A June 2005 trip
to Bemidji by SFPhotocraft
Quote: Summer was here and the kids were heading up to the wilds of Minnesota to start Japanese language camp in Bemidji, Minnesota. Papa went with and had a grand time of peace and quiet in the north woods.
Bemidji has a lot to offer the summertime visitor. It sits on beautiful Lake Bemidji, and the whole area is surrounded by the pristine Northwoods lake. Fishing is king here, and record walleyes are pulled from these waters.
Bemidji has grown up and now is a college town with a year-round economy and population. However, summer is still the best season to enjoy this area. Many folks have cabins on Lake Bemidji and area lakes. The summer population increases. With so many visitors here, you can expect the services visitors require. There are plenty of places to eat, with a variety of foods. However, I encourage you to try some fresh walleye, and don't miss a bowl of wild rice soup. Bemidji is a town on the move, and they now even offer summer live theater.
Paul Bunyan is the most famous resident of Bemidji. He and his blue ox Babe sit proudly on the shores of Lake Bemidji. They will tower above you as you get your photo snapped with these two famous giants. It's funny growing up here, as I remembered them as being a whole lot taller!
Concordia College runs a top-rate foreign-language program in the camps around the lakes here. Kids from 7 years to 18 come here to study a foreign language in a camp setting. They eat the country’s food, speak the language, play the sports, and learn the customs. You can take Japanese, Russian, Swedish, French, German, Spanish, Finnish, or Korean, as well as others. It's an outstanding program and a wonderful part of the country to visit to learn your language.
Whatever the reason you come to Bemidji, you are in for a treat. This part of the country, not overrun by commercialism, with a drive around the lakes, can ensure you see a few deer, gophers, fox, loon, eagle, and chipmunks. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a moose!
One nice feature of staying at the Hampton Inn in Bemidji was that it was on the water, and they offer you free use of a kayak or canoe. If you are more adventuresome, you can rent a speedboat nearby!
Minneapolis - 229
Duluth - 152
Fargo - 141
Most of the drive up from Minneapolis is rather bland; however, during about the last hour, you enter lake country and the scenery and lakes are stunning. This last part of the drive the heart and soul of Minnesota.
Once here, you will need a car. Bemidji is a small town, and you can explore the downtown area on foot. However, the real Bemidji is the lakes and parks outside the city. Here you will need a car to explore. If you do fly into the Bemidji airport, rental cars are available.
Hotel | "Hampton Inn - Bemidji"
I was unfamiliar with the Hampton product, but somehow booked this property, as it was one of the few chains on the lake.
I am not sure what I was expecting, maybe my expectations were way down, but boy was I blown away and pleasantly surprised at what this hotel has to offer.
You can't miss the new Hampton Inn as you drive in to Bemidji. It sits on the main road in on the lake and towers above the other buildings in the area. It's new and clean and really seems to take center stage in the area.
When we entered, I was surprised at how big and well-appointed the lobby was. It had a large window in the back that gave a wonderful, unobstructed view of Lake Bemidji. The feel of the hotel is faux Northwoods lodge. However, it does the theme very well, and the furnishings and fixtures keep to the theme but are not overdone.
The check-in staff was young, well groomed, and very friendly. I was given a room with a lake view on the second floor. When I got up to my room, I was blown away. The room was huge, looked sharp, and had a million-dollar view of the lake. The room had every room amenity you would expect from a first-class hotel.
I stayed here a week and never had one complaint. The staff was first-rate. Even the maids always had a smile and a hello when you were in the hall. A supervisor knocked on my door daily to make sure everything was okay with my room. The hotel served a nice breakfast in their lobby breakfast room, again with a view of one of Minnesota's best lakes. A morning paper was delivered to my door daily.
I often sat out on the dock and read a book. It was like being at my own Northwood cabin, quiet and serene. The Hampton Inn offers canoes and kayaks to explore the lake. The hotel also offers an indoor pool that the kids love. For everyone, there is a Green Mill Pizza restaurant with a full bar attached to the hotel.
I don't remember enjoying a hotel stay more, plus my room rate was under $90 a night, an outstanding value. This is a very well-run hotel and a property that Hampton Inn should be proud to have their name on. I can't wait to come back next year, when the kids again go off to camp.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 11, 2005
Hampton Inn & Suites Bemidji
1019 Paul Bunyan Drive South
They offered a tasty burger that was chopped and similar to a Sloppy Joe. The unique feature was that it had no sauce, just some very tasty secret spices. They were (and are) delicious!
