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Seeking Superior: a quest to cool off in a very cold lake

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Guest post series continues, thanks to Christopher, an authentic sauna adventurist.

Enter Christopher:

Our family is not Finnish, so we are new to the whole authentic sauna thing. We experienced our first wood-fired, multiple session, sauna a few months ago — and we loved it! Since then, we’ve visited a few more Finnish-style saunas in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and have been reading, learning, and geeking-out about the whole thing. We’ve even created a “bucket-list” of sauna experiences we’d like to have. One of the items on our bucket list is to cool off after sauna in a cold, clean lake. And there is no colder, cleaner lake than Superior. So we started looking for saunas on the shores of Superior, which is in the heart of the sauna belt. Some vacation rentals in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota fit the bill, but there are very few public (hotel/motel) options. For this getaway, we were looking at the North Shore of Superior. Glenn, at Sauna Times, recommended that we try the sauna at Larsmont Cottages, which is about 30 minutes from Duluth along the North Shore. This account describes what we liked about our experience using Larsmont’s Finnish sauna, and offers suggestions on how they can elevate the experience for their guests.


Using the Finnish sauna at Larsmont Cottages

The Finnish sauna at Larsmont is a tiny, attractive cottage not far from the rocky shore of Superior. See the photos below, and this photosphere tour to see inside the sauna (click to “walk” around). The hot room is a pretty decent size and the Nippa stove is quite handsome.


The staff can start the wood stove for you, or they allow you to do it yourself. The fire had been burning for quite awhile when we took our first sauna the night we arrived, and the temperature was pretty hot! By the time we managed herding our kids (we had our four offspring in tow) and heated up in the sauna, it was late and dark outside. The night was a nice cloak for our clumsy efforts of slipping into Superior, but it also made finding a good spot in the water difficult. It’s quite rocky and slippery, so sandals are a must. We were only in the water for a few seconds, and not fully submerged, but at least we got our feet wet (literally and figuratively). The next day, Julie (my wife) took a morning sauna, sans kids. This was a better experience, as she had time to scout out an easier entrance to the water that was also deeper. Her plunge into Superior proved to be a wonderfully refreshing experience; and I quote, “like a cold, crisp lemonade on a summer day”. It was both a brisk cooldown and a thorough washing all-in-one.

Improving the Larsmont sauna

While the Larsmont sauna provided us with a good first step into the chilly waters of Superior, it has some room for improvement. Larsmont has a wonderful opportunity to bolster their unique amenity (which might be the only semi-public, Finnish sauna on the North Shore). Since the sauna’s most distinctive feature is its proximity to Lake Superior, it would be nice if there was a better way to get into the water and a nice deep place to walk and swim around. I’m not sure how much Larsmont is allowed to build at the water’s edge, but even rearranging some rocks to make a path and deeper pool near the shore could work; a dock would be ideal. Another thing that might be nice, is the ability to have a reserved, private sauna time for guests. Larsmont wouldn’t need reservations slots all day long, there could also be open, public hours. The final thing that I would also like to see improved, is a more general reflection. I would love to see Larsmont take more pride in their authentic, Finnish sauna. A wood-fired sauna, next to a cool, clean lake is an important Minnesotan and Finnish-American cultural tradition. I would imagine that most of Larsmont’s guests are not familiar with this totally awesome experience. And, many of the staff aren’t well educated about the significance of their Finnish sauna. It feels as if the Larsmont sauna was conceived with a clear, thoughtful purpose, but is now just another amenity that most guests don’t use. I would like to see the staff take passionate pride in their sauna, actively educating all guests on how using a wood-fired, Finnish sauna is worlds apart from using the sauna at a fancy hotel or gym.

I’d like to see a bright spotlight shined on the tiniest of cottages at Larsmont — the Finnish sauna.


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5 thoughts on “Seeking Superior: a quest to cool off in a very cold lake”

  1. Dear Christopher,
    Thanks very much for taking the time to write about your experience with the sauna at Larsmont, and thanks most particularly for your excellent suggestions. I couldn’t agree more with each of them, and although we are indeed constrained on building on the shore or erecting a dock, we can absolutely find better ways to mark a recommended path to the lake from the sauna. Love the idea of moving to reserved private time at various points in the day, and we will be more proactive in educating the staff about the sauna tradition – starting with myself!
    Best wishes to you, and I hope to see you at Larsmont again soon.
    Chuck Paton
    General Manager

  2. Chuck,

    We had a very pleasant time at Larsmont. It’s a beautiful place to get away.

    I have some specific sauna ideas that I didn’t put in the article. If you are interested, my email is cjrice (at) gmail (dot) com


  3. Chuck:

    Three cheers to Larsmont for providing guests an authentic sauna experience. In a world of toaster ovens and infrared light bulb closets, we applaud your nod to the authentic.


  4. Christopher, Chuck and Glenn, My wife and I took a weekend for ourselves last weekend… We stayed at Larsmont and spent a good portion of our time while at the lodge in the sauna. I grew up taking a wood fired sauna many times a week as a means of bathing after a day of work on our farm…. as for my wife this was her first experience in a “wood fired” sauna ( others have been with an electric stove ) she could tell the difference in the type of heat. A week before we went to Larsmont I was fortunate enough to acquire my grandfathers sauna he built in approximately 1955. I was slowly getting it in shape to use again and now after her wood fired sauna experience she is hooked and is pushing me to get the sauna ready and usable by Thanksgiving when family is here… so that is how I am spending all my free time, getting the sauna ready and making sure my wife is happy .. off I go .. ( just a note to Chuck .. when we travel the first question I ask, before price and everything else .. do you have a sauna ..? no need continuing the conversation if the answer is no..


  5. Wayne,

    You should share some photos of your grandfather’s old sauna once you get it ready.

    What are the best saunas you’ve used on your travels?


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