By Heather Brown

Editor’s Note: This was originally published in July of 2019.

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – This week, Minnesotans will head to cabins, resorts and campsites up north. For some, that place is more than a spot on the map.

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MaryAnn from Aitkin wants to know exactly where it is. So, where is Up North? Good Question.

There are as many answers to this Good Question as there are lakes in Minnesota. When WCCO asked people on the streets of downtown Minneapolis, the answers ranged from “Duluth” to “Bemidji” to “the reservation” to “anywhere past North Branch.”

“It’s that feeling of, ‘Ahh, we’re here, we’re at the lake,'” says Kathy Reichenbach, marketing director for Madden’s on Gull Lake.

Geographers have a name for this type of place – they called it a perceptual region. It’s something that people imagine or see and have a sense of place.

“Maybe it’s where you went growing up on vacation,” says Erica Wacker with Explore Minnesota.

Retired Macalester College geography professor David Lanegran says, ultimately, the definition of “Up North” depends on where you are. Often, it’s defined from the Twin Cities’ point of reference.

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“In Minnesota’s version of up north, lakes and pine trees are the quintessential features to it,” Lanegran said. “There will be some squishy edges to it, but it has the common features of pine trees and lakes.”

The common understanding, according to Lanegran, is that “Up North” is bordered on the south by Lake Mille Lacs, on the west by Red Lake and on the east by Lake Superior. It extends all the way to Canada.

Lanegran says the term “Up North” started as a tourism slogan in the 1920s when driving became mainstream. There are maps at the Minnesota History Center from that time which demonstrate how the hospitality industry marketed the region as a place to fish, canoe, sunbathe and swim.

“When the timber industry left northern Minnesota, people were searching around for a way to keep the economy growing,” he said. “It’s changing the image of a forest region from an agricultural place to where you go and have fun.”

Wisconsinites also call some northern parts of their state “Up North,” while northern Michigan is called the Upper Peninsula.

Ultimately, the definition of “Up North” is what anyone wants it to be.

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“It’s sitting on the docks, listening to the loons and watching the sunset,” Reichenbach said. “That’s Up North.”

Heather Brown