Spectacular Views Across Minnesota’s Scenic North Shore

Hiking dense forest trails, scouring rocky beaches and exploring quaint communities highlight a drive along Minnesota’s Scenic North Shore.

By Tim Trudell

Freelance Travel Writer

The 150-mile drive hugs Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border, just north of Grand Portage State Park. Along the way, see some of the most spectacular views of the United States.

Duluth is home to dozens of attractions, but staying true to the Scenic North Shore begins at Canal Park at the Inner Harbor, where people crowd the canal to watch as one of the last lift bridges in the United States rises to allow giant iron ore tankers to pass through to the docks or on to Lake Superior, navigating the Great Lakes to their next port.

With small towns dotting the landscape on Highway 61 – the North Shore’s official designation – stop at Two Harbors for an up-close look at Lake Superior. Walk a concrete path to the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater, where the view of the lake, often with boats and ships sailing, is breathtaking. While in town, visit the 3M Museum and learn the story behind Minnesota’s innovative company.

Hiking the river trails at Gooseberry Falls State Park includes picturesque views of tall trees and powerful waterfalls as visitors traverse the area’s lower, middle and upper falls. With five waterfalls, the Gooseberry River eventually flows into Lake Superior. As you hike the park’s trails, you’ll find reminders of the work completed as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps’ public works projects during the Great Depression.

Shining its light as a beacon of hope for ships on Lake Superior, Split Rock Lighthouse takes visitors on a walk through the history of the Great Lakes. Climb the steps to the top of the lighthouse, giving a firsthand view of how Split Rock warned tankers of treacherous rocks and shoreline. A trail takes you to the shoreline, where you’ll stand inches from the lake, offering an amazing view of Split Rock standing high above the water.

Forget your standard sandy beaches, the Scenic North Shore features colorful rocky beaches, such as the pink beach at Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area near Silver Bay. The rocks have a pink appearance because pink rhyolite chips are knocked off from cliffs by strong winds and wash ashore, giving the beach its bright color.

A few miles north is Black Beach, given its name because of dark pebbles on the shoreline. Just north of the beach, Palisade Head offers cliffside views of Lake Superior.

Tettegouche State Park is an excellent choice for hiking. With four trails to explore, you can enjoy spectacular views of Lake Superior along cliffside trails, as well as travel to a beach where the Baptism River joins the lake. Trails challenge each person’s skill level, from overnight camping to one that takes only an hour to complete. Whatever the choice, you’ll enjoy the hike.

Resembling a seaside village you might find in the northeast, Grand Marais is an artist’s dream, with majestic views of Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountains, complete with dense forests. Enjoy a walk along the breakwater to the edge of the water, bringing you a few feet above Lake Superior. Plein artists congregate at Artists Point, painting outstanding works featuring the lake and its surroundings.

A drive along the Gunflint Trail takes you into the heart of Superior National Forest, home to dozens of trails. The scenic byway ends 57 miles later at the boundary waters, a series of lakes separating the United States and Canada.

In the heart of Cook County, Lutsen is a nature lover’s dream. Lutsen Mountain is home to hiking during warm weather and downhill snow skiing during winter. Enjoy a ride on the gondola to the top of the mountain to begin a fun experience. Consider taking a ride during autumn with the forest’s trees creating a quilt of yellows, reds and browns.

Cascade River State Park features trails along a path among tall spruce trees and moss, leading to Lake Superior. You’ll often find people fly fishing in the shallow water.

Saving one of the best natural attractions in Minnesota for last, follow a trail to the 120-feet-tall water fall at Grand Portage State Park. Located on the Grand Portage Ojibwe reservation, the park’s visitors center recognizes the tribal nation’s influence in the area using traditional words for animals you may find in the park. A few miles south of the park is an overlook, which provides a beautiful view of Lake Superior and its shorelines.

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