There are two types of people that will read this review. The first will think I am being ridiculous and would love to fawn over how great Maplelag is and speak of their fine wines and exotic travels, #becausecommunity, #mothernature, and #privilege. The other will laugh and say, “Yeah, this does remind me of a sweater vest laden MPR employee reunion” which, by the way, is actual feedback I got from another guest and friend of mine on Facebook.
Let’s start with the most obvious and important issue. People travel north in Minnesota to see the tall pines, majestic lakes, rolling hills, and pristine wilderness of Northern Minnesota. Like this:
None of which you can expect at Maplelag. Let me suggest you check out the Arrowhead or North Shore areas instead. Understand that just going north doesn’t always give you that quintessential famous “Up North” experience Minnesota is famous for. This is where parks like Superior National Forest, Voyageurs National Park, the BWCA and many other state parks are located. Go there instead. In my mind, any wilderness or outdoor focused trip needs to be based there.
There is only one thing to do here and it isn’t great for families. The only real attraction is cross country skiing. Its average ski quality because anyone with a groomer and a snowmobile has the same quality trail but I give it a marginal rating due to the location and the fact that it’s just a bunch of circles. You don’t go anywhere or actually get to explore anything.
What I wrote above should already have helped you make up your mind made up on this place. Take my advice and get back on Trip Advisor or VRBO and search for the Arrowhead or North Shore areas of Minnesota. Those links will make your searching easier. In fact, you don’t even have to read the rest of this review. Just move on and save your time researching and save your vacation.
Maplelag is located north of Detroit lakes, just east of the Fargo-Moorhead area. It’s in a small patch of woods and on a small lake which is a dime a dozen in Minnesota. West of the resort a couple miles is farm. South is farm. East is farm. I didn’t bother to go north. When I’m talking about forest, I’m talking about oak-dominant, common forests like you would see spotted throughout central, and southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities area. So don’t look at all of the pretty pictures of the BWCA area, Voyageurs National Park, or the North Shore and expect that. This is going to be more like what you see in a Minneapolis suburb. If you are looking for the quintessential up north vacation, this is not what you are looking for. Go to the Arrowhead or North Shore. In fact, just take anything North and East of Highway 53 from Duluth to International Falls.
This is what you see at Maplelag. One of these images is in St.Paul, the other is in Maplelag. Can you guess which is which?
This is what the pretty part of the state looks like: This is Voyageurs National Park.
Resort … or Camp?
Let’s be honest, this place is far from a resort. It’s a camp. It operates like a camp in the winter, and literally is a camp under the name “Concordia Language Villages” during the summer and I just don’t want to pay premium resort prices to go stay at a camp. Adding resort to your name doesn’t make you a resort. Here’s why:
They offer family-style, cafeteria-quality food that is served to everyone at once on their schedule. Don’t think you can just walk down to a resort marketplace or cafe and order an egg sandwich and hot coffee for breakfast. That doesn’t exist. The only thing they do have is a counter area that has free cookies, hot chocolate, and coffee. But we aren’t talking Dunn Brothers quality here.
But at least you can go down and have a beer. Wait, no you can’t. You need to bring your own. There is no bar, no service outside of the defined meals, and you might as well just bring a lot of your own. You are going to need it.
The cabins (outbuildings) and rooms are strange. They don’t have deadbolts, there are no safes, and my door doesn’t even have a door jamb so when you close it, it just swings all the way through the door.
Normally, I would give them the benefit of the doubt because I understand it may take a day or two to fix things. But this wasn’t new. It was like that last year when I stayed here. I travel with a $1500 computer and about $10,000 of cameras and gear. First, I would never leave that stuff in a room at a camp or resort without a decent lock. Let me show you how easy it would be to get into my room. Because the door frame is broken, anyone can get to the actual latch with a credit card, ID, or anything else.
