This time of year, there are more “best of travel 2016” lists than already-broken New Year’s resolutions.
Fremantle, Australia, made Lonely Planet’s lineup. National Geographic Traveler named Eastern Bhutan, among others. Fodor’s embraced Fez, Morocco, the Phillipines — and Minneapolis’ North Loop.
These destinations all sound great, but they’re tough to get to (with the exception of the North Loop, which I also highly recommend).
Fortunately, our region is beautiful and diverse — and gasoline prices have dipped remarkably low. We have remote beaches, adventure trails and boutique hotels, all within a day’s drive. So here is a collection of 2016 destinations made exclusively for Minnesotans — let’s call it the Minne-GO-ta List.
Fill your tank, and head out to explore.
One fact speaks volumes about this collection of Prairie School-inspired cottages clustered on a small lake near Chetek, Wis.: It is the area’s only Relais & Châteaux, one of 530 high-end hotels and restaurants worldwide that lean toward posh villas and manor houses. With no children allowed and a quiet, white-tablecloth restaurant in the woods, Canoe Bay has always been the place for romance. Now it is also the place to see if a tiny house is right for you. The resort has opened an Escape Classic Cottage, a 400-square-foot woody gem designed by SALA architects. Canoe Bay made it into the book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” As if that weren’t enough, it was voted the top Midwest resort in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards (1-715-924-4594; canoebay.com).
La Crosse, Wis., may not seem a logical spot for a boutique hotel — until you see the Charmant. The 67-room, redbrick newcomer, opened in September, occupies a former chocolate factory downtown, near the Mississippi. The building’s early life informed the name, among other things. Charmant was a premium line of chocolates produced in the factory. Also, a 24-hour Sweets Bar sells handmade pastries and confections. The boutique vibe comes with exposed brick, wood beams, Euro-top mattresses, and an industrial-chic look that would be at home in Brooklyn as much as this river town. Dining options include The Restaurant, which turns out rustic, French-inspired dishes from an open kitchen, and The Parlour, anchored by a fireplace (1-866-697-7300; thecharmant hotel.com).
With a booming network of mountain biking trails, the Superior Hiking Trail winding through its hilltop parks (and lakeside in Canal Park) and a new ice climbing park, this mini-metropolis on the western extreme of Lake Superior boasts numerous ways to pump up adrenaline. When it is complete, the Duluth Traverse mountain bike trail will cover more than 100 continuous miles, winding through the forests, meadows and ridges of the port city. Meanwhile, the city is at work creating Quarry Park, but ice climbers are already welcome to hitch themselves up the 1,000-foot long, 100-foot-high cliff that has long lured adventurers. Pack your crampons and go (1-800-438-5884; visit duluth.com).
Madden’s on Gull Lake
For a nicely old-fashioned sense of summer, soak up the season from a lawn chair at this quintessential Minnesota resort. The long-lived Brainerd-area favorite comes with all the classic offerings, like beaches, tennis courts, golf courses and a marina, plus a few extras, too: five swimming pools (three indoors), a spa, croquet lawns and trapshooting. Like Canoe Bay, Madden’s is rated well in Condé Nast Traveler’s recent Readers’ Choice Awards. Its location helps sets it apart, literally. The resort occupies a peninsula on Gull Lake, so its only neighbors are loons and lapping waves. It offers children’s programming, a meal plan and a wide range of lodging options (some social-media reviewers warn against the outdated lodge rooms). A fierce storm set back the season last year. Now is a good time to show your support for the beloved region and resort (1-888-450-5189; maddens.com).
Voyageurs National Park
Plenty of attention will be given to national parks this year. The National Park Service — created to oversee the growing number of parks since the first, Yellowstone, was named in 1872 — turns 100 in August. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota’s only national park (aside from monuments, riverways and a scenic trail) was a relative latecomer to the parks party; it was established in 1975. But it is no wallflower. The 218,000 acres of water and land rim our northern border, with more than 500 islands and 655 miles of shoreline. Visitors explore the park by boat, including kayaks and houseboats. The watery nature of the park keeps visitor numbers down, but really just adds to the appeal of this wild beauty. (1-218-283-6600; nps.gov/voya).