Cheat the heat
When summer becomes a sauna, it's time to chill out.
© Beth Gauper
When it's hot, grab a tube and find water.
When heat wraps itself around your shoulders like an electric blanket with static cling, there’s only one thing to do: Look for cold water.
You'll find it tubing on a spring-fed river, such as the South Branch of the Root River, which takes a short cut through Mystery Caverns and heads toward Lanesboro chilled to 48 degrees.
On Minnesota's North Shore, plop yourself into one of the Baptism River’s potholes and let the cool waters swirl around you. Or go whitewater rafting — a fast cool-down is guaranteed.
If it's really scorching, try a dip in Lake Superior. Sheltered coves can be tolerable, especially off Michigan's Upper
Peninsula, but otherwise it's perfectly chilly.
Below are some of the best ways to cool off in hot weather. For a guide to swimming, see Great beaches of lakes country.
At least one part of the anatomy is perfectly cool on a tubing trip, and on the South Branch of the Root River in southeast Minnesota, that part is turned into a Popsicle.
Mystery Caverns refrigerates the South Branch before it hits downtown Lanesboro, where people hop onto tubes and ride through town on a series of rapids, returning by foot on the Root River State Trail or continuing through the South Branch’s confluence with the warmer waters of the North Branch and returning by shuttle.
For more destinations, see Tubing a lazy river.
Swimming in Lake Michigan
This lake is lined by sand beaches and perfect for swimming. By the middle of summer, it's warm enough for even the most timid swimmer.
For more, see America's freshwater Riviera.
For more about other beaches, see Great beaches of lakes
Swimming in Lake Superior
This lake, whose temperature barely fluctuates from 40 degrees year-round, is barely tolerable. But when a strong wind blows in from the northeast, the surface water warms up and pushes out the cold water.
Then you can swim from the beautiful sand beach of Duluth's Park Point Recreation Area, across the Aerial Lift Bridge from Canal Park and off 43rd Street. There are lifeguards, but pay attention when rip-current warnings are posted.
© Beth Gauper
On Lake Superior in Duluth, children play on Park Point's beach.
In late summer, you can swim around the Apostle Islands, at the city beach in Bayfield or at Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island. Near the Michigan border, try the
beach at Saxon Harbor County Park, one of our 30 great
Across the Michigan border, try the beach at Little Girls Point and, farther east, Union Bay Beach in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
Swimming North Shore rivers and lakes
A quarter-mile above Illgen Falls in Tettegouche State Park, the Baptism River flows through a chute of volcanic rock and into a deliciously cool pool; from there, it flows over and among a jumble of smooth boulders and slabs, many bearing potholes that make perfect one-person spas.
Swimmers can park off Minnesota 1 or stay next to the river at Illgen Falls Cabin, a luxurious, two-bedroom
disabled-accessible house managed by the park.
Many other North Shore rivers — Temperance, Silver Creek, Gooseberry — have swimming holes, but be careful. When water is high, people have been carried away by the river and drowned.
For more, see Swimming on the North Shore, but not in Lake Superior.
There's only one thing you can do where you'll absolutely, positively be good and cool: Tour a cave.
On the southeast Minnesota border with Iowa, temperatures at Niagara Cave and Mystery Cave are a steady 48 year-round, so bring a jacket.
There’s a spectacular view from the bluff, of course, and others from the hill above Dunning’s Springs Park, famous for its lacy waterfall, and the trails of Palisades Park.
And in Decorah, Iowa, you can poke around the Ice Cave for free; it's next to Dunning's Spring Park.
In northeast Wisconsin, from which the state's biggest rivers surge, there's plenty of cold, frothy whitewater. The Wolf River is a favorite, and Travel Wisconsin lists other outfitters on the Menominee, Pestigo and other rivers.
© Beth Gauper
Rafters paddle over rapids on the Wolf River in northeast Wisconsin.
One of the nation’s most popular clothing-optional beaches is Mazo
Beach, a long strip of sand on the Wisconsin River, west of Madison near Mazomanie.
“You don’t think anything of (the nudity),’’ he said. “It’s the freedom we like.’’ A younger sunbather told me the water is clean and the current mild unless the water is high; people often swim out to a sandbar or even across the river, he said.
But since some people used the freedom for "shenanigans,'' the DNR had to close it on weekdays.
Aside from issues of attire, it’s a gorgeous setting, across from a range of wooded bluffs with stone outcroppings. It’s reached by a 20-minute walk (bring a bike or insect repellent) from a parking lot off County Road Y.
If you like to skinny-dip but not around other people, try the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where there's almost as much privacy as water.
When you're traveling through southwest Minnesota in summer, you need a place to cool off. Thanks to steady winds year-round, Worthington is a windsurfing hot spot and hosts the U.S. Windsurfing National Championships every June.
© Beth Gauper
Kiteboarders ride Lake Michigan breezes off Ridges Road County Park in Baileys Harbor, Wis.
Windsurfers frequent Sailboard Beach on the eastern edge of Lake Okabena. On the northwest side of the lake, there’s a beach in Centennial Park and a municipal pool with water slide across from it. On the south side of the lake, there’s a beach in Slater Park.
In Minneapolis' Chain of Lakes, Lake Calhoun is a favorite for windsurfers.
Kiteboarders go wherever there's wind and wide open spaces. On the Lake Michigan side of Door County, they're partial to the beach at Ridges Road County Park in Baileys Harbor, which also has the advantage of being one of the coolest places on the peninsula.
This park may be one of the coolest places in the region. When I was there during a heat wave one June, it was 25 degrees cooler than the rest of the region and 15 degrees cooler than inland Door County.
Bicycling to the beach
If you pedal on a hot day, you deserve a swim at the end of your ride, and you can get one on the Lake Wobegon Trail.
Start and end your ride in Avon, where pretty Middlespunk Lake is just a block from the trail.
In Minneapolis, the Grand Rounds passes
beaches on lakes Nokomis, Harriet, Calhoun and Cedar.
In Chicago, the 18-mile Lakefront Trail passes 15 miles of beaches.
For more, see Beaches on bike trails.
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