Cabin Country. Lake Life. Up North. Hordes of Minneapolitans make the pilgrimage out of the city each summer weekend to enjoy our state’s most abundant natural resource - our 10,000+ lakes. And many who do so share the same thoughts about the experience: this is why we put up with five months of winter; this is Minnesota at its finest.
On the 4th of July, when Minneapolis City Correspondents shared our Independence Day experiences from across the state, Waqar aptly said that Minnesota’s “up north cabin country” is mystical. Indeed it is. Minnesota lakes - and the water-related culture and cabin life that surround them - are a marvelous place where people go to feel time slow down.
Get in and around the water
For many, these places are steeped in ritual and family tradition; they are places where past and present connect. A trip to “The Lake” or “The Cabin” isn’t just an escape from emails and phone calls—where the most pressing order of business is to wander through a forest of red pines (our state tree), or let the boat drift in the middle of the lake while listening to the call of the loons (our state bird)—it is a chance to connect with generations past by doing what Minnesotans have always done: get in and around the water.
I am not among the fortunate who own a cabin on a Minnesota lake. Those people fall into a whole different category of enviable. I am lucky, however, to have in-laws who rent a cabin each year on Gull Lake, in the Brainerd Lakes area; they haul up their beautiful restored 1974 Skiff Craft and invite us to enjoy lake life at its finest for a week each August. This year, we packed in as many quintessential Up North activities as we could with the hope that these warm memories will tide us over until next year.
A glimpse back to our own childhoods
Spending a week on Gull Lake kayaking, fishing, stand-up paddle boarding, tubing, wake boarding, making sand castles, and eating s’mores around a beach bonfire felt a bit like being in a time warp. Both in the immediate sense—it was a week that seemed to race by while also feeling like it lasted forever—and also in a broader way: it provided a glimpse back to our own childhoods.
"It is a chance to connect with generations past by doing what Minnesotans have always done: get in and around the water."
We happily spent an afternoon watching our kids jump off an inner tube into the water and it was the most entertaining thing since Game of Thrones. Suddenly bedtime routines gave way to staying up late and playing with sparklers on the beach. Having ice cream for dinner (at the popular Chocolate Ox) seemed perfectly acceptable.
The nearby town of Nisswa, MN understands this mystical lake life all too well. Nisswa caters to that sense of nostalgia and ritual with its kitschy souvenir shops, candy stores, pizza parlors, and most famously, its weekly turtle races during the summer months. People line up hours ahead of time to get a number allowing them to participate.
And many have been doing it their whole lives: when we attended the turtle races, the emcee asked how many third generation turtle racers were among the crowd (people who had participated when they were kids and now had grandchildren racing), several people raised their hands.
You don’t have to be a third-generation cabin-goer to enjoy Minnesota Lake Life (in this case, just two hours north of Minneapolis), because its appeal is universal: peace and quiet and the great outdoors. I highly recommend giving the time warp a try sometime!