Sadly, most of the small Maid Rites closed their doors, and all those wonderful, small cafés are now gone, making room for better-known names in the fast-food business. So was I happy to be driving in Bemidji and spot a real, honest-to-goodness Maid Rite. I had to stop for lunch!
Little has changed since those days growing up in southern Minnesota and enjoying this tasty treat. The Maid Rite was still made the same way and every bit as tasty as I remembered it to be! The price has gone up a bit. A Maid Rite now costs $2.75, and I remember getting them for $.50! However, at $2.75, they are still worth every penny.
This Maid Rite is individually owned and operated, so not only do they have the tasty burger, but they also offer a full menu of burgers, sandwiches, and even dinners, like pork chops or liver and onions.
The best part of the meal was the homemade desserts. I had a piece of freshly made rhubarb pie with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream. The pie was outstanding. It was homemade, full of rhubarb, and had a delicious flaky crust.
The place is not fancy, and as a matter of fact, it lacks in any kind of ambience. It's downright sterile and uninviting. It's open and plain. But the real smiles and friendliness of the waitress staff makes up for any lack of charm the interior offers. The crew is a friendly, young Midwestern group who make you feel welcome.
This is a great lunch stop. They close at 5pm, so unfortunately, you can't do dinner here. However, they open at 7:30am, so you can do breakfast!
This is a place time has forgotten. In a world of fast food, frozen, and mass-made food, this is a down-home, made-fresh kind of place. I miss seeing the old Maid Rites all over Minnesota, and let’s hope this one sticks around a long time. It's a rare treat.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 11, 2005
1602 Bemidji Ave.
Bemidji, Minnesota 56601
Restaurant | "Green Mill Pizza"
I was staying at the Hampton Inn, so I had lunch or dinner at the Green Mill several times on my visit. I have to go on record saying I enjoy Green Mill, but maybe not as much as others do. I am a thin-crust pizza fan, and I find the pizzas at Green Mill to have very thick and bready crusts. If you like thick deep-dish pizzas, this is your place - not mine!
This Green Mill looks great. It sits right on Lake Bemidji, and for those few summer days when you can actually eat outdoors in Minnesota, they have a stunning patio that sits just a few yards from the beach. The outdoor patio is the prime seating area during the summer months. You can enjoy the lake and a small beach, and a competitive game of beach volleyball was going down.
Green Mill brings a new, more urban dining experience to Bemidji. It's fresh, clean, and kind of hip. It's no wonder it's always full and a favorite of locals and tourists as well. The bar seemed to be a favorite for the area!
The wait staff was great, young, friendly, and full of energy. We did note, however, on both visits, that they seemed to be understaffed. There was a long wait for any server to show up, and food took a long time to arrive at the table. The hostess staff seemed a little confused as well. Both times, tables were open on the outside patio, but they pushed us into taking a table in the bar. You seemed to have to insist on a patio table if you wanted one!
Overall, there were minor service problems, but the view of the lake makes up for a lot. We enjoyed just sitting back, having a cocktail, and watching life on the lake go by. We didn't even want fast service, and this was a perfect pace for us.
I personally am not a fan of the pizza here. However, I may be in the minority, as there are a lot of Green Mill fans out there. This is great choice for a night out in Bemidji!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 11, 2005
Green Mill Restaurant & Bar
1025 Paul Bunyan Dr. S.
It's a cute little place set off the highway, north of town. It's across the highway from the lake in a rather oddly shaped square building. They wanted to make it a North-themed restaurant, and it's kind an odd mix - an almost-deco building with a lake cabin theme going on!
Northwoods is popular with both locals and tourists alike. When I entered, I could tell the bar was a popular hangout. It was not fancy but a nice causal place you would take the family for dinner when up at the lake.
I was given a table in the main dining room, and again, I had to chuckle at the faux lake-cabin theme going on in here. There were a lot of birch logs and bric-a-brac that should be in a cabin on the lake.
The menu also tries to stick to a cutesy Minnesota theme. They have appetizers called Mosquito Bites, and the prime rib cuts are called Ole's and Lena's cuts. The theme was cute, but maybe a bit overdone. However, I give them an A+ for effort.
My waitress was friendly and helpful. Even though steak is this place's claim to fame, I was hungry for walleye and ordered myself a fresh local walleye fillet. The waitress insisted I try the mashed sweet potatoes as a side dish. She clued me in that they were delicious and not like they are anywhere else.
