The North Shore Minnesota scenic drive runs along the western banks of Lake Superior, tracing 150 miles of lakeshore between Duluth, Minnesota and the Canadian border (map).
The towns and state parks along this incredible highway will live amidst your favorite visual memories, as few places in the United States offer scenery as beautiful and remote. Teddy Rosevelt saw the rugged loveliness of these rivers and hills and held it sacrosanct. Over one hundred years later it is just as clear to us as it was to our conservationist president when he protected these magnificent lands.
Along North Shore Minnesota you’ll be treated to myriad waterfalls and towering cliffs, red pebbled beaches, charming towns and an abundance of wildlife. Access to Isle Royale National Park is found here, as is a popular ski resort at Lutsen and the inimitable Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Above all, Lake Superior reigns as the undisputed natural wonder of North Shore Minnesota. We cannot gush enough about how powerful and spectacular is this massive body of water.
This is our complete guide to one of the USA’s most resplendent scenic drives. In this article you will find the following things:
1. A Brief History
2. The Weather and When to Visit
3. The 12 Best Things to Do
4. Places to Eat
5. Towns to Visit
6. State Parks
7. RV Parks
8. A Brief Conclusion
Deluth Minnesota had a population of 14 families in January of 1869. By July of that same year the population grew to 3500 people. The reason was simple: Railroads.
North Shore Minnesota had three primary industries: Iron Ore, fishing, and lumber, but it was the iron that proved most lucrative. By the 1880’s iron ore was selling for $9.25/ton and businessmen were buying up miles of the Vermillion hillside.
In 1909 President Teddy Roosevelt protected 3 million acres of forest from development. Over time the government of Minnesota acquired the land and created 7 State Parks along the Minnesota North Shore.
The North Shore highway was built in the 1920’s as the fishing industry went into decline. Cabins and resorts once occupied by fishermen were bought by wealthy vacationers, and resort clubs bought land for sporting purposes. It was at this time North Shore Minnesota became more than a region of industry.
Late August is the best time of year with temps in the low-70’s and fewer bugs. September is good, too, although temps drop to the low 60’s on average.
Late-June through July is the worst time for mosquitos, but weather is pleasant.
Late-Spring is a beautiful time to visit. Temperatures avg. in the 50/60’s.
Winter months are below freezing with lows in the single digits. While a great time for epic Lake Superior showings, it’s also time for a long winter’s nap.
The list could go on much longer than this, but here’s a great start to your North Shore Minnesota road-trip vacation. These points of interest are located all along the scenic highway between Duluth and the Canadian Border.
Grand Marais is a lovely hamlet nestled between green hills and the shore of Lake Superior. Here you will find affable streets for shopping, red rock beaches, and an earthy spirit amongst the locals. The highlight of Grand Marais is a land spit shaped like a whale’s tail called Artist’s Point. The point is endlessly beautiful — especially at sunset — with dozens of facets to explore.
I’ve never seen anyone just walk into a waterfall this size — 30′ high and 100′ across — But that’s exactly what Monica did. The three waterfalls at Gooseberry Falls State Park are unimaginatively named upper, middle and lower (middle is the best). Be sure to saunter around the half-mile trail that encompasses all three waterfalls to catch all the views.
The largest island in Lake Superior is a place of isolation and wilderness. Along with its many shipwrecks, waterways, and hiking trails, the park also includes over 400 smaller islands. The longest recorded study of the relationship between wolves and moose has been conducted here for the past 65 years. Access to the park is found at the northernmost town of Grand Portage (map).
Split Rock State Park is one of the most popular stops along the North Shore Minnesota scenic drive. The lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States. Also in the park you will find hiking trails with hilltop views, black rock beaches, and picnic settings galore. Lighthouse tours are ticketed separately than State Park entrance fees.
The storied history of Minnesota’s north shore begins in Duluth. The city is quite beautiful, with beautiful buildings, churches, and homes on the hill above the SW corner of the lake. Our favorite part of the city is the Canal Park, where you will find an interesting aerial bridge, lighthouse, shopping and restaurants, and a wonderful maritime museum.
In the winter, Lutsen Mountain Resort is the primary ski resort on Minnesota’s north shore scenic drive with four alpine peaks. In the warmer months a day at Lutsen offers excellent hiking and a gondola ride to a mountain lodge. If you’re looking for bigger thrills, take the chair lift up to the Alpine Slide where you can hop on a sled and cruise down an exhilarating half-mile of twisting, turning track.
At the edge of Canada you will find the second most dramatic waterfall along North Shore Minnesota. The High Falls Overlook sits directly on the border — just swim across and enjoy some poutine and gravy, you’re so close! From the parking lot a ten minute paved trail gets you to the falls. The rest of the park is worth exploring, but there isn’t much else going on at the border.
One of the biggest views on the entire lakeshore is Palisade Head. The high point of the rocky headland is about 300 feet and you can walk right up to the edge of it. Palisade Head is located three miles north of Silver Beach. You’ll see a historical marker on the right side of the road when headed north.
Judge C.R. Magney State Park is best known for Devil’s Kettle Falls, an unusual multi-stage waterfall on the Brule River. The trail is a moderate 2-mile out-and-back route that crosses the river and observes other waterfalls along the trail. We recommend taking a picnic lunch to enjoy on the rocks at the top of the falls.
Temperance River Falls runs right underneath Highway 61 around the halfway point of North Shore Minnesota scenic drive. Parking is abundant on the side of the road. There is a three-mile hike associated with the waterfall, although it isn’t necessary to view the payoff — Just take the short scenic walk down the hillside from the parking lot.
