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Great mom-and-pop motels

The good ones are homey, hospitable and inexpensive, the best values in lodging. But they're disappearing fast.

Bayfield motel owner Mike Goodier totes laundry.

© Beth Gauper

In Bayfield, Seagull Bay Motel owner Mike Goodier does his morning chores.

In Bayfield, the Seagull Bay Motel is a throwback to bygone days.

The roadside motel was built in 1957, and it hasn't kept up with the times — there's no fitness room, no hot tub, no spa services, no designer decor. Modern developers consider it a tear-down, says owner Mike Goodier.

Strange, then, that so many people want to stay there.

This mom-and-pop motel overlooking Chequamegon Bay is that rare thing in travel — a great place to stay that doesn't cost much. The hillside location is big-bucks — guests have a lovely view, and they can stroll into town on the Brownstone Trail just below the motel — but standard rooms cost just $70 in summer.

"People check the web, and they call and say, 'Are your $70 rates correct?' '' Goodier says. "I say, 'Yeah, you don't need to equate high rates with quality.' ''

The place feels more like a B&B than a motel; guests have barbecues in the back yard, go to Big Top Chautauqua on the shuttle Mike and Jeanne Goodier sponsor and have long chats with their hosts about what they should do in Bayfield and on the Apostles. Not surprisingly, 80 percent of guests are returnees.

"We're always sold out,'' Mike Goodier says. "Our guests know the drill — when they check out, they reserve for next year.''

Motels like this increasingly are hard to find. Few owners want to maintain aging properties when they can sell to developers who want to build vacation condos.

Goodier says he gets regular offers for the property. Luckily for guests, he still has plenty of energy after 14 years.

"If I weren't mowing the lawn and doing laundry here, I'd be doing it at home, so it matters not,'' he says cheerfully.

These days, a room at an ordinary franchise hotel costs more than $100 in summer, and B&Bs regularly charge $150 or more. That's why it's so great to find a place like the Seagull Bay.

I'm always looking for good mom-and-pop motels, but here are the ones I've found so far.

Seagull Bay Motel in Bayfield, Wis. You'll feel lucky if you can get a reservation here in summer. Rooms have a view of Chequamegon Bay, and there are grills and picnic tables in the back yard.

The back yard adjoins the Brownstone Trail, on which you can walk into Bayfield. It's a 10-minute walk to Maggie's, a popular restaurant.

Since the Goodiers organized the free shuttle to Big Top Chautauqua, the motel is one of the stops. Some rooms have a kitchenette, and there are two guest houses and a cottage. 715-779-5558. 

Best Northern Motel in Wawa, Ont. This quiet motel is a welcome stop on the Circle Tour of Lake Superior.

The Best Northern Motel in Wawa.

© Beth Gauper

The well-kept Best Northern Motel in Wawa, Ont., is a welcome stop on the Circle Tour of Lake Superior.

At most strip motels, people walking by can look through the curtains and see the bed; not at this one, which has the best-designed strip-motel rooms I've ever seen and also the most stylish, with sponge-painted walls and Arts and Crafts furniture.

Proprietors Teresa and Mark Kozik also have added a sauna, outdoor hot tub, free high-speed Internet and billiards room with CD player and a gas fireplace. Three cottages overlook the Michipicoten River. Call 800-434-8240.

The Koziks have added a restaurant, but just up the drive is the excellent Kinniwabi Pines, a mom-and-pop restaurant that serves an international menu, 705-856-7226.

Lund’s Motel & Cottages in Grand Marais, Minn. This resort is just south of town, across from the municipal campground (its indoor swimming pool and sauna are open to the public for a small fee) and a short walk from the North House Folk School and downtown.

Motel rooms are basic but as nice as they come. I like No. 105, which has a big juniper bush in front of its window so is a little more private. No. 106 is at the end, farthest from the highway.

