Photos courtesy of Visit Bemidji
A gem of Northern Minnesota, and a Lavender standby, is Bemidji. The city has fewer than 20,000 residents sharing nearly twenty square miles—meaning it’s socially distant by nature. And they’re open. I spoke with Visit Bemidji’s Executive Director Josh Peterson and asked him what Bemidji has in store for 2021.
What are the major draws to area? What brings people to Bemidji?
Bemidji is a summer destination that ranks #1 in a few key attractions. Starting with the most photographed roadside attraction: the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, and the life-sized statues which stand on the shores of Lake Bemidji, which have called that same location home since 1937. Paul’s height is 18 feet, and he weighs two-and-a-half tons. Babe weighs five tons, and his horns have a span of 14 feet. He was added next to Paul in 1939.
Another Bemidji #1 is the fact that Bemidji is the First City on the Mississippi. You can find the start of the mighty Mississippi just 26 miles southwest of Bemidji. There, you can walk across the source of the river. Itasca State Park offers something for everyone from bicycle and Pontoon rentals to educational opportunities. Lake Itasca and its park offers the perfect afternoon excursion when you plan your stay in Bemidji.
What’s new for spring/summer 2021?
After a year of limited offerings due to the pandemic, Bemidji is excited to bring back summer events. While summer events may look a bit different, celebrating summer is what Bemidji is known for. Starting with the 77th Annual Bemidji Jaycees Water Carnival, which runs from June 30th – July 5th, 2021. This 4th of July celebration includes everything from carnival rides and food to parades and the largest fireworks display in northern Minnesota. July 7th brings with it the return of Mississippi Music, where each Wednesday night local and regional artists perform their original compositions at the Bemidji Waterfront. Bemidji also offers a large Art-in-the-Park event in mid-July, featuring artists from all over the Midwest. The spirit of competition comes alive during the 15th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival. It’s not just about Dragon Boat racing: festival activities include great food, music, kids’ activities, a parade of teams, cultural performances, camaraderie, and much more all along the shores of beautiful Lake Bemidji.
How has COVID affected tourism in the area?
While COVID greatly affected the tourism industry, Bemidji faired extremely well, because in northern Minnesota we are naturally socially distanced. Being that our specialty is outdoor recreation, Bemidji offers access to solace. It’s where you can be one with nature in the “Lost 40,” or go for a hike at the Lake Bemidji State Park Bog Walk or enjoy a night of camping in the Chippewa National Forest. Even though tourism for our area was down slightly the past year, Bemidji remains to be a safe option for those who visit.
What are your recommendations for Bemidji or the surrounding area?
When you plan your trip to the Bemidji area, you’ll find that you can personalize your lodging options. Whether you stay at one of our nine beautiful hotels or one of our unique resorts, we can guarantee that you’ll want to come back for more. You can plan a stay in a treehouse cabin at Kohl’s Resort or rent a cabin on the shores of Lake Bemidji at Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge. Locations offer amenities such as watercraft rentals, dining, and access to personalized adventures. Bemidji is also home to amazing stories through its history. Bemidji is set in the heart of Native American culture and is proud to have its Native American heritage on display throughout the city.
Recommendations for summer ’21? Community activities?
Bemidji is rich with arts and culture. Whether it is visual, or the performing arts, Bemidji has art on display everywhere you look. The most obvious is when you walk around downtown Bemidji and see massive works of art on display as part of the Bemidji Sculpture Walk. Bemidji is also home to the Water Art Center which showcases work from artists from around the world. If you enjoy stage productions, you can take in a show at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse at the historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji.
The playhouse is the oldest, professional summer stock company in Minnesota, and draws actors from across the state, region, and country. While in downtown Bemidji you can check out our great food district—all within walking distance. You can find food from all over the world, such as fine Italian dining at Tutto Bene, the best in Thai food at Tara, an upscale breakfast at Red Stu, or an all-American meal at Bar 209. Bemidji Brewing, also located in historic downtown, features many different beers but is known for its award-winning German Blonde Beer.
Go to www.visitbemidji.com to learn more about Bemidji and to start planning your visit!