Visiting Minnesota’s North Shore (the BEST things to do + road trip itineraries!)

Planning to visit Minnesota’s North Shore? We’re sharing everything you need to know before you go, plus all of the best stops from Duluth to Grand Portage!

One of the BEST surprises during our travels in 2021 was Minnesota’s North Shore. We had heard incredible things about it beforehand from locals, but in our experience, this isn’t a region that many people outside of the Great Lakes talk about, so we weren’t 100% sure what to expect.

But we were blown away! During our week along the North Shore we visited many of the area’s must-see sights and hikes and quickly learned why this region is so beloved by Minnesotans and the neighboring states. 

With tons of green trees, rocky shoreline, a gorgeous lake that resembles an ocean, waterfalls, smaller towns, great local businesses, and so much more, Minnesota’s North Shore reminded us a ton of the Pacific Northwest, which is where we lived for 3 years and is our favorite place in the United States. So needless to say, this area brought us many happy, nostalgic emotions and stole our hearts as well.

Watch all of our adventures on Minnesota’s North Shore!

In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before visiting Minnesota’s North Shore, including where it is and how to get there, places to stay, what to know before you go, things to do along the shore, and some itinerary options. We hope that you enjoy this scenic roadway, as well as this region of Minnesota, as much as we did! 

LOOKING FOR MORE THINGS TO DO IN THE GREAT LAKE STATES?

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors. 

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Minnesota’s North Shore

Minnesota’s North Shore is a 150 mile stretch of land along the shore of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, running from Duluth in the south all the way up to the Canadian Border. Along the way, there are tons of state parks, short and long hikes (including the 310 mile Superior Trail), beaches, waterfalls, scenic overlooks, historic sites, rocky coastline and cliffs, and so much more. 

But beyond its beauty, this area is rich in history. The land along the North Shore has long been inhabited by Anishinaabe (also known as Chippewa or Ojibwe) Native Americans, who called Lake Superior “Gitchi-Gami, which means “Big Sea” or “Huge Water.” While much of their land has been taken by the United States, there is still a reservation on the North Shore called the Grand Portage Reservation, which gives visitors the chance to learn some of the important Native American history while in the area.

MN North Shore

The area was also a huge hub for iron mining, as well as fur trading, with a depot for the North West Company, as well as an 8.5 mile portage trail that helped enable voyageurs to transport goods through rougher terrain.

Today the area is much more developed, but still maintains a remote feeling, with many stretches with zero civilization (and sometimes zero cell service). But with tons of history to learn and beautiful nature to see, there is no shortage of adventures to be had on Minnesota’s North Shore!

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors. 

How to get to Minnesota’s North Shore

Duluth, MN

The most common starting point for the North Shore is Duluth, which is a cool port city along Lake Superior. We’ll share more about Duluth later on in this guide, but as the largest city along the North Shore, and with many lodging options and any amenities you may need, it’s the perfect place to begin your adventure.

However, Duluth isn’t necessarily the easiest place to get to in the United States. Being very far north, it’s a bit of a drive from most other cities and it also doesn’t have the largest of airports. But it is worth the trek! 

Here are your best options depending on the transportation method you’d like to take and where you’re coming from!

Flying to Minnesota’s North Shore

To get to Minnesota’s North Shore, the closest major airport is the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), which is about a 2.5 hour drive to Duluth. This airport has direct flights from all over the country, so it should be pretty easy to find a flight that works well for you.

Duluth does have its own airport, the Duluth International Airport (DLH), which is smaller than the Minneapolis Airport, but does have direct flights from Minneapolis, Chicago, Fort Myers, and Phoenix on Delta, United, and Sun Country Airlines.

You will need to rent a car to properly explore the North Shore, but any type of car would work fine!

Driving to Minnesota’s North Shore

As we mentioned above, Duluth is pretty far from most major US cities, but if you live in the Great Lakes or are planning to do a Great Lakes road trip, here is how far you can expect to drive to Duluth from nearby larger cities. 

Minneapolis, MN: 2.5 hours (154 miles)
Fargo, ND: 4.5 hours (239 miles)
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Marquette): 4 hours, 40 minutes (252 miles)
Green Bay, WI: 5 hours (331 miles)
Milwaukee, WI: 6 hours (396 miles)
Chicago, IL: 7 hours (468 miles)

Coming from Canada?

