Sweating Buckets, and Loving It: Minnesotans and Their Saunas


Sweating Buckets, and Loving It: Minnesotans and Their Saunas

Saunas in the state, part of a tradition with roots in the 1800s, have been especially popular since the pandemic as more people seek a communal experience.

Sauna culture in Minnesota has been vibrant for decades, mainly among families who built them at homes and lakeside cabins.


We’re exploring how America defines itself one place at a time. For people in Minnesota, the sauna is a link to the past and a way to form new bonds.

By Ernesto Londoño

Photographs by Jenn Ackerman

Shivering in frozen lakes and sweating in saunas for hours has helped Ernesto Londoño make peace with Minnesota winters, which were a shock to the system when he moved from Brazil two years ago.

Feb. 17, 2024

Jumping in a hole in a frozen lake during a subzero Minnesota winter evening is brutal. Your body spasms and you start to hyperventilate. Pain is sharpest in your toes and fingers as the skin turns bright pink. Teeth chattering uncontrollably, you ask yourself: What on earth was I thinking?

On the banks of Lake Minnewashta in Excelsior, just outside Minneapolis, the answer lies in a dimly lit, wood-burning barrel-shaped sauna a few feet away. Inside, a gaggle of strangers shared laughs, words of encouragement and audible sighs of delight on a recent night as we took turns cycling between the icy water and the steamy refuge cranked up to 190 degrees.

Minnesotans have begun partaking in a version of this ritual in droves as a tradition imported by the state’s Nordic settlers in the late 1800s has gone mainstream. Since 2000, and particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an explosion of sauna ventures in Minnesota and the broader upper Midwest catering to the growing ranks that have come to love the freeze-sweat cycle ritual. While cold plunging is not obligatory — and some opt out — most of the new sauna venues encourage even mild forms of cold exposure, like dumping a bucket of cold water on your head.

Callan Faulkner takes deep breaths through her nose as she sits in frigid Lake Minnewashta.
A cold plunge in a lake in Ely, Minn. While cold plunging is not obligatory, most of the new sauna venues encourage even mild forms of cold exposure.
Peggy Zorbas-Gough clutched her towel after a cold plunge in the Duluth harbor on the shore of Lake Superior.
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