Minnesota's North Shore Driving Tour | Midwest Living

Minnesota's North Shore Driving Tour

Fishermen and loggers arrived on the North Shore more than a century ago.


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Tettegouche State Park

Anglers, nature lovers and geology buffs all flock to this park. Hike a mile from the highway along the Baptism River to one of the highest waterfalls in the state. Another trail leads to rocky, windswept Shovel Point, jutting into Lake Superior. You can camp there, or reserve a cabin.

Drive 24 miles northeast, still following State-61.

Temperance River State Park

At this park, the Temperance River races through a craggy gorge on its way to Lake Superior. Two footbridges cross the ravine high above the roiling stream. You can camp in the park and fish in the stream, where the trout hopefully will be biting.

Hiking trails follow the river inland to rocky ledges - popular with rock climbers - that overlook the canyon below, as well as to Carlton Peak and the Superior Hiking Trail.

Drive 10 miles northeast on State-61. About seven miles north of the state park, follow Forest Road-336 north four miles to the Oberg Mountain and Leveaux trails, which take you to overlooks with sweeping views about 1,000 feet above Lake Superior.

Special fall-color detour: For a short off-the-beaten-track loop canopied in the vivid reds and oranges of maple trees, take the Sawbill Trail road (County-2) out of Tofte about five miles (the road turns to gravel after a couple of miles). Turn left on Forest Road-600, which travels another six miles before intersecting with Forest Road-343 (Temperance River Road), which loops back southeast about five miles to rejoin State-61 south of Tofte near the little town of Schroeder. Watch carefully for the road markers, and be on the lookout for wildlife along the route.


A handful of resorts makes up this community at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains. Lutsen Resort, Minnesota's oldest, has welcomed visitors along the lake for four generations. Today, the complex includes the redwood Swedish-style lodge - with its open-beamed lobby, guest rooms and lake-view dining room serving Swedish specialties - along with lakeside townhouses and log homes, and new log cabins in the woods beside the Poplar River.

Skiers flock to the Lutsen area in winter, but resorts cater to summer visitors as well. From Lutsen Mountains Recreation Area, you can take a scenic round-trip ride on the Lutsen Mountain Tram to Moose Mountain, the highest point along Lake Superior. At 1,100 feet above the lake, you can see for 100 miles on a clear day. Or swish down an alpine slide, go horseback riding from the stables or mountain biking on the trails.

You'll see the turn-off for the 27-hole championship Superior National golf course along the highway. If you play this course, beware! Views of Lake Superior, the Poplar River Valley and Sawtooth Mountains may distract you from your game.

Drive 10 miles northeast on State-61.

Cascade River State Park

What more could you ask for? At this 2,800-acre state park, which follows the shore for about 12 miles, a rushing river creates a series of waterfalls that stair-step down toward Lake Superior. When you stand on the park's footbridge, you can see five of the sparkling falls tumbling down the rocky gorge.

Amid the hilly terrain, 18 miles of trails wind along both sides of the river through birch and spruce forests. Hardy hikers and park campers take the path to the top of Moose and Lookout mountains, which rise above Lake Superior, for panoramic views of the entire valley awash with a rainbow of colors in fall. You can fish in the lake or the river.

Drive 8 miles northeast on State-61.

Grand Marais

Once a fishing village, Grand Marais has become the home of a thriving artists' colony. The town frames two natural harbors that bustle with pleasure boats in summer. You can go on fishing excursions and harbor tours with several charter companies.

Visitors stroll to specialty shops, galleries and restaurants - never far from the water. The harborside Trading Post, a two-story cedar structure, sells everything from local crafters' works to jackets and camping gear. The paintings, pottery, jewelry and sculpture of regional, Canadian and Alaskan artists fill the Sivertson Gallery in its spacious new downtown location. Paintings of pioneering area artist Anna C. Johnson highlight the Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery.

At Joynes quirky, old-time department store, a fixture in Grand Marais for more than 60 years, all the essentials pack the racks and shelves, from quality north-woods clothing and shoes to linens, postcards, toys, toiletries - even duct tape. Birchbark Books and Gifts stocks the best selection of regional authors' works anywhere along the shore.

Farther down the harborfront, the North House Folk School teaches and demonstrates traditional north-country skills such as boat-building, weaving, fly-tying, carving and timber-framing. The schooner Hjordis sails daily on two-hour excursions from the North House dock.

The Dockside Fish Market next door sells the fresh catch of the day, as well as smoked fish. You can stop for lunch at the Angry Trout, which resembles a weathered fishing hut almost right on the water. Local crafters created the cafe's log tables and chairs. From a hillside across the road, Birch Terrace, built as a lavish log mansion in 1898, serves tasty, traditional supper-club fare. You can often find live entertainment in the adjoining new lounge.

Sightseers stroll the breakwater that leads to a small lighthouse. Another trail takes you to a shelf of volcanic rock that edges the lake - a great spot for a picnic and watching freighters along the horizon. For a sweeping view of the town and harbor, make the easy one-mile climb to Sweetheart's Bluff, which rises at the edge of Grand Marais.

Drive 18 miles northeast on State-61.


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