The North Shore goes all the way up to the Canadian border, so it’s a popular spot for both American and Canadian citizens to visit.

If you’re coming from Canada, the best Canadian airport to fly into would be Thunder Bay International Airport (YQT). This airport is about 40 minutes from the US/Canada border at Grand Portage. If you decide to fly into this airport, you’ll want to do all of the stops we’re listing below in reverse.

When to visit Minnesota’s North Shore

Minnesota’s North Shore is a year-round destination, depending on your interests and preferred weather. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect in each season! 

Winter
When you think of Minnesota, you may think of very cold winters. Minnesota’s North Shore often experiences single digit temperatures and can get anywhere from 70-80+ inches of snow per year…INSANE!

For most people wanting to visit the area (including us, who are wimps when it comes to super cold weather), this would not be the ideal time to explore, but for others, the winter brings more solitude along the North Shore, as well as some fun winter activities, like cross country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. 

Spring
Spring is when the temperatures start to rise a bit and the sun shines more, but there can still be snowstorms, so you never really know what you’re going to get. However, if you want to avoid the summer crowds and have slightly warmer weather than the winter, this is a great time to visit.

Some things to know about visiting in the spring is that trails can be a bit muddy due to melting snow and most trees will still be dead, which on the plus side means more open views, but also means it is slightly less scenic.

Honeymoon Bluff Gunflint Trail

Summer
Summer is the peak season for visiting the North Shore! The daytime temperatures will be a perfect 70-ish degrees, while the evenings will be a nice crisp, 50 degrees. There will be some nice sunshine and all trails will be fully accessible, but things will be a lot more crowded due to summer vacations and many locals wanting to enjoy the warmer weather after a cold winter.

We visited the North Shore in August 2021 and it was perfect! Although we had some gloomier days, we also experienced lots of sunshine and the temperatures were amazing. We did experience crowds, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as what we are used to in national parks and out west.

The downside of the summer on the North Shore is that the bugs can be bad, especially the more inland you go. We also experienced a lot of wildfire smoke during our visit, from fires out west, which is something we were not expecting. One tool we use to check fires and see where smoke is the thickest is AirNow, which helped us get a better idea of how long the smoke would damper the views.

Bean and Bear Lakes | Minnesota's North Shore

Fall
Fall is also a great time to visit the North Shore, as the weather is cooler, but not too cold and the trees in the mountains and shoreline burst with fall colors. Because of this, it can be a bit crowded, especially on the weekends. 

If you want to see fall foliage, the North Shore tends to peak around mid-September to mid-October, depending on where you want to visit and how inland you go. When we visited in August, we were starting to see some leaves change and we cannot imagine how gorgeous it would be at its peak! We definitely plan to visit in the fall next time.

For this guide we’ll be focusing on the summer and fall months, as that is when we visited and when the majority of the things to do on Minnesota’s North Shore are accessible. But we will be including some winter activities as well, just in case you find yourself that way then.

How long do you need to visit Minnesota’s North Shore?

While you can technically drive from Duluth to the Canadian Border along the North Shore in just under 3 hours, it would be pretty hard to resist making some stops along the way!

To fully explore the North Shore, we recommend giving yourself between 5-7 days. While you could spend less if you’re focusing on just one or two areas, having at least 5 days would give you time to drive the entire North Shore, plus enjoy the cities and towns along the way, go for hikes and explore the state parks, and relax a bit.

We spent a total of 4 days exploring the North Shore, but around a week actually in the area, and it was pretty jam packed, so we’d suggest spreading your activities out a bit more than we did.

We will include some itineraries towards the end of this guide for 5-7 days, which you could shorten or extend based on your preferences!

What to bring to Minnesota’s North Shore

High Falls Grand Portage State Park

Since most of the best things to do on Minnesota’s North Shore include outdoor activities, you’ll want to bring plenty of outdoor gear and clothing. To see everything we take hiking, including some of our clothing items, check out our hiking gear

But for the North Shore, we have a few additional items we want to suggest that you bring with you.

Passport

While we’re not including any stops in Canada on this guide, the North Shore ends at the Canadian Border, so if you want to continue on and explore part of Canada (or are coming from Canada), make sure to pack your passport and any required COVID documentation. During our visit, the border was still closed, but we would’ve loved to have hopped over!

