At some point, just about every Minnesotan visits northern Minnesota — or "up north," as it's known to those who live south of Duluth. To get here from Minneapolis, northbound travelers on Interstate 35 pass through the scenic Chisago Lakes region. The commercial gateway to this area is the North Branch
Outlets, but off that beaten path you'll find a series of charming small towns, young suburbs and cabin communities clustered around more than 15 lakes. Rugged pine forests edged with peaceful wetlands create a wilderness landscape that attracts tourists and an outdoorsy citizenry to this growing region.
Each of the cities here has a distinct character, but they share cultural origins. A large contingent of Swedish settlers populated what's now the Chisago Outlying Northern Suburbs
in the 1850s, and evidence of them can be found throughout the area, particularly in the cities of Lindstrom and Scandia. The region also witnessed the fall of the great northern forests, as loggers sent millions of virgin-growth white pines down the St. Croix River, giving rise to communities to service the timber industry. This heritage makes the northern suburbs a tourist attraction as well as a bedroom community.
Schools in Chisago Outlying Northern Suburbs
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Restaurants & Nightlife
Fine dining in this region leans toward plates filled with traditional meats, potatoes and vegetables, but Meredee's Bistro serves an eclectic menu that pushes the envelope with dishes like grilled portabello mushrooms, hummus served with crusty ciabatta bread and chipotle chicken. Burgers, pasta and yes, meat and potatoes round out the dinner menu. A local touch: The wine list features vintages from the WineHaven Winery in nearby Chisago City.
Eichten's Market and Cafe in Center City grew from the Eichten family's successful cheese and bison-meat business. Visitors familiar with the cheeses from Twin Cities farmers markets can now stop at this rustic cafe for breakfast and sandwiches featuring the farm's products. Eichten's opens for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, serving a fixed Italian dinner, featuring a cheese sampler and pasta topped with bison meatballs.
Northwoods Roasterie, located in a lovely San-Francisco-style Victorian home in Lindstrom, serves coffee and baked goods in a cozy and inviting dining room. Every Friday night, the cafe serves delectable homemade pies from 5 to 9 p.m.
North Branch's Oak Inn Restaurant and Lounge starts the day with eggs Benedict, biscuits and gravy and hot cakes. Sandwiches, wraps and salads keep lunch low-key. The dinner menu goes upscale, drawing on mainstays like beef tenderloin, filet mignon and shrimp, while the popular liver-n-onions appeals to down-home tastes.
The bar scene thoughout Chisago County has a real northern Minnesota feel, with Friday night fish fries, meat raffles and decor that nods to the region's culture of fishing, football fandom, snowmobiling and hunting. Smitty's Bar N Grill in Chisago City adds bingo and live music to the mix, drawing a good crowd of fun seekers. Cornerstone Pub & Prime in Wyoming has been entwined in the local social scene for decades, running special events like a local chili taste-off every February and hosting live music every week. Cornerstone serves a deluxe bar-food menu, beginning with breakfast every day.
History & Culture
Four cities in Chisago Lakes have sister cities in Sweden, and many residents trace their ancestry to immigrants from Scandinavia. Author Vilhelm Moberg lived in the region in the 1940s, and rode his bike around gathering stories from residents about their families, which he used in his "Emigrants" pioneer trilogy. A statue of Moberg and his bike stands in Chisago City. Another statue, of Karl and Kristina Oskar, the fictional heroes of Moberg's stories, stands in Lindstrom. All this Swedish pride goes on display every July when the area celebrates Karl Oskar Days, a multiday celebration that includes a parade, traditional foods, arts and crafts, sports and tours of significant places. The Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia also documents the region's connection with Scandinavia, and provides language classes and events throughout the year.
The Chisago Lakes area is just an hour's drive from the Twin Cities, making it a far-flung but commutable bedroom community. Interstate 35 runs north and south through the cities here, connecting to Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The Heartland Express runs a public bus that makes limited stops in each of the cities in the region, and a park-and-ride lot in North Branch takes riders to a lot in Forest Lake, where they connect to Metro Transit lines running to the Twin Cities. Rides cost $1.75.
Bicyclists have two major trails. The Sunrise Valley Trail runs 15 miles, from North Branch to the southern border of Chisago County, where it connects to the Twin Cities trail network. The Swedish Immigrant Trail follows a historic east-west route from Chisago to the Minnesota border in Taylor's Falls. Pedestrians comfortably stroll within the historic business districts, but overall, this area depends on cars. Small taxi services operate in this region, mainly serving seniors. A taxi or Uber can be called but not hailed.
Housing costs in the far north run less than in the Twin Cities for comparable properties, adding to Chisago Lake's appeal for commuters; however, the abundant number of vacation homes
make this region's real estate picture a bit more complicated. Many people in the Twin Cities have a summer home in the Chisago Lakes area. Rental properties do exist here, but tend to be home rentals rather than duplexes or apartment buildings. For the few apartment communities in the area, a one-bedroom
apartment averages $666 a month. Gas prices run about 7 percent below the national average. A beer costs between $3 and $5.
The North Branch Outlets feature three dozen national brand outlet stores. This strip doesn't compare in size to the huge outlet malls in Albertville or Eagan, but good deals can be found. Woolrich Outlet sells the kind of cold-weather gear that many cabin-bound travelers discover they forgot to pack. Antique stores in Lindstrom, Center City and Chisago City capitalize on the area's heritage and historic architecture.
Taylor's Falls' business district hasn't changed much since the logging days, and all those brownstone storefronts make the perfect setting for neat little shops and galleries. A yarn shop, quilt shop, canoe and kayak rental and gear stores, galleries and gift shops line the tilting streets that wind around the hillside above the St. Croix River. Alchemist Perfumes blends custom perfumes and culinary spices and vinegars. Erik's Canoe Rental organized trips down the St. Croix and Wild Rivers. She Shop sells women's clothing and accessories.
Brink's Market in Chisago City has been in the grocery business since 1919, and this local, family-owned store outdoes the competition by offering carry-out and home-delivery services, and selling national brands as well as local foods. Lindstrom and Chisago City host farmers markets in the summer.
Outdoor recreation defines life in this region, which includes numerous lakes and two wild and scenic rivers. Two outstanding state parks preserve the natural beauty of the region, though vehicle permits are required. Interstate State Park, perched in the bluffs over the St. Croix River, boasts panoramic river views from rocky promontories along the shore. This park's unusual geology includes natural rock potholes and cauldrons, and rock climbers and divers flock to the park to take advantage of the dramatic high points. Paddlers and anglers love it here, and Wild River State Park, upstream a few miles at Center City. In the winter months, Wild River's 35 miles of hiking trails become cross-country ski routes. Snowboarders and downhill skiers get their thrills at the nearby Wild Mountain ski area. A large off-leash dog park at Checkerboard Park, east of North Branch, lets dogs go wild in a fenced area.
Rush City hosts the Chisago County Fair at its fairgrounds every July. In addition to the usual livestock competitions, parades and food vendors, visitors enjoy the annual chainsaw racing event, which nods to the area's past role in the lumber industry.