The Allure of Minnesota’s Cabin Culture

What is it about going to “the cabin”?  So many residents of Minnesota already live in rustic, nature-filled settings, yet are eager to pack up the car and head out to “the cabin.”  If it is not their own cabin, or their family’s cabin, then it is their friend’s or neighbor’s cabin.  In Minnesota, it seems that everyone knows someone who has a cabin.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources publishes facts and figures on Minnesota’s many waters.  Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” which is somewhat of a misnomer, for the state actually has 11,842 lakes which are 10 or more acres in size.  Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, only four of them do not have a natural lake within their borders.  Minnesotans have to try hard NOT to go to the lake or to the cabin.

Perfect view with book in hand

My husband grew up in Minnesota and that cabin culture is part of who he is.  While I could be content puttering around my gardens “in town” to unwind, or just renting a cabin on a lake for a weekend once a summer to get my fix, it became increasingly important to my husband that we find a little spot of land on a lake that he could call his own.  And isn’t marriage all about compromise?

Casting off the dock 

For several summers we simply pitched a tent on our little lake parcel, enjoying our private campsite, fishing from shore or taking out the canoe.  The boys were just starting school and we still had most of our weekends free from scheduled activities.  We eventually had a simple cabin shell constructed, doing finishing work in stages and completing the work ourselves when our skills allowed.  As our boys grew older, schedules became busier, and time for all of us to get to the cabin on a regular basis is harder to come by, and so that time is all the more treasured when we have it.  

Loon pair in northern Minnesota

The simple pleasures are what makes the cabin a special place — watching the loons float by and listening to their haunting calls, sitting among the birch and pine with a book in hand.  When the boys were younger, they would craft imaginary strategic games and play them for hours in the woods.   

Boys in the woods

Even in recent years, the cabin is still a place where teenaged boys can find the time and space for some creative play — garbage can lids turn into shields against stick swords and the battle ensues!  Boys will be boys at any age.

Never too old for imaginary play

Summer months bring lazy days, launching into the water to cool off and enjoy the seemingly endless depths of the lake.

Summer lake time

Cabin time is almost synonymous with fishing time — sometimes from the dock, sometimes from a boat on the lake itself.  When the fishermen in my family land a big one, I hear the frantic call from the dock — “GET THE CAMERA!”  I rush down to the dock, camera in hand, quickly snapping a shot or two before the big guy is released to enjoy another day.

Northern Pike: The one that didn't get away

Cabin time is time to just hang out, use your shirt as your hand towel, and let the layer of dirt act as additional sunscreen.  The boys have great immune systems and no allergies to speak of, which I chalk up to a healthy dose of dog fur, dirt and grime over the years!

Sizing the day's catch on the dock

The cabin is the ideal spot to hang with man’s best friend.  Running down the tree-canopied roads . . .

A shady run with the dogs

. . . watching the fish swim by the dock . . .

Best friends on the dock

. . . or tolerating an extra player during a marathon game of Monopoly.  Cabin memories, all of them.

Monopoly:  the black lab version

As days draw to a close, the colors play across the lake’s surface, and a person cannot help but pause and reflect. An owl may call through the dark woods — like the Barred Owl with its unmistakable call:  “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”  The wolves may howl in the distance, the deer may quietly meander down their well-worn path to the lakeshore, and the frogs join in chorus to sing their evening songs.

Contentment on the dock

Perhaps it is that evening sauna that relaxes a person as it purges the body’s toxins, or just as likely it is the other aspects of the cabin that create the restful escape — no urge to run to the grocery store and stock up for the week, no temptation to go into the office and get caught up at work, no running here and there with concerts, sporting events, conferences, social activities, and all the other details of our daily lives that sometimes leave us feeling tired and worn, even as we enjoy them.  Sleep at the cabin is somehow more restful than anything experienced “at home.”

Sunset on the lake

Numerous articles recently have highlighted the importance of escaping our multi-tasking world:  spend some time in green space to ease brain fatigue  (per the New York Times), take a break from multitasking to return to the essence of our humanity (per this video from KarmaTube), untether from our smart phone leash (per this column from Sam Cook).  Only by doing so can we fully appreciate the simple beauty of the world, . . .

Peaceful paddle at sunrise

. . . and be fully present while spending time with each other.

Paddling along the lakeshore

What is it about Minnesota’s cabin culture?  Come and experience it for yourself and you will understand.