America the Beautiful Pass

If you plan to visit Isle Royale National Park while on Minnesota’s North Shore or hop over to Voyageurs National Park, don’t forget your America the Beautiful pass! If you do not have this pass already, we highly recommend it if you enjoy the national parks. It is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.

Bear Canister

If you plan to camp while on the North Shore, especially in the backcountry, make sure to bring proper food storage, like a bear canister. There are black bears on the North Shore and we actually ran into one while on a hike!

Additional tips + things to know before visiting Minnesota’s North Shore

Grand Marais Best Western Plus Superior Inn

Get a state park pass (if applicable)

Minnesota’s North Shore is home to quite a few state parks and many of our suggested things to do will include these parks. If you plan to visit more than 5 parks while in Minnesota (whether on the North Shore or elsewhere in the state), we suggest getting the annual state park pass, which is $35 and is good for one year at any state park in Minnesota. Each park is typically $7, so after 5 parks, this is a good way to save money.

However, there are a couple ways to avoid having to pay for every park. For visitors, if you pay for one park for the day, you can get into any others that day for free. And since there are many state parks on the North Shore, with many close together, you will likely visit more than one in a day. So keep that in mind when deciding if a state park pass makes sense for you.

For those who live in Minnesota, some libraries offer 7-day park passes that you can check out for free! The initiative (which runs through June 2022) is designed to help people experience the parks without the financial barrier of an entry fee. Check here to see if a library near you offers this.

Central Time Zone

This may be obvious, but Minnesota is located in the Central Time Zone. During our visit across North Dakota and through the Great Lakes we encountered three different time zones, so we wanted to mention this just in case you’ll be on a longer road trip as well.

Download offline maps

Cell service can be nonexistent in parts of the North Shore, so make sure to download offline Google Maps for the area, as well as offline maps for any trails you wish to hike on AllTrails. 

Almost everything is dog friendly

Minus the Grand Portage National Monument, Isle Royale National Park, indoor attractions, as well as some restaurants and coffee shops, almost everything on this guide is dog friendly! So if you want to bring your pup along, you can easily find ways to include them in many activities. Kona got to enjoy so many trails with us on Minnesota’s North Shore and LOVED getting to “eat” the waves at the beaches!

Lake Superior is ICE COLD!

Lake Superior is the coldest of the 5 Great Lakes, with the surface temperature only reaching about 68 degrees in the summer and MUCH colder the other times of the year. So be prepared to be very cold if you want to go for a dip!

The trails have LOTS of stairs

One thing that surprised us about Minnesota’s North Shore was how many stairs the trails had. We joked that they call Minnesota “the land of 10,000 lakes,” but that it should instead be called “the land of 10,000 stairs.” While many trails are short and not too hard, if you have difficulty with steps, just be aware that most trails include them.

Start early

If visiting in the summer or fall, starting early is key to getting parking at some locations, as well as enjoying them with some solitude. While we didn’t find the crowds to be horrendous compared to other places we have visited, starting around sunrise gave us the chance to experience many popular spots all to ourselves.

Where to stay on Minnesota’s North Shore

While there are many different places you could stay along Minnesota’s North Shore, for this guide (and our suggested itineraries at the end), we suggest staying in Duluth (at the beginning of your trip) and then Grand Marais (for your time more north on the shore).

This will prevent you from hopping around too much night to night and will give you a good basecamp for adventure. Here are some suggested lodging options for each destination! 

Duluth

Hotels

Airbnbs

Duluth Makers Loft (Studio, 1 bathroom): This loft is located above the Bailey Builds storefront, which is a local shop with locally made products, plus their own wooden mosaics. This Airbnb has everything you need, including a kitchen, plus fun features like a hammock!

Walkable Urban Studio (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This Airbnb is located right by the lake and features local art on the wall, which you can actually buy from the Airbnb, with all proceeds supporting the artist. We think this is SO cool!

923 Flats (Studio, 1 bathroom): This Airbnb is in a former motel, which has been renovated into super nice flats!

Condo steps away from Lake Superior/Canal Park (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms): This condo is SO beautiful, with brick walls, exposed beams, and industrial finishes. It is a bit pricey, but it can sleep 7, so it’s great for groups.

Historic Architecture + Modern Design (3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): While technically not in Duluth, but in Superior, Wisconsin (just across the bridge from Duluth), this apartment is a good option for groups or families.

Camping

If you’re in an RV or van like us, here are a couple campground options while in Duluth:

During our time in Duluth, we boondocked at the Cloquet Walmart and didn’t have any issues.

