Photos shared with permission by Visit Cook County
Springtime in Minnesota is something to behold—a true eco-awakening. There’s a lot of winter to undo, and that process can be a visual treat for those who know where to look.
Point your car north for a few hours and you’ll find yourself firmly planted in a different Minnesota. Cook County is a Lavender standby and offers a brilliant vantage point for witnessing a Minnesota Spring—no airport required. I spoke with Visit Cook County’s Marketing and Public Relations Director, Kjersti Vick to see what spring 2021 has in store.
“In the springtime, one of the kind of crazy, unique things about our geographical location is that we have the Sawtooth Mountain range that plunges from the interior of the boundary waters down into Lake Superior.” Vick told me that spring reaches the North Shore later than it does the Twin Cities. “April and May is when the snow is melting up here and our waterfalls are just incredible,” Vick told me of their delayed spring.
“We do a Waterfall Wednesdays campaign that just highlights all the cool, unique waterfalls and where they are in that status of spring break-up.” Visit Cook County’s website also posts information throughout the season about pop-up waterfalls, which tend to flow later in the season.
For the sportsperson, Cook County shines bright in the springtime. “Once we roll into the month of May, people start to think about the fishing season…the walleyes are very aggressively feeding at that time, so fishing is one of our big [attractions].”
Gravel riding has been growing in popularity amongst cyclists, and Cook County is well positioned for the latest two-wheel fad. Vick told me that Cook County has “hundreds of miles of gravel trails—and we have a couple of designated routes that are more biker friendly.” The area also plays host to some major cycling events. “Memorial Day weekend, the Le Grand du Nord is a gravel cycling race and that is scheduled right now to occur,” Vick said. COVID-19 protocols have been implemented to ensure a safe race environment. “…rather than having a mass start, they’re going to stage the starts,” according to Vick. The Lutsen 99er mountain bike race is also set to run, in June.
For those who prefer a walking pace, you’re covered too. I was surprised to learn about Cook County’s wild growing, unfarmed blueberry burgeon. “We have the ‘biggest blueberry contest’ on the Gunflint Trail,” Vick said with a smile. Blueberries, gathered throughout the summer, are brought into local, participating stores for an official weigh-in. Largest blueberry gets a prize. “…it’s just kind of a fun, low-key event where we encourage people to go out into the woods.”
Ninety percent of Cook County’s 3,000 acres is public forest land; they were socially distant before it was cool. “We have a lot of trails and lots of people come up here to get away from everything and, you know, just have some time alone.” Exploring is always open in Cook County—it’s the planned events that have seen a fluid dynamic over the past year.
“I think that we have become masters of the phrase ‘pivoting.’ We’re getting really good at coming up with different scenarios, like if this happens, then we move here. If this happens and we move here—we have a group of very thoughtful leaders in our community.” Vick told me that they’re “working really [closely] with our state and local officials to make sure that the local business community knows how to proceed forward and how to be nimble on their feet.”
A grand example of said nimbleness is Lutsen Mountain Ski Resort. “They have come up with a very comprehensive way of managing groups of people at the mountain,” according to Vick. The resort has made calculated decisions, “based on the temperature, the demands, the interest, and what the weather is doing—so that they can be ready to have [sic] ten different plans in place for what the weather is doing and the demands of that day.” Their success has been noted and “has been kind of replicated by some of our other events and venues so that they’re doing the same kind of monitoring.”
I asked Vick about her personal recommendations for visiting Cook County. The Gunflint Trail’s “Wet Your Paddle” program offers an hour of free paddling, through various resorts along the trail, and Vick tells me it’s a must. She also suggests hiking to waterfalls during their peak—and of course, blueberries. “Even if you only pick a handful of blueberries, there’s something really satisfying about picking something that’s been kissed by the sun.”
Check out www.visitcookcounty.com to see a full, up-to-date list of events and resources for planning your trip to Cook County.