by Lisa Meyers McClintick
Hugging rugged curves, heading through tunnels and stopping for cliff-top views of Lake Superior sets the perfect mood for heading to Lutsen Resort, one of Minnesota’s most lauded and scenic vacation destinations.
It sits about 90 miles north of Duluth, the world’s most inland port, and overlooks Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake. Highway 61, also known as the North Shore Scenic Byway, tempts travelers to detour with a historic lighthouse, stellar waterfalls and intriguing rivers and coves, so it’s good to assure kids they will have plenty of fun at Lutsen Resort’s cobblestone beach, where the Poplar River meets Lake Superior. It’s perfect for launching sea kayaks, skipping rounded cobblestones or wading into the river in search of Lake Superior agates.
Lutsen Resort ranks as Minnesota’s oldest resort, founded in 1885 by Swedish immigrants. The current lodge built in 1951 reflects the North Shore’s Nordic roots with a traditional red color and warm, welcoming timbers and a stone fireplace inside.
There are rooms in the lodge, but most families gravitate toward log cabins and modern condos or townhomes with full kitchens and room to spread out. A quaint covered bridge that’s illuminated at night connects the lodge to condos across the river on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior. Other accommodations sit on the hill above the lodge to offer luxury and modern comforts with sweeping lake views. Families also opt for the villas, which are older and less expensive, located a few miles south of the main Lutsen Resort property.
Lutsen anchors a key part of Minnesota’s North Shore, offering some of its most luxurious lodging plus dining with a view. It’s also within 10 minutes of two state parks with impressive waterfalls that roar to life each spring and flow toward cobblestone beaches north and south of Lutsen. And the nearby Lutsen Mountains ski resort also draws year-round visitors to the Sawtooth Mountains with its bright red gondola that shuttles hikers to shady summer trails and fall treks that overlook blazing reds and oranges that wash across mountains dotted with dark green conifers and golden birches.
Lutsen Resort’s guide staff offers a variety of adventurous activities year-round for families who love to explore or learn new skills such as paddling or fly-fishing. For those who prefer a more laid-back vacation, agates beg to be found and rocks need to be skipped. Parents can unwind with the spa or simply by listening to waves wash across the rocks. By evening, look for beachfront bonfires, S’mores and stargazing to add a magical finish to a day on Lake Superior.
Our Editor Loves
- Beach along the Poplar River and Lake Superior shore
- Located less than a mile from Lutsen Mountains Ski Resort
- Outdoor programming with kayaking, guided hikes and more
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The historic red log lodge anchors this resort as the hub for registration, dining and activities. The vintage upstairs lodge rooms are best for couples, but families can choose from several types of accommodations spread throughout the property.
North of the main lodge and Poplar River and on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior, these modern cabins welcome guests who love the warm, timeless feel of log construction. Each includes a fireplace, balcony, full (and modern) kitchen, dining area, two bedrooms with a king bed and two doubles, plus a pullout sofa or couch in the living room.
Lutsen Sea Villas
For families on a budget, these townhomes, located 2.5 miles south of Lutsen Resort's main lodge and property, are the most economical option. The rooms are smaller with less space to move around, but they're tidy and cleverly planned -- sort of like a boat that has to maximize its space. Even better, they're perched right along the lakeshore for front-seat views.
Due to the distance from the main lodge, the Villas have their own registration area, playground, indoor pool, whirlpool and sauna. One- and two-story units can accommodate two to eight guests, often with lofts that appeal to kids. Each includes a kitchen, wood-burning stove, DVD/VCR player, wireless Internet and outdoor decks. Some units allow pets.
Poplar River Condos
Light walls, natural wood trims, a fireplace and luxury details make these units feel modern and homey, but the focus is always the generous view of Lake Superior and shoreline pines. Each unit includes a full kitchen, living room, dining room, three gas fireplaces, three bathrooms, three bedrooms and two whirlpool tubs. The units can be rented as a whole or divided into three private sections for families needing less space. A family of three not requiring a kitchen could get by with an upper floor luxury bedroom with a mini bar, sink, mini-fridge and microwave.
Cliff House Townhomes
Families seeking spacious, modern lodging can reserve a partial or full three-bedroom Cliff House Townhome. These colorful rows of townhomes built in 2005 face the lake and the lodge below. Each includes three bathrooms and a large open kitchen, dining and living room area. The master bathroom's whirlpool tub looks out at Lake Superior.
