When winter first sets in here in Minnesota, you turn to thoughts of the holidays. In fact, the cold seems to make everything from back-to-school to Christmas feel a bit more enchanting. But come January, the cold outside can start to weigh you down- especially during a pandemic. But I love the idea of developing a positive winter mindset, and the way that the people who live up north don't let the dropping temperatures keep them from living their lives. I don't think that idea has ever been more relevant for us than it has this year, and luckily we live in a place where people truly do embrace the cold. "Wild ice" skating, snow shoeing, snow sculpture competitions, cross country skiing, ice fishing- you'd be surprised how many people you see just out for a walk on any given day, especially when it warms up to over 30°.
And heading up even further north in the dead of winter? We like to do that too.
What to do up North in the winter
There is plenty to do when you head up north in the summer, so the trick to this trip became finding activities that were kid friendly AND had something to offer in the depths of winter. Keep in mind that every stop required that we suit up and that with two little girls, we only had so much time out in the cold with each new venture. Obviously, our stops had to be worth it.
But even if we only got out of the car for a few minutes at a time, the cold, frozen landscape made every stop add to the sense of adventuring. And every time we piled back in to the car and cranked up the heat, we had smiles on our faces even if we were chilled to the bone.
Black Beach at Silver Bay, MN
In addition to saying we're heading up North, Minnesotans also call vacationing on Lake Superior "the North Shore." So I thought it fitting that like Hawaii, Lake Superior also has a Black Beach, though it's rock, not sand. It was beautiful, but FREEZING! The wind coming across the lake was absolutely unforgiving... but we did have the place to ourselves! The landscape of our North Shore is so unique, that despite the cold, it is part of its beauty to see it all in the winter.
Pincushion Mountain Trial at Grand Marais, MN
A short drive up the Gunflint Trail, we turned off on to the trailhead of the Pincushion Mountain trails. The views of the lake were pretty spectacular from up there, and the hike we took was very kid friendly- even in the snow! We brought a sled to pull Emma along, and we only went a short distance, but the trails wove through an evergreen forest and the ground was all covered in snow. I don't know if it was the way the trees blocked out the wind, cold, and noise, or the way the surroundings made me I feel like I had just stepped out of a wardrobe into Narnia, but this may have been my favorite outing of the trip.
Where to stay: Lutsen REsort
When I first started planning our trip up north, it was under the assumption that we wouldn't be able to do much because we'd have our two littles in tow. But staying in a cabin on Lake Superior with no where to go sounded like a dream compared to continuing to do the same thing at home! And besides, we would be staying at our neighbors' cabin at the Lutsen Resort- Even if we weren't up to braving the elements, we could light a fire in a cozy cabin or drink hot chocolate at the lodge. We could fall asleep to the sound of the waves (They truly reminded me of the ocean), and at least we'd be together and away.
So although we did go on plenty of adventures, where we stayed made all the difference. We had everything we needed at our fingertips- even complimentary ice skate rentals! On our last day, we skated around the tiny rink with Emma following behind on the sled again. After we warmed up inside with hot chocolate, we got S'more kits from the front desk, and sat around a bonfire until it was time to head home.
Thank you to our neighbors for suggesting their cabin! We highly recommend it. We did some of our own meals and brought a few of our own toys, but between the cabin and the resort, we were set. I'm already dreaming of going back!
What to Eat up North in the winter
First of all, double check when places are open if you head up north during the winter- turns out that resort towns don't keep their summer hours in the middle of the week in the middle of January! So quite a few places we wanted to try were closed up, BUT the places where we did eat were delicious!
Tobies Bakery in Hinkley, MN
We were told that we absolutely must stop at Tobies for a cinnamon roll on our way up north. Totally worth it. Poor Matt is going to have to pull over every time we head that way from now on!