My fish came, and it was a nice-size fillet and perfectly cooked. It was not overdone and was firm but still juicy. I was on a walleye-eating binge this week, and this was by far one of the best I had tasted. The mashed sweet potatoes were unique in a good way. They were sweet and reminded me of a side you would serve at Thanksgiving.
I enjoyed my dinner here. The steaks I saw looked very good, but I really enjoyed my fresh-water walleye here. I've tried a lot of fish this week, and this would be by vote for the best walleye. If you have one night out to try this delicious local favorite, I would suggest heading to Northwoods.
6409 Bemidji Ave North
Bemidji, Minnesota 56601
It was easy to find, as it's on the main highway leading through town and is hard to miss. There was plenty of parking out front, and I got in without a reservation with no problem.
I found the main dining room to be a bit dark. This may not have been the perfect choice for a dinner in warm June. I could see it being really cozy in winter, sitting by the blazing fire as snow fell outside. The room had a train motif. It was the kind of place you have seen before, with the feel of the Old Victoria Station chain.
The staff was Minnesota friendly. The waitress was nice, and my meal was served with a big smile.
I had a bit of a dilemma. I was really hungry for a steak, but I also saw the walleye on the menu and just couldn't decide which way to go, so I thought I came up with a good compromise. I ordered a steak for my main course and walleye fingers for an appetizer.
When my appetizer came, I was not impressed. It was pieces of walleye deep fried. The batter was too thick and you lost the taste of the fish, so all I could taste was the deep-fried batter. My entrée did not fare much better. It was a nice cut of meat under lots of very heavy sauce. The taste of the steak was drawn out by so much heavy, goopy sauce. I found I had to scrape most of the sauce off the steak to enjoy the meat.
My meal was just okay. I can't complain that anything was not what I had ordered, and I got what was promised. It was just very ordinary. The service was good and attentive, and it made up for such an average meal.
Maybe I just ordered wrong on this night and I missed some better dinner choices, but I left feeling "underwhelmed." The good thing was that these are not big-city prices, and for having a full meal at one of the top restaurants in the area, I was set back only $30, and coming from California, I found this to be a real bargain.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 12, 2005
128 First St. NW
The minute I walked in the door, I felt I was transported to a pub in Ireland. This place was authentic, not a bit overdone. It had some pub games at the door and a long bar. The bar had a huge selection of scotches and, of course, lots of Guinness exposure. The pub had lots of tables and some booths, although many folks were enjoying their meals at the bar.
It also became very clear to me - this was Bemidji's hip hangout. The crowd was younger and more urban. Bemidji is a college town, and this felt like the place the hipper students hung out and enjoyed a pint while talking about hanging in Europe for the summer.
The place is not overdone. It just seems very authentic and even a bit sparse, like many pubs in Ireland are. It was not cutesy or faux Irish; this was the real deal. Irish music played in the background.
I sat down and ordered a pint of Guinness and the Irish stew. While waiting for my meal, I picked up the place card on the table and saw all the fun things this pub had to offer. They do limerick and poetry slams on select nights. This place seemed to have it regulars, and there was a lot to do if you wanted to make this place home.
Soon my stew came. It was delicious. It had big chunks of top beef in it. It was also not overdone. It was simple, with some potatoes, carrots, and onion. It was served with a nice piece of Irish soda bread. My one complaint was that is was a very small portion. I would have liked it to be about double the size it was. I did notice the fish-and-chips go by, and they seemed to be a more regular size for a dinner portion. (But then this is fish country!)
I enjoyed my dinner here. I stayed after dinner and had an Irish coffee and just people-watched. It was amusing to see this urban crowd up here in the north woods. I had seen a lot of fishermen and hunter types all week (nothing wrong with that), and here was the other side of the coin. The music was good and the crowd fun. Also, I was happy that they offer a smoke-free environment. This would be a fun place to spend St Patrick's Day, as I am sure it's wild!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 12, 2005
317 Beltrami Ave. NW
Bemidji, Minnesota 56601
Attraction | "Itasca State Park - Mississippi Headwaters"
Itasca State Park is a lovely state park. It's Minnesota oldest state park and covers 32,000 acres of northern woods. In this park alone are 100 lakes!
Most people come here to see where the Mississippi begins. It's impressive and a bit overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. The river spills out of Lake Itasca and is little more than a large brook at this point. You can walk across her here on some stepping stones. The water is less than waist deep here. Folks love to go home and brag that they walked across the Mississippi River.
