Far from Voyageurs National Park, Orr is nevertheless the gateway to these famous waters since Highway 53 shuttles just about every park visitor through the surprisingly busy town of 250 people.
Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary
The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary (218/757-0172, www.americanbear.org, 5 p.m.–dusk Tues.–Sun. summer, $7 adults) is one of Minnesota’s most surprising attractions. Vince ran a logging camp in these remote woods starting in the 1930s, and like most others living in the wilderness at the time, he routinely shot bears.
Eventually though, he figured out that the lumbering giants weren’t vicious, just hungry, so he started feeding them in a clearing outside the camp. Soon the “Bear Man,” as he became known, had earned a special relationship with the bears, and they no longer feared each other’s presence.
As Vince’s health deteriorated he sought a way to protect his bears’ future, and the American Bear Association was formed to not only protect this 360-acre refuge but “to promote the well-being of the black bear through a better understanding of its behavior, biology, and habitat needs.”
From the elevated viewing deck you can watch the 30–50 black bears who come to eat the food provided for them here and, though it seems somewhat zoo-like, these are truly wild bears who only tolerate the presence of humans within the two-acre clearing at the heart of the sanctuary. Trained naturalists are always on hand to answer your questions.
To reach the reserve, head 13 miles west on County Highway 23 and follow the signs. Sundays are the best day to visit since it has by far the smallest crowds. It does not open during heavy rains.
Most other local tourism activity is focused on 10,945-acre Pelican Lake. About a dozen small, family-run resorts (www.pelicanlakeresorts.com) sit on Pelican’s wild shore, and the friendly Deer Lodge (4487 Deer Lodge Rd., 218/757-3134 or 888/592-7151, www.deerlodgeresort.com, $1,450/week two-bedroom) at the lake’s quiet back end is as good as any. It has five large log cabins, and there are boats and ice houses for rent.
The fanciest lodging in the area is the lakeside AmericInn (4675 U.S. 53, 218/757-3613 or 800/860-3613, $125) just north of town. The hotel features a mini indoor water park with slide, pool, whirlpool, and sauna. Suites with whirlpools, fireplaces, and balconies are available.
Families will feel right at home in the cabins at Grey Wolf Lodge (4411 Pelican Lake Rd., 800/840-9653, www.greywolflodge.com, $615–915 weekly, 3- and 4-day rates also available) right on Pelican Lake. With a sauna, volleyball court, small mini golf course and, of course, the whole expanse of the lake in front of you, you may feel you never need to leave.
If bed-and-breakfasts are more your style there’s the Hundred Acre Woods (5048 Old Hwy. 53, 218/757-0070, www.voyageurcountry.com/HundredAcreWoods, $89–115), a modern home about three miles north of town. One of the pair of Northwoods-themed guestrooms has a sauna while the other has a double whirlpool tub.
T. Pattenn Café (4557 Hwy. 53, 218/757-3908, 4:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 5 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun.), right on Pelican Lake serves breakfast all day, as well as other homey basics.
Right by the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, The Dam Supper Club (4247 Hwy. 53, 218/757-3985, 11 a.m.–midnight Tues.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–midnight Sun., $4–10) is a popular local watering hole with a game room and offers all-you-can-eat walleye on Fridays.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition