By: Kelsey Braun
My husband, Chris, and I grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where we attended junior high and high school together. We weren’t close friends at the time, but we would occasionally run into each other through mutual friends. Fast-forward over a decade later and the two of us reconnected back in Minnesota after both living in other states for many years with zero communication.
From the moment we connected again, we knew this was something special. Our personalities and goals complemented each other and we were excited to start a life together. The past had provided many opportunities for travel, work experience and even entrepreneurship for both Chris and me. We began to compile our life experiences and knew that signing another lease in the city wasn’t what our hearts wanted. We craved the outdoors and nature to our core.
The great outdoors and the desire to keep creating were calling. We knew we wanted to combine our most unique and memorable travel experiences and bring them back home to Minnesota.
A few months into our relationship, we bought a 1995 30-foot Georgie Boy Swinger motorhome and began our very first renovation together. We worked for two straight months, and when it was ready, we moved into the RV with our dogs and made the journey up to our friend’s land in northern Minnesota, where we parked for the summer.
It was during this in-between time of our careers and lives when we began to pause and dig deeper into what we wanted for our life and our future together. Unable to have children, we discussed what else would bring us joy, adventure and happiness. Finally, after listing all the things that made our hearts sing and considering how much we loved managing our Airbnb rentals, we decided that creating a northern getaway with a creative twist was exactly what we wanted to do.
Little did we know how difficult it would be to turn three wooded acres into a boutique hotel with five tiny cabins on stilts and five safari tents all with an indoor/outdoor feeling … in Minnesota. We faced an uphill battle, with people informing us that no one would stay in the cabins, that an outdoor shower with no door on it was not something Minnesotans would like, and that bikers coming to the area only wanted a cheap place to crash. But Chris and I kept our heads down and continued to push forward with our vision and dream.
The cabin and safari tent designs came to life by pulling together bits and pieces of our travel experiences that resided in the forefront of our minds. We wanted guests to experience nature in a different way. We wanted others to be able to step out of their comfort zones and their hectic lives and be able to relax, unwind and go on adventures in a gorgeous area of Minnesota less traveled. The design had a very specific purpose: to remove us from our routines, wake up our minds, reflect, give pause and be more present with ourselves, one another and nature.
Every detail was thought through, from the Deluxe cabin having its own outdoor shower, to the tiny-living-inspired spaces inside each cabin. The design focuses on getting away from a dark log cabin, and the south-facing glass wall allows for light to flood into the cabins and patios throughout the day. From the warm glow of the evening salt lamp night lights, to the smell of the rough-sawn wood on the walls, to the queen bed facing the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, every detail is meant to awaken your senses. Even the bathroom spray is made from calming essential oils. The window in the shower allows you to enjoy a hot shower while standing on smooth, natural rocks and gazing at the stars in the dark Cuyuna sky. Not having a TV in the boutique cabins helps promote quality time together away from our phones and away from the noise of our busy lives.
Chris and I can be found every day in the Cuyuna State Recreation Area with our two dogs. We enjoy mountain biking, snowshoeing, paddleboarding, hiking and, of course, partaking in all that Historic Main Street has to offer. We even designed and wrote a 35-page Things to Do guide for our guests to give them a local’s perspective when planning their stay.
We finished building the five cabins in June 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. For two straight years, we worked our full-time jobs and continued building and working on the land after hours. We had help and guidance from my dad and a few others, but we are proud to say we had a hand in almost every single inch of Cuyuna Cove. We are expanding this summer and are working hard to finish building an indoor/outdoor modern shower house for the five Safari Tents.
Through it all, we stayed strong as a team and as a couple. We’ll be the first to tell you it was not easy and that it took a toll on us emotionally, physically and spiritually, but that this is one of the greatest experiences of our lives.
Book your stay at: cuyunacove.com
Read more of our stories in Issue 19 of Lake and Company.