Grand Marais

Hotels

  • Best Western Plus Superior Inn: We stayed here for a couple nights and it was great! The hotel is walking distance to town and right on the water, so if it’s warm, you have a nice beach to lay out on.
  • East Bay Suites
  • The Mayhew Inn
  • Gunflint Lodge: This lodge is located on the Gunflint Trail and is 1 hour north of Grand Marais, but if you want to enjoy this area for a night or two, this is a great place to stay.

Airbnbs

  • The Harbor Home (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This bungalow is walking distance to town and even offers bikes to use!
  • Mökki: Dovetail Log Cabin (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This cabin is super unique, with cool design features and character. And it’s right by town!
  • Mökki: Birdhouse (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This A-frame is super cool and offers some nice features, like a soaking tub. 
  • The Lighthouse (Studio, 1 bathroom): This very unique studio is designed like the Grand Marais lighthouse! It includes a lighthouse light you can control, a sauna, plus a balcony with amazing views.
  • The Aurora (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): Wow, this place belongs in a magazine (and it actually was featured in one)! The design is very modern, with lots of wood elements, large windows, and a patio.

Camping

If you want a more nature-filled stay while in Grand Marais, here are some campgrounds, which can accommodate tents and also RVs!

During our time on the North Shore, we camped at Ryden’s Border Store for a couple nights, which is located right by the Canadian border. It’s just a gas station and convenience store, but they offer a place to park overnight for $10, with electric and water hookups, which is a killer deal. If you park closest to the gas station, you can also pick up the wifi!

The best things to do on Minnesota’s North Shore

There are so many things to do on Minnesota’s North Shore and this list below, while not inclusive of everything there is to do, is full of our favorite stops that we made, plus some spots we wanted to check out, but ran out of time.

We’re listing these stops in order from south to north, including hikes, parks, roadside stops, and places to eat. We hope this gives you a good idea of what to see while on the North Shore!

Duluth

Duluth is located along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border and is the largest port city on Lake Superior, as well as the fourth largest city in Minnesota. We visited Duluth on a very foggy, rainy day and it reminded us a lot of a smaller version of Seattle, before Seattle got very popular, with its industrial style buildings, craftsman homes, location on the water, moody weather, and the hills that are right behind downtown. So it’s safe to say that even with less than ideal weather, we really enjoyed it!

There is tons to see and do in this medium-sized town and here are some of our suggestions!

Things to do in Duluth

Canal Park
Being a port city, Duluth has a lot of shipping history, starting in the 1800s when it became a mid-continent transportation hub, with cargoes full of lumber, grain, coal, and iron ore, as well as people, such as immigrants and businessmen. The canal opened in 1871 and today is still a working canal, as well as home to Canal Park, a popular tourist area on the water that is fun to walk around.

At Canal Park you can find the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, the 1905 Corps of Engineers Building, restaurants, shops, and it’s where you can see Duluth’s iconic Aerial Lift Bridge. 

Aerial lift bridge
One of the top sights in Duluth and at Canal Park is the Aerial Lift Bridge, which was completed in the early 1900s and actually started with a suspended gondola that would go across, carrying people and vehicles, but in 1929, it transformed to have a road that went across instead.

Today it still raises for ships entering the harbor basin from Lake Superior and watching the ships come through is a very popular thing to do while in Duluth. You can see a schedule online of when ships are coming through, including what type of ship they are and what year they are. 

Unfortunately no ships were coming through during our visit, but the bridge is pretty cool to walk across!

Lake Superior Marine Museum
Also located at Canal Park is the Lake Superior Marine Museum, which has a FREE museum that shares the maritime history of the lake and the important role Duluth Harbor played in shaping the early American steel industry, as well as Midwestern cargo transport across the globe. 

We found this museum to be super interesting and despite it not being huge, there is a lot to learn and see! Before visiting, make sure to check their current hours and dates open here, which may vary by season.

Duluth, MN

Enger Park + Tower
Enger Park is located southwest of Canal Park and downtown Duluth and is a beautiful natural escape within the city. The park is home to different trails, a Japanese Garden, so many gorgeous flowers, and Enger Tower, which is an 80-foot, five-story stone observation tower that has views of Duluth at the top.

The park and tower are both named after Bert Enger, a furniture dealer who willed two-thirds of his estate to the city of Duluth for the development of a lookout tower and beautified grounds for tourists to enjoy.

