Land of Light and Ice
Photography courtesy of Visit Cook County, except where noted.

If you were to be told there was a winter destination in which you could see the Northern Lights, eat delicious Scandinavian food, and live the Danish lifestyle of Hygge, all within one day, would you believe it?

This place is actually there, and you don’t need to travel to Europe to reach it. This is Cook County in Minnesota. It’s one the most amazing winter getaways anywhere within the contiguous forty eight states.

(c) Jill Davis Kneeskern. Allez-y Travel Adventures

North Country Traditions

One of the most striking things about Minnesota is their proud heritage. In the 1850s, the state saw an influx of Scandinavian immigrants, who brought with them their traditions, language, and cuisine. Minnesota is a perfect American location for Scandinavians because of its climate, which is similar to Sweden, Norway, Finland and Norway.

Both locals and visitors have ample opportunities to discover this heritage. The North House Folk School in Grand Marais welcomes tourists and students from all ages to learn traditional crafts for more than 20 years. It is situated on the beautiful north shore of Lake Superior. This school offers guests the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the lake and learn from the instructors. In the past, courses included basketry, boatbuilding and fiber art.

There are many opportunities to relax and have fun, in addition to crafts and educational activities. You can embrace hygge at the cozy cabin resorts located along the Gunflint Trail.
is a term you may not have heard of.
It’s a Danish lifestyle idea based on comfort and well-being.

Winter may be the best time to enjoy the comforting hygge-minded amenities offered by the lodges and cabins in the region. Bearskin Lodge is also in Grand Marais and is one of the most historical destinations on the trail. Hosting travelers since 1925, the lodge is well known for having neither phone nor television access, which means it’s great for anyone who is looking to truly unplug and unwind. USA Today ranked it as one of America’s top three resorts for cross country skiing with more than 47 miles of trails. Night trails are also available.

A short drive north from Bearskin Lodge will take you to Gunflint Pines Resort & Campground. This campground offers a breathtaking view of the state’s Northwoods. Stay in one of the resort’s classic A-frame cabins. This includes access to a sauna, and rentals of winter sports equipment.

(c) Visit Cook County

Snow Adventures

While the lodges and resorts of Cook County offer direct access to a variety of winter attractions and activities, you can also experience the beauty and excitement of Minnesota winters on your own.

Fans of snowy weather, take note: Cook County receives, on average, 120 inches of snow each year, which typically starts falling in November and continues through late April. Winter sports are a popular choice for tourists and locals alike. Cross-country skiers can be found all over the county, starting at the Gunflint Trail and ending at Grand Marais on the coast of Lake Superior. In fact, there are more miles of cross-country ski trails here–nearly 250 miles’ worth– than anywhere else in the United States.

There are plenty of traditional snowboarding and alpine skiing trails that you can explore. The resort of Lutsen Mountains is located in the Sawtooth Mountain Range at one thousand feet above Lake Superior. Due to the lake-effect snow, sixty-two of the area’s primary runs and thirty two sidecountry runs are nearly always covered in fresh snow during peak season.

All this snow makes Cook County a great place to snowshoe and snowmobilize, both within the beautiful Superior National Forest. Nearly all of the park is open for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing off-trail. However, there are many other options available, which vary in difficulty and distance. Many of the county’s roads and trails can be accessed by snowmobile. This gives you endless opportunities to sightsee.

The Visit Cook County website has a detailed trail map. It also lists trails where you might see dogsled teams and other natural wildlife.

(c) Avi Loren Fox

Natural Wonders

The area’s natural beauty is what drives the amazing winter activities and attractions of Cook County. It can be enjoyed in many different ways. The beauty of the North Country is unmatched, whether you are on skis, walking, or on water. It all starts with America’s largest lake, Lake Superior.

The lake expands over 31,700 miles, so there are plenty of activities to enjoy and sights to see, one of the most fascinating being the wealth of agates along the lake’s shoreline. Flat, colorful rocks made from lava that has hardened on the lake floor and mixed with the minerals-rich waters. If you are lucky enough, you might find an agate with a mysterious two-ring formation. These beautiful stones can be found at many of Cook County’s beaches, including Lutsen and Tofte as well as Schroeder and Grand Marais. However, you should be aware of the local restrictions since some areas prohibit visitors from removing agates from the shore.

Another natural wonder that you might spot in Cook County, is the Aurora Borealis or northern lights. Northern lights are created when sun-generated particles enter Earth’s magnetic field. Because of its dark skies and high elevation, it is one of the most popular places to see them. The best time to see the Aurora Borealis is in winter and late fall. Many of the county’s lakes offer public viewing areas to increase your chances. Visit Cook County suggests downloading the My Aurora Forecast and Alerts app. This app tracks the KP Index which measures magnetic disturbances in the atmosphere due to solar winds.

There are many places across America where winter can be experienced, but Cook County, Minnesota is the only place where you can truly embrace winter. Cook County is a place where you can experience a different kind of adventure. From the stunning peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains, to the clear waters of its lakes and rivers, Cook County has it all.

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