Justin Juntunen hopes it will be operating in time for this summer’s Finn Fest.

DULUTH — A century ago, Duluth was reported to have more Finnish immigrants than anywhere else in the country. With them came the cultural tradition of sauna.

Duluth was nicknamed “Little Helsinki,” and Canal Park was an immigrant quarter that locals dubbed “Finn Town.” At one point, the city housed around 10 public bath houses, or saunas.

The industry is seeing a resurgence as an increasing interest in the practice spreads across Minnesota with the help of events like Finn Fest.

Justin Juntunen, founder and CEO of Cedar and Stone Nordic Sauna in Duluth, serves on the event board.

Having been raised in a Finnish family in northern Minnesota, the cultural tradition of sauna was a part of everyday life.

“In some ways, this is all in my blood,” he said.

Juntunen has set out to offer an experience like none other in the U.S.: a floating public sauna, which he hopes will be operating in time for this year’s Finn Fest from July 26-30 and All Pints North Brewfest on July 29.

Juntunen said the annual gathering is returning to Duluth with a five-year commitment.

“Last time, Finn Fest brought in 10,000 people,” he said.

According to Juntunen, the floating sauna will be the first of its kind. At an over $100,000 estimated cost, it is Cedar and Stone’s most ambitious project yet.

A fundraising goal of $60,000 was set. About a quarter of the amount has been raised so far, Juntunen said.

The company is also investing in the project, and invites others to be contributing founding members.

“I would say this is a very community-driven effort,” Juntunen said.

To take part in the initiative, pre-bookings through Cedar and Stone’s Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign are offered at a discount to generate funds to build the floating sauna.

“If there’s some signature donor that wants to be a part and get their name on the side of it, I would welcome that,” Juntunen said.

Rooftop deck and diving board

The 13-by-36-foot barge will feature a wood-fired sauna for 10-12 people with panoramic windows, a rooftop deck and diving board. The floating sauna will live year-round in the slip between Bayfront Festival Park and Pier B Resort Hotel.

“Occasionally, on very wonderful, calm harbor days, we might even take it out for sauna cruises,” Juntunen said. “The lake is sort of a fickle mistress, right? That’s not every day that we can take things out. So we’re only going to do that on special days, but we’ll have it open all the time.”

Group and public sessions will take place five days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“For when we go out, we absolutely will have certified captains who will be licensed,” Juntunen said. “Safety is super important to us.”

With the help from internal design teams and architects, along with external engineers, Cedar and Stone has worked to ensure the floating sauna is “as safe as it is beautiful,” Juntunen said.

Additionally, employees are trained in fire safety and suppression, as well as safe cold-water immersion.

Cedar and Stone provides all the tools necessary for the process and practice of sauna. For all its experiences, staff accommodate guests by lighting the stove and having towels on hand after that cold plunge into Lake Superior.

“All you need to bring is a bathing suit and a willingness to have a great evening,” Juntunen said.

Common in Scandinavia

Stones and a wooden guard surround the wood burning stove in the group sauna at Cedar & Stone Nordic Sauna in Duluth on June 6, 2023. (Jed Carlson / Forum News Service)

Cedar and Stone partners with Visit Duluth, local restaurants, distilleries and breweries, in addition to Pier B Resort and Silos Restaurant, to provide a packaged experience.

“We love being a part of Duluth’s full, vibrant tourism community,” Juntunen said. “It’s going to be this sort of crown jewel of one of those things you have to do when you’re here in Duluth.”

It has been a decade since Juntunen and his wife had their first floating sauna experience on the Baltic ocean while traveling abroad to Finland.

“It was just magical,” he said. “That trip abroad was such wonderful inspiration. … If you go to Finland, if you go to Norway, if you go to Sweden — every harbor town has saunas next to the water and saunas floating right on the water.”

Each year, Cedar and Stone invites 3,000-5,000 guests a year to sauna and cold plunge, in addition to building custom saunas for customers across the country.

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