Hammock at the cabin

Ciao! ~ Kat

36 responses to “The Allure of Minnesota’s Cabin Culture”

  1. Wonderful that your kids get the chance to be out in nature. These are experiences they’ll never forget and will always try to come back to even if they choose to live and work in the city later on.


  2. I love it! great post and fabulous photos! some look almost like ones I’ve taken at the cabin 😉 we are fortunate to have a family cabin that we share with the rest of hubby’s family(and that my daughter is the sole heir to…). it’s been in the family since the 40s when his grandpa purchased the land and then built a small cabin (that was expanded in the 70s and another deck added in the 90s). I relate to much of what you write here. it is so serene up there and some of my best sunset photos are off the dock there at the cabin. lots of great memories there!


  3. Lovely post! And so true. I am fortunate to have experienced my brother-in-laws MN cabin – mostly in winter, as we were big x-country skiers. It is gorgeous territory, and in winter you felt like you were the only humans on the planet.

    It is also a very unique culture. Where else do people go out of their way to sit in the freezing cold on the ice hoping for a rare fish???

    Great photos. Love the canoe in the mist!


  4. There’s no better way to relax! And your pictures make me wanna pack up and leave right now! I’m more of a city gal, but love that occasional tryst with nature and self:) You’ve got me inspired, Kat!


  5. I liked this post so much I just shared it on my LSS Facebook page. Michigan has an entire cabin/cottage industry as well. Our family grew up going to two cottages, one on Lake Huron and the other “up north” in the Northern Lower Peninsula. Wonder why they call them “cottages” in lower Michigan and “cabins” when you get further north?


    • Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota — anyone with family/friend ties in those states seem to have cabin/cottage stories to tell. So many beautiful spots to retreat to in those states and escape from the obligations of daily life!


  6. Lovely Kat! I often wish we had a family cabin but it is a lot of work and money especially if you are in it alone. I have friends who have cabins and love it when we get invited. Minnesota is a
    Magical place in the summer!


    • That’s the key to enjoying it — keeping it a manageable expense and low-maintenance (often the distinction between a “cabin” and a “lake home”! I do hope we see some of that summer magic in MN soon!


  7. I love this post, Kat. Beautiful pictures. Cabin culture is to be envied, that’s for sure. It reminds of the few fishing trips my dad took us on – to a cabin in Canada. Wonderful memories and definitely something I would do every year if I could.


  8. My husband and I are at loggerheads about this. Having never lived in one place for very long, our little home here in the cities strikes me as a luxury. He’s a native Minnesotan, though, and the cabin dream seems to be ingrained. These days I’d like to own a lot less, do and travel more, so I’m pretty resistant to the idea. Still, camping and traveling at least gives us time away from routine. Beautiful pictures and description for us non-natives!


    • Camping is a great escape from routine — my big thing has been to keep the cabin at cabin level, not create a second home and second maintenance obligation. That always has been my fear . Currently, when there’s work to be done at the cabin it is still a pleasure, puttering on little projects here and there. Yeah, there’s something about those Minnesotans and their cabins!


  9. Wow…what a great job capturing the essence of Minnesota. This conjured up wonderful memories for me. Love that canoe shot with the mist in the background. Happy paddling 🙂


  10. This is a great post, Kat, and your photography wonderful. I’m aware of “cabin culture”, having been raised in Michigan, and I really miss having “a friend with a cabin who …”. For much of my youth, our vacations were spent in cabins on the shore of one of the Great Lakes and I cherish those memories, as I’m sure your boys will. Thanks for taking us along on this trip to the cabin with your family.


    • You understand exactly! My mother grew up in Berwyn and her family would join the masses heading north to Wisconsin in the summers on the weekend. Cabin culture is ingrained in generations of many of us.


      • Absolutely! I have so many happy memories of going to the lake in northern Ill. for weekends and then longer times up north in Wisconsin. I am so happy for your family that you have had this cabin and lake property to enjoy and wish we could spend more time up there with you.


  11. Wow!! That looks really welcoming and peaceful… I have read so many books describing life in a cabin and have always wanted to spend some time in one. You have just about got all the things I am looking forward to in this post… Loved it!! 🙂


    • And there are so many more more, Sumithra! I had to cut and edit out additional photos and text for fear I would lose the reader long before the end, and it ended up long enough. I love all the little creatures you cross paths with — the fascinating spiders (even the scary hairy ones hiding in the wood pile), the bats the fly back and forth above your head catching bugs as the stars come out, the eagles soaring overhead and then diving with a “whoosh” to nab a fish under the lake’s surface. You definitely need to make your way “up north” to Minnesota some day!


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