Named from the Ojibwe word for valuable, Biwabik was founded in 1892 when iron was discovered in the area. Within a few years the population soared to 3,000 as miners from around the world arrived to work the city’s seven mines, the last of which closed in 1956.
Today the population is well under 1,000 and falling fast. The number of tourists, however, continues to climb thanks to Giants Ridge, which sits five miles outside of town. Recognizing that tourism was their future, Biwabik began a Bavarian theme back in the 1980s, which now includes the city hall and most downtown buildings.
Continuing in the German vein, the annual Weihnachtsfest (Christmas Lighting Fest), held the first Saturday in December, is one of the city’s biggest events. Following a day of food, crafts, music, and fireworks, the Christmas lights are turned on in Carl Schuster Park (home to a statue celebrating Honk the Moose and the classic children’s story he inspired) and the rest of downtown. The lights stay on through March.
Preceding the evening fireworks on the Fourth of July is the city’s century-old Calithumpian parade, with dozens of clowns and floats judged on humor.
What began as a local ski hill in the 1950s has grown into the multifaceted Giants Ridge Golf & Ski Resort (6325 Wynne Creek Dr., 218/865-3000 or 800/688-7669, www.giantsridge.com), which is regularly listed as one of the Midwest’s best by both ski and golf magazines. Besides the downhill runs and terrain park, snowy-season visitors can use a snowshoe trail climbing to the top of the Laurentian Divide and 35 miles of world-class cross-country ski trails—initially developed for the U.S. Ski Team—through the adjacent Superior National Forest.
As for golf, The Legend and The Quarry are widely considered the state’s best public golf courses. Other summer diversions include mountain biking the ski trails and letting one fly from atop the ski run on the disc golf course. Rental equipment is available for all of these activities. A shuttle connects Giants Ridge to town so you can drink safely in the half-dozen bars on Main Street.
Giants Ridge has Play & Stay packages available with hotels across the region, though you might as well stay right on-site at the excellent Lodge at Giants Ridge (6373 Wynne Creek Dr., 218/865-7170 or 877/442-6877, www.lodgeatgiantsridge.com, $149). Ideal for families, condominiums with 1–4 bedrooms are available, and on-site facilities include a large pool, hot tub, game room, exercise room, and ski storage/waxing room.
Next door the Sports Dorm (6325 Wynne Creek Dr., 218/865-3000, $70) has simple rooms with twin bunks.
Just down the road are the fancier Villas at Giants Ridge (6266 Giants Ridge Rd., 218/865-4155 or 800/843-7434, www.villasatgiantsridge.com, $136), with lakeside condos and cabins ranging from studios to four bedrooms—most come with full kitchens, fireplaces, and whirlpool baths. There’s an outdoor pool, private beach, and tennis courts on the grounds.
The city-owned Vermillion Trail Park Campground (6040 Vermillion Trl., 218/865-6705, $18 with electricity), just west of town on Embarrass Lake, has 44 shady and well-spaced sites.
Alden’s Restaurant (209 Main St., 218/865-6371, 7 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun.–Wed., 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Thurs., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri., 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Sat., $5–17) has home-cooked meals and all-you-can-eat specials in a simple smoke-free dining room.
Vi’s Pizza (215 Main St., 218/865-4164, dinner daily) is just a kitchen attached to a bar, but they do a decent thin-crust pie.
The somewhat fancy Timbers Restaurant (6373 Wynne Creek Dr., 218/865-7170, 8 a.m.–9 p.m., $5–21) at Giants Ridge has an outdoor deck and choices such as honey pecan walleye and fettuccini Alfredo.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition