The North Shore of Lake Superior is a popular road trip destination for Minnesotans and visitors alike. With breathtaking views of Lake Superior along the drive up Highway 61, the plethora of waterfalls, and opportunities for both hiking and relaxing, it’s not hard to see why. Visiting the North Shore is wonderful throughout all four seasons, but is most popular in the summer and fall. This 150-mile route will take you from Duluth, Minnesota, to Grand Portage State Park, which is located along the border of Minnesota and Canada. While this trip could be made over a weekend, a long weekend or full week would provide more opportunities for lengthened stops.
Duluth is a port city located on the southeast edge of Lake Superior with lots to offer. Upon arriving, head to Canal Park to see the historic lift bridge, and if the timing is right, you may get to watch a ship come into the harbor. From Canal Park you can begin a leisurely stroll down the Lake Walk, a paved path along the lakeshore. The Canal Park area also has lots of shops, dining, and drinking selections. Duluth is home to a number of breweries and fantastic restaurants; be sure to check out Bent Paddle’s new taproom for a great beer selection. For those eager to hit the trails, be sure to check out the sections of the Superior Hiking Trail that run through the city of Duluth as well as other local trails running along forested creeks.
Upon leaving Duluth, consider taking the Scenic Route 61 as you make your way north to Two Harbors. This route follows the shoreline and provides great views of the lake. Two Harbors is another small town along the lakeshore that has a lighthouse and would make a great stop on your way to Gooseberry Falls. Gooseberry Falls State Park is is known as the “Gateway to the North Shore,” and it is home to magnificent waterfalls. Due to its proximity to Duluth and Highway 61, this park is frequently crowded. For a quick stop, check out the Middle Falls and Lower Falls, which are a short walk from the visitor center. For a longer visit, and to avoid the crowds, continue on to Fifth Falls.
Not far from Gooseberry Falls is the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse. This picturesque lighthouse was first lit in 1910 and was built in response to a storm five years prior in which 29 ships were lost on Lake Superior. The lighthouse sits atop a 133-foot cliff overlooking Lake Superior. The best views of the cliff and lighthouse are from the pebble beach near the campground within the state park. Tours of the lighthouse are also available daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the Minnesota Historical Society.
Next up is Tettegouche State Park, the sixth largest state park in the state with diverse natural features including the iconic Palisade Head and Shovel Point. Before reaching the visitor center there is a turn-off to drive up to Palisade Head for views of Shovel Point. After taking in the views, head to the visitor center, located just off of Highway 61, where you can decide to take the short hike to Shovel Point or do a longer hike to the High Falls or the Bean and Bear Lake Loop, a beautiful fall hike.
Temperance River State Park is a nice stop along your way up the shore because parking is right off of Highway 61 and views of the gorge are just minutes from the parking area. There are also a few waterfalls upstream and a hiking path to the top of Carlton Peak for those looking for a longer hike. A nice picnic area on the shore of Lake Superior is located near the state park campground, providing scenic views for lunch.
Other possible stops on the way to Temperance River State Park: George Crosby Manitou State Park, Caribou Falls Wayside, Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center, Cross River Falls.
Grand Marais is the last small harbor town before reaching the Canadian border. It has been named the Next Great Adventure Town (by National Geographic Adventure Magazine) and America’s Coolest Small Town (by Budget Travel Magazine). Visitors can explore local art shops, discover traditional crafts at the North House Folk School, dine at unique restaurants, and take in the beauty of Lake Superior. Artist’s Point is a popular spot for painters and photographers and is a great spot to watch sailboats and check out the lighthouse. Grand Marais is also home to the start of the Gunflint Trail, the gateway to the eastern portion of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Whether you’re looking for more hiking trails or want to shop and relax, Grand Marais provides a multitude of options.
Other possible stops on the way to Grand Marais: Cascade River State Park.
Grand Portage State Park is home to Minnesota’s tallest waterfall, the High Falls of the Pigeon River, and it is located on the border of Minnesota and Canada. The falls are impressive, and only require a short half mile walk (one way) from the parking lot along a paved path.
Other possible stops on the way to Grand Portage State Park: Kadunce River State Wayside, Judge CR Magney State Park, Grand Portage National Monument.