Island Resort, a cluster of charming cabins
sprinkled across a patch of Lake Vermilion's shore
is a haven outside of Cook, Minn., that offers many
the vintage wooden Chris-Craft shaved a path into the
still lake, shades of coral, cherry and lime rippled in
the trailing wake.
florid shoreline, replicated in those blurred patches of
water, seemed to be preening.
colors are just really getting going," said Michael
Andrews, our captain. "By the end of the day, you’ll
see — it’s going to get even better."
were at Ludlow’s Island Resort, a cluster of charming
cabins sprinkled across a patch of Lake Vermilion’s
shore, on the mainland and a tiny island just off it. In
the summer, the haven outside of Cook, Minn., bustles with
families playing on the island’s beach or afloat in
come autumn, the retreat takes on a different tone.
Visitors were few even on a feverishly warm October
weekend last year. Dinners were grilled to the soundtrack
of a loon’s echoing call rather than that of children’s
laughter. Warm nights were replaced by crisp breezes,
paddleboards were replaced by canoes. And the verdant
green backdrop of trees had blossomed into a dazzling show
of colors, blazing a path southward.
the previous two days, we had witnessed the drama —
crimsons and golds climbing to a peak — on Ludlow’s
360-degree stage, both on the island itself and on the
mainland’s serpentine shoreline. The best part of
attending this show was the ability to take it in from so
the water, the spectacle was one orchestrated display. But
tuck into the many coves of Lake Vermilion’s weaving
perimeter, and the picture became pieces. Walking in the
woods, my parents and I were amid the actors themselves,
reveling in a different, more distinct beauty.
who works for the resort, put it simpler with a grin:
"It’s God’s country up here," he said.
45 hours earlier, we had arrived at Vermilion’s edge via
a wooden dock structure bearing a sign for Ludlow’s
resort and an old magneto phone.
cranked the phone and held up the earpiece to hear a voice
crackling on the other end. Soon, Andrews had come to
whisk away our bags while owner Paul Ludlow and his
"first mate" Kirby, an aging yellow Lab,
welcomed us onto the Chris-Craft for a slow, luxurious
journey to the patch of land beaming just beyond.
the show had begun.
pines stretched to the sky, acting as a canvas for nature’s
fall palette. Orange sugar maples and yellow aspens formed
a cascade of colors on all sides.
Andrews brought our luggage to the cabin, we disembarked
on the dock. We checked in at the main lodge and stopped
by the little store with items such as maple syrup and hot
dogs, where the honor system prevails (you jot down your
purchases on a pad). Then we wove down a path to our
cabin, named Stardust, which was renovated in 2015 but
retains its woodsy charm, with wood paneling, a fireplace
and a deck and two screened-in porches overlooking the
evening, we hopped in a canoe and a kayak. The sun sat low
across the glassy surface as we peered into Indian Bay and
wrapped around to Muskego Point. Later, the painting
dimmed into a shadowy silhouette as we grilled burgers on
the deck and chatted around the dinner table with a
gaping, lakeside window offering up the dusty view.
Boundary Waters without the work," Ludlow called it,
next afternoon we piled onto one of the pontoon rentals
and whipped across the lake, whizzing past bleeding
streaks of color, stopping at The Landing for a walleye
lunch and then navigating the labyrinthine bays as we
searched for a good fishing hole.
day was feeling promising, but alas — as bountiful as
the woods were with color, the lake proved to be not
nearly as fertile.
really a guide’s lake this time of year," Ludlow
had told us earlier, while filling our boat’s livewell
afternoon yielded only a pair of 6-inch yellow perches,
several reels of rod-bending seaweed and a stunning
360-degree tableau that at one point included a bald
eagle, skirting the rust-hued tree line.
in the day, before letting the hot, Indian summer sun beat
onto our shoulders from the lake’s center, we tapped
Andrews for a lift to Ludlow’s NorShor peninsula for
what was meant to be a short hike as the morning fog wore
dock provided entry to a hilly path marked by rocky
overhangs that peered through evergreens out onto the
shimmering expanse. Soon, we were under tree cover,
dodging puddles along the mile-plus loop through a forest
alive with new hues. From below, the underbellies of the
tall aspen and birch canopies contrasted with the stark
blue sky and danced with the gentle breeze.
Cranberry-shaded bunch berry plants and deep-green running
cedar crawled along patches of lime-green moss. Blooming
pale purple aster flowers grew in clusters. What in the
summer was a pasture of strawberries was now an aging,
rust-tinged clearing that we passed as the sun pierced the
yellow ceiling overhead and sent daggers toward the
browning carpet below.
sights were more insular here, to be sure, but every bit
as vibrant and often more surprising.
evening arrived back at the resort, I poured a glass of
red wine and walked to the pair of wooden swings perched
on long smooth rocks on the island’s western
as Andrews had promised, the colors seemed a little bolder
and a little more vibrant.
now the sun, like the treetops, was dying a brilliant
death and melting into the multicolored mainland.
motorboat zipped past and oranges and pinks and golds from
above the horizon and below melded into the ensuing waves
as they rolled away, and painted the sky and shore as one.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)