Explore Minnesota's North Shore
I have had the privilege of exploring the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota many times over the past several years. In fact, my first time ever visiting Grand Marais was my senior year of high school! I don’t need to give you exact dates, but let’s just say that was a time long ago, well before iphones and Facebook.
I have met several Minnesota natives who have never even been to Duluth, let alone see all of what the North Shore has to offer! So look no further friends. I’ve put together a list of what to pack, where we stayed and my favorite must-see things to do on your trip up north to take the guess work out of your travel planning!
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I’ll start by making one important note. If you plan to visit the North Shore during peak season (May - Sept) keep in mind there is literally always construction happening, which can cause massive delays as everyone heads to their cabin for the weekend.
I recommend two possible ways around this.
1: Turn your trip into a long weekend! If you can avoid going up on a Friday and coming home on Sunday, you’ll avoid the majority of the traffic. Or better yet, go mid-week and have the place practically to yourself!
2: Cut over and drive up through Wisconsin! I just did this over 4th of July weekend after coming to my 3rd complete stand still and seeing the cause of this latest stop was some idiot lost their trailer and completely blocked off the interstate! (*eyeroll) Amazingly, no one was hurt!
Although it looks longer on Google Maps, driving through Wisconsin saved me time because there were no traffic jams! Not to mention, the scenic views were a lot more interesting than being stuck behind a semi.
Alternative Driving Directions from Mpls through WI
What to Pack for your Northern Adventures
Personally, I’m a big fan of wearing layers, so bringing multiple options comes naturally to me. You are absolutely going to want to bring some warm clothes with you - Yes, even in the middle of summer!
Lake Superior kicks off some pretty cool wind so even if it’s 80 degrees in the city, it’s not unexpected for it to drop 10-20 degrees as you drive north.
My (Summer) Long-Weekend Packing List:
Cheap flipflops / camp sandals
Hoodie / Jacket
Socks + Underwear
Swimsuit + Cover
Sunscreen (face, body)
Beach towel, floaties + Water shoes
Toiletry bag (with makeup, skincare, and hair accessories)
Water Bottle + Snacks
A good book to curl up with
Ok, now that I’ve listed everything out, it looks like a kind of ridiculously long list for just a long weekend! But a lady needs options. Also, once everything is condensed into packaging cubes, I was able to fit everything listed above (including my camera gear) into an over-sized backpack! Ok not everything... the inflatable pool lounger was in a separate bag, but you get the idea.
The water shoes are important because the beaches are all super rocky. Unless you have hippie feet of steel, you’ll want some rubber soles if you plan to dip your feet in.
Now that you’re all packed and ready, let’s see some fun stuff!
There are so many amazing things to do in Duluth! And the great thing is, you can easily drive from the Twin Cities and back to make an epic day trip, or go for the weekend and really get out and explore. Below are some of my favorite places to stop.
Frost River is a Duluth native company, producing quality, sustainable goods for all your outdoor needs! The craftsmanship is impeccable and the service is top notch!
Cork Town Deli + Brews
Next door to Frost River is an awesome deli and gastro pub that is totally worth the stop! They have amazing drink specials if you manage to get there in time for ‘Lunchie’ hour. Unfortunately, we missed the deals, but we did still grab a beer and a light meal before hitting the road again.
If you’ve ever Googled Duluth, one of the first things to pop up is the iconic lift bridge, located in the Canal Park district of Downtown. There are tons of other great things to do like brewery tours, shopping, indoor rock climbing, coffee shops, board walks along the lake.. the list goes on! It can get a little touristy, but it’s worth checking out for sure!
If you do plan to stay in a hotel in Duluth, this would be the area I’d recommend if you want to see it all.
New Scenic Cafe
The New Scenic Cafe is an upscale restaurant located just off of the scenic highway as you exit Duluth. My husband and I had our wedding anniversary dinner here a few years ago and it was such a beautiful, intimate setting. Bring your partner here for the perfect date night!
Duluth Hiking Trails
If you want to go for a hike, but don’t have time drive all the way up highway 61, don’t worry! There are tons of hiking trails right in Duluth!
Jay Cooke State Park
A couple of years ago, I had the great pleasure of solo camping in Jay Cooke State Park for a few days. To say it was awesome is a complete understatement! The park is just south of Duluth, and is nestled right around the St. Louis River.
You don’t have to be sleeping alone in a tent for 3 days to experience it either. (Although, that is a pretty great way to do it if I do say so myself) You can easily pull over, walk across the bridge and be back in your car within 25 minutes if you’re short for time but still want to get that perfect ‘gram shot.
Interested in camping? Learn more about it here
North of Duluth
On your journey farther north along highway 61, there are literally so many things to stop and do! It’s hard to name them all! In my years of visiting regularly however, I think I can narrow it down to my top favorites… Like sitting on a plastic dino for one thing.
Russ Kendall’s Smoke House
Literally no trip to the North Shore would be complete without eating some smoked fish! Russ Kendall’s is your quintessential ‘hole in the wall’, and I LOVE it. You won’t find any trendy subway tile or Edison light bulbs here. Just a small meat counter, a fridge full of beer and a line of hungry customers. There’s even a small bar attached in the back room! I live for this kind of place.
Split Rock Light House
The Split Rock Lighthouse is a stunning turn of the century building that, you guessed it, sits on the edge of the rocky shore. Take a stroll a long the shore to see amazing views of the lighthouse in the distance, or get up close and personal with the 20 minute tour.
Note: There are a LOT of stairs both within the park and inside the lighthouse itself, so if you or a member of your group has limited mobility this might not be the place for you.
Guided 20-minute introductory tours of the light station leave from the visitor center continuously; the last tour of the day leaves at 5:00 pm. Visitors can also tour the site and climb the lighthouse on their own.
