Great Escapes

Ten destinations guaranteed to fight cabin fever.

The North Shore

When the shore of Giche Gumee brims with heaving ice during the winter, the jewels that nature lovers know as the North Shore's state parks sparkle with an irresistible beauty. North-bound travelers will find a newly expanded Hwy. 61 makes for a quick trip to Gooseberry Falls and points beyond.

The picturesque falls at Gooseberry split into thousands of shivering rivulets in the winter snow, and the new granite-and-timbers visitors center is worth a visit even if you've been to the falls before. The low tourist traffic during the winter months almost ensures that you'll be able to enjoy the scene in relative solitude.

Beyond, however, lies a skier's paradise, and the cabins and inns around Lutsen and Tofte clog with cross-country and downhill types alike during the winter months. Make reservations early if you plan to stay in the cabins at Solbakken Resort (218-663-7566) or at the modern Bluefin Bay (800-258-3346). Eagle Ridge (800-360-7666), nestled in the bosom of the Lutsen Mountains ski area, is the area's newest lodging option, and a passel of shops have sprung up in nearby Tofte. Warm up with a bowl of spicy soup at the Coho Cafe (Hwy. 61), and then browse for knickknacks next door at the Water's Edge Trading Co. The dining room at the oh-so-Nordic Lutsen Resort (800-258-8736) is a great place to snarf a breakfast of pancakes while looking out over an ice-encrusted Lake Superior.

A 20-minute drive up the shore brings travelers to Grand Marais, where a growing community of artists have helped make Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery (115 W. Wisconsin) a success year-round. For a view of the best sculpture nature has to offer, walk the blasted quay that protects the harbor.

To watch the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, held Jan. 11 - 16, head for Duluth. The starting line for the 500-mile race from Duluth to Grand Portage and back attracts a colorful crowd. Volunteers can sometimes pay a small fee to ride the sleds for the first leg of the trip -- they serve as ballast for overeager dogs. -- Joel Hoekstra

Whitecap Mountains

If you're a hearty soul who enjoys winter alfresco, pack the flannel shirts, jackboots, and heavy-duty skiwear, and head to the border in northern Wisconsin.

Just east of Ashland, about four and a half hours from the Twin Cities, you'll find one of the best-kept secrets of Midwest downhill skiing: Whitecap Mountains. Indianhead, Powderhorn, and Blackjack ski areas in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan may be the most popular destinations in the area, but Whitecap, off Hwy. 77 in northern Wisconsin, offers some of the best and least-crowded skiing in the Midwest. Here you'll find a sprawling variety of runs (35 in all, mostly named after mountains in the Alps), lots of fresh snow, and short lift lines. Be sure to head down Garmisch or Zermatt runs to Ye Olde Wine Hut, an authentic one-room log cabin with wood-burning stove -- once a gambling spot for lumberjacks -- where you can warm up with hot wine or cider.

The Whitecap resort (800-933-SNOW) offers package rates and reasonable prices on their ski-in/ski-out condos, chalets, and hotel rooms. In the last five years, the resort has added a pool, restaurant, bar, and bakery. A Holiday Inn (715-561-3030) and Day's Inn (715-561-3500) are located in Hurley (the largest nearby town -- 20 minutes east of Whitecap).

To pack a lumberjack's lunch for a day on the slopes, pick up some traditional Cornish pasties at Randall's Bakery at the junction of Hwys. 51 and 77 in Hurley or at Joe's Pasty Shop on Aurora Street in Ironwood (twin town to Hurley). To dine out in Hurley, the locals favor the Liberty Bell Chalet, where the Caesar salad is highly recommended along with the signature Italian cuisine. For drinks and Mexican food, the Branding Iron on Hwy. 77 (Silver Street in Hurley) serves margaritas that will knock you on your ass faster than the Dragon's Back trail at Whitecap.

For those with special skiing talents or who want to see the nearby sights, Copper Peak, the largest ski jump in North America, towers above the earth in Ironwood. The Olympic-bound can catch some serious flight time off this 469-foot slide: 500 airborne feet if you're good ... and gutsy (the record holds at 512). For those who prefer to keep their skis firmly planted on level ground, hundreds of cross-country trails wind through the area.

Snowmobiling is perhaps the most popular winter sport in this logging and mining region. So don't be surprised if you end up in a minor traffic jam of snowmobiles on the streets of Hurley. And dress warm, it will be cold. -- Kathy P. Anderson

Northfield and Southern Minnesota

True antique bargains aren't to be found in Stillwater anymore. Instead, head south to Jordan, New Prague, and Northfield to find that silver tea set or that stained-glass gem. A half-hour into Scott County, tiny Jordan isn't more than a few blocks long. But Gramma's Attic, LB Antiques, Cabin Creek, and Waterstreet Antiques along Jordan's main drag are worth browsing on a Saturday afternoon. Further south in New Prague, stop in at Schumacher's Hotel (212 W. Main; 758-2133) for a full meal, or snack on kolachies at the local bakery. Word has it they're better than in nearby Montgomery, a town that celebrates its pastries every summer with a Kolachy Days festival.

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