We are so glad you are traveling to the Elbow Lake and Lake Vermilion area in Northern Minnesota. Whether you are just getting out of the cities for a quick weekend getaway or taking a longer family vacation at a Northern Minnesota cabin or resort, you are most likely going to drive up Highway 35 from the Twin Cities metro area to Highway 33 and then finish the drive up Highway 53 to Cook, MN. I wrote this article to help you and your family find the best Minnesota rest stops along your way. I stay at Elbow Lake Lodge and in some private Elbow Lake cabins (Creekside) and (End of the Road Cabin) through VRBO several times a year. Below are my recommended Minnesota rest stops and a few must-stop locations to get you ready for your Northern Minnesota vacation. By the way, my extended family and I are avid road trippers so trust us, we know how to find those quirky little things that most people never see. Tell us what your favorite stop is in the comments below! Did we miss one? Tell us! We will go review it next time we go up! If you are looking for things to do when you get there, check out our page here.
Let me give you a little advice for your drive to Cook, MN. Do everything in your power to avoid rush hours in the cities and the big drives on holidays.
Recently, (in the last couple of years) we have been really surprised about how much cheaper gas is out of the cities. It hasn’t been like this in the past. The further north you go, the cheaper. I suppose because it’s so much cheaper shipping gas further from the refinery???? I saved over $.25 cents per gallon on a regular basis during the summer of 2015. I swear there is a memo all the stations in the cities get about prices. There is no way they can all jump up within hours of each other to within a few cents. All. The. Time. When I travel, I rarely see this in other cities or states. So, either this is a statistical phenomenon constrained to my metro area, or well, anyway … I guess I am telling you to fill up your car on out of the cities.
Once you are on the road, you will transition from city, to suburb,farming and then the Northern wilderness, we want you to know about a few of our favorite stops.
Minnesota Rest Stops in Hinkley
From the Twin Cities, you will be heading North on 35. About an hour after you leave the cities, you enter Hinkley. There are two things to do that I recommend in Hinkley. The most famous rest stop for travelers is Tobies Restaurant. Well, it is a lot more than just a restaurant now, but stop here for some gas and pick up their famous Caramel Rolls. It has a been a family tradition in my family for three generations.
Hinkley Fire Museum
If you enjoy history (or at least fires), also stop by the Hinkley Fire Museum. To make a good story short, there was this huge fire back in 1894 that was fueled by a horrible drought. It burned the whole city. Some who sought refuge in a local river were actually burned by the water it was so hot. Ok, now that your interest is piqued, you can get the rest of the story at the museum.
Minnesota Rest Stops in Barnum
There isn’t much north of Hinkley, but you can stop at the Lazy Bear in Barnum to get pies. There is a little diner that sells pies and has a gift shop. The food is good and it makes a nice off the beaten path stop. Don’t forget to see the giant Voyageur too!
Minnesota Rest Stops in Cloquet
Gordies High Hat
Another hour north, you come to Cloquet. The most famous stop here is probably Gordies High Hat. It’s an old fashioned diner in the original building and they have added a coffee and ice cream shop next door.
Frank Lloyd Wright Gas Station
Just before the river, you can see a Frank Lloyd Wright designed gas station. It is adjacent to the road you are driving on and it is worth noting. It is worth a stop to see the architecture. Today, it is an operating gas station.
There are a bunch of reasonably fast restaurants in Cloquet. It is also the half-way point, so plan on making a stop here for a meal one way or the other if you like. There’s a Sammy’s Pizza, a Chinese Restaurant, a great Mexican restaurant and more. You can check on goole maps or the Trip Advisor app for ideas. There are too many to mention.
Minnesota Rest Stops in Eveleth
Worlds Largest Hockey Stick & Hockey Hall of Fame
Eveleth has the next few points of interest on your drive. You can stand by the worlds largest hockey stick, or visit the Hockey Hall of Fame before leaving this city.
Mineview in the sky
The Mineview in the Sky boasts the “King of the Lode” and the “Shop at the top.” Let’s be clear, this is strictly a tourist trap. But the people are nice and you get to see some old mining equipment and some great views.
The Leonidas Overlook is just west of Eveleth. It is a short drive and a good way to explore a little bit on a lazy drive.
Minnesota Rest Stops in Virginia
Nearly a stone’s throw from Eveleth, is Virginia. This is your last place to shop at anything you might recognize. They have a K-Mart (Yes, I know), Menards, and a couple of other big boxes. It’s kind of the end of civilization.
Before leaving Virginia, go to F&D Meats. It is a little detour from the highway but worth every block. It really isn’t any further driving, you just rout through town to get there. The store is a dump, but the meat is excellent and cheap. Try some of their bratwurst. It’s fantastic. We stop here every drive.
Just past the city, you will go by the Laurentian Divide. What does that mean? Well, they tell me if you pee right in that spot, half will go to Hudson Bay and the other half to the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t know if that actually works like that, but you can see it for yourself just north of Virginia.
This stop also has miles of bike and hiking trails. If you are into outdoor recreation, this is a great place to break up your drive.
In Cook, finish your shopping at Zup’s. It is a pretty decent grocery store. It will be on the left of the main freeway as you drive in. They also have a butcher if you missed F&D’s. Their produce is usually great and they will have just about anything else you would need for your stay. This is the closest thing you will find to an independent grocery now days.
If you are staying in the Elbow Lake or Lake Vermilion area, this is the best spot to get groceries on your way.
Across from Zup’s is a bait shop. They sell “Leeches by the pound.” It’s very cheap, and he is really a nice guy but he won’t let me take his picture. I always try and he always yells at me. By the way, Elbow Lake is really a leach lake. They do very well and seem to catch everything. I nearly always just use a plain hook and a leech for everything from sunfish to walleye, spring to fall.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy your stay in Northern Minnesota! If you think we missed something, let us know and we will add it to the list! Otherwise, tell us your favorite stop below.