Places, Roadside Architecture

Naniboujou Lodge – Highway 61 – North Shore of Minnesota

We’ve been traveling to the North Shore of Minnesota for a decade now and the one place we’ve always wanted to go to, but has always eluded us, was the Naniboujou Lodge and Restaurant. Hard to believe, but we’ve never been there “in season” until this spring. It was worth waiting for. We’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about it over the years and the history, the design, the food, and of course Lake Superior, lives up to everything it was meant to be, and everything it is today.

Entrance to the dining room.

Naniboujou is located about 15 miles east of Grand Marais on the former U.S. Highway 61  (now  Minnesota State route 61) on Minnesota’s arrowhead and the shore of my beloved Lake Superior.  It makes quite an impression when you drive in. There’s nothing else like it on the North Shore.

Lake Superior view from from entrance.

Naniboujou was born out of a plan for a private, exclusive resort that the Naniboujou Holding Company of Duluth introduced in 1927. The Lodge was to be an exclusive private club that included a large clubhouse (today’s dining room), 150 sleeping rooms, tennis courts, a bathing house and of course, a golf course . At the time, the 24 member Board of Governors strove for a national membership for this new private club, so they put a limit on total Minnesota memberships at 25%. Everyone had to apply to be a member and could be denied if even two of the 24 members rejected an application.

A copy of the original membership packet available at the gift shop today.

“You are cordially invited to membership in the Naniboujou Club of the famous Minnesota Arrowhead country. Membership is for those of standing who will recognize the unusually varied features of complete social and recreational activities as outlined in the brochure.” – the opening letter in the membership packet. 

According to that membership packet, members whose applications were approved paid $125 plus $10 in annual dues. Charter members included Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and Ring Lardner

On July 7, 1929 Minnesota Governor Theodore Christianson christened the new Lodge. On October 29, 1929, Black Tuesday, the stock market crashed beginning a time of financial difficulties which ultimately doomed the Naniboujou. People stopped joining, stopped paying dues and visiting the new resort.  It was during this time of turmoil that the several changes in ownership began. The current building is just a small part of the original grand plan.

Naniboujou is the Cree Indian Spirit of the Outdoors who is generally known as a powerful, genial, friendly spirit.

The dining room and 20 foot fireplace at Naniboujou.

It is Cree designs painted on the ceiling and walls of the dining room. French artist Antoine Goufee painted them here in 1928-29 and they remain today. Untouched. This is the Naniboujou often presented in pictures. How could it not be? Yet when you walk in the door to the dining room and see this in person it will take your breath away no matter how many times you’ve seen the pictures.

Opposite the fireplace, gift shop in back.

And pictures don’t do it justice. The bold, bright colors invite awe. But, the hard wood floors made it all feel homey and comfortable even being surrounded by such colorful designs. How does that make sense? All I know is that I felt relaxed, welcome and happy to be in that environment. It was wonderful. Hubby,  an architect, remarked how some of the design elements reminded him a little bit of Frank Lloyd Wright. I see that too. I chalk that up to both being rooted in nature.

Cree Indian designs painted by French artist, Antoine Goufee in late 1920s. To this day they’ve never been repainted.

Today, Naniboujou is open every year from mid-May to mid-October. They have special events throughout the year too – including a Christmas dinner, a New Year’s celebration and food and lodging weekends just for skiers in the winter. Mother’s Day Brunch sounds like a big deal for the Grand Marais residents too. Understandable. Hubby and I had fabulous lunches – I had a fantastic lake trout with homemade coleslaw and he had the walleye sandwich with homemade kettle chips. And oh my goodness, the Danish creams desert!! Get one!!  I bought the the Naniboujou cookbook in the gift shop just to have this recipe.

The Solarium, added by one of the more recent owners.

Naniboujou was never built out to include the big plans of the original owners, but it’s still a stunning space. According to the brochure, today people come for a quiet, peaceful natural environment. Which visitors get in abundance. There are many state parks nearby, several hiking trails and of course, Lake Superior to provide us with a pretty spectacular natural environment.

Lake Superior view from inside the Solarium.

The fact that Naniboujou is still here after years of financial turmoil and a variety of owners and managers is a testament to the love people have for it. I’ve heard so many talk about it in our travels on the North Shore, and now I understand. It is a treasure.

Hallway for the 29 rooms in the lodge.

At this writing, no TV’s, no phones and no wifi are available in rooms. There’s no nightclub or bar either. We didn’t have terrific cell service while we were there, but it didn’t matter. We were too busy bowing to nature’s demand for attention. It’s definitely a place to unplug.  Sadly though, for us anyway, no pets are allowed.

Lake Superior from the deck off of the second floor of lodge.

There are a few ahandoned hotels along the north shore and with the onset of the Great Depression destroying the possibility for the original vision of Naniboujou, it could easily be one of them. That  it is still here and embraces the intent of the original designers is a testament to how much it means to the area and its visitors.  It is well-loved a one of a kind experience. I know we’ll be back.

Further reading:

Naniboujou Lodge and Restaurantwebsite

Naniboujou Lodge Historyalso from their website

Mother’s Day at NaniboujouStone Harbor Wilderness Supply website

Dining in the Spirit of Naniboujoucookbook

Naniboujou Lodge Hat Knitting Pattern  – ravelry

Naniboujou is for saleStar Tribune