And fun fact: the tower has been visited by royalty multiple times! The first time was in June 1939, when Crown Prince Olav and Princess Martha of Norway arrived in the park to formally dedicate Enger Tower in memory of Bert Enger. And the second time was in 2011 when King Harald V of Norway and Queen Sonja came to celebrate restorative repairs. 

Although we visited on a super foggy day, we got to see some of the views from the top for a second before fog rolled back in. We imagine it’s beautiful on a clear day!

Minnesota Point
Minnesota Point, which is also known as Park Point, is a 7 mile, narrow sand spit that extends out from Canal Park, separating Lake Superior from Superior Bay and the Duluth Harbor Basin.

This area is full of many homes, but also some parks and beaches to enjoy. As we have mentioned above, the weather wasn’t very beachy during our visit, but we imagine on a nice summer day this is a great place to be!

Glensheen Mansion
The Glensheen Mansion is a 39 room mansion, as well as grounds on the shore of Lake Superior that includes gardens and a bridge, which was built by Chester and Clara Congdon in the early 1900s. The Congdons were a prominent family in the area known for iron mining, as well as for providing land for public use, like the North Shore Scenic Highway and Congdon Park.

In 1979, the mansion was donated to the University of Minnesota Duluth and turned into a museum, which still has original items from the Congdon family. It costs $20+ per adult to visit, depending on the tour you choose.

Jay Cooke State Park
Located just 20 minutes from downtown Duluth is Jay Cooke State Park, which includes a forest, the St. Louis River, rocky terrain, a suspension bridge, waterfalls, and trails. This is a popular park to visit in both the winter, for cross country skiing, as well as in the summer for hiking.

A couple popular trails to check out are the Silver Creek Trail (3.4 miles, 291 feet of elevation gain) and the Carlton and Thomson Trail Loop (6.5 miles, 390 feet of elevation gain), or do a combination of them both!

Places to eat in Duluth

During our visit, we ate at a couple local spots, which we loved and highly recommend!

OMC Smokehouse
We are always skeptical when we try BBQ outside of the hot spots like Texas and the rest of the south, but OMC Smokehouse (which stands for Oink Moo Cluck) could hang with the big boys in Texas, according to Adam.

The brisket was deliciously moist and had a ton of flavor, the ribs were dynamite, and all the sides were excellent as well. Our waiter told us that the owners (who also own Duluth Grill) did a large BBQ tour to major BBQ destinations and brought what they learned back to their restaurant and it’s safe to say they put their knowledge to good use!

Love Creamery
Love Creamery is a local ice cream shop with two locations, Canal Park and Lincoln Park. The Lincoln Park location is across the street from OMC Smokehouse and we may or may not have visited both locations one day. Their handcrafted ice cream is made with local ingredients and every flavor is super creamy and delicious. We recommend getting the flight, which comes in a cute egg carton, so you can try multiple flavors!

A few other great places to eat in Duluth, from some locals suggestions are: Northern Waters Smokehaus, Va Bene, Duluth Grill, Pizza Luce (a Minnesota chain), Dovetail Cafe, New Scenic Cafe (tucked outside of town with a garden and some lake views), Vikre Distillery, and The PortLand Malt Shoppe.

Two Harbors

Betty's Pies on MN North Shore

Two Harbors is a small town located about 30 minutes up the lakeshore from Duluth and has a couple great dining establishments to stop at along your drive, including a very iconic place for pie!

Cedar Coffee Company
Cedar Coffee Company is tucked into the woods, with a wonderful outdoor seating area, plus delicious coffee and some food items!

Betty’s Pies
When people found out we were visiting the North Shore, we got so many recommendations for Betty’s Pies! Betty’s Pie started in 1956 when Betty’s father Aleck built a fish shack on Highway 61. Betty thought it would be nice to have some goodies for the fisherman, so she made donuts and coffee for them, which over time evolved into hamburgers and hot dogs. In 1958, Betty turned the old fish stand into a cafe and added pies to the menu. Over time, the cafe expanded, as has the pie menu, and it has become a North Shore Institution.

We hear they run out of specific pie flavors, so go early to ensure you have your pick! When we visited, we got the Butterfinger Pie and the Great Lakes Crunch Pie, which has 5 fruits (apple, blueberry, rhubarb, strawberry, and raspberry) which signify the 5 Great Lakes. We loved both pies so much!