We stayed in the Poplar Condominiums during July 4th week. The resort is wonderful. The resort activities are superb. We participated in the family kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, guided hiking, yoga, and family July 4th activities. The dining room is excellent for dinner and satisfactory to above average for breakfast and lunch. We found the confluence of the Poplar River and Lake Superior to be gorgeous and unique. The resort should advertise this unique property feature more. The beach is also a unique feature. Most areas along Lake Superior are very rocky and do not include a pebble beach.
We will be back. Grand Marais up the road is also a beautiful little town.
Our family of 17 stayed in the Sea Villas. The accommodations, activities, service, and food at the restaurant exceeded our expectations! Highly recommend! Would definitely return for another stay at Lutsen.
Before kayaking caught on as a booming sport, Lutsen Resort was already teaching guests how to safely paddle long, narrow sea kayaks. They're the best way to soak in Lake Superior's beauty and marvel at its clarity. On quiet, calm days, it can be like skimming across glass with views 20 feet down to the lake's rocky bottom.
Guides teach skills for both beginners and experienced paddlers. Participants have to be at least 8 years old, and anyone under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Family sessions use tandem kayaks on Caribou Lake, which is inland, warmer and less windy than Lake Superior. Teens 14 and up can join the sessions on Lake Superior.
The recreation staff keeps kids ages 4 through 12 busy with crafts, games and time to explore during half-day summer sessions. Winter guests can sign kids up for evening pizza and movie sessions on long holiday weekends.
Bicyclists can hop onto the recently paved stretches of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail, which parallels the lake and Highway 61. There's an easy stretch from the resort lodge to the Sea Villas property or an 8-mile loop to and from Tofte, which has a pretty cove and the Coho Bakery and CafÃ© for a tasty treat.
More adventurous riders can hop on numerous forest service roads or drive up to Britton Peak in Tofte or Pincushion Mountain near Grand Marais for a single track trail downhill. Bring your own bike or rent from Tofte's Sawtooth Outfitters.
Enjoy the North Shore's rivers and roaring waterfalls with a complimentary guided hike or ask for staff recommendations on favorite paths or sections of the Superior Hiking Trail. Two spots guaranteed to impress kids: a series of thundering falls, scoured rock potholes and cauldrons at Temperance River State Park or the mountain tram that travels above the Poplar River and 1,000 feet up Lutsen Mountains for exploring loop trails at the top. There's a Summit Chalet with restrooms and a cafÃ© where the tram drops off riders. Tram tickets run $8 for kids over 6 and $12 for adults. There's also a combination ticket that includes a ride on the alpine slide for $36.
Guests ages 8 and up can learn how to make graceful casts into the Poplar River, a favorite spot for anglers. Lessons are complimentary to guests, but a daily or annual fishing license is required for anyone age 16 and up. Kids under 12 must participate with an adult.
Guests interested in catching a trophy lake trout or salmon can pay for and join a 4-hour morning boat tour through Tofte Charters ($75 per person). The boat leaves from Taconite Harbor.
With 27 holes incorporating lush woods, the rocky Poplar River and big blue Great Lake views, Superior National Golf easily ranks among Minnesota's finest courses and begins only a half-mile from Lutsen Resort. With the resort's stay-and-play options, rates for 18 holes with a cart run from $42 to $64.
Anyone with young kids in tow or looking for something more laid-back and built for beginners can borrow clubs at Lutsen Resort's lodge and play its nine pitch-and-putt holes for free, right on the property. No tee time is required. Lutsen resort also has a nine-hole disc golf course and provides complimentary discs for guests.
It needs to be mighty hot before Lake Superior's water feels enticing. That's why most guests opt for the large indoor pools at the resort's main lodge or at the Sea Villas, which also have a playground onsite. Bring an inflatable toy or water wings for babies and toddlers.
The lodge gift shop offers a nice selection of kid-friendly souvenirs, such as apparel or stuffed animals, games and puzzles. Teens itching for more shopping might enjoy Grand Marais, about 20 minutes northeast of Lutsen, where you can find a 70-year-old nostalgic Ben Franklin among its shops and galleries.