Hungry Hippie Tacos Grand Marais, MN
As soon as I saw the menu for Hungry Hippie Tacos, I knew we had to eat there on our trip. Because Frybread Tacos?! Come on! And all I can say is YUM. I would drive four hours all over again to eat there tomorrow. Or any day for that matter. In fact, in my head I'm already planning our next trip north just so we can go back for some more :)
If I had to pick just one word that could sum up how I felt on this trip, it would have to be A W A Y. After months of hunkering down at home, A W A Y was all we wanted. The moment we pulled out of the garage and headed out, there was an immediate relief just to be going. And yet, we weren't in a rush to be anywhere. We were A W A Y, together, and that was all that mattered.
Banner, Wyoming | Longhorn Cabin at creekside ranch
After a full day of driving, it was like a dream to pull up to our little cabin on a working horse ranch in Banner, Wyoming. Annie immediately got out and went to watch the horses in their pasture. Chickens followed us around as we unloaded for the night. There were wild turkeys wandering through the yard and nesting in the trees. And the quiet from such a secluded little spot made for such a nice respite from our travels for the night.
We had pancakes for breakfast and collected feathers before we headed back out on our way.
cody, wyoming | Trout ranch camp Teepee
Pulling up to our next stop, I must admit that I felt some mixed emotions. We had close neighbors and our baby wasn't sleeping well, and no electricity with hours to kill before sundown. Maybe a fully furnished teepee on the bank of the Shoshone River wasn't the best idea after all! And yes- it was FREEZING by the time we woke up in the morning, but in the end, had no other reasons for my initial anxiety. Annie took to the place immediately and just fell in love with her "woof" (wolf) teepee. We read books, threw rocks in the river, and fell asleep to the sound of the rushing water. It was Annie's favorite part of the trip, so I'd definitely do it again... next time I'd just figure out how to turn on the gas heater before we went to bed!
Along the way, we also stopped at Minnesota's Largest Candy Store in Jordan, Minnesota, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, and two national parks (which merited their own post). And then there were simple moments- like our picnic next to a creek somewhere outside of Sheridan, Wyoming where we saw a mother moose and her calf resting in the brush. And on another day we found the world's greatest playground in Rock Springs, Wyoming- or at least it felt that way for a family of weary travelers. We drove through six states and two national parks, visited family and friends in Idaho and Utah, and slept in a different place every night of the trip (except for one).
Still, even after all that time in the car and all of these stops, in the end, I could have just kept driving. It really was hard to come back after being. A W A Y, but we brought all those stops along the way home with us. We came back feeling a little less restless and a lot more present. And as ever, I can't wait for our next big road trip, wherever it may take us :)
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
Yellowstone National PArk
If you know us at all, you know that we firmly believe that the point of a road trip is not the destination- that is simply one of many stops along the way. So from the moment we left home until we returned again, our road trip was about taking the road less traveled just to see where we would end up.
We only had one day in Yellowstone, and our first stop was a small hike to Trout Lake. It's not necessarily a destination the Park is known for, but it had somehow found its way onto our itinerary. We pulled up first thing in the morning, surveyed the trailhead, and nearly got right back in the car. It was frigid. Annie had been feeing a little carsick. We still had hours left to drive that day. And yet, the prospect of what awaited us at the end of that trail beckoned. We dressed in layers, grabbed the camera, and set out.
Now, when I think about what we might have missed if we had just driven past, I am so grateful that we didn't! Annie, the self proclaimed "polar bear of Yellowstone" was such a trooper. Those little legs carried her all the way up the hill and down into a picturesque valley, complete with mountain views reflected in crystal clear waters. We practically had the whole place to ourselves, with the exception of one lone bison grazing across the lake from where the trail led is down to the shore.
"In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks." - John Muir
Back in the car, we made our way along the north road, stopping to see herds of bison and a group of elk, and even walking the crowded walkways of Mammoth Hot Springs. And every time, without fail, the view up close was far better than the view from the car window.
