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 :)