Minnesota means "land of sky-blue waters" in the tongue of the Native Americans, who hailed the beauty of their land. Immigrating Scandinavians loved it for the same reason: Its fabled 10,000 lakes looked just like home. Today, the summerlong weekend exodus "up to the lake," as local parlance has it, provides an antidote for urban stress. The scent of the pines, the sheen of crystal waters and the cry of the loon (never mind the whine of mosquitoes) are as strong a lure as ever.

Minnesotans' celebration of the great outdoors carries into winter, too, when sports like skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating draw folks into the crisp air. And those funny little shacks out on the frozen lakes are ice-fishing houses. That's how crazy the locals are about the wonders Mother Nature has thrown their way.

Whether you fish, boat or just enjoy sitting lakeside, you'll find appropriate waters somewhere in the state, from those 10,000 lakes to the big one—Lake Superior—and the mighty Mississippi River. Canoeists and kayakers may have the best conditions of all. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness—a huge wilderness that's off-limits to most motorized and mechanized vehicles—is one of the finest places to paddle in North America. A few days there—or in one of the state's other wilderness preserves or lakeside resorts—is a great escape.

For those who enjoy city lights, the vibrant Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) offer theater, shopping and top-rated restaurants. Duluth, anchoring Lake Superior, will let you enjoy the comforts of a midsize town while remaining within gazing distance of a beautiful lakeshore, and Stillwater re-creates the Victoriana of lumber-baron days beside the scenic St. Croix River.

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