Guys Getaway: Place Your Bets on Northwest Minnesota

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Photo, top: Try your luck at Mystic Lake Casino in Shakopee.

Northwest Minnesota Makes for a Perfect Weekend Escape

The northwest corner of Minnesota feels like outlaw territory. Casinos dot the landscape, and ATV trails snake off into the backcountry along highways, ditches and county roads, making the region an ideal destination for a raucous guys getaway. So last summer, I gathered my buddies and we burned northward for a weekend escape.

Poker Play at Shooting Star Casino

Photo by Lightfield Studios.
Photo by Lightfield Studios.

Mahnomen’s Shooting Star Casino was the first post on the road. Shooting Star is little more than a stucco lodge on the White Earth Reservation, but it’s one of the larger casinos in the region. This no-frills card den is where you can make the trip. We strolled right by the slot machines to the three-card poker tables. Bets last longer there than at the blackjack tables, and a big win can send you sailing the rest of the weekend. That was not our luck. Some in the group busted early. Some hung around and busted late. In either case, the drink carts were busy, and the night ran long.

Roaring Along the Fourtown-Grygla ATV Trails

ATVing in Thief River Falls. Photo courtesy of Arctic Cat Inc.
ATVing in Thief River Falls. Photo courtesy of Arctic Cat Inc..

After two nights at Shooting Star, we traded its neon lights for a chance to explore the Fourtown-Grygla ATV trails. We rolled into Grygla and unloaded our trailer of ATVs (we brought our own, but you can have rentals delivered from the Twin Cities or Brainerd). With 170 miles of trails on the Fourtown-Grygla system alone, it was easy to forget any lost bets.


When the trails broke into the trees of Beltrami Island State Forest, we were glancing out the sides of our goggles, hoping to spy some wildlife. But the only bear that afternoon was my hangover from the night before, and I quelled it with two-stroke engine exhaust.

Fun & Games at the Seven Clans Casino and Warroad Estates Golf Course

Seven Clans Casino in Warroad.
Seven Clans Casino in Warroad.

The adventure continued toward the U.S.-Canada border, with a final stop in Warroad and the Seven Clans Casino. We spent the morning at Warroad Estates Golf Course, only 10 minutes from the hotel, wagering over putts. Lowest score got the best chair at the blackjack table, highest two had to share beds.

Of the state’s three Seven Clans Casino locations, Warroad is the only one that serves alcohol, so it was the obvious choice for our group’s final stop—and shot at a jackpot. The night started coy with slots, but it wasn’t long before well drinks had us throwing chips together to make the blackjack minimums. When your trip is about to end, there’s not much else to do but go for it.

We must’ve sworn a dozen times that this hand would be our last, only to ante up for another. Every split or double felt like it would be the one that switched our luck, each dealer flop a cresting frontier. We were chasing—we knew it and we loved it.

Sipping Cold Ones at the Breweries of Northwest Minnesota

Junkyard Brewing.
Photo courtesy of @danny_runsforbeer.
MN Brew Crew.
Photo courtesy of @mnbrewcrew.
Bemidji Brewing.
Photo courtesy of @bemidjibrewing.

The taprooms of Northwest Minnesota make for perfect pit stops on the road north.

Start at Bemidji Brewing, a standby known for their classic styles. In nearby Moorhead, Junkyard Brewing Company does the exact opposite, with over-the-top candy stouts and bizarre sours dominating the menu. We loaded the trunk with crowlers to share back home.

In the tiny town of Hallock, only 25 miles from Manitoba, Revelation Ale Works sits in the most remote location of any brewery in Minnesota. There, we became part of the select class of travelers that drinks their decadent Peanut Butter Stout on site.