Situated on a point that separates Agate Bay and Burlington Bay, Two Harbors Lighthouse has been guiding ships since 1892 (the oldest continuously operated lighthouse in the state). The lighthouse complex has remained relatively unchanged and is listed on the National Register of Historic places. Tours are available (link) and the lighthouse operates as a bed and breakfast as well.
In 2014, the city of Silver Bay negotiated with Northshore Mining for 30 acres of lakeshore property to be used as public beaches. Black Beach is known for the natural taconite sediment that gives a diamond like sparkle with black hue. Hike around the rocks to reveal beach after beach with offshore islands dotting the lake.
One of the most popular things to do in North Shore Minnesota is the canoeing or kayaking around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Folks spend several days to weeks portaging around this vast network of lakes that extends more than 150 miles along the Canadian border and covers more than 1 million acres. They say it is beautiful beyond belief. They say the stars at night are big and bright. We skipped our opportunity when we visited last year — When we return to this region it will be for the purpose of visiting this incredible wilderness.
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This is the largest town on North Shore Minnesota, sitting in the lower left corner of Lake Superior (map). Duluth continues working as a mining town to this day, yet has all the commerce of any large American town. The Canal Park is the primary draw for tourists, and nearby attractions include an aquarium, a scenic railroad, and a railroad museum. Another popular excursion is a tour of the storied Glensheen Mansion.
And if you’re an architecture geek, the Frank Lloyd Wright gas station is 20 miles west.
Looming lakeside in the town of Two Harbors are the dark, monolithic ore docs. We’ve never seen anything like it. They are massive beyond belief. The lighthouse museum is close by — if you see one and you’ll see the other.
The town of Two Harbors is small, yet adequate for necessary items and trinket shopping. We had fun milling around the stores for t-shirts and whatnot. Judy’s Cafe is the locals’ favorite diner.
When you approach Silver Bay from the south you’ll be greeted by an iron ore mining apparatus even larger than the one in Two Harbors. You can’t miss it, it’s along the side of the highway. The ingenuity of man is impressive.
We give the town of Silver Bay a pass because there isn’t anything here worth seeing. This is a mining town. Nearby Black Beach and Palisade Head are the allure of Silver Bay.
This is the most wonderful small town we’ve visited in the past two years. We covered Artist’s Point earlier, but again, it is a magic little milieu on the lake. Sven and Ole’s Pizza and World’s Best Donuts are here, as is Voyager Brewing Co, a modern restaurant with delicious food. The North House Folk School is it’s own peculiar thing — be sure to stop by. If you like to shop for souvenirs don’t skip Lake Superior Trading Post. Also accessed from Grand Marais is the Gunflint Trail.
Grand Portage is the last town on the North Shore Minnesota until you hit the border. Honestly, there is very little here. The Grand Portage National Monument is interesting. And you’ll catch the boat to Isle Royale National Park on the north end of the bay.
Humans gotta eat, and if you’re way up here you probably aren’t dipping back to Minneapolis for a bite. These are the best places we’ve dined on the North Shore of Minnesota.
A local favorite. So many flavors of pie and all of them spectacular. Also a full-menu restaurant. Be prepared to wait for a table at Betty’s Pies.
One of the most delicious donuts you’ll ever eat. World’s Best Donuts is in Grand Marais.
A slick brewery restaurant with sumptuous comfort appetizers, salads, and flatbread pizza.
Perhaps the most famous restaurant on the North Shore Minnesota scenic drive. Known for fine dining (menu) and a historical lodge.
Believe it or not, there are seven state parks along this 150 mile highway. The most common features of the parks are waterfalls and hiking trails.
The Gooseberry Falls waterfall is the star of the show and the most dramatic thing you’ll see on the North Shore of Minnesota.
The lighthouse tour and black rock beach with views of the lighthouse are the features here.
The highlights are the High Falls and Two-Step Falls waterfalls. Both had limited access when we visited. High Falls did not allow for a good viewing due to structural failure. Two-Step Falls you can see it in the photo below — I had to climb over a sketchy rock using a root system of a nearby tree, so …
Lake Benson is the main draw. Visitors enjoy walking the boardwalk around the lake, or fishing and canoeing on the waters.
Enjoy hiking riverside trails along the impressive Temperance River Gorge, and the wonderful waterfalls along side Highway 61.
The Cascades Lower Loop trail observes a series of five waterfalls. This state park has over a mile of Lake Superior waterfront trail.
Known for Devil’s Kettle Falls and trout fishing.
Home to Minnesota’s highest waterfall, the majestic High Falls. The park also has interpretive displays which provide an introduction to the culture and traditions of the Grand Portage Ojibwe people.
We spent 8 days along the North Shore of Minnesota in June of 2022. It was part of a larger roadtrip that lasted 9 weeks and included the likes of Chicago, Door County, Wisconsin Dells, Detroit (yikes, read this), Cleveland, and other stops in the Great Lakes region.
Along with Door County, Wisconsin, the Minnesota North Shore scenic drive were our favorite stops of the vacation. Especially Grand Marais! This is a beautiful and remote destination that isn’t widely known.
If you dare, try a polar plunge in Lake Superior’s 37 degree waters. We did this in Grand Marais. It was an unforgettable experience.
Our family will likely be back someday to explore the Boundary Waters and revisit Grand Marais. Perhaps we would even spend a few days camping on Isle Royale National Park, as a day trip isn’t enough to get the full experience.
There is a lot to explore in the land of 10,000 lakes. We hope you find the time to learn for yourselves.
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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