Second, the buildings that you stay in are family-style, so my common area is also my neighbors. I would never leave this kind of valuable in a shared cabin with strangers. So I ended up lugging all this stuff around with me everywhere. If I want any privacy, it has to be in the bedroom only. The common area has a fridge. Which is one of the most basic things expected when you stay in a cabin at a resort. But I have to share that fridge with all my neighbors. Why do I want a communal fridge with who-knows-what-that-smell-is from my neighbors brown paper bag shoved in the corner. Or, is that my beer or yours? I can’t tell the difference between my Coors light and yours and I can’t wait to argue with you about who drank it all when we both run out.
As far as the communal living goes, I can’t even imagine making that disclosure to people who call on the phone inquiring. Here’s a picture of our common area:
I traveled around Europe in college. I have stayed in hostels that are nicer than Maplelag. It’s like they got 90% of the way through finishing everything and then quit. The tongue and groove everywhere is nice, but its sloppy and missing a lot of trim. Tongue and groove can go without trim if the person installing it knows how to use a mitre box and can cut strait. But that didn’t happen here:
or anywhere for that matter.
Back to the bedrooms: The mattresses are exactly what you would expect in a middle school YMCA camp. They are hard, worn out, and lumpy. My back and joints ached so badly I was almost limping when I left. There are no sheets, no pillows, no laundry, and any of the units don’t even have private bathrooms. I would literally be more comfortable and as secure in a tent with my camping gear or by throwing a twin mattress in the back of my suburban.
Oh, did I mention that some of the bunk beds didn’t have rails?
The bathroom moulding has cracks, the water has that sulfur egg smell and when you shower, you smell like that when you are done. My shower head was filthy with hard water stains and it was difficult to adjust.
In the main lodge, there are all these weird spaces. I suppose it is for the Concordia Language Villages. But as a traveler and tourist, I don’t care. Why didn’t you make this space useful?! The upstairs is the great big “library” but it is a complete waste of space. It’s almost as weird as the basement. The basement has locker rooms, a hot tub, sauna, massage rooms, and steam room.
Here’s a couple of pictures to give you an idea. I don’t know, maybe you can explain what this space is? The floors are poured concrete with crappy tongue and groove. With all the signs and cheap antiques, they have traded kitsch for style or elegance, let alone functionality.
The little equipment they have there is in awful shape. The air hockey table 1/2 worked, had broken goals, and was peeling and the table tennis table was less patched together than frankenstein.
Plus, the idea is that you can let your kids run around and be safe while adults hang out. But on my random trip through the basement taking pictures, I came across this. The utility room was wide open and accessible by any kid right from the common area.
I didn’t check the sauna and massage rooms, but the hot tub is a hot mess. You don’t even want to use it because you don’t know it’s safe. The smell of chlorine was overwhelming. I grew up with a pool and take care of a pool today, that smell wasn’t normal. There is also so much ice build up on the glass around the hot tub that the doors and windows don’t work, let alone worry if the glass can carry that load of ice.
Here’s a door that is stuck open and -10 air is blowing in.
Here is a picture of the ice buildup just outside the hottub on the glass walls. I bet that is hundreds of pounds of ice on that glass. You can see for yourself nobody has even cared enough to walk out there to inspect this, let alone take care of this. There is not a single footprint in the snow outside.
Moving on … there are two rules I hold very strictly too with my properties. First, if it is important enough to put on a wall for guests to see, it is important enough to spend $15 and hang a real sign. The four pieces of masking tape are priceless. Not only does it look like nobody cares, it will actually stain the wood.
The second, counter spaces and corners are not storage areas. Storage rooms are where these things belong. Guests should NEVER have to see your storage, utilities, or garbage.
My goodness, if I was a manager of a resort again and I saw my staff leave piles like this around and this garbage, I would have new staff the next day. Do they even care? or just not notice?
You would think that at least you would have good food since there is no choice of what or when to eat. This is literally the closest thing they have to a menu:
Rather than describing it, I decided to take picture and let you figure it out. It’s a mixed bag. Some of the food is fine. But for the prices of Maplelag, it should be great. But let me ask you, when you see your food coming like this, do you expect it to be great? This is camp food. One meal, made for the masses.
