By Amy C. Rea
Minnesota has nearly every kind of resort imaginable within its borders: mom-and-pop cabin resorts, some with only a handful of cottages and bare-bones amenities; chain resorts with kid-friendly amenities; upscale resorts with luxury accoutrements; and specialized sports facilities that cater to those who want to fish, hunt, or even learn to dogsled.
In the northern lakes area of the state are some of the region’s grand dames of resorts, many built in the early part of the 20th century that have survived and evolved to remain relevant and popular in the 21st. These are family friendly resorts, but also resorts that cater to couples in search of romance—or at least some topnotch golf. Many of these resorts have a history not unlike that of the resort in the movie “Dirty Dancing,” where generations of families return year after year in a beloved tradition. But no worries—there’s always room for new traditions to start. Check the individual websites as prices, room types and availabilities vary.
Madden’s opened north of Brainerd in 1909 under another name, but with the arrival of the Depression, the resort came into the hands of the Madden family, who maintain ownership of it to this day. A seasonal resort open late April through mid-October, Madden’s serves a variety of purposes: its location on Gull Lake gives it every water sports amenity, and an extensive kids’ program during the summer welcomes families and gives parents a break. Golfers will revel in the 63 holes of golf available, and those needing some pampering can visit the on-site Spalon Montage. There’s even a formal croquet area. Accommodations range in amenities in price, from very simple to deluxe, but very few have cooking facilities—guests are meant to relax and unwind, not cook and clean.
Originally constructed in 1918 as a lodge to house potential buyers of lakefront lots, Grand View today is on the National Registry of Historic Places due to its well-preserved log structure. The beautiful lodge sits on a hill overlooking Gull Lake, with a variety of accommodations surrounding it. Guests can choose from staying in the lodge itself, or reserve a golf villa or cabin or lake home. Three championship golf courses will keep golfers happy, and a full selection of water sports is offered, along with the Glacial Waters Spa. A kids’ program is offered in the summer. Open year-round, Grand View offers a full range of winter activities too, including skiing and snowshoeing, ice fishing, and dogsled and sleigh rides.
Not far from the Gull Lake area is Lost Lake Lodge. While not on the larger scale of Madden’s or Grand View Lodge, Lost Lake Lodge has its own charm. Tucked into a wooded area on Lost Lake, the Lodge offers rooms and cabins, a full range of water activities, a kids’ program in the summer, hiking trails on the property, and perhaps most enticingly, a highly regarded chef turning out wonderful meals. Lost Lake is open from early May through Labor Day.
Head north from Brainerd, and you’ll find this classic resort just outside of Bemidji. Ruttger’s dates back to 1898 — when there was pretty much nothing to do there but fish. Today the resort offers two lodges with rooms, villas, or rustic cabins. Summer brings plenty of water sports and a kids’ program. Ruttger’s is open year-round, although some of the more rustic accommodations are warm-weather only.
No overview of Minnesota’s great resorts would be complete without Ely’s Burntside Lodge, near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Open since 1913, Burntside is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been family owned since 1941. The gorgeous lodge and log cabins are nestled into a thickly wooded area along Burntside Lake. Relaxation and family time are the highest priorities here, and the cabins do not have TV or phones. Burntside also has a gourmet restaurant on-site.
Amy C. Rea lives with her family in the Twin Cities. She’s the author of Backroads & Byways of Minnesota and Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes: an Explorer’s Guide. She can also be found chatting about Minnesota travel topics at www.flyover-land.com.