Traveling in 2020 is different than just about any other time in recent memory, there’s no way around it. Though jetting off to far flung destinations may no longer be on the docket, embracing closer to home exploration can open up a whole new world of opportunities. And few places deliver such an abundance of natural beauty while being perfectly suited for socially distanced travel as Minnesota’s North Shore. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the North Shore hugs the biggest, Lake Superior. Wide open beaches, dense forests, waterfalls and picturesque lighthouses are what you can expect on one of the finest road trips this great state has to offer. From the port city of Duluth to Grand Portage State Park on the Canadian border, here are eight reasons why a trip to the North Shore is what we all need right now.
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1. Duluth's Canal Park lakewalk offers 4 charming miles of strolling.
Kick off your trip with a walk through Duluth’s famed Canal Park, a central hub of urban life in the city. Situated between the city’s vibrant downtown and serene waterfront, the expansive park features more than four miles of walking paths and access to Park Point, which comprises an impressive 4-mile stretch of the world’s largest freshwater sandbar. Grab a to-go pie from Vitta Pizza for a lakefront picnic where, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of a 1,000 foot freighter passing under the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge.
2. The rushing water of Gooseberry Falls State Park is both relaxing and refreshing.
Just 40 miles up the Shore lies one of the state’s most stunning sights—Gooseberry Falls. More than 20 miles of hiking trails weave between the falls, lakeshore and surrounding crag-laden forests in Gooseberry Falls State Park. Pick up a few sandwiches and a pie (you’ll work up an appetite on the trails) from the local favorite Rustic Inn Cafe, just a few miles south of the park entrance. The park features several campsites, so pack accordingly (though be sure to check with the local State Park office before, as certain sites are closed for the season for health and safety reasons).
3. Sunrise at Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior is spectacular.
This one is worth getting up extra early for. From Gooseberry Falls, it’s just a seven-mile drive (or bike ride via the Gitchi-Gami State Trail) to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, one of the most scenic spots in the country to catch the sunrise (don’t worry if you sleep in, it’s beautiful any time of day). The history of this landmark, which has safely guided ships to shore since 1910, is as exciting as its beauty. For those looking to get the most epic shot of the lighthouse for their Instagram feed, the Minnesota Historical Society made this handy photography guide that’s worth a look.
4. Exploring Lutsen Mountain is an adventurer’s dream.
After cruising 46-miles of lakeshore, grab a coffee and snack before heading into the mountains at Fika Coffee. Fika is Swedish for coffee break (always accompanied by a pastry or sandwich) and this cafe takes the tradition seriously: roasting their own beans in house and offering an array of tasty smörgås (Swedish open-faced sandwiches). Up the road lies Lutsen Mountains, the midwest’s largest ski area that offers something for everyone year round. Hike to the summit for a stunning lake view or saddle up on a mountain bike for an all-day adventure through the forest. For the ultimate mountain experience, observe LNT practices (Leave No Trace) in the pristine wilderness of Lutsen Scientific and Natural Area, then pitch a tent at nearby White Pine Lake Rustic Campground.
5. Uniquely Northern arts, culture and cuisine are on offer in Grand Marais.
Home to a thriving art and maker community, Grand Marais combines natural beauty with cultural vibrance in a way that captures the spirit of the North Shore. The 20-mile drive up the Shore from Lutsen is studded with waterfalls and scenic cliff overlooks like Good Harbor Bay Overlook and Fall River Waterfall. Once you arrive into town, the most difficult part of your visit will be deciding where to eat. Among the dozens of truly worthy options, the Angry Trout Cafe stands out for its emphasis on Lake Superior fish and locally grown ingredients like hand-harvested wild rice. Get your shopping done at Upstate MN, where you’ll find modern designs from local artisans infused with northern charm.
6. Venturing into the Deep North Woods on Gunflint Trail is social distancing at its finest.
The historic Gunflint Trail is a 57-mile paved National Scenic Byway that begins right in Grand Marais and goes inland all the way into the iconic Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near the Canadian border. Originally a footpath, the trail was used for hundreds of years by the Ojibwe people and later French fur traders as a way to reach Lake Superior. Throughout the trail there are plenty of places to stop for a hike, swim or to simply take in the view. Don’t miss the Pincushion Mountain overlook at the 2.4 mile mark, where you’ll catch 180-degree views of the lake. (Pro tip: save time for Magnetic Rock Trail and gaze in wonder at the 60-foot-tall rock made of magnetite, the most magnetic of all the naturally-occurring minerals on Earth).
7. The fishing from Lake Superior’s Picturesque Grand Marais Harbor is sublime.
It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of the harbor at Grand Marais, but if you’re casting into the waters of Lake Superior it’s good to keep an eye on your line. There’s lots of life beneath the surface of Superior, where everything from lake trout to salmon to white fish are biting. Pop by the Fly Box & Company just off the harbor, where you’ll find everything you need for a day of angling. If you’re looking to get out into deeper waters, the crew at Grand Marais Boat Rides and Charter Fishing has more than 30 years of experience on the lake and you’re sure to learn a thing or two about the region’s history from their wisened guides.
8. You can immerse yourself in Ojibwe History and Culture at Grand Portage National Monument.
Only 35 miles along the shore from Grand Marais lies the historic Grand Portage National Monument in the homeland of the Grand Portage Ojibwe. The name comes from the 8.5 mile portage trail that traders and the Ojibwe used to bypass the dangerous falls and rapids in order to trade. After walking the trail, visit the onsite historic structures to learn about the region’s indigenous cultures and gain insight into how the traders and Ojibwe lived hundreds of years ago. A few miles north of the monument lies Grand Portage State Park and the Canadian border. There’s no better way to cap off a North Shore trip than a hike to High Falls on the Pigeon River, the highest waterfall in the state.
Whether out for a day trip to explore a few lakeside attractions or planning an extended road trip to camp, hike, and bike among Minnesota’s endless natural beauty, there’s no wrong way to embrace the North Shore this season. And no better time of year at that!