The Tofte-Lutsen area has been a family favorite since our first winter vacation there a dozen years ago. Usually we count on cross-country skiing on our favorite Minnesota North Shore trails, but this winter during a late November trip, hiking was our only option.
So on the first day, we struck out in pursuit of a view of Lake Superior from the Sawtooth Mountains. My husband and I grabbed scrawny Norway pines and caressed oak trunks as we worked our way uphill. Our 15-year-old son walked the woods in the distance ahead.
From the peak, the curved line of the lake, blue-gray under cloud cover, drew our eyes down the shoreline to smoke rising from a factory at water's edge.
When the sun slashed through the clouds, the boulder surface beneath us heated up. A raven flew into view below us, gliding over denuded aspen, birch and a few pines. We luxuriated in the warmth a few moments before heading down to Bluefin Bay resort to watch the Vikings game.
But the show in the sky outside was just as interesting: At halftime, a huge banner of mauve wrapped itself around the lake at Tofte Cove, climbing as it moved eastward. The color in the sky reflected in the lake. I called my family outside to watch with me. As the sky darkened, the eastern mauves became lavender and the western ones became apricot, then terra cotta.
At dark, we walked the rocky shoreline. My husband, a star man, pointed out obscure constellations, faint and barely distinguishable until my son punctuated the moment by calling out, "Look, Dad. The Twelve Apostles at the Last Supper," and we all laughed.
The next morning we watched cedar waxwings fluff their feathers against the cold as they gorged on once-frozen and now fermented berries until they flew — staggering through the air — to the next mountain ash, to gorge again. Not to be outmaneuvered, a herring gull snatched a berry branch and flew to a waiting mate on the boulder shoreline below.
We tried a variety of other adventures during our visit. None of the cross-country trails had enough snow. My son did manage a muddy mountain-bike ride on the designated trail just off the Sawbill Trail. Meanwhile, my husband and I enjoyed another unseasonal, but nonetheless lovely, hike.
Ultimately, it didn't matter that our normal winter routine was disrupted. Even though the weather may be unpredictable, the North Shore isn't. The lake, the sky and the forest never fail to offer rich rewards.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
©Kate Hallett Dayton