Rustic Inn Cafe
While Betty’s Pies may be the popular pie spot among tourists, many locals say that Rustic Inn Cafe has even better pie. While we cannot speak to this first hand, we did have some of their pie in a Love Creamery flavor and can confirm the bites we had were delicious. We suggest grabbing a couple slices from both and seeing which you prefer!

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Photo by Cody Otto on Unsplash

Gooseberry Falls State Park is said to be one of the most popular state parks not only on the North Shore, but in Minnesota as a whole. This park is home to the famous Gooseberry Falls, which flows over basalt rock formed by lava over a billion years ago. You can see the upper, middle, and lower Gooseberry Falls on a short walk from the Visitor Center (this map is helpful to see the different areas of the park and trails).

But there are also other areas to explore as well! One popular, longer trail to hike is the Fifth Falls and Superior Hiking Trail Loop, which is 3 miles and takes you by Gooseberry Falls, as well as to Fifth Falls. Another trail is the Gitchi Gummi Trail, which is 2.2 miles and has views overlooking Lake Superior.

Pink Beach (Iona’s Beach)

For a unique experience, head to Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area, which is home to a pink beach! This 300 yard crescent shaped beach is made up of smooth, pink rocks, which are a result of the crazy waves of Lake Superior crashing onto pink rhyolite and felsite bedrock that make up the cliffside. And when the waves crash on the rocks on the beach, it is said they sing a little song!

While not a sandy beach, it’s still a great place to bring a chair, a book, and some snacks, while enjoying Lake Superior. However, it can be a bit tricky to get to. There are two parking lots, and if you park in the first lot, you can follow a trail to the main beach.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Split Rock Lighthouse | MN North Shore

Split Rock Lighthouse is an iconic spot on the North Shore and is a must-visit in our opinion!

Lake Superior is known for some pretty stormy waters and in November 1905, a rough storm damaged 29 ships, some of which were U.S. Steel ships that carried ore. This disaster created the need for a new lighthouse, and in 1910, the Split Rock Lighthouse was completed. 

This lighthouse sits on a 130 foot tall cliff and with its light range of 22 miles, it now helps guide ships and keep them safe. 

There are a couple ways to visit this park and see the lighthouse. While the lighthouse is in a state park, the lighthouse itself is managed by the Minnesota Historical Society and has separate fees to access the lighthouse and its grounds.

So if you’d like to visit the lighthouse by itself, you do not need to pay the state park entrance fee and will instead pay to visit the grounds, as well as go to the top. You can see the lighthouse’s schedule, plus current costs for different types of admission here.

But if you just want to see the lighthouse from the lakeshore, which is a great photo op and what we did, you will need to pay the state park entrance fee, unless you have paid this for another park that day or have the state parks pass. This is the cheaper way to see the lighthouse, although you cannot go inside of it this way.

To see the lighthouse this way, we parked here and then walked down a pathway towards Pebble Beach and then walked to the left along the rocky lakeshore closer to the lighthouse to snap a photo of it. You can also add on the 3.5 mile Day Hill Loop to see more views of the lighthouse, as well as the lake.

Bean and Bear Lakes

One of the most popular longer hikes on the North Shore is Bean and Bear Lakes. This 6.5 mile trail, which gains 1,066 feet in elevation, takes you to overlooks of two gorgeous lakes, surrounded by trees for as far as the eye can see. You can even go down to the base of Bear Lake, which Kona loved splashing around in!

We did this hike in August and surprisingly it wasn’t that busy! We had the overlooks to ourselves, but did see more people on the hike down, as well as could hear people camping at the base of Bear Lake.

While the views on the hike were gorgeous in the summertime, we hear that it is even more stunning in the fall when the leaves turn bright yellow. We caught a glimpse of a few trees turning a bit early and we can only imagine how magical it would be during peak foliage.

Black Beach

We have been to black sand beaches in Hawaii, but did you know Minnesota is also home to a black beach? Located in Silver Bay, Black Beach gets its black “sand” (more like small rocks) color from taconite, which is a low grade iron ore that used to be dumped into the lake by local miners years ago. 

Thankfully this practice has stopped, but the beach maintains its black color, which is super unique and cool! 

One thing we thought was really nice about the beach is that there are many picnic tables on the beach, as well as fire rings, so it’s a great place to have a picnic and fire! 