Watch for winter weekend packages that include lift tickets for Lutsen Mountains and free shuttles from Lutsen Resort. The 95 runs carved into four of Minnesota's Sawtooth Mountains have a 1,000-foot rise, terrain park, 10 lifts (including Mid-America's only mountain tram) and 60 acres of tree skiing. The beginner's area includes a magic carpet and instructors for both skiers and snowboarders. Non-skiers can ride the tram to Summit Chalet for a scenic lunch or hot cocoa. The east-facing view sweeps across the blues of Lake Superior and deep greens of Lake Superior National Forest.
Lutsen Mountains is often the last ski resort to close in Minnesota, usually lasting into the first week of April. Lutsen Resort guests can pick from a handful of ski-and-stay deals, too.
Skiing and Snowshoeing
Enjoy the quiet of the winter woods and Lake Superior overlooks with complimentary guided snowshoe and cross-country ski outings. There are more than 150 miles of groomed and tracked trails for cross-country skiers, from short beginner loops to all-day adventures for experienced skiers through hardwood forest and frozen bogs. The resort also has guided night hikes, excellent for stargazing and full moons. Skis and snowshoe rentals are complimentary for guests.
Layer up the warm clothing and enjoy the beach, which can look amazing when ice encases the cobblestones or forms on large rocks like stalactites. The staff often stokes up an evening campfire on the beach and provide ingredients for wintertime S'mores. Winter weekends also include a craft in the lodge lobby, such as making jewelry, candles, soaps or a birdhouse.
Nearby recreation includes snowmobile trails, horse-drawn sleigh rides and dogsledding through the national forest. Lutsen Mountains ski resort also has a family festival in late January with races and fireworks.
Lakeside Dining Room
Local ingredients and influences on this menu include a wild rice omelet or Inge's Swedish pancakes, eggs Benedict with house-cured salmon, wild rice soup, potato-encrusted walleye, Swedish meatballs and Swedish cream with ingonberries for dessert. Kids' menus are available.
Poplar River Pub
You'll find live music here a few times a week, and more casual fare such as poutine (fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds), a walleye sandwich, flatbread pizza with sausage, mushrooms and wild rice, a North Shore salad with blueberries and candied pecans, and a house-smoked beef brisket or pollo verde stew.
If you plan to do your own cooking for several days, it's helpful to bring a cooler and ingredients for meals. There is a small grocer nearby and a larger one in Grand Marais, but you'll want to maximize time outdoors.
If you prefer to dine out, Lutsen Resort has a MN Family Package that includes breakfast and dinner discounts. There's also family-friendly dining with fun kid meals at Papa Charlie's at Lutsen Mountains (also a hot spot for local music) and the Coho CafÃ© in Tofte, which serves pizza with wild rice sausage and tasty salads.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Check the hotel's Web site for deals, such as the Minnesota Family Vacation Package with meals included, ski specials (especially in March) or a fourth night free if you can escape for a long weekend in January or February.
Wear good sturdy shoes such as sandals with toe protection, athletic shoes or hiking boots for trails and walks along rocky beaches. Take bug repellent with DEET for mosquitoes and ticks and wear light-colored clothing. The lake's cold depths also act like a giant air conditioner and can moderate temperatures on the shore. Taking long-sleeved shirts and pants both protects against bugs at dusk and keeps you warm.
The Art of Smart Timing
Book by late spring or earlier if you plan a summer vacation at Lutsen. It ranks as the busiest season and most expensive time to visit, followed by ski season. Fall weekends also book quickly with colors often peaking by the third or fourth week in September.
For winter skiing, you'll get the most hours on the slopes (or in the woods) by going from late-January to March. Lutsen Mountains' downhill runs are not lit and closed by dusk.
Shoulder seasons -- late-March through May or late-October through mid-December -- offer the biggest discounts for families wanting a cozy getaway for indoor fun, pool time, chilly hikes, and the possible bonus of watching a storm roll in or seeing area waterfalls thunder back to life with snowmelt. The resort also hosts special events, such as food and wine weekends or fireside talks with area artists.
It's close to 2.5 hours by car from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to Duluth via Interstate 35. Duluth also has an international airport and car rentals. It's then another 90 miles along the North Shore National Scenic Byway (Highway 61) to Lutsen.
For Mom and Dad
The summer Kids Camp for ages 4 to 12 gives parents time together for a kayaking trip, couples massage, a round of golf or quiet time listening to the waves. Winter weekends usually include a kids' pizza and movie night (ages 4 to 16) for parents craving a date-night dinner or wanting to catch live music.