Guest Blog: Shop, Make, Take & More!

This guest blog is one in a series featuring unique experiences on the Mesabi Iron Range. Jenni Smith, owner of Smith’s Infusion in Virginia, and is an ardent crafter, creator and mom. Her boutique is full of handmade local art and craft intermingled with antiques and collectibles. Her classes are open to all.

Next time you’re on the Range be sure to stop into Smith’s Infusion, located downtown Virginia at 417 Chestnut Street. Open Tuesday-Saturday we have a unique selection of handcrafted gifts, vintage finds, furniture and a lot of DIY!

Join us Tuesdays during the summer anytime between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to create the make-n-take of the day, which you can totally scope out ahead of time on our website. We also offer a different make-n-take every Saturday any time between 10 a.m. and noon. Register for our make-n-takes online, and if they don’t fit your schedule on the day we have them, we’ll hold them for you until a day of your choice works out! Just let us know when you’re coming in!

Do you have a kiddo going into grades 1-9? Then we have summer craft camps for two days each month for grades 1-6, and four, half days for grades 7-9. We’ll share different skills they can utilize the rest of their life! Or maybe you are in town on a different day. Just stop in to see what’s new, check out the kit wall and maybe find something else of interest which you can create in-house in our classroom, or take home!

We make everything from little benches and seasonal items such as 4th of July Clothespin Wreath, to learning screen-printing and weaving. There is always something for everyone of every age!

We are handicap accessible with both parking in the front on the street as well as the back. So if you happen to come to Virginia and there is something going on where you can’t park in front of the store, no worries: we have immediate parking in the back or in free two-hour parking also in the back.

Smith’s Infusion also hosts birthday parties for all ages. You pick an item to create! We have different packages available depending on the length of the party and your choice of food to be brought in. For these parties we love to support our neighbors, including Snicker’s on the same block for pizza and Pep’s down the street for birthday cake or cupcakes!

Next time you’re in the area check us out online at or check us out on Facebook! -Jenni Smith, owner


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Guest Blog: A Vistor’s Guide to the Sax-Zim Bog

Located an easy 50-minute drive northwest of Duluth, Minnesota or equally as nice 40-minute drive south of Virginia, the Sax-Zim Bog is a nationally and internationally known birdwatching location. Knowing this, the “Bog” is relatively unknown to locals and those that frequent northern Minnesota through the seasons. So what actually is the Sax-Zim Bog?

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Top Five FREE Things to Do on the Mesabi

Free yourself and your whole family with these fun – and totally free – things to do this spring and summer.


1. Museums and Historic Sites: That’s right, free admission to the interesting and educational – and that’s just the wonderful staff! The exhibits are great, too. Best of the best: Hibbing Area Historical Society Museum, Virginia Heritage Museum, Olcott Park Greenhouse, Nelimark Homestead Museum.

2. Trails:  These trails are perfect for an afternoon hike. Pack a lunch, maybe even a fishing pole, and get out into nature on these family-friendly trails. Our faves: Cary Lake Trail, the trails of Giants Ridge, and the Laurentian Divide trails.

3. Viewpoints: From Skibo Vista’s views of the Superior National Forest and beyond, to Leonidas’ panoramic of communities, minelands and forests, to Finntown Overlook, where you’ll see a vast mine lake, these views are not to be missed!

4. Photo Ops: Take your pic with an iron man, a moose or a giant hockey stick at these made-for-selfies stops across the region. Take time for seriousness, too, when you visit two veterans memorials along the way.5. Get in the Groove: Stop by Biwabik on a Thursday evening and you might catch some free music in the park. Check out all the great events happening around the region this summer!


