A funky place by the lake that’s second home to many

Sunday June 24, 2007

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Thick early morning fog had erased the view from Cabin No. 15. But as the sun rose over the tree line, shapes emerged. The spindly geometry of the dock extended onto the surface of 11th Crow Wing Lake. Then the shadows of the pines emerged on the shoreline. Finally, a loon cruised by, breaking the calm surface of the lake.It wouldn't be calm for long. Giggling kids would swarm the swimming float, anglers would cast off in the row boats, and the porch swings would be occupied by novel-reading parents, temporarily relieved of their charges.In the boom years after World War II, Minnesota had more than 4,000 resorts, most of them literally mom-and-pop operations. Today, there are about 900 in the state. Wisconsin's resort scene has undergone a similar evolution. While the lake is still typically the focus of the vacation, the resorts that thrive occupy distinct niches that draw a steady and passionate following.

At Crow Wing Crest Resort, Thursday night potluck luaus, a foot massage specialist and a congenially quirky atmosphere keep the cabins full all summer. At the other end of the spectrum, the American Club in Kohler, Wis., centers its appeals on world-class golf, a sophisticated European-style spa and adventures of the culinary sort.

Here we've chosen five of the Upper Midwest's best resorts. They span the range of budgets and styles, but they all know how to make the best of summer in the north.

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Crow Wing Crest: A funky place by the lake that's second home to many

Crow Wing Crest is a mom-and-pop resort of the sort that is harder and harder to find Up North.  Most of the 19 housekeeping cabins are homey and idiosyncratic (one sports tilted floors that would be at home in a fun house) and they cluster together on the shore of pristine 11th Crow Wing Lake near Akeley,  But owners Kim and Big John Bowen have perfected a "we're all in it together" vibe, which extends to Thursday night potluck luaus, when the guests clear out their refrigerators and Minnesota hotdish meets the aloha spirit.

WHAT TO DO:  fish, swim, sauna, play cards, join the drumming circle.  Bring a bike for the nearby Heartland Trail.. Kids enjoy a game room, a coin-operated merry-go-round and various organized activities.

PERKS:  John Bowen is a reflexologist (foot massage) with a dedicated following, and Kim Bowen offers programs on aromatherapy.

ADVISORY:  No "personal watercraft" allowed.  Lovers of big engines and loud parties should look elsewhere.

PRACTICALITES:  Near Park Rapids, Minn.  Book in advance; returning guests keep the occupancy level high.  In high season, cabins rent from $380 for the snug two-person "Sleeping Cottage" (the bath is in the main lodge building) to $2,342 for a four-bedroom, newly built cabin that can easily accommodate a family reunion.  More info www.crowwing.com, 1-800-279-2754

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