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This podcast episode and article was originally published by our friends Jaye and Martha at Exploring the North Shore.
On a cold December afternoon, we pulled into the parking lot of Chambers Grove Park in the Fond Du Lac/Gary/New Duluth area of Duluth. Duluth had recently received almost two feet of snow the weekend prior leaving behind massive snowbanks, and although the park sits on the St. Louis River right near the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, it wasn’t the beautiful scenery or the snow in the park we were there for. We were there to participate in Duluth’s newest guided sauna experience: Cedar and Stone Sauna.
Cedar and Stone Sauna is the brainchild of Justin Juntunen, a Duluth local of Finnish descent who had been raised on the culture of sauna his entire life. He wanted to bring this idea of sauna being a social experience, as it is in the Nordic traditions, to his community here in America. So, Justin set out to create a sauna experience unlike any that most living the US today have experienced. The result is an open and inviting guided sauna experience in a beautifully built sauna that has the ability to be moved around wherever it is needed.
On that day in mid-December, as we pulled into the parking lot, we were greeted by a beautiful trailer that strongly resembles that extremely popular tiny-home trend that has swept the nation. Alongside the modern trailer stood two gentlemen, each with their hands on a rope connected to buckets over their heads. As I maneuvered the car into the parking lot, they pulled on the ropes, dumping a bucketful of water on each of their heads. Not something you’re used to seeing outside in Minnesota in December.
What we were seeing was the end of a guided Cedar and Stone Sauna experience which was in the heart of its opening weekend. One of the men under the buckets was Justin and the other was someone who was there to experience sauna in its most traditional form, with a strong emphasis on the social and health benefits of sauna.
The sauna trailer is beautiful, to the point where I hate calling it a trailer because it’s so much more than that.— Jaye, Podcast Host, Exploring the North Shore
The sauna trailer is beautiful, to the point where I hate calling it a trailer because it’s so much more than that. Large (33 feet long with 11-foot ceilings), modern, bright, and welcoming. The front end is a lobby area of sorts. There’s a small check-in and retail area, a place to sit, hot tea to sip, and a cubbies to deposit your clothing once you’ve changed into your (required) swimsuit. The sauna area itself is spacious with two-tiered benches on either side of the wall, with the wood-fed stove in the middle of one side. At the front- floor to ceiling windows that allows those in the sauna to enjoy the incredible views of Chambers Grove Park (or wherever the sauna is at the time). Large windows also line either side of the sauna behind the benches. This is not a tiny little wood box as many pictures when asked to visualize a sauna space.
Justin explains that he wanted to start Cedar and Stone Sauna in order to introduce this idea of sauna and its benefits in a guided experience to Duluth (and beyond). Most Americans will only experience a sauna in a hotel or gym setting. Perhaps, even in their own homes, but he describes the way many do sauna as “competitive sauna”. Who can last the longest in the highest heat with the highest steam? What he aims to introduce is this experience where a group of friends, co-workers, families, or even strangers, come together and have a mutually beneficial sauna experience that emphasizes democracy when making changes to the current experience. Those in the sauna decide together if they want to add more steam, perhaps include essential oils in the steam, which oils to add, and when to stop adding steam. Making the environment safe and comfortable for all who are in it.
This is the experience that we were there to have. What I learned while saunaing during Cedar and Stone’s inaugural weekend was that sauna was far more than just a social experience- it has proven health benefits, as well.
During our interview with Justin (scroll down to play the Exploring the North Shore Podcast episode) he references a recent Mayo Clinic study titled “Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence” that tracked the health benefits of sauna bathing from a Nordic population over the course of 20 years. The study found that sauna bathing is “linked to a remarkable array of health benefits.” Justin explains that many experience short-term benefits after even one session in a sauna that includes the feeling of mental relaxation, physical relaxation, and skin benefits. Growing up in the sauna tradition Justin identified that sauna would leave him feeling relaxed after a stressful day, and also helped him sleep better at night. Benefits that many will find valuable. To get these benefits, Justin explains that sauna is to be enjoyed in a high temperature, lower humidity environment. Water is not to be added to the heater, creating steam, in fast and continuous ways, but rather added slowly over a longer period of time.
Admittedly, Justin was absolutely correct in describing the sauna experience most Americans had. Growing up I only went into saunas in hotels, usually during my brother’s hockey tournaments, in settings where the sauna was being bombarded by children who sit add steam so rapidly, it hardly stopped steaming before more water was added on. We’d stay in as long as we could and then dash out and jump into the pool. I had little concept of how sauna could truly be experienced and how I could benefit from it. So I was excited to experience sauna how it was meant to be experienced and was able to enjoy an hour-long stay at Cedar and Stone Sauna and really embrace how incredible I felt after the experience.
During our time at Cedar and Stone Sauna, we were joined by two friends- one of whom, who just happened to be Ericka of SUPerior Paddle, had visited the sauna the day prior and was back, this time with a friend. We were also later joined by someone who had simply been driving past and joined us on a whim. This is how Justin envisioned it. Strangers joining each other in a safe environment, experiencing sauna the way it was meant to be experienced.
On this day, it was an open group sauna day. Anyone could sign up for one of the ten slots for that hour, and join in. Justin also recognizes that this idea of sauna as an open, social, potentially mixed-gender experience may not be appealing to everyone, which is why he offers a variety of different sauna experiences so everyone can find the experience that is right for them. Sunrise Saunas tend to be quieter, allowing you to focus and relax before starting your day. Women-Led Sunday Sauna is an experience for women, led by women. Private sessions would allow for a couple, single-family, group of friends, or co-worker group to enjoy the sauna experience together in a more private setting. You can come for a day or purchase an annual pass if you feel sauna is something you want to include in your weekly or even daily routine.
While the sauna was parked at Chambers Grove Park in Duluth when we were enjoying it, it is portable. Justin has plans to bring it all over Duluth and the upper midwest so others can enjoy the experiences he offers. His hopes is to do long term partnership with Duluth-area hotels as well as bring the trailer to different places in the area for special events.
So whether you have experienced a true Nordic sauna experience or have only ever experienced the “competitive sauna” popular in America today, Cedar and Stone Sauna is for you. Justin brings his knowledge and history with sauna into a relaxing and inviting experience that also has incredible health benefits. If you live too far from Duluth and can’t travel to the sauna’s location, Justin is also starting to offer custom sauna builds, something I myself have added to the wishlist for my house in Grand Marais in the future so that I can continue to enjoy the sauna experience all year long.
We did, in fact, conclude our experience with Cedar and Stone Sauna with the water buckets. The water was warm and soothing- a great way to cap off a fantastic sauna experience.
I can say with certainty that the experience I had will not be my last.