The place were the river is born is simple. There is one rather plain marker sign, stating that this is the birth place. There is little other fanfare, just the rocks to step over the river. Here the river is crystal clear, soon it will be a dirty, muddy river. You are struck at how important this spot is.
When I was here the main parking lot was closed as this area is being redone for a new parking lot and a new interpretive center. The new center should be opened later this year. Throughout the park of gift shops, dining rooms, and interpretive centers. None of these commercial areas are overdone and they keep these facilities very low-key and understated.
Most people come to the park to walk across the river. But the park has so much more to see and do. The first thing you will make note of is how clean and well groomed this park is. The paths are cleared and very well maintained. It's easy for even an elderly visitor to get around here.
You can rent boats, bikes, kayaks or canoes. You can take a boat tour of Lake Itasca or you can take a hike with Naturalists. The park has over 230 camp sites and a rustic lodge to stay in. While I was here, I saw loon, deer, chipmunks, and turtles.
This park is a gem of Minnesota and should not be missed by any visitor to the state.
The park lies 30 miles outside of Bemidji. You can by an annual car pass of $25 or your can enter the park on a daily basis for just $7 per vehicle. I cannot think of a better value.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 12, 2005
Itasca State Park Mississippi Headwaters
36750 Main Park Drive
Park Rapids, Minnesota 56470
Concordia College has been running summer language camps in this area for over twenty-five years now. Their method is tried and true.
Many of the camps are around their own private lake, while others are sub-contracted to other camps in the area. The villages that have their own locations have a distinct flavor to that culture. For instance the German village looks like a little square from a town on the Rhine, while the French village looks like a street in Paris. The camps that are sub-contracted are a bit more rustic and look like a camp you would expect to find in northern Minnesota with log cabins and docks on a lake. All are charming in their own way.
The minute we drove up to Mori no Ike (the Japanese camp) we were greeted by staff in Hapi Coats and kimonos. We were told where to park - the only problem was it was all in Japanese! With plenty of hand motions and a game of charades we figured out where we had to go. This was a taste of what the kids would be doing for the next week.
Checking into camp was like going through customs. You had a passport and had to pass through the different stations. All contraband was removed - any English reading material!
The week is spent being immersed in the language and culture. The food is all native to that region and in the Japanese camp only hashi (chopsticks) can be used. The kids play Japanese games, do Japanese crafts and recreate the festivals of Japan.
It was a wonderful week full of learning and playing hard. The kids learned more Japanese in this one week, more than I could have hoped for.
The villages also do family weekends in the winter as well as Elderhostel weeks. It's a fun and marvelous way to learn a foreign language and I urge anyone young or old to give them a try.
Concordia Language Villages
8659 Thorsonveien NE
Bemidji, Minnesota 56601
The park is easy to find, it's right off Highway 2, the main road in the area. It has a large sign and huge deer that mark the spot.
We parked and went in, we paid the $5 for adults and $4 for kids for admission. We also bought some food packed into ice cream cones to feed the wildlife. But before we entered the park we spent a few moments indoors to look at some of the lizards, snakes and rodents that were on display in the lobby.
The first group of animals we saw when we came out of the main building were monkeys in small cages. They had pipes going into the cages and you could drop a few pieces of food down to the waiting animals. My heart sank. These cages were small and the poor animals had a life of begging for food from tourists.
I was happier when we got into the main park where the deer roam free. It's a large area and the deer (and a llama and donkey), roamed free in a grassy area. They too were feed by the tourists, but could come up and beg or get away to a quiet part of the enclosure. This was the deer park I remembered as a boy. We spent a lot of time here. There were mothers and fawns and young bucks getting their first horns. It was fun for the kids to see the deer up close. We have plenty of deer in our backyard, but our kids would never imagine feeding them from their own hands.
Many of the deer were shedding and some had blood on their horns. I guess this was a post winter molt and growth, but I was not sure. The other part that I forgot, that was gross, was there was deer poop everywhere! My shoes were covered in the stuff!
On leaving we went by a few more cages. These were really sad. Here two wonderful black bears were stuffed into a cage and were forced to beg for food. There were also tigers, bobcats, raccoons and a mountain lion. All given small cages with cement floors. It was really heartbreaking.
I doubt if we will return to this park next year. Again, I loved the free roaming deer that you can pet. However, the other animals broke my heart - this was not the life nature had given them.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on July 12, 2005
Paul Bunyan's Animal Land
3857 Animal Land Drive SE
Bemidji, Minnesota 56601