Off-season rates are lower, and Ron Lund, whose parents built the resort, may shave off even more if business is slow. Call him at 218-387-2155.

For more, see Mom-and-pop motels of Grand Marais.

Coloma Hotel in Coloma, Wis. This 1876 eight-room hotel on the sand plains of central Wisconsin, next to the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and just east of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, is newly renovated by retired Milwaukee detective Dennis Apps and his wife, Susan.

When I stayed there during the April Prairie Chicken Festival, my large room had a king bed, gas fireplace, cable, fridge and sofa, and breakfast was included. There's a small pub where I paid $2 for a Heineken (this might have been a mistake!), and the bartender brought me a bowl of pretzels.

The Sunset Motel in Munising.

© Beth Gauper

The quiet Sunset Motel faces Munising Bay near Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The inn also hosts live music and, occasionally, theater. Watch for packages. 715-228-2401.

Willowood Inn in Baraboo, Wis. This neat and comfortable motel is the closest lodgings to Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin's most-visited state park. I went there with a group of hikers one October; it's perfectly suited for a group because rooms have two or even three beds.

In the evening, we sat around the fire pit in the back yard; there's also a playground, grills and a heated outdoor pool.

There's also a two-bedroom cottage with kitchen. Linda Johnson and Steve Kearns are the proprietors, 888-356-5474.

Willard Munger Inn in Duluth, Minn. I've stayed at this 1954 brick motel on West Duluth's Grand Avenue in every season, and it's the best deal in town. The staff is helpful and friendly, breakfast is included, guests get free use of bicycles and there's a small refrigerator and microwave in every room.

It's not on Canal Park, but it is at the junction of many trailheads (see Duluth's other waterfront), including the Willard Munger State Trail, named for the father of the motel's proprietor, Will Munger. Call 800-982-2453.

Cottage House Inn in Lanesboro, Minn. This modern inn, across from the Commonweal Theatre, always is a good bet. It has 14 simple but attractive rooms, seven with two beds.

A large, hot breakfast is extra. Proprietors Lynn and Marilyn Bunge are friendly and down-to-earth. 800-944-0099.

Great River Amish Inn in Pepin, Wis. I stayed here when it was the Lake Pepin Inn and I was in town for Laura Ingalls Wilder Days. Clean and tidy, with quilts and Amish furniture, this motel feels like a B&B at half the cost.

It's along Wisconsin 35, less than a block from Great River Roasters Cafe and walking distance to the Harbor View Cafe and Mississippi River. Each of seven rooms has a microwave and refrigerator. Call 715-442-5400.

Sunset Motel in Munising, Mich. This town is the gateway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the Upper Peninsula, but there aren't many good places to stay.

The Coloma Hotel.

© Beth Gauper

The Coloma Hotel is in a quiet central Wisconsin town but close to attractions.

Luckily, there's one: the Sunset Motel, facing on the bay and away from the strip-like downtown. Rooms that have fridges, microwaves and wireless Internet. It's friendly and quiet and has picnic tables and places for children to play.

It also rents two three-bedroom cottages that sleep eight, 906-387-4574.

Guest House Motel in Amana, Iowa. This motel is in the middle of the action in the busiest of the popular Amana Colonies in eastern Iowa. There are 12 rooms in an 1880s sandstone building and 26 rooms in a newer motel.

The older building has more character, but rooms don't have individual controls of heat and air-conditioning. Packages can be a good deal. 877-331-0828.

Bluffside Motel in Sister Bay, Wis. Rooms with small fridges and two full beds or a queen are very affordable, and rates include coffee and doughnuts. There's also a suite with a full kitchen and two bedrooms, one with twin beds, 920-854-2530.

Julie's Park Motel in Fish Creek, Wis. This motel is near shops and the entrance to Peninsula State Park, and it has a cafe and a carryout counter for baked goods and espresso drinks. 920-868-2999.

For more affordable places in Door County, see Where to stay in Door County.

Last updated on December 26, 2013