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minnesota iron range mountain biking. Scenic landscape Mesabi Trail

Your Next Summer Biking Itinerary on the Mesabi

biking over bridge on mesabi trail iron range minnesota

Biking & Hiking in Minnesota’s Iron Range

An unforgettable ride along the scenic and historic Mesabi Trail
By Holly McCaughan


A few years ago, my husband, Chris, and I finally invested in a couple of top-quality bikes, and we’d done quite a bit of cycling on trails near our home. We were hungry for new areas to explore, so when some fellow cycling buddies sang the praises of the Minnesota Iron Range’s Mesabi Trail™, we immediately booked a trip.


This premier bike trail winds 120 miles through some of the most scenic areas of northeastern Minnesota. And the region’s extensive mining history intrigued us both. So one Friday afternoon, we loaded up our bikes and headed north.


We stopped to pick up a few groceries before arriving in Biwabik to check in to the Villas at Giants Ridge. Stepping inside our cozy suite, we were immediately enveloped in its “up north” cabin style, admiring the spacious living room, full kitchen and dining area, plus the lovely river stone fireplace. Chris and I stepped out onto our private balcony to take in sparkling panoramas of Wynne Lake and the surrounding woods, alight with natural beauty.

Iron Range Minnesota scenery open mine pit lakeHitting the trail

After a relaxing evening, we arose early the next morning, excited to start our exploration of the Mesabi Trail. We’d arranged for the convenient shuttle service to carry us and our bikes to the town of Hibbing to begin our ride.


Our shuttle driver mentioned that the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine View is on the way to the trailhead, but it is temporarily closed for relocation. He recommended we come back in the summer of 2018 when it is scheduled to reopen. Known as the Grand Canyon of the North, the mine is more than eight miles long, 3.5 miles wide and 850 feet deep, making it one of the world’s largest open-pit mines. We knew it would be a must-see on our next trip.


We began our ride, traveling east along the asphalt-paved Mesabi Trail. It carried us over hills, around curves and through wooded areas that opened onto grassy meadows. We rolled past surprising manmade landscapes, too, such as an abandoned steam shovel surrounded by clumps of wildflowers and mountains of slag, lush with regrowth forest.


At one point, the trail rolled us right into the Minnesota Discovery Center parking lot. The massive museum complex is filled with artifacts and exhibits that tell the fascinating story of the Iron Range and its people.


We paused at the crown of a steep hill overlooking Chisholm, letting the soothing, late-spring breezes cool us. A bit beyond Buhl, we rode through a corridor of trees before passing a beautiful mine-pit lake. The surrounding red cliffs reflected off its turquoise waters like stripes of fire agate. We continued through Mountain Iron, home of Mesabi’s first mining operation in the late 19th century. By the time we arrived in The Queen City of Virginia (our final destination for the day), the hunger pangs had set in.


Savory smells wafting from the kitchen of The Shop Coffeehouse & 218 Taphouse made our stomachs growl even louder. After finding sustenance in the form of craft beers and a perfectly singed wood-fired pizza, we roamed the town’s eclectic mix of shops before taking the shuttle back to Giants Ridge for the night.

Virginia bridge overlook for pedestrians and bicyclers Rolling onward and upward

The next day, we took the shuttle back to Virginia to continue our ride, picking up the trail where we’d left off the previous day. The path led us along Highway 53 over Virginia Bridge, the tallest bridge in Minnesota. We stood 200 feet above Rocheleau Pit’s aquamarine waters, the 1,100-foot-long bridge affording us breathtaking views. My falcon-eyed husband pointed out a majestic peregrine falcon perched atop a red cliff in the distance.


In Gilbert, we took a southwest trail spur to Eveleth and Fayal Pond. The route spilled over with natural wonders as we passed crystal-clear Lake Ore-Be-Gone and wound among shimmering poplars and fragrant pine. Circling back, we rode on, finally returning to Giants Ridge.


