The 150-mile northeasterly drive along Highway 61, from Duluth to the Canadian border, offers enough eye candy and coastal village charm for a weekend or more.
The North Shore of Lake Superior, where waves crash against jagged cliffs crowned with pine forests, and countless waterfalls tumble down to the great lake, yields some of the most rugged and dramatic scenery Minnesota has to offer.
It's a magical, captivating place that draws travelers from all stripes of life: from solo adventurers on a backcountry adventure, to couples indulging in a relaxing spa retreat, to kid-toting families on their annual road trips up the shore.
For lodging, choose a simple lakeside campsite, cabin or hotel room, or an elegant lodge with all the amenities.
Walk Duluth’s Lakeshore
The steep-hilled port town of Duluth, by far the largest on the route, is home to several hotels, restaurants and shopping complexes along Canal Park and the Lakewalk. The area offers extraordinary views of the lake, dotted with pleasure cruisers as well as huge ocean-going vessels carrying Minnesota iron ore and other goods.
Other great views await from the Enger Park tower, and hikes along the river in Lester Park on the northern edge of town. Duluth is also home to a strong craft beer scene, with Fitger’s Brewhouse, Bent Paddle Brewing Co., Canal Park Brewing Company and others serving up some of the state's best craft beers and pub grub.
Fishing charters operate out of the harbor here and along the shore. For great smoked fish, check out the Northern Smokehaus in Duluth, or Russ Kendall’s Smoke House along Scenic Highway 61 between Duluth and Two Harbors—the preferable route for its beautiful lake vistas and charming cafes and shops. Past Two Harbors, Betty’s Pies has been an icon for more than 60 years, and the Rustic Inn, a little further on, offers a wide range of excellent pies as part of an all-homemade menu.
Watch the Falling Water
Eight of Minnesota’s most beautiful state parks hug the banks of eight rivers along the North Shore, each with waterfalls thundering down to Superior. Hiking trails wind along pretty much all of the rivers. Many offer access to the magnificent 296-mile Superior Hiking Trail, running from Duluth to the Canadian border.
None of the many beaches along the North Shore are designated for swimming; however, many waterfalls have wide, calm pools below them that are perfect for wading in and cooling off, especially later in the summer when the water has warmed up a little. There are no lifeguards, so be cautious.
Just past Two Harbors, Gooseberry Falls State Park is the first and most visited park along the shore, with three sets of falls a short walk from the parking lot, and great views from a footbridge below the highway. Two Harbors is also home to Castle Danger Brewery’s new taproom.
Ten minutes up the shore, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park’s natural beauty and cart-in campsites stand in the shadow of Minnesota’s best-known lighthouse, a state historic site with tours, exhibits, and a film recounting the site’s history. Just past Silver Bay is Tettegouche State Park on the Baptism River, home to the highest waterfalls entirely within the state.
Another 35 miles up the shore in the town of Lutsen, Lutsen Mountains is known as a ski resort, but in the summer offers a thrilling half-mile Alpine Slide down the mountain and an aerial tramway ride to a vista 1,000 feet above the great lake.
Enjoy Coastal Village Charm
The charming village of Grand Marais is graced with numerous shops, restaurants, and wilderness outfitters serving the eastern entrance to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, via the Gunflint Trail. Highlights include the Grand Marais Art Colony with classes and exhibits, the Angry Trout Cafe, built out of an old fishing shanty, and the new Voyageur Brewing Company’s taproom. Artists' Point is a great spot for a memorable photo, especially for those ambitious enough to show up before sunrise.
At the spectacular falls of Judge C.R. Magney State Park, half of the Brule River plunges into an igneous rock formation called the Devil’s Kettle, where it seems to disappear.
Grand Portage State Park, where the Pigeon River forms the boundary between Canada and the U.S., offers a great view of Minnesota’s highest falls. A platform overlooking the awe-inspiring 100-foot cataract is an easy half-mile hike from the parking area. Uniquely, the parkland is owned by the Grand Portage Chippewa Indians, who lease the land to the state.
Nearby is Grand Portage National Monument, a living history center exploring the history of the area’s Ojibwe Indians and the North West Company of the North American fur trade. Rendezvous Days and Powwow is held there in August, with music, dancing, crafts and hands-on workshops.