Palisade Head

Palisade Head is a sheer rock cliff that rises 300 feet above Lake Superior and is a great, quick stop while driving along the North Shore.

To visit Palisade Head, you can drive up a narrow, steep road to a small parking lot. However, this road isn’t suitable for large vehicles and the parking lot does fill up, so for those in a large vehicle like ourselves, we parked at the bottom of the road and walked up. While steep at times and not scenic to walk the road, we were glad we did this, as we wouldn’t have been able to park at the top.

Once at the top, there are some overlooks to see Palisade Head and if you’re lucky, you can watch rock climbers go up and down it (so crazy)! 

Tettegouche State Park

Tettegouche State Park MN North Shore

Tettegouche State Park (pronounced Tet-uh-gooch) was one of our favorite stops along the North Shore! This park is home to waterfalls and some crazy views of Lake Superior.

There are a couple areas of this park and to start off your time, park by the visitor center (it’s free to park here) and hike the 1.2 mile Shovel Point Trail. This trail has multiple spots to see views of the rocky shoreline and lake, including some spots where you can hike down to the lake.

We visited on a cloudy day, with rough waves, and we were blown away as we watched the large waves (we hear they weren’t even that large compared to how it can get) crash against the rocky cliffs. Combine that view with all of the green trees and rolling hills in the distance and it really reminded us of being on the Oregon or Washington coast. We LOVED this hike!

After hiking to Shovel Point, we ventured to a different area of the park (you take the road by the visitor center and go underneath the highway) to hike to High Falls and Two Step Falls! We parked here and hiked to High Falls first, which included a suspension bridge and river views, before reaching the base of the gorgeous High Falls. It was pretty busy down there, but extremely picturesque.

Tettegouche State Park MN North Shore

Fun fact: High Falls (which is different from the High Falls we will mention later) is the tallest waterfall located 100% in Minnesota.

After High Falls, we backtracked the way we came and instead of going back to the parking lot, we went to see Two Step Falls, which required many stairs to get down to, but was way less busy.

Tettegouche State Park MN North Shore

We can’t find the exact route we did on AllTrails, but if you look at this map, towards the bottom of the first page, you can see the trails to both of these falls.

Temperance River State Park

Temperance River State Park is home to the Temperance River Gorge, which is a narrow crack that has a river rushing through it as it makes its way to Lake Superior.

To see a variety of scenery in the park, hike the Carlton Peak via Superior Hiking Trail, which is 7 miles and 1,250 feet of elevation gain (so not the easiest), but will take you by waterfalls, the gorge, and up to Carlton Peak, where you’ll have great views of Lake Superior.

Lutsen

Lutsen is a very small town along the North Shore, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer some big fun! 

Just north of town is Lutsen Mountain, which is said to be the only true mountain ski experience in the Midwest. In the winter, you can ski, snowboard, snow mobile, or go dog sledding nearby. In the summer you can ride the gondola or their alpine slide (we love alpine slides!). 

Before or after you hit the slopes, check out Fika Coffee for a caffeine boost!

Cascade River State Park

Similar to the other state parks in the area, Cascade River State Park is a beautiful park on the shore of Lake Superior, with waterfalls, a river, and other views to enjoy.

For a hike in the park, we suggest the Lookout Mountain Loop, which is a 3.2 mile double loop (610 feet of elevation gain) that takes you to the waterfalls, as well as Lookout Mountain, which overlooks the area.

Grand Marais

Grand Marais, MN North Shore

Grand Marais is the largest of the smaller towns along the North Shore and has a creative, artsy, and outdoorsy feel. We loved it here so much and we clearly aren’t the only ones, as it has been named America’s Coolest Small Town, a Top 10 Beach Getaway, and Next Great Adventure Town.

The town itself is really cute and walkable, has some great shops and local businesses, and with its location right on the water and proximity to many activities, you could stay busy here for many days!

Here is everything we suggest seeing and eating while in Grand Marais!

Things to do in Grand Marais

Artists Point
Artists Point is a peninsula that juts off into Lake Superior, right by downtown Grand Marais. It’s such a fun place to explore, with rocks to walk on along the lake, as well as a sea wall you can walk on to reach the Grand Marais Lighthouse, which was built in 1922. There are great views of Grand Marais and the harbor.

As the name may imply, it’s also a popular spot for painters, so keep your eyes open for artists at work!