The night before I wrote this, we had a brisket with potatoes that were scalloped in a cream sauce. The Potatoes also had cooked carrots. I hate cooked carrots. It’s one of three foods I can’t get down. I just find them repulsive. That’s not their fault, except for the fact that I don’t get to choose. Sure, if you have a dietary need, they will make you something, but I don’t feel like “I don’t like it” qualifies as a dietary need. I ate a piece of bread for dinner with lots of butter for calories. Before that, I took a day trip to Fargo. Let that sink in. So I didn’t get pictures or a sample to review.
Sunday morning, there is a smorgasbord. This is it. lots of carbs, lots of canned fish, very Swedish. They were out of eggs when I went through the line. Meh. I had a piece of bread with brie and passed on the pickled herring.
This was lunch: It was a soup with the awful brisket I wouldn’t touch and more carrots. It came with quesadillas. Don’t these look great?
The next night we had chicken. It was ok. The wild rice was over cooked, but pretty much on par with the rest of the food so far.
We had another breakfast. It was good. But my elementary kids can make a good french toast. Plus, I am done with all the carbs. RME. It is literally one of the easiest foods to make.
The last meal we had was a lunch before we left. It was a hearty soup with the wild rice and chicken from the night before. So by now you figured out that the previous dinner is the next day’s soup. Of course 0 of 4 kids by me ate it. So again, bread and butter for them.
Later in this post, I am going to break down the price of the trip. I think I was very generous by saying these were $7.50 meals. I bet the actual food cost to them was closer to $2.00 I ran a resort and a restaurant and that is where I would have budgeted this so keep that in mind when you get there.
Maplelag is famous for its cross country skiing. They do a great job taking care of their trails and their rentals are adequate. But so is everybody in the business. Anywhere you go that has cross country skiing will have the same quality trails.
They are happy to help you get set up with gear. The price I found was $15 for the day, then $10 each addition day. Also, keep this in mind when I talk about price later.
This trip, I’m skipping the skiing all together though. I have skied their trails plenty in past years. Checked that box. Time to move on. The problem is that their skiing is no better than what I can do in the parks and trails around my home in the Twin Cities. This is just a bunch of loops through the same small acreage of boring forest. It’s not like you are up by the BWCA and might see moose, or running rivers and waterfalls or big hills by Lake Superior. This is just super lame. If you want to get exercise, save yourself the money and get a nordic track instead.
If was doing a Trip Advisor Review (actually I will do one soon), I would say to give this attraction about 4 hours of your time, but only if you like skiing and you didn’t have the choice of going to the far-superior Arrowhead area in Minnesota. Choosing this is like choosing Reno over Las Vegas and the skiing is like Nascar, something probably very few people here would even relate to. It’s just circle after circle after circle at Maplelag.
In addition to the hugely missed opportunities of the main lodge building and the strange accommodations in the outbuildings, the units are spread out all over the place. Apart from not having privacy or decent locks on the units, there is also less of a kitchen than a typical hotel room. I just stayed at a Radisson (which I loved by the way) and the single hotel room had more of a kitchen than these cabins.
That is my cabin way down on the end. Like by those trees on the horizon. Would’t it be fun to lug your kids all the way down there in blowing cold every time you needed a coffee, hot chocolate, food, or anything else?
What does this mean? Other than water out of a bathroom faucet and a communal refrigerator, you have nothing to work with. Want a coffee and didn’t bring your own coffee maker (Who on earth plans on bringing their own coffee maker to a cabin or resort!?) You are out of luck and have to walk to the lodge. Does your kid need a bottle or something else warmed up? Go to the lodge and hope you find staff.
Some of the units are close enough were it isn’t a big deal to walk 100 feet in the snow to get to the main lodge. But not all of them are that way! I’m staying on the furthest one and it takes minutes to walk to the lodge. So that means instead of just slapping shoes on the kids and telling them to run, I have to get them all dressed up in full winter garb and make them walk with me. Its just stupid. It’s so much extra work that is completely unnecessary.
But It’s Great for Kids and Families … #facepalm.
