Let's get this out of the way right now: Leech Lake certainly is not the most positive-sounding name for a body of water. In a state that has Famine Lake (Cook County), Stinking Lake (Becker County) and even Weird Lake (Cook County again), this beautiful natural resource is saddled with a frankly unappealing moniker.
But for the residents of the charming resort town of Walker, it’s a quirky name they’ve come to love. Their city, near the Chippewa National Forest and 115 miles of Paul Bunyan trails, is a gateway to the best of Minnesota’s natural beauty. And Leech Lake itself, all 112,000 acres of it, is a haven for anglers, boaters, snowmobilers and anyone who loves to be outdoors by the water, even if it’s just to observe the scenery with a refreshing beverage in hand.
“Leech Lake has some of the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen,” says Cindy Wannarka, president and CEO of Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. “Imagine having your group finish the day watching the sunset from the city dock or at the beach, gathered around a cozy campfire. An event planner recently told me, ‘Once I drive into Walker, I feel my shoulders relax and the tension just eases away.’”
For an iconic taste of “up north” life, it’s hard to top Chase on the Lake Resort and Spa, which can accommodate large and small groups with ease. New this year is an event center, with 10,850 square feet of flexible meeting space, seating for up to 400 people and panoramic views of Shingobee Bay. In addition, the Walker Bay Ballroom seats 200, The Waters Edge Room seats 40 and the Chase Executive Boardroom seats 12. “We’ve been a favorite northwest Minnesota destination since 1922,” says Director of Sales Colette Huston. “We offer everything under one roof, including the Aveda-concept Copper Door Spa and even a two-lane manual bowling alley, complete with catering and cocktail service.”
More in keeping with the region’s traditional of cabin-like resorts, Trapper’s Landing Lodge has 42 beds in a variety of configurations. There is also space for meetings and events. “We can accommodate up to 100 people seated in the meeting room on the second floor of the lodge,” says Group and Corporate Planner Jennifer Arnold. “We have a pro shop on-site, and your group can rent whatever you need for a good day on the lake, including boats, gear and even ice fishing houses.”
Three miles from downtown Walker, the dreamily named Camp Bliss sleeps 32 people in the Lodge, 18 in the House, six in the Cabin, and offers five yurts (which sleep two guests each). The camp currently is building a 125-person-capacity event center, including a commercial kitchen, slated to open this fall. “We’re surrounded by nature here, and you can look out any window and see woods and water. I know I’m biased, but it’s definitely gorgeous,” says Whitney Hughes, who provides executive support.
Learn Something New
Green Scene Organic Market, Deli & Catering is the site of a Thursday farmers market, featuring live music and outdoor lunch seating, held June through September. Green Scene also hosts cooking classes for private groups, on topics including wood-fired oven pizza, bone broth, wild rice, Lefse making, seasonal soups and much more.
Traveling Art Pub, Inc. (TAP) is a guided art event company that supplies all the gear, inspiration and instruction needed to create one-ofa-kind works of art. A seasonal 50-person-capcity studio operates in town May through October, and the company conducts private events and pop-ups throughout the winter. “We’re a great option for a team-building event,” says owner Sarah Stawarski. “There’s so much positive energy when people are making art. They come in saying, ‘I can’t draw a stick figure,’ but always leave with something they love and want to take home.”
In the nearby town of Laporte, about 20 miles outside Walker, is the Forestedge Winery, owned by Steve and Kristin Twait. “Our wines are made from rhubarb, apples, cranberries and other fruit,” Steve says. “They’re not at all syrupy or sweet, and they’ve won international awards.” The winery, which has a patio area for tasting, is accommodating to groups. “It’s a beautiful and peaceful setting,” Kristin says.
Portage Brewing Company, just a little over a year old, is near the city docks and the Heartland State Trail. It offers space rental and tastings in the 50-person Taproom or the 16-person Art room.
The residents of Walker make the most of their natural surroundings, and they do it all year long. Ready for more of the Bold North? Try the second annual Frost Fest in 2019, which includes golfing on the iced-out lake.
Book a meeting—or just take in a show—at the Walker Bay Theater (home of the Minnesota Folklore Theater). The space can accommodate up to 60 people for presentations and private events. “Our intimate space and radical hospitality set us apart from other theaters in the Northwoods,” says president and founder Fred Rogers.