5 Essential New Midwest Travel Experiences for Summer 2022
1. New to the Dells: Land of Natura & Medusa’s Slidewheel
Wisconsin Dells is famous for its water park innovations, but this year it may have outdone itself. The brand new Land of Nature, dubbed a natural adventure park, is set to open in July in the Lower Dells. The first phase of the $60 million project consists of a five-acre naturally filtered man-made lake – Lake Wisconsin Dells – with a floating water park, a 1,100-foot self-guided canopy tour and more than 10 miles of hiking trails and mountain biking. . Dells-style, the floating water park, canopy tour, and naturally filtered lake are all billed as the tallest or longest — in the country, North America, and the world, respectively.
The park also features 2,000 feet of shoreline on the Wisconsin River, a beach with a volleyball court, clear kayak rentals, and food trucks serving local delicacies. There is also Mount Natura. This man-made mountain is perched alongside the lake, with waterfalls and slides ranging from 100 to 150 feet in length that take you straight into the lake. The completed 150-acre Land of Natura is expected in three to five years and will remain open in the winter for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating and tubing. (landofnatura.com.)
During this time, at Mont Olympe Resort in the Dells: Medusa’s Slidewheel is the nation’s first “rotating water slide.” The raft ride consists of serpentine tubular water slides that traverse a rotating Ferris wheel, propelling riders forwards, backwards, and occasionally through the air. The accompanying 22,500-square-foot indoor waterpark expansion is Mt. Olympus’ biggest investment in its five-decade history. (mtolympuspark.com.)
Melanie Radzicki McManus
2. New to Split Rock: Shipwreck Creek and Split Rock Wilds
Arguably Minnesota’s #1 landmark and visual icon, the 1910 Split Rock Lighthouse stands in the foreground of one of its most popular state parks. Now, this park is cutting the ribbon on a modern new campground to help the North Shore’s growing popularity, while promoting the mountain biking boom along Lake Superior.
Shipwreck Creek Campground – referencing the historic maritime disasters that necessitated the lighthouse – has 46 indoor campsites accessible by car with electric hook-ups amid a rock-strewn landscape, adding to the existing supply of Split Rock into sites suitable for carts, backpacks and kayaks. Shipwreck Creek’s first campers will be depositing stakes from June 1 through October 23, and unsurprisingly, most summer time slots are already long gone. (Think Mondays or September.)
With the opening, the state park will also provide access to Split Rock Wilds: 21 miles of easy to incredibly challenging mountain bike trails carved into scenic rock ridges, with 2,170 feet of descent. It’s all part of the thriving network of Lake County mountain bike trails.
Want to cycle but can’t find a campsite? The red crow bike-cafe crew puts the finishing touches on their Northern Red Crow outpost near Beaver Bay, with eight new basic motel rooms now listed on Airbnb. The bike rental shop/café will follow this summer. If it looks like the original Red Raven near the Cuyuna Lakes, it should help turn Split Rock into the mountain biking mecca of the North Shore.
Simon Peter Groebner
3. New Pipestone Exhibits Embrace Indigenous Culture
For the first time since its opening in 1958, Pipestone National MonumentThe Visitor Center features new interactive exhibits, developed with input from 23 tribal nations. The extensive remodeling, which began quietly in 2021, shifts the focus from the artifacts and finds of early European explorers to the site’s continued spiritual significance to modern tribes.
Native Americans have made pilgrimages to this peaceful patch of prairie in southwestern Minnesota for at least 2,000 years. Generations of families with quarry permits hammer and dig through rocky outcrops of pink quartzite to reach layers of dark red pipestone. The pipe stone is soft enough to be carved into pipes for burning tobacco and sweet grass so that the smoke can carry prayers to the Great Spirit or the Creator.
Visitors can listen to oral histories, try lifting a 50-75 pound simulated bucket of quartzite, and watch carvers at work. The park’s interpreters, two of whom are Indigenous, host weekly Lakota and Dakota storytelling, teach words in their language and plan special events such as Founders Day (August 25) with traditional dances and regalia-clad horses , and Indigenous Peoples Day (Oct. 10 this year) with musicians and luminaries along the Circle Trail.
“We hear a lot about how peaceful this place is,” said Gabby Drapeau, park interpreter and Yankton Sioux Tribe member. “[First-time visitors] don’t expect the trail and everything to be so beautiful.” (nps.gov/pipe.)
Lisa Meyers McClintick
4. Viking sets sail on the Great Lakes and the Grand River
Viking Cruises is synonymous with classy European river travel and luxury expeditions to the poles. Now the cruise line is offering premium cruises to our very own Vikingland for the first time, in two very different styles.
First, Viking Expeditions’ Polar Class, with a capacity of 378 Octantisfresh out of his first season in Antarctica, began criss-crossing the “Undiscovered Great Lakeswith summer sailings between Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Milwaukee – and the ship debuts in Duluth this Sunday for a port of call. Passengers can tour Glensheen Mansion or take the North Shore Scenic Railroad before continuing their eight-day trip, trip of the three lakes.
Next, the 386 passengers of Viking River Cruises viking mississippi will undertake its own 15-day maiden voyage on the Great River from New Orleans Minnesota, arriving in and departing St. Paul on July 23 with stops in Red Wing, La Crosse, Wisconsin, and beyond. There are also six late summer departures between Saint-Paul and Saint-Louis.
All of these voyages are must-do experiences on state-of-the-art ships with Scandinavian design and luxury amenities, and priced accordingly. Huck Finn’s raft is not that. “Great Lakes CollectionThis one starts at $13,995. (vikingcruises.com.)
Simon Peter Groebner
5. Canada reopens
Why go to Canada in 2022? Well, because we can. After 19 months, the world’s longest border was reopened to tourism late last year. The Canadian government online questionnaire for travelers concludes that foreigners with full and approved vaccinations “will likely be allowed to enter Canada”, which is a perfectly Canadian answer.
Banff in Alberta is a worthy answer to the best national parks in the western United States. Air Canada and Delta have new nonstop service from Minneapolis to Montreal with a French flavor, for a European-style getaway in North America. Or, you can play hopscotch on Minnesota’s bustling North Shore for even further north Thunder Bay.
The closest foreign town to the Twin Cities—a six-hour drive—TBay is something of a more motley Duluth. But the city is overshadowed by the Sleeping Giant, a provincial park on a towering peninsula across the harbor. Climb the top of the giant trail for a panoramic view of Superior. On the other side of town, the 130-foot Kakabeka Falls are one of the tallest waterfalls in Ontario, earning them the nickname “Niagara of the North.”
There’s a small urban core with an active waterfront in the summer, native art, the festive and tasty Sleeping Giant Brewing, lots of poutine, and a beloved local pastry called a Persian. There’s a reason TBay is the port of embarkation for Viking’s new eight-day Great Lakes cruise to Milwaukee (see above). Lodging in the area is modest, but a sleek new Delta Hotel by Marriott on the waterfront exemplifies a city on the rise. (www.northernontario.travel.)
Simon Peter Groebner