Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.
Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.
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The Paul Bunyan State Trail offers views of sparkling lakes, visits to quaint towns and now geocaching, an open-air, free, GPS-enhanced treasure hunt.
In geocaching, technology meets the great outdoors. Participants look for hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS. The cache -- which range in size from a pill bottle to a mailbox -- will typically hold a log book with names of those who have previously found it. Some also contain trinkets or medallions that cachers can use to trade or move to the next cache. There are more than 100 geocaches along the rails-to-trails paved pathway, which at 112 miles between Brainerd and Bemidji, is the longest trail in the state. Download the GeoTour here.
You'll find caches such as "Paul's Sawmill," described in part like this: "At the location of this cache, one can see the remnants of our early logging heritage. Enjoy the cache and watch for fishermen." And "Northern Troll," which comes with this warning, "This cache introduces you to an area of Bemidji that is oftentimes overlooked. Enjoy the walk and the scenery but be on the look out for trolls."
A canopy tour featuring two suspension bridges and nine zip lines overlooking the Minnesota River Valley will open June 14. Kerfoot Canopy Tours will operate on land that includes a 120 feet-deep ravine along the Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway near Belle Plaine and Henserson, Minn. During the two-hour-plus tours, guides will share information on the trees and birds of the region, including eagles and hawks, and how the valley was formed. "You get the thrill of zip lining, but you also get the educational aspect," said owner Lee Kerfoot. How thrilling? The longest zip will stretch 1,150 feet. But tours will warm up with smaller runs, allowing customers to ease into the experience. Kerfoot Canopy Tours will be open year-round. Cost is $89 per tour, or $299 for a season pass, which is good for unlimited tours at the Henderson location and at the Towering Pines Canopy Tour, which opened at Gunflint Lodge near Grand Marais last summer. Tours begin June 14, but you can book now at the website.
On a chilly Saturday night last February, my family and I splashed in the pool and warmed up in the hot tub at the Westin Galleria Hotel in Edina, then spent a night in one of its cushy bed -- and all for free. Well, almost. It cost us $1,000 of spending at the Galleria to qualify.
During the Galleria Holiday Open House (Friday, Nov. 9 through Sunday, Nov. 11 this year), if you spend $1,000 at Galleria stores and restaurants, you get one free weekend night stay at the Westin, which is adjacent to the Galleria and connected via an underground tunnel (which is convenient for children with hair still wet from the swimming pool).
Last year, my husband and I received eye exams and purchased glasses -- unwittingly during last year's event. As we were paying up, our salesperson told us to show our receipt at the customer service desk in the middle of the mall for the Westin coupon. What Westin coupon, we asked? When he told us we would get a free night's stay, we understood why the mall was so busy on a random November weekend so far ahead the of the holiays. We might have been the only shoppers unaware of the deal.
Never mind that the deal worked out well for the Galleria, where we had lunch and dinner on the first day and breakfast the next morning and got in a little more shopping. It worked out pretty well for us, too. A top-notch get-away, five miles from home.
I have tasted, and I believe!
Before this morning, I had never before taken a bite of the self-named world's best donuts. That's because the World's Best Donuts store in Grand Marais, Minn., is seasonal, and I have a penchant for traveling to the North Shore in winter. My fortune changed this morning after my daughter and I stepped outside our hotel to fly a kite on the shores of Lake Superior and saw a stream of people flowing into the store. Jackpot! But people vacationing on the North Shore, take note: get here by tomorrow or wait until next spring. Tomorrow it closes for the cold winter months.
The store could have gotten its name based on location alone. It's a few steps away from a rocky beach, and at least a dozen people were enjoying their cups of hot coffee and selected morning treats while perched on a boulder watching Superior waves roll in this morning. But the name is a good fit given the donuts it produces, too. The cake donuts were nicely crisp on the outside, moist on the inside; "They have a beignet quality," my New Orleanian husband said. The raised glazed were light, with just the right sweetness. I adore these donuts. I am the daughter of a baker, and the chocolate iced cake donuts of my youth will always be my standard bearer. But since Dad is out of the donut biz now, I know where I can get my fill, even if it does mean more summer trips to this grand town on the great lake.
The World's Best Donuts, 10 East Wisconsin Street, Grand Marais, Minn., 1-218-387-1345.
VINELAND, MINN. -- If you're like me, you take Minnesota state parks for granted. But with colors expected to peak this weekend, here's a suggestion: Check out Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.
We signed up for a free archeology canoe tour last weekend and the maples, aspens, sumacs and oaks were just starting to overlap with eruptions of bronze, yellow, orange and blood red. The park sits eight miles north of Onamia and south of Garrison along Hwy. 169 a couple hours north of the Twin Cities.
We learned that archeologists have found clues of people living in the area at least 9,000 years ago. Several small Dakota villages punctuated the area, a crossroads of sorts with access to the Rum, Mississippi and other rivers and a few hefty portages from Lake Superior. In fact, the explorer that the city of Duluth is named after -- Frenchman Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Dulhut -- is the misspeller responsible for Kathio's name.
Greysolon met with the Dakota in the area in 1679 and they called their collective villages Izatys. His sloppy handwriting made the "Iz" look like a "K" and the name stuck. It's one of those gems we fly by at 65 mph, but well worth stopping for a visit. You can rent canoes and paddle around Ogechie Lake, once a hub of Dakota travel and trading. Hunters would transport their buffalo meat up the winding Rum River in the Anoka area to their villages here.
This Saturday, the park is offering a short hike and talk about bird migration from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Go to mile marker No. 221 on Hwy. 169 about eight miles north of Onamia. (This photo of dormant ice houses was snapped along Hwy. 47 around the south side of the lake near Isle.)
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