Welcome to Iron Range, Minnesota
When you picture Minnesota, nicknamed “the Land of 10,000 Lakes”, you’re probably imagining the Iron Range. The northeastern region of the state has deep roots and a landscape of low-lying hills, carpeted with tall trees, and scattered with blue lakes. The people here, whose heritage spans Europe from Scandinavia to Serbia, call themselves “Rangers” and they’re proud of their region’s mining history, ties to the Old World, and rugged natural beauty. Minnesota’s North Woods is easy to love. To give you an insider’s look at the region, we asked the locals what to do when you visit. Here are a few favorites.
During the warm months, locals say to get out on—or, better still, in—one of Minnesota’s famous lakes. Rent a pontoon boat, kayak, paddleboard, or canoe and go exploring. “Going out on the water in the summer is like being in a sauna and then jumping into a cool plunge pool,” we’re told. It’s certainly refreshing, and the award for most unexpected Iron Range activity goes to…? Scuba diving in a former iron mine! The go-to spot for lake diving is the aptly named Lake Ore-be-Gone. (The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources maintains a lake access map, from boat launches and beaches to dive spots, on its website.) The 132-meter (433-foot) deep former mine is now home to the Minnesota state fish, the walleye, northern pike and trout—and is the final resting place for sunken mining equipment, airplanes, and a helicopter. Take that, Bermuda!
Spending the day toiling underground makes a person hungry. Cornish-style pasties—a traditional miner food that’s conveniently hand-held, warm and filling—can be found throughout Midwestern mine country. In the Iron Range, Betty’s Pies has been a local institution since 1957. Started as a fish shack, this roadside restaurant has grown into a destination for its huge selection of cream pies, crunch pies, baked pies, cheesecakes (still a pie) and even pie milkshakes: a shake with an actual slice of pie added into the mixer.. Naturally, Betty’s serves pasties: traditional hand pies made with either roast beef or diced chicken, rutabaga, potatoes, carrots, onions and seasonings—a hearty, dough-encased stew—with gravy on the side. And since you’re eating miner food, why not take a mine tour?! The Soudan Mine, opened in 1882, was the first iron ore mine in the state. The “Cadillac of Mines” (so fancy!) has been closed since 1962, but you can reach the mine’s deepest depths just as the miners did: in a closed cage that descends a .8 km (a half-mile) underground, followed by 1.2 km (three-quarters of a mile) by rail. It’s a thrilling trip!