Lake Towns

  • Bicycling around Lake Bemidji

    Once, Bemidji was one of the roughest towns in Minnesota. Now, it's one of the coolest. This is the north-woods logging town that produced the original Paul Bunyan and Babe in 1937, and even today, these figures on Lake Bemidji are rarely without a cluster of tourists at their feet. Look beyond this iconic but corny duo, as the visitors bureau fervently hopes you do, and you'll find everything else a tourist heart could desire – a gorgeous state park, a paved bicycle trail, a professional playhouse, fine restaurants and shops.

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  • Alexandria's enigma

    There are many colossal lumberjacks, voyageurs and Indian chiefs scattered around Minnesota, all paying tribute to a colorful past. But there's only one Big Ole. He stands at the end of Alexandria's Broadway Street, 28 feet of glowering Viking, brandishing a spear and clutching a glistening silver shield that reads "Alexandria, Birthplace of America.''

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  • Bemidji's behemoths

    In Bemidji, three faces tell much of the town's story. Chief Bemidji stands facing the lake the Ojibwe called Bemidgegumaug, or "river flowing crosswise." His real name was Shaynowishkung, and he fed the white people who settled on the lake's shores in 1888. Their settlement became the first town on the Mississippi, which starts 35 miles away in Itasca State Park, winds north to Bemidji, flows through its lake and heads east before finally turning south.

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  • Thrills and hills in Elkhart Lake

    In its entire 150-year history as a resort town, Elkhart Lake rarely has been a sedate place. The early resort owners loved entertainment and built opera houses, dance halls and theaters. Then they put in casinos, and gambling became so commonplace that placing a bet was like buying an ice-cream cone; everybody did it. The town was a little bit Catskills, a little bit Vegas and a lot of Chicago.

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  • The Minnesota resort of your dreams

    Finding your family’s lakeside soul mate — that resort to which you’ll return year after year, that your children will think is the best place in the world — is hard work. It’s not unlike dating; the right one is out there, but only you can find it.

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  • Browsing in Boulder Junction

    In a little village in northern Wisconsin, muskie probably is still king. Back in 1971, city boosters got the U.S. Patent Office to make Boulder Junction the official Musky Capital of the World. After all, the surrounding two counties have the world's densest concentration of lakes, and they still yield 4-foot fish. But times change. Now, this former logging town deep in the middle of state forest has gained fame as a playground for another kind of trophy hunter.

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  • The Wisconsin resort of your dreams

    In summer, there's no better vacation than a week at the lake. Lazy afternoons on the beach, boat rides, marshmallow roasts, catching a string of sunnies — these are memories families savor for decades. But if you don't have a family cabin, where do you go? Wisconsin has more than 15,000 lakes, about the same number as Minnesota, plus shoreline on two Great Lakes.

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  • Summer in the Brainerd Lakes

    To hear resort owners in the north woods tell it, Brainerd is the Times Square of Minnesota. "It's crazy down there," they say, shaking their heads. "It's a zoo. We don't want to be like Brainerd." In Wisconsin, people talk the same way about Door County. Those places are busy, all right. They're busy because plenty of people like that kind of atmosphere — the restaurants, the golf, the shopping, the fancy condo resorts.

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  • Clear Lake tranquility

    This northern Iowa lake town, midway between the Twin Cities and Des Moines, swells with vacationers in summer but retains the laid-back, carefree air of decades past. On the shores of the lake, classic cars cruise around pocket-sized City Park, fuzzy pink dice dangling from mirrors. Every Saturday and Sunday, the municipal band plays in the bandshell. The Lions Club grills chicken and sweet corn, and a paddlewheeler takes tourists on cruises.

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  • Egg Harbor in Door County

    For most tourists, Egg Harbor is the “first’’ village on the Door Peninsula.  After crossing the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, they drive 17 miles past orchards and fields before they get another glimpse of water. Now, visitors see something else first: giant eggs. Artist-decorated eggs line roads and adorn parks to mark a village anniversary — and give tourists something to look at.

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  • Cruising around Excelsior

    On the western fringes of the Twin Cities, the wealthy have staked out Lake Minnetonka. But on the southeast corner of the sprawling lake, one town retains vestiges of the Victorian age, when steamboats ferried vacationers around the lake and day-trippers arrived on electric streetcars.

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  • Minnesota's Little Crow lakes

    It’s a radical idea, but here goes: In Minnesota, you can go up to the lake by heading west. These lakes not only are out west, they’re less than two hours from the Twin Cities, in a pocket of the state many overlook. “It was a secret to me,’’ said Michele Stillinger, a former Twin Citian working as a naturalist at Sibley State Park. “I thought I wouldn’t find anything out here; I was very surprised.’’

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  • Life on Mille Lacs

    Big Mille Lacs is up north, but it isn't a wilderness lake. It's more like a big pond, its vast surfaces dotted with powerboats, its depths thoroughly probed. A highway rings its 100 miles of shore, the better for boat access. Its air is laced with the perfume of gasoline, minnows and frying oil; the lake wouldn't be known as the Walleye Factory if it weren't.

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  • Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis

    Every big city has skyscrapers. Every big city has museums and monuments. But no other city has as many beautiful lakes and parks Minneapolis does. Today, the most expensive homes in the city face the lakes, but the public — in-line skaters, bicyclists, dog-walkers — owns the shorelines.

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  • Summer in Minocqua

    In northeast Wisconsin, Minocqua is all things to all tourists. It's been a boating destination for more than a century because it's on a chain of lakes and nearly surrounded by Lake Minocqua. In fact, it's Nature's Original Water Park, and the town has the trademark to prove it. But summer is short, and these days, tourists like to keep busy. That's why you'll also find water-ski shows, lumberjack shows, boat tours, wildlife parks, bicycle trails, city-style shopping, golf and, in the middle of downtown, mini-golf.

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  • Summer in Park Rapids

    Ever since it was settled, Park Rapids has been a crossroads for tourists. The trains that hauled out white pine at the turn of the century brought in summer guests, who were met at the depot by resort owners and taken to the lakes in wagons. Itasca State Park, 20 miles to the north. After the rail line was abandoned, it became the western trailhead of the Heartland State Trail, one of the nation's first paved bicycle trails.

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  • Sister Bay in Door County

    Sister Bay is all about the water. And Swedish pancakes. And goats.

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  • Fishing for finds in Walker

    In 1896, a St. Paul man named J.A. Berkey came to Minnesota's Leech Lake, threw out his line and reeled in a whole new industry. "He set up white tents for some men from Kansas City, who fished their guts out and said, 'We’re going back and telling everyone,’ ’’ said Renee Geving, director of the Cass County Museum.

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  • Gawking in Lake Geneva

    There are thousands of lakes in the north woods, but the most famous one is a stone's throw from Illinois. Lake Geneva has been the favorite retreat of Chicago folks for 150 years, and everybody who was anybody had a place there: the Wrigleys, Maytags and Schwinns, but also cartoonists, actors, brewers and bottle-cap makers. Geneva will seem citified to people who vacation on woodland lakes. There's a good reason to go there, though: It's entertaining to gawk at extreme wealth, and there's no better place to do it than Lake Geneva.

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  • Waupaca's Chain O' Lakes

    In the middle of Wisconsin, the village of Rural is just far enough off the beaten path. Founded by Yankees in the 1850s, it was the halfway point on the Stevens Point-Berlin trade route and once had a mill, an inn and a dry goods store. But when it was bypassed by the railroad in 1870, the village eased into a slow, genteel decline.

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