During winters in Minnesota, it is a guarantee that you’ll come into contact with ice in one way or another. In some instances, it can be annoying. But in other ways, it can be awe inspiring. On the North Shore of Lake Superior, ice is something we marvel at. From frozen lakes to ice-covered waterfalls to the small ice sculptures that form on the shorelines of Lake Superior, we find ice to be a magical part of our winter seasons.
Ice forms on Lake Superior every single winter. Some years, like during last year’s mild winter, you can only find it on sheltered sections of the lake. The Grand Marais Harbor and the Duluth/Superior area are common spots where a glaze forms over the Great Lake. Other years, the entire lake freezes. That is rare and most recently occurred in 1996. Most commonly, ice will cover about 50-60% of Lake Superior’s surface. In 2019, when we saw the wolves on Lake Superior in front of Bluefin Bay, we were lucky to experience 95% coverage.
Lake Superior ice is notoriously fickle. No matter how cold the winter gets, the movement of the water underneath makes the ice on top unreliable (just ask the 26 ice fisherman that had to be rescued by the coast guard in Duluth last winter). Because of the risks, ice formations are best enjoyed from the shoreline. The spray from waves will often cling onto trees and bushes creating fantastic icicle sculptures. Occasionally, when the wind and waves pick up after a period of stillness, crashed ice will form along the beaches.
Below you will find a list of our top 10 recommended locations for finding ice formations.
Tettegouche State park
Split Rock Lighthouse
Grand Marais Harbor
Winter Trip Planning Resources
Winter is Here! There are so many simple joys to experience at Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts that make winter a magical season to visit. And we put everything you need to know in one place. Listed below are your Winter Trip Planning Resources.
Things to Do
What does a winter vacation look like for you? For some, it means reading a good mystery novel next to a crackling fireplace. For others, it means learning how to cross county ski in a forest blanketed with snow.
This year, we have expanded our activities program to offer more of the guided tours and adventures that our guests love.
Complimentary activities include cross country skiing, snowshoeing, craft classes taught by local artists, ice skating, shuttles to the local winery and more. Additionally, we have two ice skating rinks – one at Bluefin Bay and one at Surfside. PLUS don’t forget about Waves of Superior Spa, the outdoor pool and hot tub (for guests of Bluefin Bay) and the indoor pool at Surfside (for guests of Surfside and Temperance Landing).
Between Bluefin Bay, Surfside and Temperance Landing, we have many cozy lodging options to choose from. If you’re unsure of where to begin, check out this playlist on our YouTube page which features lodging tours of all of our unit styles. You’ll find many of our units feature whirlpool tubs, wood-burning fireplace and views of stunning Lake Superior.
The camera features 24-hour livestream footage of Bluefin Bay and Lake Superior. It is located on the roof of the Bluefin Grille and will be perfect for viewing our beautiful North Shore sunrises. We hope to showcase the rest of the Bluefin Bay family by adding cameras at Temperance Landing and Surfside on Lake Superior very soon! Now you can truly #NeverMissAWave
Tips for Viewing the Northern Lights
Witnessing the northern lights is a common bucket list item (and for good reason!). They truly are a sensational natural phenomenon. Luckily for us, the northern lights can be visible from Tofte due to our northern location and clear, dark skies. Because this activity is something you can do alone or with your loved ones from your car, it is ideal for this socially distanced winter.
The best time to spot the elusive show is during the winter on a clear night. There are helpful websites which track the levels of geomagnetic activity in different areas, known as KP levels. The KP levels are on a scale of 0-9 and give you an idea of where you can go to see the auroras. In order to see them in Tofte, you will be looking for a KP level of 4 or higher. The website we recommend checking is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Now you may be wondering where to go about seeing the northern lights. The easiest location would be right in front of the Bluefin Grille. The peninsula there extends out into Lake Superior offering a view of the northern sky (like shown in the photo). Be sure to bring a flashlight so you can navigate carefully! Another great spot is up the Sawbill Trail about three miles. There is a pull off area on the left side of the road which features an expansive view of the northern sky. Remember to face north (that one is important!) and to turn off any artificial lights nearby. Bundle up and good luck!
