Looking for s’mores on the beach, fishing off the dock, lounge chairs lined up on the sand — and a nightly rate that won’t hurt like sunburn? Easy.
With more than 800 Minnesota resorts scattered along the shores of our 10,000-plus lakes, there are lots of options. Some of them are surprisingly affordable. Your summer vacation, whether deep in the woods or close to home, can be a low-cost luxury.
We scanned the state for lakeside locales that offer weeklong stays in cabins or lodge rooms during the height of summer, and charge less than $1,000 for the pleasure.
Our favorites sprung from a long list of charming possibilities. Find more ideas at mnresortsandcampgrounds.com, the website of the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association, and at the Star Tribune Resort Finder, which maps resorts submitted by Star Tribune reporters, readers or resort owners, at tinyurl.com/zkvaobh.
To uncover even more deals, travelers can try a few tricks. Check for early and late season discounts and midweek specials; many places offer them. Ask about a return-customer discount if you or a family member has been there before. Get a large cabin and split the cost with another family. (I’m talking to you, Grandma and Grandpa; hello, multi-generation vacation.) Pitch a tent; the campgrounds and RV sites offered by many resorts cost far less than a cabin or lodge room.
Here are our five picks. With hundreds to choose from, it’s just a start.
Eagles Nest, in Nisswa
Lots of Up North resorts provide canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, stand-up paddleboards and fishing boats with oars. Activities such as horseshoes and badminton? Sure. But how many can claim all that plus a tepee where children gather each morning for hourlong nature-focused entertainment?
This classic mom-and-pop resort on Lower Cullen Lake nails the summer getaway with 15 charming brown clapboard cabins, a 40-foot sandy beach with a gentle, shallow slope and a screened-in game room that promotes interaction; no video screens in sight.
Guests can borrow one-speed adult bikes and helmets — and add on a pull-behind trailer or tag-along bike extension for the kids. The 100-plus-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail crosses the resort driveway.
The neighborhood: Eagles Nest is a mere half-mile from downtown Nisswa, which caters to vacationers (that means cute shops and an ice cream parlor) and hosts weekly turtle races each Wednesday during summer (nisswa.com). Area highways are lined with miniature golf courses, go-kart tracks, waterslides and other recreation options your kids will beg to try.
Details: Summer rates for one-room cabins with kitchens, which are called “efficiency cabins,” begin at $440 per week. The efficiency cabin with a double bed and a double futon starts at $525 per week. Larger cabins are also available (eaglesnestnisswa.com; 1-800-922-0440).
East Silent Lake Resort, in Dent
Children’s programming is a resort staple. East Silent Lake Resort brings the idea up a notch — by catering to teens as well as younger kids. The resort organizes free group activities such as sand volleyball, fishing contests, boat rides and water skiing specifically for ages 13 to 17, Mondays through Thursdays.
Inside the recently built modern lodge, near the board games and movies for borrowing, a cafe serves homemade meals. Hungry guests will find standard fare such as pizza and BLT sandwiches, but also chicken cordon bleu panini and a kale-broccoli salad with a blood orange shallot vinaigrette.
Eat the goods while gazing at East Silent Lake, where an inflatable climbing structure and water trampoline float just offshore.
The neighborhood: Otter Tail County has more than 1,000 lakes; it’s the perfect playground for water lovers. Maplewood State Park, just 7 miles from the resort, has eight lakes within its 9,250 acres of protected woods.
Details: The resort has vacation homes, cabins and guest suites, which start at $765 per week in early June or late August, and $1,020 per week in summer’s peak (1-800-242-6904; eastsilentresort.com).
Gooseberry Cabins, in Two Harbors
There are bigger resorts along Hwy. 61 on Minnesota’s North Shore, but Gooseberry Cabins can compete with them all, especially in the charm department.
The seven sweet cabins, each distinct, have knotty pine paneling, fireplaces, fully equipped kitchens and views that seem to go on forever.
Lake Superior stretches to the horizon outside the windows, offering a constant soundtrack of waves. Guests can spend hours exploring the rocky lakeshore, roasting marshmallows over bonfire flames and sitting on the deck taking in the watery scenery.
The neighborhood: Cabin guests can walk to Gooseberry Falls State Park, which has hiking trails along a river that rushes to Superior. In Two Harbors, don’t miss the Harbors Light Station, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the North Shore. Chase the visit with a brew at Castle Danger Brewery.
Details: Summer rates begin at $690 per week (gooseberry cabins.net; 1-218-834-3873).
Kettle Falls Hotel, in Kabetogama
You could say that Kettle Falls Hotel is off the beaten path — except that no solid path exists.
This rambling clapboard beauty is accessible only by boat or floatplane. (The hotel will ferry guests from the Ash River Visitor Center.) Deep in the watery world of Voyageurs National Park, on the Canadian border, the hotel and more modern villas cater to fishermen and nature lovers.
Guests gather on the screen porch or in the bar, where a floor slopes precariously under a pool table whose uneven legs allow it to be level.
The hotel is part of a national historic district, which includes a dam built in 1910 to harness the power of Kettle Falls, where Namakan Lake spills into Rainy Lake.
The neighborhood: If you have a good arm, you can almost throw a stick into Canada from the grounds here, which include the historic portage between the two lakes. Most days in the summer, a park ranger offers tours of the hotel and the grounds.
Details: Modern rooms with a shared bath begin at $70 a night. Villas are also available. Day-trippers come in for the lodge restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (kettlefallshotel.com; 1-218-240-1724).
Melgeorge’s Elephant Lake Lodge and Resort, in Orr
It’s the classic Minnesota view: Sparkling blue lake meets blue sky, framed by green trees. Melgeorge’s blends into that forested landscape with 10 cabins, a restored lumberjack bunkhouse and a lodge overlooking Elephant Lake.
The three-generation resort on a former logging camp has a beach and playground for kids, logging trails for biking, and private docks at the cabins. Most enticing might be the wild island in the middle of lake. Paddle out to explore it with a canoe or double kayak. The resort rents stand-up paddleboards and water bikes. Cabins and rooms have Wi-Fi and satellite TV, but you might just ignore all that and sit by the fire pit listening to loons.
The neighborhood: At the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, about 15 miles away, you can view black bears in their natural habitat from an elevated viewing platform (americanbear.org). The Vermilion River, with a 10-foot waterfall down a granite chasm, is 5 miles away.
Details: Melgeorge’s has 10 cabins, eight lodge rooms and a restored lumberjack bunkhouse. Cabins start at $714 per week; lodge rooms start at $534 per week. The lodge also boasts a restaurant and bar (melgeorges.com; 1-218-374-3621).