It's Electric: Road Tripping the North Shore of Lake Superior in an EV
By Erica Wacker
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Stunning scenery, charming towns, top-notch restaurants and luxurious lodging options put a road trip on the North Shore of Lake Superior at the top of my list for a romantic anniversary getaway. But could our EV really make the drive without running out of juice?
In our 10 years of marriage, my husband and I have taken our fair share of road trips—from long weekends to visit friends, to family adventures with our two kids and dog, Charlie, in tow. To celebrate this first decade of wedded bliss, we decided to embark on another one.
But this trip would be different in one big way: We’d be driving an electric car.
Minnesota's First Charging Corridor Makes EV Road Trips Easy
But driving an EV can make visiting remote destinations a challenge at best and a disaster at worst. Could our EV (a 2018 Nissan Leaf with 150 miles of estimated range) really make the nearly 300-mile drive from St. Paul to Grand Marais?
Lucky for us, Minnesota completed its first “charging corridor” a few years ago from the Twin Cities to Duluth. Fast-charging stations, which can charge an electric vehicle in less than an hour, are available along I-35 in Forest Lake, North Branch, Pine City, Sturgeon Lake and Moose Lake, giving us multiple options to top off and grab some food en route to Duluth.
We consulted the PlugShare app and found more chargers in Two Harbors, Lutsen and many points in between. Armed with this knowledge and a couple hotel reservations, our dream of a fully electric road trip was about to come true.
Day 1: St. Paul to Duluth
Our battery was full, our podcasts were downloaded, and the freedom of the open road stretched out in front of us like it had so many times before. Only, without the kids, dog or a gas engine, a whole lot quieter.
Heading north from St. Paul, we made our first stop in Moose Lake after about 120 miles on the road. If it weren’t for the two EV chargers downtown we may never have stopped here, which would’ve meant missing out on the cute historic theater, BBQ joint, coffee shop and other local gems.
We plugged in kitty-corner from the Lazy Moose, where we indulged in a Northwoods omelet and a short stack of blueberry pancakes. After a short stroll around town, we grabbed a crowler of Morning Haze New England IPA from Moose Lake Brewing Company and got back on the road.
The moment the Aerial Lift Bridge comes into view on the way into Duluth always gives me butterflies, and this time was no exception. Its massive steel frame serves as the literal gateway to the North Shore, seemingly calling out, “Yes, you’ve made it, and yes, it’s just as incredible as you remember.”
You’ll find a handful of free charging stations around Duluth (and a couple hotels even have their own chargers for guests), but we opted to plug in at the Lake Avenue lot in Canal Park, where a massive array of solar panels powers nine EV chargers underneath.
We made a beeline to the Lakewalk for a stroll along the majestic Lake Superior shoreline. No matter how many times I gaze out at this beautiful body of water, its sea-like splendor never ceases to envelop me. We made it to the Lift Bridge just in time to see one of the big ships coming in, stopping to skip rocks on the beach almost intuitively.
Every time I’m in Duluth, I have to eat a wild rice burger. Specifically, the one at Fitger’s Brewhouse, about a mile up the Lakewalk from the Lift Bridge. As luck would have it, we were there during the Duluth Yacht Club’s weekly sailboat race, and we imagined what it would be like to be out there, looking in.
After dinner, we sauntered back to our hotel in Canal Park, cracked open the crowler from Moose Lake, and fell asleep smiling.
Day 2: Duluth to Grand Marais
We checked out shortly after breakfast and set the navigation due north on the 154-mile North Shore Scenic Drive. While Lake Superior is undeniably the star of the show, the roadside shops, artist studios, eight state parks, waterfalls and wildlife that dot this route are all big reasons why it's such a major draw.
Our first stop was downtown Two Harbors, where two free EV chargers are tucked behind City Hall. It was here that we discovered the Lake County Historical Society’s trio of museums: the 3M Birthplace Museum; the Depot Museum, with trains dating back to the late 1800s on display outside; and the Light Station Museum, the centerpiece of which is a stately red brick building that's both a bed-and-breakfast and the oldest operating lighthouse on the North Shore.
The next 80-some miles are what make this route pure magic. Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, Palisade Head, the Superior Hiking Trail: The sheer beauty of these places takes your breath away, making you feel like you’re on the Pacific Coast or the Cote d’Azur rather than the Upper Midwest.
We grabbed some picnic provisions along the way—focaccia sandwiches from Lockport Market and Deli in Lutsen, and two slices of pie from Rustic Inn Cafe—and parked at one of the free charging stations at Tettegouche State Park. The 3-mile round-trip hike to High Falls was the perfect combination of challenging terrain and scenic views, eliciting just enough sweat to feel like we earned that pie.
Days 3 & 4: Grand Marais
While this trip was more about the journey than the destination, this particular destination is hard to top. Equal parts adventure and art, mountain town and harbor town, Grand Marais is an eclectic enclave that appeals to outdoorsy types and culture seekers alike. After hearing and reading about it for years, we couldn’t wait to experience it for ourselves.
We booked the top floor suite at The Inn at Croftville Road Cottages, about 2 miles north of downtown. In addition to the unobstructed view of Lake Superior from our living room, the property allows guests to charge their electric cars overnight, calling it “just a small contribution on our part to be good stewards of the Earth.”
That brand of eco-friendly hospitality followed us around Grand Marais, from the lake-caught fish and chips at Angry Trout Cafe; to the locally maintained Pincushion Mountain Trails; to the jewelry, wood crafts and fiber art made by area artists at the Cook County Market, held every Saturday outside the Whole Foods Co-Op. This town is full of so many charms and surprises, it’s no wonder most visitors never want to leave (present company included).
Alas, after two days of exploring, eating and relaxing, it was time to head home. On the way back to St. Paul, we stopped and charged at Gooseberry Falls State Park, then did the same in the recently revived Lincoln Park Craft District in Duluth, where lunch at OMC Smokehouse and dessert at Love Creamery left us longing for our next road trip—no gas required.
Erica Wacker is a Midwesterner through and through, growing up in Illinois, going to college in Wisconsin, and settling down in Minnesota. She loves to run, travel with her family, and go to concerts to relive her youth.
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