Badlands National PArk
Still, the longer you are on the road, the easier it is to rationalize driving through and driving by. On our way back east, we made a similar trek through Badlands National Park. With miles of road ahead of us, we were faced with a detour almost as soon as we entered the park. Should we stay on the main road? Or should we venture down a dirt road toward Roberts Prairie Dog Town?
I look at these pictures and just shake my head at what we would have missed! Mountain goats, Pronghorn antelope, buffalo, and prairie dogs gathered as if to greet us, and once again, the path we almost didn't take became one of our favorite experiences in the Park.
With the year we've had, it was probably easier on this trip to just be glad for the change of scenery. But I hope that the sentiment stays with us on future road trips when the hurry of life starts to crowd back in. Because in the end, I have no recollection of how long we were on the road on either of these days or how many hours "behind" these stops put us. I just remember feeling like we were doing it- living our life, seeing the world, not in any hurry to pass these memories by in order to be on our way.
Time with just the four of us is hard to come by. Matt's hours at the hospital have been demanding, so any time we have him home is a time to slow down and simply be together. And how have we been spending that time? Taking the long way home to enjoy the fall colors, bundling up to be outside while it's still warm enough to work in the garden and sit in the grass, playing together, reading together, eating together- almost everything else can wait. Seasons are changing and our girls are getting older, and we know we can't wait for things to slow down because all the little moments will just pass us by.
"Let this be a season of slowing down and revisiting
What beautiful things can come to life in the waiting"
-Morgan Harper Nichols
Since taking these pictures just a few weeks ago, the leaves have already peaked and the tree branches are starting to look bare. We've had our first snow (it was a very light dusting, but still!), and Annie has turned THREE. We've been back to walk along these hidden backyard paths, collecting fallen leaves and finding new trails to explore. The funny thing is that we didn't even know these trails existed until the day we took our pictures, even though it is only minutes from our front house. But now this place feels like it belongs to just the four of us, like these pictures and this little moment in time, and all because we left the paved trail and took the scenic route.
Summer is wrapping up, isn't it? The end of August is slowly sneaking up on me, and I'm just grateful for these years before back to school, when summer will last as long as the weather does. We've still got time for swimming and bike rides and adventures outside. And thank goodness, because I really don't know what we're going to do with ourselves when it's too cold to venture outside!
With two little girls, you wonder as you set out to remote sunflower fields if it's going to be worth it. The time in the car, porta potties for the potty trainee, missing bedtime, a forecast of possible rain, and what if they don't enjoy it? Annie was a good sport last year, but she was way more interested in the barnyard animals than she was in the flowers.
But we're finding that all of that is just part of the experience. We are doing it for them, after all. For all of us, really. Emma was a good sport, a little buddy along for the ride. And I must say it was much more fun to carry her in my arms this year than to be 8 months pregnant like I was last year! And Annie? She wanted to drive every tractor and run through the rows and rows of towering sunflowers. She got ridiculously dirty, and had to go to the bathroom at the least convenient time, but she had so much fun, making us laugh with her big, almost-three-year-old personality and imagination.
Gas, price of admission- it was absolutely worth it to slow down and roam around the fields of flowers with just our favorite people. Especially because the blooms won't last- and neither will these short years before our girls are grown!
After two years of lab research, Matt will return to General Surgery Residency tomorrow. Things are about to change in a big way for our little family, and the reality is that we don't really know what to expect. So for our last weekend before Matt goes back, we were so grateful for this quick getaway to Ten Mile Lake.
Annie, it turns out, loves the water. Put a swimsuit and a floaty on that girl, and she is almost fearless! She loved playing in the water with her dad and found playing in the sand almost as enjoyable.
Emma, meanwhile, found the water too cold and too wet, preferring to watch from the beach.
We took it as easy as we could with two little ones in tow- being with friends, boating, fishing, sitting around the fire pit, and playing at the beach. And of course there was way too much good food.
If it sounds like heaven, that's because it was pretty close :)
Thank you to our friends for the invitation and the memories!