We were exhilarated from our ride and not yet ready for our outdoor adventures to end. So, after a quick lunch, we decided to do some hiking. Giants Ridge offers four hiking trails that run through alpine landscapes and the untouched beauty of Superior National Forest. We chose the Northface trail, which brought us to the rocky crest of the Laurentian Divide. We soaked up stunning mountaintop vistas overlooking glittering Wynne and Sabin lakes. We descended via the Sleeping Giant Trail, which led us directly to the Burnt Onion Kitchen & Brews.

scenic outdoor dining on the minnesota iron rangeDinner is served

Diners may sit inside the restaurant’s charming chalet setting or outside on the deck. We opted for the latter, so we could enjoy more of the gorgeous alpine scenery. Chris and I sipped glasses of Cabernet while looking over the menu, and when we saw the first item listed under “Starters,” our eyes met in unspoken agreement. We love Brie! Served with crostini, it came topped with raspberry preserves and toasted almonds.


For dinner, I chose a salad made with grilled pear, caramelized pecans and blue cheese, drizzled with honey white balsamic vinaigrette. Chris ordered the signature Burnt Onion Soup, topped with caramelized onions and melted Swiss and provolone cheeses, followed by a Cuban panini stuffed with pulled pork, smoked ham, Swiss and spicy pickles.


As we relaxed over coffee after dinner, Chris flashed a very satisfied smile at me from across the table. I knew exactly what he was thinking. Even with the build-up from our friends, this trip had been beyond our expectations. Cycling and hiking through the Iron Range’s gorgeous scenery had been fantastic, but the added element of an up-close look at the region’s mining heritage had really pushed the whole experience over the top, creating a truly memorable, one-of-a-kind vacation.


Plan an unforgettable trip to Minnesota’s Iron Range.

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10 Ways to Make Winter Wonderful

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Most magical Mesabi beaches

The Mesabi has great lakes, tons of campgrounds, and some pretty awesome beaches, you just have to know where to look. Which one is your fav?

Stubler Beach

Stubler Beach in Buhl

Stubler Beach: This spring-fed mine lake* is a beauty! Right on the Mesabi Trail, it’s the perfect swimming hole for cooling off. Located in Buhl, this beach is clean, sandy and comes with changing rooms, a pavilion and a great view.


Birch Cove Beach: On scenic Colby Lake in Hoyt Lakes, this beach is equipped with a picnic area, boat launch, playgrounds and a lifeguard on duty daily, mid-June through mid-August.


Carey Lake: Beach with changing house, pavilion, picnic areas, fishing pier and awesome trails. Find this little gem in Hibbing just a few miles off Highway 169.


Vermilion Trail Campground Beach: The lifeguard is on duty at this lovely beach on Embarrass Lake in Biwabik. Rent canoes and kayaks from the campground hosts to experience even more of this charming lake visible on Hwy 135 near the entrance to Giants Ridge.


West Two Rivers: Mountain Iron is home to this reservoir that once was a water source for Minntac but has been reclaimed as a recreation area with campgrounds, playgrounds, pavilion, boat launch, beach, ball field and disc golf course.


Lake Ore-Be-Gone: Take a dip in the clear mine lake waters of Lake-Ore-Be-Gone in Gilbert. Enjoy the beach, boat launch, and bicycle trails, all onsite along with Sherwood Forest Campground. These waters are so clear, the lake is popular with scuba divers.


Veteran’s Park and Campground: On Ely Lake, just off Highway 53 in Eveleth, find this scenic lake with beach, picnic area, campsites, playground and pavilion.


Get more info on camping and things to do at! 



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Top Ten End-of-Summer Mesabi Events

Long year sunset - distant 15 (1280x853)

Soak up all the sun and fun you can this summer with the top 10 most magical Mesabi events in August:


#10. Movies in the Park On August 26, Veteran’s Park in Eveleth hosts movie night under the stars. You can’t do this in January! Bring a chair for a showing of “Minions” Concessions for sale one site.


#9. Rampage at the Ridge Best extreme 5K obstacle course in the state, for the best cause. Help area veterans programs when you get down, get dirty, and work together at this fun event August 20. Pre-party August 19.


#8. The Dirty Ores Roller derby mayhem and madness at its finest, in the majestic Hippodrome arena in Eveleth August 13.


