Ely, Minnesota

How a dedicated indoorswoman came to love family sleepaway camp.

YMCA Camp du Nord outside Ely, Minnesota
Photo by Jennifer Blaise Kramer
Camp du Nord

One S'more Time

When it comes to vacations, my husband and I aren’t the extreme outdoorsy types. We tend to be more skilled at navigating big cities, poolsides, and cocktail menus than hiking maps. When we tried taking the kids to a couple of Minnesota lake resorts for summer vacation, nothing really felt right. So we decided to do something truly radical (for us anyway): take the kids to Camp du Nord, a “family camp” in northern Minnesota, just outside Ely.

Knowing full well that we aren’t the sing-along and s’mores types, we went into the idea with a heavy dose of apprehension (despite our many friends and colleagues who raved about Camp du Nord). It probably didn’t help that I soon realized our week’s commitment would not include our own bathroom—we’d be relying on a bathhouse, which would entail after-dark, flashlight-led walks along dirt paths with a couple young kids and a baby.

Once we actually got there, though, we realized that being a “camper” was like being a kid back at summer camp, but better. We sang the same hokey songs. We ran chanting into the chilly lake every morning together. The kids went on nature walks and played games with their counselors while we hiked, canoed, and paddleboarded. Best of all, we were able to see our kids experience it all for the first time. Soon they stopped asking about iPads and TV and wanted to play Go Fish. Together. Evening walks to the bathroom became adventures, and we all fell asleep to the sound of loons on the lake.

One night way past bedtime I took my flashlight and joined the traditional Scandinavian wood-fired sauna, where I sat with a bunch of strangers sweating in the dark, discussing the ups and downs of parenting. Then we all plunged into the cool lake under a full moon. It was a magical moment, the kind that makes you want to go back year after year.

—Jennifer Blaise Kramer

Whether or not you're game to try sleepaway camp, our guide to Ely will have your getaway planned in a snap. 

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