For a city of 13,000 people, Bemidji has a lot to offer. Let’s start with that lake in the middle of town. Lake Bemidji was actually two separate bodies of water before a dam was built downstream; if you head out with a depth finder, around the middle of the lake you will find a ridge that is about two feet below the water line. In the winter, the lake is a popular place to establish a second home; the huts that pop up are for ice fishing, or at least that’s what they tell their spouses. If you’d like to get on the lake but didn’t bring a boat with you, you can rent a canoe or kayak through the Outdoor Program Center at Bemiji State University or at Lake Bemidji State Park.
Located on the north side of the lake, Lake Bemidji State Park has good hiking (check out the Bog Walk), a nice beach, and ranger-led activities, in addition to the boat rentals and camping mentioned elsewhere in this piece.
The Tourist Information Center (300 Bemidji Ave.; 218.759.0164) is located along the lakefront near downtown. You’ll know you are there when you see the tall statues of Paul Bunyan (18 feet tall) and Babe the Blue Ox. They were built in 1937 as a tribute to local logging industry. There’s have a live webcam pointed at Paul and Babe, so you can text your family and friends that you’re here and let them watch you wave hello! Inside the visitor center, you’ll find a unique fireplace. It was built in 1933-34 using stones from each Minnesota county, all US states, all Canadian provinces, and each national park. Just north of the center, you’ll find a statue of Chief Bemidji (Shay-Now-Ish-Kung).
Scattered around the lively downtown area, you’ll find a number of sculptures from local artists, including the last remaining beaver from a series of artistic beavers. Gaea (by Blackduck, Minnesota artist Deborah Davis) aroused some controversy for what some folks believed was overtly sexual imagery; it was removed at one point but reinstalled after counter-protests.
The Headwaters Science Center has hands-on policy that will interest the kids, mostly.
The Beltrami County History Center has a number of displays highlighting the region’s characters and events from the past, as well as a good research library.
The Watermark Art Center (505 Bemidji Ave. N; 218.444.7570) hosts exhibits in the visual arts that often feature local or regional artists.
At Concordia Language Villages, you can immerse yourself in the traditions and language of another culture, just pick one of the 15 different language programs that interest you. While many of the programs are organized as summer camps for children and young adults, they offer programs for people of all ages.
Rabideau CCC Camp, near Blackduck (about 30 minutes northeast of Bemidji) is one of the few remaining camps from the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps. Fifteen buildings still stand; visitors can tour the education building, bunkhouses, and mess hall.
If you think summer is the only time of year to visit, you would be wrong. Winter has nearly as much going on, you just need more clothing. Bemidji is crazy for curling; if you drop in at the Bemidji Curling Club on a league night, like I did in 2011, you are welcome to watch and you may even get a lesson. What else can you do in winter? How about:
- Snowmobiling (500+ miles of trails in the area!)
- Cross-country skiing
Buena Vista Ski Area (skiing, sleigh rides, snowboarding)
- Ice skating
- Ice fishing
The previously mentioned Bemidji Woolen Mills still manufactures many of its products in Bemidji. They can help outfit you for that winter visit I know you want to make.
If you forgot to buy a refrigerator magnet of California when you visited San Francisco that last time, you can probably buy one at Gifts O’ the Wild, an eclectic and eccentric gift shop a few miles south of Bemidji on US 71. If you’re looking for something with more of a Minnesota theme, you’re in luck for that, too, as the store has many varieties of wild rice, jams from local producers, art and crafts from local Native Americans, and shot glasses that say Minnesota. The store sells a lot of junk, but there’s plenty of good stuff at reasonable prices, too; definitely worth a stop.
Performing arts are center stage at the Art Deco Chief Theater (314 Beltrami Ave. NW; 218.751.7270), from touring shows to the resident Paul Bunyan Playhouse.