#7. Merritt Days Mountain Iron is full of fun and music during this four-day event August 10-13 commemorating the founding of the town and the first Mesabi mine by none other than The Merritt Brothers.


#6. Fuzzy Dice Cruise and Car Show Downtown Virginia turns into a car lot for the classiest of machines during this Dream Machines Car Club car show and swap meet August 20.


#5. Doc “Moonlight” Graham Days August 10-14 the city of Chisholm is abuzz with activities including a fishing contest, live music all over the place, and a parade in honor of Field of Dreams character and native son, Doc Graham.


#4. Music in the Park Not to be confused with the Minions at #10. This is toe-tappin music by the Singing Slovenes in Biwabik’s City Park August 11.


#3. Iron Pour That’s right: make a mold, watch molten iron be poured into it, then break it open the next day. Very cool. And hot. At Minnesota Museum of Mining August 27.


#2. Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour Don’t worry! Hard core cycling skills not necessary! Totally family-friendly, lots of volunteers, food, drink, music and fun, all on the state’s best bicycle trail August 6.


#1. The County Fairs That’s right, on the Mesabi, we have three. Count ’em, THREE. The biggie is “the” St. Louis County Fair in Chisholm August 10-14, then there’s the homestyle Central St. Louis County Fair in Meadowlands August 19-21, and the ever-so-quirky-and-not-exactly-a-county-fair-but-still-awesome Embarrass Region Fair up in the woods, people, August 26-28. Fair food, animals, mud runs, horse shows, fair food, music, rides, contests, fair food. And more.  HIT THEM ALL. I say again, hit them all. Come February, you won’t regret it!


Still want more Awesome August events. Click right here.


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Iron Range Food Tour

PicMonkey Food Collage (1024x256)

Venture north to Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range and you’ll find 75 miles of paved cycling trails, 60 miles of hiking trails, many small, friendly lakes, and one-of-a-kind attractions that explore the region’s history and mystery. The must-see list is long, but wherever the trails take you – into the woods, onto the course, or into the water – you’ll need to refuel! Try these regional specialties that hearken back to the early 1900s when many nationalities came to the region to work in the burgeoning iron ore mines. One serving of these comfort foods will make you feel strong like a miner, and give you a taste of some Mesabi magic.


They are (in no particular order):


1. Porketta – If you eat meat, you’ll be ordering these delicious roasts online for the rest of your life, or making a special trip north to buy them in our grocery stores. A rolled Italian pork roast covered with fennel, oregano, garlic and other spices, this slow-cooked nom-nom perfect for hard roll sammies. The drippings are great for dipping or gravy-making, but the porketta’s most common iteration is shredded on a bun and served at just about any family gathering, any time of year. Try a porketta sandwich at The Wandering Pines restaurant in Gilbert, or buy one from Sunrise Deli or Fraboni’s in Hibbing, or just about any grocery on the Range. The also-popular “turketta” (take a guess) can also be found in stores.


2. Sarma – These delightful little Serbian “pigs in a blanket” can be made a variety of ways, but I’ll describe the way I know. The filling is a large handful of seasoned ground pork and beef (ground ham or even veal is not-entirely-uncommon), mixed with rice. Wrapped in a leaf of sour head cabbage (basically, cabbage that’s been frozen, at least that’s the technique I learned), they’re cooked in a casserole dish or even stacked in a roasting pan and covered with sauerkraut and lightly seasoned tomato juice/sauce. Some make this without tomato – maybe purists or something – but I like the saucier version. So yummy. Serve with crusty bread. Buy these from the Hibbing Tourist Center Seniors (218-262-4166) or Sunrise Deli, also in Hibbing (218-263-5713).


