Top Things to Do on Minnesota's North Shore
Adventures along Minnesota's North Shore
Minnesota's North Shore is a 154-mile stretch of waterfalls, mixed woods, rocky and pebbled shoreline, small towns that hang on to their heritage and, of course, commanding Lake Superior views. The North Shore Scenic Drive (State-61) runs 150 miles from Duluth at the southwestern tip of the lake to Grand Portage at the Canadian border. Along the way, visitors with even a teeny bit of adventure stirring inside them can't resist the eight state parks (including Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, left) or the Superior Hiking Trail. But the towns are remarkable, too.
Click ahead for some of our favorite experiences along the North Shore. Want to share yours? Add a comment below.
Duluth: Gateway to the North Shore
Visitors come in droves to this appealing bluff-side city of 87,000, the largest town along Minnesota's Lake Superior shoreline. Duluth is one of the Great Lakes' busiest ports, with 1,000-foot freighters chugging along the shore into the international harbor.
Start your exploration at Canal Park's waterfront attractions, including ship watching, the Aerial Lift Bridge, and shops and restaurants housed in carefully preserved buildings. If you're in town for a few days, it's well worth exploring the upper reaches of the Duluth residents know best, downtown and Victorian neighborhoods built by lumber and mining barons. (800) 438-5884; visitduluth.com
- Photo Courtesy of Visit Duluth
Aerial Lift Bridge and more
A major landmark in Duluth, the Aerial Lift Bridge was built in 1905 to carry passengers and vehicles in a gondola across a canal to Park Point. The bridge was upgraded in 1929-30 to its current design, which replaced the gondola with horizontal span that lifts to let a sailboat, tug or massive freighter pass underneath. The bridge takes about three minutes to rise, an event that occurs 25-30 times daily.
Get an up-close view of the bridge at the free Lake Superior Maritime Visitors Center, which offers a look at the lakes' shipping heritage, a map of shipwrecks and a schedule of the boats coming in. (218) 727-2497; lsmma.com Also in the area: Tour the giant William A. Irvin which carried iron ore and coal to Great Lakes ports from 1938 to the late 1970s. decc.org/william-a-irvin/ And check out the freshwater critters (gigantic sturgeon, otters, trout) at the two-story Great Lakes Aquarium. (218) 740-3474; glaquarium.org
- Copyright (c) Explore Minnesota Tourism Photo
Views from the lake and the cliffs
Located on the world's largest sandbar, Park Point Beach (pictured) stands east of Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge and facing Lake Superior. Visitors park their cars at the base of a big sand dune and clamber their way up and over it. (800) 657-3864; mnbeaches.org/beaches/lksuperior
For a bird's-eye view of the area, trek to Enger Park and Tower. Norwegian, Japanese and Minnesotan cultures combine in this recreation area, located in the highest point of Duluth. Explore themed gardens and climb the five-story tower.
- Photo Courtesy of Visit Duluth
Glensheen Historic Congdon Estate
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Duluth's booming lumber and iron ore industries created so much wealth that the area claimed to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation. Visit the 1908 Glensheen, The Historic Congdon Estate, built by one of Duluth's mining barons, located on seven beautifully landscaped acres along Lake Superior. (888) 454-4536; glensheen.org
60-Second Video: North Shore
Explore the beauty of Minnesota’s North Shore along the Lake Superior coast. See Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Lodge and Canal Park in Duluth along with five other locations.
