Five generations have used Cathryn Olson's small cabin on Lake Darling near Alexandria, Minn., as their summer retreat. Built as a garage in 1928, it was moved from the family lot to a nearby location and placed on a foundation of tree trunks. Over the years, the trunks were replaced with cement blocks, one porch was enclosed, a screen porch and deck added, but the 850-square-foot cabin was never fancy, just serviceable, said Olson. A handwritten note from Olson's mom to her dad written in the mid-'50s still hangs on the wall, "I will not ask you to remodel this again."
The Roda Stugan (Swedish for "red cabin") comes complete with loons, a sandy beach and walls graced with generations of family photos, including those of her grandfather, who emigrated from Sweden.
Distance: A two-hour drive now, but Olson remembers it taking five hours in the 1940s in their 1937 Ford, if they had enough gas to get there.
Best part: The memories. "I even remember the outhouse, fondly," said Olson.
Worst part: When it rains. Having small children indoors in a small space makes you want to go home.
Area must-see: Once they get to the cabin, the family tends to stay there, but Olson likes the Scandinavian Gift Shop in Alexandria (604 Broadway St., 1-320-763-6363).
Unique features: Olson's dad, a teacher, brought large windows from a school in Hopkins that was being demolished and used them in the cabin. Olson later brought in an $1,800 Oriental rug that her son said doubled the value of all the other furnishings combined.