Summer doesn’t have to be jam-packed with overrated theme parks. Pack a picnic basket and enjoy a lunch lakeside in Minnesota. Sure, there are 10,000 lakes to choose from (actually, there are 11,840-something), but with knowledge on our side - and a childhood spent in Minnesota - we’ve managed to whittle it down to a select few (excluding Lake Wobegon, of course).
This easy-going midwestern state doles out simple, affordable pleasures like fishing, canoeing, hiking and world-famous desserts at every turn. And, of course, water. You may know that the great Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake, but did you know that the state of Minnesota has more shoreline than California, Florida and Hawaii combined? While Lake Superior is, well, superior in size, you’ll find some quaint towns along its edge, including our first stop: Grand Marais.
Grand Marais is the kind of lake town that’s busting at the seams with “quaint.” Before you head out to fish, swim, hike or bike, load up on some carbs at World's Best Donuts - a cornerstone here since 1969. And the name is not laying it on thick. These simple cake doughnuts, with their dense, chewy inside and golden, just-crisp-enough outside, are little miracles. The donuts still go for about 70 cents, too, last time we checked.
Here in northern Minnesota, the evergreen trees blanket the surrounding landscape and the abundant wildlife—elks, caribou, beavers, ravens, bald eagles—outnumbers vacationers. That goes for trout and salmon, too. Thanks to a successful restocking program, fishing here has improved vastly over the years. You’ll find another “favorite hole” right in town at the bait and tackle shop. They claim a trip here will better your chances at fishing; we think it will better your chances of getting your photo taken with a big fish. Speaking of fish, head to the Angry Trout Cafe at sunset and ask for a table outside. The combination of the lake, the fish, the breeze and the sunset will make you want to stay year round (note: the trout are not angry, nor are the proprietors of this establishment).
From this small town on a big lake, head for some smaller lakes in a big town, namely the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis. Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, and Lake Harriett (our favorites, though there are more) each have a charm of their own - and lakeside paths will get you from one to the other. Walk, bike, run or rollerblade, or jump off and canoe for a couple of miles from Lake Calhoun to Brownie Lake; take a sailing lesson on Calhoun; listen to live music at the Lake Harriett Bandshell; visit the bird sanctuary or gardens near Lake Harriett; or park on a bench and simply be.
If you think a locum tenens assignment in Minnesota is limited to the summertime, think again. As the days grow shorter and the trees reluctantly change, there’s still leaf-peeping, and (eventually) snowshoeing, skiing, skating and mushing that remain to be experienced in this land of loons. Not to mention the 11,836 or so other lakes.