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A Cabin in Winter

Jan 21, 2018 08:15AM ● Published by Editor

 A Cabin In Winter:  Column from Ann Markusen Grand Rapids Herald Review - January 20, 2017

It’s easy to think of Minnesota state parks as the places where we play and recreate in spring, summer and fall. But many offer winter beauty, lodging, and workouts, too. 

Tettegouche State Park is a winter favorite of the Minnesota Rovers’ outing club. Nestled in the Sawtooth Mountain Range between Beaver Bay and Finland, its steep rocky Palisades rise from Lake Superior northwestward. At the park’s heart, snuggled around Lake MicMac, are four cabins and a  hall built in the 1910s by rich Duluth men after the area had been heavily logged. In the 1970s, the state bought it and restored the cabins for four-season rentals. 

With Rovers and other friends, I’ve been running a ski trip to Tettegouche for at least 15 years. It’s hotly competitive to secure our favorite, Cabin B, sitting on the Mic-Mac shore, framed by huge white pines. To reserve, you call 364 days in advance at 7 a.m.! Or you can try pot-luck and call anytime – there are cancellations. The park equips each cabin with one to two bunk rooms with double beds, a state-of-the-art wood stove, two-burner cook stove, fridge, and kitchenware, and a roomy living/eating area for socializing. Nearby is a heated bathhouse. You haul water from an outdoor pump in huge jugs provided. Harvested and split wood ready to burn lies in huge covered piles nearby.

To reach the cabin, you ski, hike or snowshoe 1.7 miles over a broad park-tracked trail. Years ago, my husband converted a plastic kids toboggan to pull behind us with gear and food. It’s quite a bit of invigorating up and down hills, with encouraging views of Lax Lake and Tettegouche Lake below, you head east towards Lake Superior.

Each morning, everyone gathers around the fire and breakfast table to share aspirations for the day. The more fit among us head off to Bear and Bean Lake, and maybe the Northwoods Skiing Touring Trails. Or down to Baptism River Falls and back up again. The trails are tracked, but the peaks – Mount Baldy, Mount Trudee, Round Mountain – are best climbed with snowshoes. Some of us head for Mount Baldy, a vigorous, short uphill to the best viewing outcrop in the park. From the top, you can see a small swamp lake below, beyond it Mic-Mac Lake, and beyond that, Lake Superior. 

Over the years, we’ve had every kind of weather at Tettegouche. Some years snow was sparse, so we hiked. Twice Mic-Mac Lake was frozen solid without ripples, and we skated, once with skate-sails. Some years there’ve been blizzard-like white-outs, and we don’t venture far from the fire. Often the sky is filled with sunshine, which warms and encourages photography.

I love the intimate vistas, too. The animal tracks in the snow. The pine grosbeaks feeding on red high bush cranberries. A pileated woodpecker massacring a dead pine. Along the river, voluptuous snow-covered banks and willowy grasses. Shadows cast by saplings, or by ourselves.

Every evening, we all trek to the bathhouse, so we can’t help gaze at the dazzling night sky. We compare notes – now what planet would that be? Why is the moon rising at what seems like north, not east? There’s Orion, but where is Taurus? The brightest star, Sirius? Rarely, we go for a night ski, perhaps to the neighboring lake, Nipisiquit, or just around Mic-Mac’s perimeter.

Some three dozen of Minnesota’s State Parks are open for camping this winter, some with camper cabins, including Savanna Portage and Jay Cooke. Many of the state’s resorts are open in the winter, too. On the Gunflint Trail, Ted Young and his wife Barbara keep the yurt-to-yurt Banadad Ski Trail tracked, rent out yurts and transfer gear for overnight skiers, and run their Poplar River B&B. Nearby Clearwater Lodge with its lovely cabins stays open this winter. And many more. Consider an adventure. Give true winter a chance to restore and entertain you.

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