Did you just miss that last paragraph? Its great for kids they said. The kids will love it they said. Well, I am sitting in one of their weird rooms with all of the chairs piled up in the corner writing this review. Normally I keep my reviews down to about 500 words and I am already passing 2000 on this paragraph (so says my word counter as I’m typing). I can’t get away from the kids. All they want to do is have me entertain them.
Do you know how many minutes of each day a 3 year old likes to cross country ski? Its about 5. 5 minutes every day is plenty for a 3 year old. My older kids may do up to one hour … every day. Which leaves me with a ton of time to waste at a place that nothing else to offer. I was interrupted by my kids telling me they are bored and want something to do constantly while I wrote this and the rest of the adults went out to ski and pretend this place is cool.
I’ll tell you a story about how not great it is for kids. A year or two ago, the kids decided to get the flu. Which is awesome no matter how you cut it. But when you aren’t at home, stuck in a cabin that you are sharing with strangers who don’t want your puking kid in the common area and you don’t have extra sheets or a washing machine … I’m done. I’m just done talking about this. You get the point.
After the 5 minutes of skiing with my 3 year old, I only have 715 more waking minutes with her to entertain her. Look, it’s not that I don’t want to play with my kids it’s that there is literally nothing fun here to do and I just don’t give a darn that the old NPR-loving people around here are horrified by messes and loud noises. Since I literally don’t care what they think, it is just too tempting to let the kids have another cookie that is left out at their eye level to see every time they walk in the lodge. It’s almost like they wanted us parents to be jerks and have to say “No” all the time. Bwahahaha … your getting another cookie – go crazy.
It is extremely expensive for what it is. You can see their rates on their page, but I’m not going to link to it. They have three tiers for amenities and separate tiers for ages. To make this incredibly simple, I am going to use an example of 6 adults in a Tier 3 cabin. A tier 3 cabin has a private bathroom and a private shower (you know, the most basic stuff you would expect from a hotel). Keep in mind if you want ski rentals or bedding you will have to pay more.
A long weekend at a Tier 3 cabin will cost $525 per person. That is $3,150 total. Now, if you came on the property to ski and was not a guest, it would cost you $15 per day. So let’s take that out of the price [ 3 days * $15 * 6 = $270 ]. $270 is the value of having access to the trails. Now, they feed you as well. I think a fair price on meals we were served would be about $7.50 retail (but the cost to them should be around $2). The value of the meals would be [ 8 meals * $7.5 * 6 = $360 ]. Now, no other amenities are available. No TV, bad internet in the lodge, No internet in your cabin, no kitchen, no safe, no deadbolt, no bedding, no pillows, etc. (You get the idea). Let’s take the total and subtract out the food and skiing [ $3150-$270-$360=$2,520]. The price for the room is $2,520, or $840 per night. For this: Would you pay $840 per night for this?
Now, if you choose not to have a shower and a toilet that would change the $840 down to $490 per night. Who is going to stay in a room shared with 5 other people with no bathroom or shower for $490 per night!!!!!!
If you are in middle or high school or if you are a sweater vest wearing, wine sipping, NPR loving skiier, you will probably love it. If that isn’t you, why do you want to be put up in a camp and told what and when you eat in rooms you can’t lock up your stuff in and sleep on beds that will make you ache all day? There are some really cool tourist places in Minnesota and you should go there instead.
If you do get dragged here and you have to stay, consider a day trip to Fargo. I took one yesterday and it was the most fun I have ever had in this area of the state. Fargo is a really cool little town just across the border from Moorhead. It’s about a one hour drive. Make sure to check out the woodchopper at the Fargo-Moorhead visitors center, the downtown area of Fargo, and then go over to Moorhead and eat at the infamous Speakeasy Lounge.
Here’s my visit to the Speakeasy in Moorhead. Anyone know why this place is famous?
— Minnesota Vacations (@MN_Tourism) February 13, 2016
Here I am at Fargo:
— Chris Ashbach (@ChrisAshbach) February 13, 2016