In the height of summer, Minnesota’s classic resorts and lakeside cabins are the stuff of daydreams. You can almost hear the fish splash, smell the fired-up grill, feel the cool water of the lake.
Pick up the phone to book a popular resort, though, and the dream could come to an abrupt end. Minnesota’s top spots can book early for the peak months of summer.
Don’t let a momentary disappointment stop you. In this state with (need I remind you?) more than 10,000 lakes, anybody can find a piece of summer paradise — even people whose planning tends toward procrastination or its upbeat version, spontaneity.
Here are five tips to make the dream a reality, and have lake water lapping at your toes.
Try and try again
Went to the website of your first choice and found that it had no room? Try again with a phone call. You might luck into a cancellation or discover that one of the other families staying at a rental that demands a full week would like to skip out early, leaving room for you. With such a short season, resort owners don’t want to miss your business.
If all else fails, ask your top choice to recommend another comparable resort nearby. If you tried in earnest to stay with them, they won’t mind helping you find something else (and helping a fellow resort owner, too).
Travel early in the week
Many Minnesota resorts require weeklong stays. Those that don’t — generally the larger resorts (see the last tip below) — find themselves packed on the weekends and relatively open in the early part of the week. Begin a three- or four-day vacation on a Sunday, and you could wind up not only with a sweet property, but perhaps also a sweet deal, since some resorts drop rates for days early in the week.
Take the road less traveled
I recently drove through bucolic Otter Tail County and wondered why I hadn’t vacationed there before. Just off Interstate 94, roads wind through a landscape of hills and lakes — lots and lots of lakes. Otter Tail has the most lakes of all the counties of Minnesota and, in fact, of any county in the United States. Still, the area isn’t ingrained in our consciousness as a summer destination as are Bemidji, Brainerd or the North Shore. Check out Otter Tail resorts at www.ottertaillakescountry.com.
Other relatively quiet spots offering traditional family-owned resorts are Alexandria (www.alexandriamn.org) and Kandiyohi County’s Willmar Lakes Area (www.willmarlakesarea.com). Outdoor enthusiasts should try for a spot along the Gunflint Trail (www.gunflint-trail.com) or in the Ely area (www.ely.org).
Park it — at a state park
Many Minnesota state parks offer the same kinds of lakeside recreation opportunities as resorts — and camper cabins mean no pitching a tent (though restrooms are in a shared facility nearby). Glacial Lakes State Park, near Willmar, and Glendalough State Park, just south of Fergus Falls, rent canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards off their swimming beaches. Both also have paved biking trails to nearby towns. Glacial Lakes has six camper cabins; Glendalough has four. Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, in Onamia, has a swimming beach, naturalist program and a fire tower. Though it is one of the top 25 most-visited state parks, it’s worth checking out. For information on these and other state parks or to make reservations, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks.
Large resorts might be a late booker’s paradise. The more rooms at the inn, the greater possibility of vacancies.
Take Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge, near Deerwood (www.ruttgers.com). The family resort has 184 units, from cottages to lodge rooms and condos off a golf course (there are two of those).
At Grand View Lodge, on Gull Lake in Nisswa, there are nearly 200 lodging options, with townhouses nestled against golf courses (three), traditional rooms and cabins on the main grounds or a quieter spot off the beaten track (www.grandviewlodge.com).
Lutsen Resort, along the North Shore, has nearly as many accommodations spread over 100 acres along Lake Superior (www.lutsenresort.com). Odds favor finding a last-minute spot at these and other large resorts; just don’t expect to land in a prime, lakeside unit.
But that shouldn’t bother you. You’ll probably spend all day on or near the lake, not in your room.