The second part of my New Year’s journey (see my Solglimt review for the first half) and our final destination was the Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen, Minnesota. Located only a hop, skip and jump away from the Canadian border (around 50 miles), Lutsen is about as far north as you can go. It’s also long been a destination for skiing, snow shoeing and exploring lodge living.
Perched on the edge of the mountain, with ski trails running through the property, Caribou is the perfect place to stay if you want easy access to the ski slopes. The main chalet and ski lift is just a short walk up the street, so you don’t have to deal with the parking lots that are over-flowing with adrenaline-pumped skiers and boarders.
Upon arrival, our check-in was quick and painless. I had booked us the Nordic Whirlpool room (considered a condo) which faced slope-side and was next door to the main lodge. The room included a whirl pool, kitchen complete with small fridge, stove, and necessary plates, pots and utensils, a wood-burning fireplace and deck. It sounds luxurious and cozy. And it was, but I found the wear and tear of the room took away from some of these extra amenities. The carpet was older; the comforter on the bed had seen better days and the bathroom was not stocked with any conditioner. The whirlpool stuck out into the middle of the room, making it’s positioning a bit awkward and in general, not so enticing (we didn’t even use it).
On the positive side, the wood burning fireplace was awesome. The lodge has wood, matches, newspaper and fire starter set up and ready to go in your room. There are also wood stations positioned around the property if you run out. The crackling of the fire on a very chilly day is the epitome of a perfect Northern Minnesota experience. As such, the second you stepped outside the whole area smells like a wood- burning fire. It’s such a lovely smell, especially in the winter.
On the first floor of our building was the main pool, hot tub and game area. The hot tub was large, clean and perfect for relaxing with a beverage. My recommendation is avoid this area after 4 pm. It becomes crowded once the skiers get off the mountain and children run rampant. The ping-pong table is fun for a short game, though its close proximity to the pool results in repeated attempts to extract the balls from the water.
The main lodge has a ski-in, ski-out dining area that hosts breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate there for the tail end of a brunch buffet and for lunch. Their food was decent, not overly exciting, but reasonable for the price and satisfied our hungry bellies.
Our friends were also staying at the Caribou Highlands in one the Townhomes. The Townhome included three bedrooms (a loft room with private bathroom, and two downstairs bedrooms – one with bunk beds). A separate living room with a huge fireplace made this a great hang out spot for a group of friends. The only drawback I heard about was the lack of heat on the first night and cold shower water.
This was a great lodge experience for New Years. The Lodge provided a shuttle service on New Year’s Eve which took us up the mountain to Charlie’s (a bar) that had live music and entertainment for the evening. A firework show was held earlier in the night before the party really got started and the atmosphere was jovial.
If you’re there to be active, you won’t mind the outdated aesthetic of the condo-suites. After all, you're there to be outside, not in. And lodges are meant to be a bit rustic. But if you’re craving a lodge with more of a spa-like feel, there are quite a few in Grand Marais that might be more appealing.
It was bitterly cold while we were there (around -10 at one point) and the freezing rain earlier in the week had made the slopes less than ideal, so unfortunately we didn’t end up skiing. However other activities such as snow shoeing, dog sledding and tubing are available and lots of fun. And if you’re craving a bit of shopping or a new restaurant, the town of Grand Marais is only 20 minutes north and certainly worth checking out! Overall an enjoyable lodge experience with great friends!