3. Potica – Pronounced Po-teet-suh. Also pronounced delicious by, like, everyone. This pastry hails from eastern Europe – Slovenians, Slovakians, Croatians et al serve some equally yummy version of this. My favorite has paper thin bread layers, a process that involves stretching the sweet dough to the size of a large dining room table. Others like a thicker dough layer. Either way, the filling of finely chopped walnuts (or pecans, sometimes with apples or even raisins) mixed with a sweetener – sugar or honey – and cinnamon, among other things, is spread onto the dough and rolled, cut and baked into a cherished holiday treat the size of a loaf of bread. Some like it served warm with butter, but honestly, the nut filling is rich enough that potica is fab cold, too. Purchase at Italian Bakery in Virginia, Andres European Pastry in Chisholm, and Sunrise Bakery in Hibbing.


4. Pasty. Pronounced past-ee, this meat pie carries its heat and shape, and thus made it a lunchtime staple among the working men of the mines back in the day. Many still adore this dish today, and pasties are monthly money-making, mass-production projects for a solid number of church groups across the Range. Basically, root veg like potatoes, carrots and rutabaga (this last ingredient is controversial. I’m going to go pro-“root-a-baggy”), and onions, and seasoned with S&P and mixed with ground beef and/or pork. The crust MUST BE made using lard. Roll the dough, put the filling in, and fold the dough, crimping the edge. Bake and voila: your pasty. Serve with butter, gravy, ketchup or all three. These hearty little guys are a meal of their own. Can be purchased frozen at Sunrise Bakery in Hibbing. Groups get a kick out of the “pasty in a pail” miners’ lunch experience at Minnesota Discovery Center.


There you have it, four of our favorites. Find them during your next visit to the Mesabi. Questions? 218-749-8161.

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Warm up at these Mesabi restaurants

Fabulous food, delightful digs

Plenty of Mesabi restaurants deliver great food to your table, but these four stand out for having a great vibe, too. If you’re hungry for hot food and a warm atmosphere, be sure to stop at The Shop Coffee House in Virginia, The Whistling Bird in Gilbert, BoomTown Woodfire in Eveleth, or (and?) Kunnari’s Kitchen in Virginia. You’ll find specialty coffees, prime rib dinners, seasonal dishes with local produce, hot soups, fresh bread, even Caribbean cuisine in these delightful restaurants!

Make room for fantastic fare

The Shop is known for wood-fired pizzas, awesome coffee, soups and goodies served up in an artistically redesigned downtown building, complete with exposed brick walls and works by local artists. The neighboring 218 Taphouse brings you music, special events and a variety of craft beers. On Gilbert’s main street, The Whistling Bird transports you to the islands, with plenty of seafood, surf and turf, jerk flavorings and tropical drinks. The decor matches the menu: bright, tasty and fun. Over in Eveleth’s BoomTown, enjoy comfort food with a twist, complemented by a rich and delicious wine, beer and drinks menu. Completely remodeled for that classic chop house feel. At Kunnari’s, enjoy homemade soups, salads, breads and pastries, plus hot drinks and more, all with a farm to table concept and great service.

Hospitality, cooked to perfection

Each of these venues has an eye toward pleasing the modern palate, not only with food, but through events like special mulit-course date nights, live acoustic music, food and wine pairings/tastings, create-and-dine nights, brunch, and of course, daily specials. Patronize these four restaurants and you’ll leave well-fed and treated well, too!


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Let’s Make Some Snow!

Like all Midwestern ski resorts, Giants Ridge targets Thanksgiving weekend for its opening date. This usually depends on the temps, of course. “Real” snow isn’t necessary – ski hills the caliber of Giants Ridge will make their own. Every run might not be open, but enthusiasts will be out there anyway, taking advantage of their favorite sport: downhill skiing or boarding. Don’t forget the tubing park! Surrounded by nordic trails, snowshoe trails and even fat bike trails, Giants Ridge makes for a great winter getaway. After all, humans aren’t meant to hibernate! Make plans to experience outdoor winter fun on the Iron Range, and set some time aside to discover our museums, events and great places to eat and shop while you’re here! Click around and get planning!


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