Lutsen Mountains Conditions Update
Despite the warmer temperatures, we’ve been seeing optimal skiing conditions at Lutsen Mountains so far this year. The ski hill received 4 inches of fresh powder on Sunday and there’s more on the way this Thursday. Combine that with their extensive snowmaking efforts and you’ve got an ideal winter for hitting the slopes!
Photos in this blog post are all from this past Sunday and as you can see, it was beautiful! Click here to view the Lutsen Mountains live cam and see what it looks like right now. Note- this information is current as of February 3rd, but be sure to check here for the most recent updates from Lutsen Mountains.
Lutsen Mountains currently has the following stats:
All 4 mountains are open
6/8 lifts are running
58/62 primary runs open
2/33 side country runs open
The warm weather has been a treat lately but it looks like temperatures will be dipping down a bit as we head further into February. Preparation is key to making the most of your adventure while ensuring safety. If you’d like to double check that you have everything you need, Visit Cook County has created a winter packing check list that we have found to be helpful. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!
Cross Country Ski Trails Update
It’s been an interesting winter so far in Cook County! We received plenty of snow early in the season and then went a little while without any new snow. Lately we’ve been getting a bit of snow here and there, but not the usual 2 feet snowstorms that we have gotten used to expecting in January.
Overall, the cross country ski trails are in excellent condition. The time period where we didn’t get new snow allowed for the trails to set up really nicely. The downhills can be a bit icy though so be careful! We received 3″ of new snowfall on January 24th and that has helped quite a bit. All trail systems in the area are groomed regularly. The Sugarbush Trail system, which is located nearest to the resort, is reporting phenomenal conditions. The Norpine Trail reports also indicate excellent conditions, but they are suggesting that because of the lack of snow down by the lake, the further away you can get from Lake Superior, the better.
Did you know that there are more than 400 km of cross country trails in Cook County? The trails in Grand Marais and up the Gunflint Trail are magnificent! To see conditions for all trails in Cook County, click here.
All of this information (and the photo below) is current as of January 27th. For consistently updated trail conditions reports, click here. You can also check out SkinnySki.com, which features firsthand trail reports.
**Reminder: Make sure to have a proper ski pass for whatever trail you are using. Trails in the Tofte area require the MN Ski Pass, which can be purchased at Bluefin Bay Guest Services. For maps and location information, click here or visit us the Activities Desk at Guest Services.
The Norpine Fat Bike Classic is a fat tire biking event and being that it takes place in the middle of January, it is not for the faint hearted. There are two distances to choose between: a shorter 14-mile course and a longer 20-mile course. It costs $50 to sign up and the registration fee includes a membership to the Norpine Trail Association, entry into a prize drawing (which includes a two night stay at Bluefin Bay!), a bag lunch and some swag.
What’s different this year? With Covid-19, the event has been reimagined. Rather than a one day event, bikers will be able to ride the course anytime between January 23rd-31st. Riders are expected to be prepared with necessary repair equipment as the ride will not have aide stations on the course. You can register here.
If you have a Fat Tire bike and can’t make it during those dates, fear not. There are fat tire biking trails in the area that you can ride on all winter. Check out this map to see where you can ride, and be sure to purchase a trail pass!
Know Before You Go: Grand Marais
If you’ve visited Bluefin Bay then you have likely made a trip to the quaint, nearby harbor town of Grand Marais. It’s about 25 miles north of Bluefin Bay on Highway 61. The town is known for its cute shops, art galleries, live music, yummy restaurants and the harbor itself.
A trip to Grand Marais looks a bit different in the winter and even more different during Covid-19, so we wanted to make sure to let you know what to expect. We’ll start by saying that most businesses are open and we definitely recommend you go.
Next, go hungry and plan to shop! There are many tasty restaurants in Grand Marais. Whether you are looking for tacos, a brewery, pizza and burgers or just a good cup of coffee, you will find great options for meals in town. There are also wonderful art galleries and gift shops in Grand Marais and most are open year-round. It’s important to support small businesses this year and Grand Marais has many.