Tour guides take visitors to a lake overlook and to the lawn below the celebrated lighthouse. Visitors are then invited to tour the lighthouse and historic buildings: the restored keeper's house, oil house, and fog signal building.
Tour groups are encouraged to explore the visitor center exhibit and watch the introductory film. Allow 1.5 to 2 hours to explore the historic site, visitor center exhibits, and museum store.
If you’re not afraid of heights, make a stop at Palisade Head to get amazing bird’s eye views of Lake Superior! It can be a little easy to miss the turn for the parking lot if you’re looking for it as it’s not well marked.
*Also note, to get to the top of the cliff, you drive up a very steep, winding road.
Not recommended if you are pulling a trailer, boat or driving a large RV - You could park at the bottom and walk up, it would just take you probably 25 minutes or so to get to the top.
Gooseberry Falls is absolutely a must see! This is one of the more popular stops along Highway 61 and with good reason. This is one of the more well maintained and easily accessible trails, great for families and those with limited mobility.
On nice summer days, you can wade out into the falls and swim in shallow pools. During the spring, the falls are raging and fierce!
You can spend anywhere from 20 minutes to a full day. Go check it out!
Iona’s beach isn’t well known, which is great if you want to pull off and experience the lake in a quieter setting. My husband and I have even driven up there from the cities just for the day!
It’s located just north of Gooseberry Falls, so if you want to skip the traffic, I recommend this beach instead.
Visit the State Parks!
No trip along the north shore is complete without a stop to at least one of the many state parks along Highway 61. The trails vary in length and difficulty, but most can be done by anyone with a normal level of ability.
*Note: If you’re planning your trip in Spring, be prepared for a lot of wet, muddy grounds. There can even be snow into early May, so plan your footwear accordingly!
Tettegouche State Park
Temperance River State Park
Cascade River State Park
Lookout Mountain is apart of the Cascade River State Park. It is absolutely worth the hike to the top if you have the time!
Grand Marais might be my favorite town in Minnesota. It has everything you could ever want in a small town - shopping, good food, good beer, waterfront and nature all around. Everyone I’ve ever met in Grand Marais is so NICE. They are honestly just so damn happy to live in this beautiful town and I can’t blame them!
The town’s peak season is May - October, the busiest months being July - Sept. However, even having just visiting during a busy weekend (like July 4th) the hustle and bustle felt like an average day to me - but I’m used to living in the city.
Personally, I think the best time to go is in the fall. Even though it’s still a peak season, it’s a little less crowded, the bugs are almost non existent, and the fall colors are everything!
I can honestly say the beer and chicken wings at Voyager Brewing is worth the drive alone! With amazing views of the lake inside and out, it has become one of the most popular destinations in Grand Marais. On cooler days, they even have a fire pit so you can still enjoy your drinks while taking in the fresh air.
Have kid’s with you? Don’t even worry about it sister! They have a kid-friendly menu and plenty of games to keep them entertained so you can drink your beer and relax. You deserve a break!
Blue Water Cafe
I have yet to make a trip to Grand Marais that doesn’t include the Blue Water Cafe, I don’t think I ever will!
Get yourself a classic breakfast and add on some Swedish pancakes. You’ll thank me later but you don’t have to.
Want to smell breakfast everyday? There are rooms for rent above the cafe!
If you don’t want to wait in the forever line that always exists at Sven and Ole’s, just make your way down the block to Sydney’s! They have amazing wood-fire pizzas (and more) with an outstanding rooftop patio that has unobstructed views of the water.
Shop Til’ You Drop
If hiking isn’t really your speed, there are tons of great local shops to check out in the heart of Grand Marais. Pick up something to remember your awesome trip!
Grand Marais is rich in the arts and culture, in fact, it’s the oldest artist colony in Minnesota! So it’s no wonder there is a place within called Artist’s Point. I have, on numerous occasions, seen people painting this very spot!
So what is Artist Point? It’s a mix of man-made and natural rocky terrain walking trail out to the town’s light house.
You can sit on the rocks in the sun, listen to the waves crash, or wander the mini trails through the pines. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can jump out and swim, although I personally have never done this. (Lake Superior is cold AF!)
Artist Point is an excellent (free) way to spend the afternoon! Not to mention, the photo opportunities are endless!
Pro Tip: Bring a sweater or jacket with you if you plan to spend time sitting by the light house. It can be extremely windy!
Drive Up the Gunflint Trail
The Gunflint Trail is actually an old logging highway that spans about 50 miles all the way from Grand Marais to the boarder of Canada.
You drive through vast sections of wilderness with plenty of places to stop and get out for a hike, go for a swim (or fishing) in one of the many lakes and of course, go camping.
If you drive just a short way up the trail from Grand Marais, there is an amazing lookout of the town from Pincushion Mountain.
Devil Track Lake
On my most recent trip to Grand Marais, my husband and I spent 4 days camping at Devil Track Lake.
The camp ground is located on the lake, inside the Superior National Forest. Because of this, the camp sites are first come, first serve. On a busy weekend like July 4th, all of the sites were booked. But I have a feeling that other weekend dates you’d have no problem finding the perfect site.
If you’re not interested in camping, the lake is still a great spot to go swimming. Lake Superior is f-r-e-e-z-i-n-g. I honestly don’t know how anyone goes swimming in it! But Devil Track is very temperate and a great place to splash around.
And there you have it! My favorite things to do on the North Shore of Lake Superior! I know there are still plenty of things to do that I haven’t listed, and there are still a lot of things north of Grand Marais that I have yet to see. Have any North Shore recommendations for me? I’d love to hear them! Let me know your favorite things to do below in the comments!
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