You know the spots, the small mom-and-pop resorts with cabins near the water with lots of heart but not a lot of fancy stuff. The owner is a hands-on sort of person who treats you and other guests like you’re old friends.
These places provide the getaway basics many people pine for: solitude, breathtaking scenery and the intoxicating sound of waves licking at the shoreline, lulling you to sleep.
We talked with the owners of four of these comfortable-fit resorts that hug Lake Superior – or in one case, its biggest tributary – to find out what keeps their customers coming back and what might be the future for such welcoming and longtime icons of lakeshore vacations.
Within our region, we’ve chosen one spot from each state and the province to sample what’s happening around the Big Lake: Anderson’s North Shore Resort, just northeast of Grand Marais, Minnesota; Peterson’s Cottages and Vacation Homes, a little more than a mile west of Ontonagon, Michigan; Royal Windsor Lodge on Lake Nipigon, north of Nipigon, Ontario; and Superior Rentals, 2 miles south of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Read what each has to say about their resorts, past, present and future.
Peterson’s Cottages and Vacation Homes, Ontonagon, Michigan
A mile and a half west of Ontonagon off M-64, Peterson’s Cottages and Vacation Homes had its beginnings in the 1930s with three or four cottages used by deer hunters, according to Chuck Peterson.
He and his wife, Wendy, bought the business in January 1997.
“We are only the third owners,” Chuck says, sounding bemused.
Peterson’s Cottages is in a heavily wooded area along the sandy shoreline of Lake Superior. It’s also in the enviable position of being 14 miles from Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
The resort has 14 cottages and two vacation homes – Cedar Lodge, west of the cottages in a secluded setting, and Nakomis vacation home on the shores of Lake Superior. All are fully equipped.
Both Chuck and Wendy are in their 60s. They plan to sell the resort, but realize it could take awhile to find a buyer in the current market.
Chuck says they hope to see the property continue as a resort rather than being developed into multiple homes or condos.
“This is too beautiful an area to ruin,” he says, when asked about the idea of selling the property for larger development.
What’s the secret to staying in business and competing with larger resorts? For Peterson’s Cottages, Chuck says it’s being in the right location – a place full of beauty that’s also is sparsely populated.
“We rely on people from outside the area to come and visit,” he says, noting that Ontonagon County has long billed itself as Michigan’s “best-kept secret.”
Weather has a lot to do with the resort’s success, especially in winter, since good snow entices snowmobilers, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
“The summers have been decent,” Chuck adds. Part of that, he thinks, is because people are taking shorter, closer trips. Instead of heading to the Grand Canyon, they’re taking a vacation in the region.
“The park, the Lake and the Keweenaw Peninsula are the three largest draws.”
On the resort’s beach, it’s possible to walk to the breakwater on the Ontonagon River, which is at the mouth of the harbor on the edge of town.
In the summer, the resort rents to families and young couples; in the fall color season, it tends to be “empty nesters” visiting.
The resort is open year-round, as are most local businesses. Late fall into winter, the guest makeup transitions to hunters and snowmobiling groups.
A recent addition at Peterson’s Cottages is a 20-foot-by-30-foot covered pavilion, which has brought some reunions to the resort.
People choose to return to a small resort, Chuck suggests, because of “family tradition. Some are coming because mom and dad came up themselves.”
Peterson’s Cottages and Vacation Homes, Ontonagon, Michigan, 11/2 miles west off M-64. 906-884-4230, www.petersonscottages.com.