Lastly, we would recommend that you plan some time to go see the lighthouse. The lighthouse in the Grand Marais harbor is absolutely iconic and it’s the perfect spot for a photo op. We recommend heading out just before sunset. Be careful though! It can get pretty icy in the winter. If the walk to the lighthouse isn’t safe, you can still see across the harbor from the coast guard parking lot.
Final note. If you are reading this blog post and Covid-19 is over, we have to tell you about one more thing. Grand Marais is home to two of the coolest institutions: North House Folk School and the Grand Marais Art Colony. Plan ahead and sign up for a class or just stop by and say hi. The folks here are some of the kindest, most creative people you will ever meet! Both places host fun events, too!
We hope you find this information helpful in planning your next trip to Grand Marais.
Know Before You Go: Lutsen Mountains
Because this winter is a bit different, we thought we’d start a “Know Before You Go” series. As part of this series, we’ll explain what’s open and you need to know…before you go.
This week we wanted to chat about the biggest winter attraction in the area, Lutsen Mountains. Please note that this information is current as of today, December 30th 2020, but that it is changing all the time. For the most updated information, check out Lutsen Mountains website here.
Here is what you need to know before you go to Lutsen Mountains:
Buy Tickets in Advance. Lutsen Mountains has implemented daily capacity limits. This means that busy days will sell out. You can combine lodging and lift tickets by booking a Ski and Stay package or if you would like to stay longer and ski less, book your lift tickets separately from your lodging. You are required to purchase lift tickets and sign your waiver online and then you can pick up your tickets at the Gondola Base ticket office.
Use Your Car as your Basecamp. Because of the current guidelines in Minnesota, the restaurants at the Ski Hill are only open for takeout dining and bathrooms. This means you will be wanting to use your car to warm up and eat meals.
Arrive Together, Ride Together. Stick with your household on lifts. Guests are asked to self-group and load the lifts with their traveling party. Masks and 6 feet of social distancing are required when in lines and on the lifts.
The Rental Shop is Open. You are required to fill out rental forms online in advance and there are capacity limits for the building, so be sure to arrive early!
Other Information that’s Good to Know:
Bathrooms are open
Ski and Snowboard lessons are available
Outdoor seating is allowed with up to 4 people per table, from the same household
Winter is coming! Are you ready for it? Here on the North Shore we had a few early snowfalls that had us dreaming about winter weeks ago. We’ve already begun hanging holiday lights and preparing the ice rink. But because things are a bit different this year, we wanted to write a blog post on what you can expect at Bluefin Bay for winter activities. As a reminder, all of these activities are included in your stay at Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts.
Rentals & Guided Tours
The Bluefin Bay Activities Department has all of the tools to help you make the most out of this winter.
Guided Tours – If you are new to cross country skiing or snowshoeing, you can join one of our guided tours. Our activities crew will provide you with all of the equipment plus basic instruction and feedback.
Cross Country Skiing
Rentals – If you’d rather go out on your own, you can take advantage of our complimentary rental program.
Hockey & Figure Skates
Hockey Sticks & Pucks
New Activities This Winter
At Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts, we are continuously coming up with fresh activities and events to inspire our guests. These activities will be new this year:
Guided Wood Burning Class
Wood burning isn’t just for fireplaces. This activity takes you through everything you need to know about this unique craft. We will be using hot irons to burn fun designs into round slices of wood. Whether you want a fun souvenir, or a gift for a someone we will provide the tools and teaching to get you up and running.
Guided Painting Class
In this class we will be painting a 3” by 4” canvas. We will focus on a simple North Shore landscape. Don’t worry if you’ve never painted before, we’re going to teach you all the tips and tricks you need to succeed.
We know how much our guests enjoy live music so we are working on a way to comfortably and safely have live music outdoors this winter. Stay tuned for more information.
Due to the safety guidelines and logistics on transporting guests, we’ve decided not to offer shuttles to Lutsen Mountains this year. Instead, we are recommending that guests drive to the mountain and use their car as a home base.