Darkness had fallen over Gull Lake by the time I pulled down the long, tree-lined driveway of Grand View Lodge. Light from the main building's paned windows punched holes in the darkness, spilling over gardens full of bright pink flowers.
Inside, pine floors creaked and a stuffed moose stared from a hulking fieldstone fireplace. Vintage photos adorned the amber-colored log walls. The history of this classic lodge -- built in the early 1900s with Norway pines felled on the property -- was as obvious as the antler chandeliers overhead.
Families return here year after year, making Grand View one of Minnesota's classic getaways. The clerk handed me a long list of activities and told me about the kids' club and the spa.
I signed up for a horseback ride, a sunset pontoon cruise, a workout on the beach and a two-hour spa treatment that included an "energy-center cleansing." (The spa had recently opened and other guests have raved.) Downstairs in the pub, complete with rolling popcorn cart, the band played a Jimmy Buffett song, ladies in navy blazers and white jeans sipped gin and tonics, and teenagers in swimsuits and sweatshirts hovered around a platter of onion rings and French fries.
After dinner, I followed a path lined with lampposts to the lake. Boats were tapping the dock and there was the smell of smoke from shoreline bonfires.
The lodge sits high on a hill overlooking Gull Lake. A lawn sweeps down to the beach, where there's a restaurant and indoor pool. Rows of cabins and townhouses, along with clusters of whitewashed Adirondack chairs, face the lake.
Grand View was originally designed as a hotel for people who traveled to the Brainerd area to shop for lake property. Many of the original cabins still stand. In 1937, the lodge was sold to Brownie and Judy Cote, who saw the future of resorting and began expanding the operation.
Now on the National Register of Historic Places and still in the Cote family, the resort has nearly 200 cabins, townhouses and lodge rooms; four restaurants; and a new conference center.
Doug Dypwick, a Grand View employee, ferried me to and from a nearby farm for my horseback trail ride through a state forest. After the ride, he gave me a tour of the resort. As we passed one of three golf courses, Dypwick told me that despite its size, at its heart Grand View is still a ma-and-pa resort.
A man in khakis was doing some lawn work near the road. It was Randy Cote, one of Brownie and Judy's sons and a Grand View owner; Dypwick said that he's frequently seen doing odd jobs around the property during the summer.
The skies were so blue and the weather so warm that morning, it prompted thoughts of the beach. By afternoon, I was settled into one of those beach chairs. Moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas juggled their fruity drinks and tubes of sunblock. The air was filled with the scents of summer: brats on the grill and coconut-oil sunscreen.
Out on the lake three teenagers, towed by a white speedboat, clung to what looked like a big inflatable red sofa as it skipped along the waves. A tall wake sent the girls and their Wilma Flintstone ponytails into the air with a screech that made everyone look. Down the beach, a former Miss America tended her children while her husband sat on the dock, dipping his feet into the water as he talked on his cell phone.
That night, I was dining at Sherwood Forest, a log restaurant in the style of Grand View's main lodge that's operated by Grand View. The restaurant lies 4 miles down the road, but also can be reached via the sunset pontoon boat ride.
With its vaulted ceilings, log walls and a fieldstone fireplace that stretched across one wall, the restaurant was reminiscent of the main lodge. And like the lodge, it had a timeless early-20th-century quality broken only by the occasional sound of a cell phone. After a satisfying meal, I rode back to the resort in a van and headed to the beach for a stroll.
There, Chuck Robbins, a longtime Grand View regular, invited me to join him and his granddaughters at their campfire to roast marshmallows. I declined, admitting I had a fitness class at 6:30 the next morning, and he looked at me as if I was insane.
Secretly I was hoping the class would be canceled, but six of us showed up, and for an hour we lunged, crunched and sweated on the beach while a pair of lazy ducks watched from the dock.
Puffy clouds floated through the sky and screen doors slammed as campers left their cabins for breakfast, a big buffet in a lodge room overlooking the lake. At breakfast, parents read the New York Times while grandparents negotiated with grandchildren about tennis lessons and kids' club.
At the Glacial Waters Spa, Josh, a soft-spoken guy from a nearby town, told me to relax, explained the energy-cleansing process and ushered me into a treatment room through an arch-topped, Hobbit-like door. My body was scrubbed, massaged with a high-pressure hose and doused with a Vichy shower, a bunch of nozzles hung from the ceiling.
My chakras were next. Josh pulled a cart over to the table and positioned it over my forehead, then turned the spigot. Drip. Drip. Drip.
As the warm oil hit my third eye center (otherwise known as my forehead) and dribbled down the sides of my head, I wondered how a guy from northern Minnesota ended up working in a resort spa. He told me that he was a heavy equipment operator and that he hurt his back on the job. Massage not only relieved his pain, but had changed his life, he said. I was so relaxed that I knew it was changing mine, too.
On my way back to the beach, I saw Randy Cote again, and I started to think that there might be some truth to what the driver said about Grand View still feeling like a ma-and-pa resort. There are the campfires, the popcorn cart, the old-time cabins and this laid-back owner.
Cote was cleaning up some construction debris near the new conference center, and he had a certain sense of calm about him that made me want to ask if he'd ever had his chakras cleansed. But as the warm summer wind off the lake dried sweat from his forehead, I decided it was a silly question. Spending time at his family's resort no doubt offered serenity enough.
At a glance:
Grand View is about 140 miles northwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul in Nisswa, Minn. The main lodge was built in 1918 and opened for business at the end of 1919. Brownie and Judy Cote bought the resort in 1937 and added cabins to the property. Their four children now own the resort; they also run two kids' camps in the area and a dude ranch in Arizona called Tanque Verde. Grand View is on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are 195 accommodations, with townhouses, lodge rooms and about 85 cabins. Accommodations are in three "villages," including one on nearby Roy Lake. The grounds, including three golf courses, are spread over nearly 1,600 acres. It's open year-round.
Rates start at about $170 per night for one room; $485 for a two-bedroom suite but many last-minute specials can be found for the summer at the lodge Web site, www.grandviewlodge.com or call 1-866-867-8939.