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Head North: 8 Beautiful Outdoor Places to Visit on Minnesota’s North Shore

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Take in the incredible view of Lake Superior from Black Beach near Silver Bay / Paul Vincent

Head North: 8 Beautiful Outdoor Places to Visit on Minnesota’s North Shore

The key to traveling responsibly in 2021 is to embrace the great outdoors. As you look for close-to-home places to summer safely, Minnesota's North Shore stands out for its wide open spaces and abundant natural beauty.

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.

  1. Duluth's Canal Park lakewalk offers 4 charming miles of strolling
    Father playfully spins his son around by the arms in front of the Duluth lift bridge

    Father and son enjoy a playful moment in front of the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth / Paul Vincent

    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
    family at gooseberry falls state park two harbors

    Family at Gooseberry Falls State Park in Two Harbors / MN DNR

    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
    Split Rock Lighthouse looks out over Lake Superior at sunset

    Split Rock Lighthouse overlooking the North Shore of Lake Superior / Paul Vincent

    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 7-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
    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
    A family enjoys Grand Marais Folk School

    A family enjoys Grand Marais Folk School / Micah Kvidt

    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
    Green sky over pine trees on the Gunflint Trail

    Northern lights over the Gunflint Trail / David Johnson

    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 hikeswim or to simply take in the view. If you're lucky, you might even catch the northern lights. 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
    A charter fishing boat on Lake Superior in the Grand Marais harbor

    A charter fishing boat in the Grand Marais harbor on Lake Superior / Kevin Linden

    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
    Woman dances at Grand Portage annual powwow

    Native American woman dancing at the Grand Portage Annual Powwow and Rendezvous / Stephan Hoglund

    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 summer!