Approximately 6,000 years ago, when Sumerian scholars were devising some of mankind's first mathematic systems, a mile-thick sheet of ice began to melt half a world away in the region known today as Minnesota. Slowly, the glacier shrank and poured gallons of water into the land around it, leaving behind gorgeous rock formations dotted with artistic ridges and eye-catching striations. Perhaps most notable of these formations is a structure that resembles a cross, which inspired settlers to name its surrounding river St. Croix, or "holy cross."
Today, modern humans can catch a glimpse of these awesome sights thanks to Wild Mountain. Seasonal activities include skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, where snow-goers explore 100 acres of hills encompassing 26 runs, bunny slopes for newcomers, and four terrain parks for the seasoned veterans. Wild Mountain also holds daily lessons, youth and adult programs, as well as racing competitions and camps run by knowledgable and trained northerners.
The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad whisks passengers away on food-filled excursions through the scenic forests surrounding Spooner. A lineup of vintage train cars ensconces guests in antique luxury, starting with the 1918 mahogany-lined dining car that plays host to elegant five-course dinners, leisurely brunches, and kid-friendly pizza feasts. Overnight guests sidle into the retro comfort of the 1950s sleeper car's double-decker single beds and individual climate controls. Those seeking deluxe accommodations can book the opulent Dianne Marie, a 1914 private car complete with such railway luxuries as a full-size bed, private washrooms with showers, and emergency speakers set to play flapper-repelling waltzes. A lounge with a full bar accompanies most trips, lubricating pleasant conversation as each trip wends its way past quaint towns, shimmering streams, and towering trees.
While stationed in Germany with the U.S. Air Force, Troy Chamberlin and his wife Laura developed a love for wine at the wineries of the Rhine Valley. Upon returning home, they set about creating a European-style vineyard to share the joy of their days abroad without having to hurl their fellow countrymen across the Atlantic. Thus Chateau St. Croix Winery & Vineyard was born, a 55-acre plot complete with stables, a fishing pond, and an art gallery. The heart of the vineyard, though, is its 2.5 acres of grapes, nearly five tons of which are grown in six varieties for use in their award-winning wines. Visitors can sample Chateau St. Croix's sundry varietals and blends after a half-hour tour, pairing each sip with chocolates, cheeses, and crackers.
At Wild Mountain Winery, everything is local, right down to the grapes and the process in which they're grown. Surrounded by the green hillsides of the St. Croix River Valley, Wild Mountain utilizes the methods of Elmer Swenson—a pioneering breeder who revolutionized grape growing in regions plagued by cold, short seasons, and undomesticated snowplows. Having been perfected over the years, those time-tested processes now result in hardy varietals that represent the local climate, soils, and vines. Travelers along the Upper St. Croix Wine Trail can explore Wild Mountain's territorial flavors in a number of ways, including during weekend tastings that come with a souvenir glass.
As you navigate the winding paths through the corn maze, you hear the wind rustling the stalks of corn behind you. At least, you hope it's the wind and not something more sinister. But you press on, a little more quickly, past the strobe lights and fog machines, hoping that you find the exit before a chainsaw-wielding lumberjack or the ghost of a humorless SAT proctor finds you.
Shafer Corn Maze's Stalkers of the Corn is just one way to experience the three corn mazes spread across 12 acres. The mazes feature a Paul Bunyan–themed design that was cut into nearly half a million corn stalks by professional maze designer MazePlay. The largest maze winds through 3.1 miles of paths and the smallest maze winds through 1.1 miles of paths.
Families with young kids or those who don't want to outrun ghouls and goblins can check out the mazes during the daytime. Both the largest and smallest mazes have six checkpoints where explorers can punch a ticket to mark their progress.
After finding their way out, guests can head to the petting zoo, straw-bale jump, or obstacle course.
A nonprofit Christian fundraising group for youth ministries in the Twin Cities, Fishing for Life hosts the Fish Fair each year to net assets for its cause while attendees snack on fried fish. Budding freshwater huntsmen can learn the fine points of lure making or fly tying and others can try their hands at archery or laser shooting. As young whippersnappers ricochet around the bounce houses and dance to live music, their mellower companions can listen to a tall tale at story time or create a brush-by-brush replica of Mona Lisa Eats a Burrito at the arts-and-crafts table. Boy Scouts in attendance can earn a fishing merit badge with their participation, as each amateur ichthyologist can attempt to catch his or her own dinner at the trout pond.