 19th Hole for some libations.

maddens 19th hole Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

If the weather’s inclement, there are plenty of common spaces complete with fireplaces and board games.

maddens common room Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

Whatever you do, just relax — relax and enjoy. The staff is a joy to work with, friendly and helpful, and watching every detail to make your vacation as much a retreat from reality as possible.

maddens Wander Minnesota: A Classic Resort, In The Best Sense

My thanks to Madden’s for hosting me last week and giving me the grand tour. My only complaint is that I had to return to the “real world”.

What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Sunday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.

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