- Photo by Tim Schandel, operations manager, Lake Superior Railroad Museum
North Shore Scenic Railroad
An 1890s train station in downtown Duluth now houses four museums and the North Shore Scenic Railroad. (218) 727-8025; northshorescenicrailroad.org Check out the collection of vintage railroad equipment and the early 1900s Depot Square at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, then take a narrated train ride to Two Harbors, with a two-hour layover for exploring before returning to Duluth. (800) 423-1273; lsrm.org
- Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Lake Superior Water Trail
If the lake view from the shore is impressive, imagine the shore view from the lake. Travel from Duluth to neighboring towns and parks all the way to the Canadian Border via sea kayak on the 150-mile-long Lake Superior Water Trail. Lake Superior's chop is best suited to experienced kayakers or beginners with guides. Lake Superior Water Trail
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
At Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, on Duluth's Skyline Parkway, tens of thousands of these birds of prey fly overhead during fall migration. Twenty raptor species have been spotted. Peak migration occurs from mid-September through October, when educators and volunteers are on hand to conduct programs and answer questions. (218) 428-6209; hawkridge.org
The Superior Hiking Trail
This premier hiking trail follows the ridge along Lake Superior for 235 miles from west of Two Harbors to the Canadian border. (Duluth has its own 42-mile stretch of the trail.) Trail maps and guidebooks are available through the Superior Hiking Trail Association. (218) 834-2700; shta.org
- Photo Courtesy of Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce
Two Harbors Light Station and Harbor Museum
Tour the only operating light station (locally known as Lighthouse Point) in the state, plus a restored turn-of-the-century assistant keeper's house, in Two Harbors, about 30 miles northeast of Duluth. (218) 834-4898; twoharborschamber.com
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Thirty-five miles north of Duluth, the Middle and Lower Falls of the Gooseberry River are some of the North Shore's most photographed spots. A pretty, accessible 1-mile hiking trail leads to the main waterfall (one of five). Gooseberry Falls State Park offers the North Shore's most comprehensive, interactive and modern state park visitor center. Don't miss the exhibit about the park's outstanding collection of Civilian Conservation Corps structures; they're a point of pride at Gooseberry. (218) 834-3855; www.mnstateparks.info
Split Rock Lighthouse
Northeast of the Gooseberry River and Two Harbors, this beautiful cliff-top beacon is the stuff of postcards. Split Rock Lighthouse is open for tours, with a visitors' center and trails winding through the surrounding Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. (218) 226-6372; dnr.state.mn.us
North of Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, six more state parks dot the North Shore from Silver Bay to the Canadian border: Tettegouche, George Crosby Manitou, Temperance River, Cascade River, Judge C.R. Magney and Grand Portage -- all loaded with waterfalls, forest trails and achingly beautiful Lake Superior views. northshorevisitor.com
Lutsen Mountains' Sawtooth Mountain Park
You don't need snow to experience the Sawtooths in Lutsen! Enjoy a leisurely ride to panoramic views of Lake Superior on the region's only mountain tram, take a ride down Eagle Mountain on an alpine slide, or hike to spectacular vistas of the Superior National Forest and the lake. (218) 663-7281; lutsen.com
What is it about a town with a lighthouse that makes it so appealing? The magic in this fishing-village-turned-artist-enclave extends to the galleries selling local artwork. Along the intimate harbor in Grand Marais, you'll find great little eateries, coffeehouses and shops. (888) 922-5000; grandmarais.com
North House Folk School
Grand Marais' North House Folk School teaches crafts such as basketry, boatbuilding and birch wood ski making. The nonprofit program offers more than 350 classes year-round in sessions that range from a few hours to a week. Students of all ages attend most classes in three historic timbered classrooms just steps from the community's wide, blue harbor. (218) 387-9762; northhouse.org
- Copyright NorthernImages.com
The Gunflint Trail
The two-lane Gunflint Trail highway winds 57 miles inland from Grand Marais to Saganaga Lake at the Canadian border. Originally a footpath, it's now a paved route that leads through forested terrain to lodges, outfitters and trails that provide access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. (800) 338-6932; gunflint-trail.com
- Photo Courtesy of the Grand Portage National Monument
Grand Portage National Monument
Near the Canadian border, Grand Portage National Monument's heritage center explores Ojibwa culture and the region's fur-trading past. Costumed park rangers share stories with visitors about the Native Americans and European traders who once lived and worked here. (About 30 miles northeast of Grand Marais on the coast.) Free. (218) 475-0123; nps.gov/grpo