Shop in town
If shopping is your thing, Grand Marais is home to many locally owned shops. We suggest checking out The Big Lake, Upstate MN, Drury Lane Books, and Gunflint Mercantile for sweet treats.

Pincushion Mountain 
Pincushion Mountain is located just behind Grand Marais and offers mountain biking trails, hiking trails (like this 4 mile round trip hike up the mountain!), or just enjoy the views from this overlook.

Gunflint Trail

Drive the Gunflint Trail
The Gunflint Trail is a 57 mile paved roadway and National Scenic Byway that begins in Grand Marais and ends at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, near the US border with Ontario. It’s said to be a great place to see wildlife and has some hikes along the way!

During our visit, we drove the entire road and while the road is mostly lined with trees, if you go off the main road a bit you can find lakes and fun hikes. We hiked up Honeymoon Bluff (0.4 miles), which had some amazing views of the lakes in the area, as well as Magnetic Rock (3 miles), which takes you to a rock that is magnetic. We didn’t believe it, but make sure to bring something magnetic to test it and prepare to have your mind blown! We also saw a beaver on this hike, which was really cool.

We drove this road and did these hikes in the afternoon on a weekday and didn’t encounter many people. It was so peaceful! We’d love to come back and spend a few nights at the Gunflint Lodge and just enjoy the many hikes and scenery in the area.

Canoe the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The BWCA Wilderness extends over 1,098,000 acres in size and has over 1,100 lakes and 1,200 miles of canoe routes. And many entry points for canoe trips are along the Gunflint Trail, making it the perfect place to start your adventure. 

While we haven’t gone canoeing in the BWCA Wilderness, it is very high up on our list for the future! There are many ways to explore this area and this BWCA Wilderness planning guide is extremely helpful and explains how to get permits, what to bring, and shows all of the entry points.

Note: you can do this in just a couple days, but it is recommended to spend at least 5 days in the BWCA Wilderness. 

Places to Eat in Grand Marais

Java Moose
Java Moose is a wonderful local coffee shop right across from the lake in downtown Grand Marais. We went here multiple times during our trip and LOVED the Maple Latte!

World’s Best Donuts
While we cannot confirm if World’s Best Donuts are in fact the world’s best (we still need to do more donut research), we can say that they are very tasty!

This spot has been family owned and operated since 1969 and is known for their cake donuts, which are everything you want in a cake donut…a little crisp outer layer with a moist and fluffy inside! They also have a unique item called Skizzles, which is a sweet, yeast dough stretched out and deep fried then covered in sugar! It’s about as big as your head!

Tip: you can order your donuts the day before to pick up the following morning and skip the line! Also, make sure to check their hours, as they are closed some days of the week!

Hungry Hippie Tacos
Tacos are our favorite, so we had to try tacos in Grand Marais! Hungry Hippie Tacos aren’t just regular tacos though, they are made with fry bread instead of regular tortillas (you can get regular tortillas though).

Fry bread is a Native American bread that originates from the Navajo Nation, when they were forced to make a 300-mile journey known as the “Long Walk” and relocate to New Mexico onto land that couldn’t easily support their traditional staples of vegetables and beans. To prevent the indigenous populations from starving, the government gave them canned goods as well as white flour, processed sugar and Lard, which they used to create this fried dough. 

Each fry bread taco is loaded with your choice of meat, cheese, lettuce, sour cream (get the chipotle sour cream!), corn, red onions, jalapenos, sauerkraut, and salsa. They are SO good! But what may have been even better than the tacos were totchos (tater tot nachos). We ate here twice as well, which is how you know we loved it!

A few other spots we heard good things about, but didn’t have the chance to try are Voyageur Brewing Company, Angry Trout Cafe, and Sydney’s Frozen Custard.

Judge C.R. Magney State Park

Devils Kettle Falls MN North Shore

We know we’ve mentioned quite a few state parks so far, but Judge C.R. Magney State Park is a little bit different from the rest, because for many years, its top attraction, Devil’s Kettle Falls, had a bit of a mystery behind it.

The river at the top of the falls splits into two at an outcropping of rhyolite, which is a hard, volcanic rock. And half of the water falls down like a waterfall does, but the other half vanishes into a hole and never pops out again.

Devils Kettle Falls MN North Shore

There were many theories on where the water goes, including that it continues underground to Lake Superior, but it turns out the water that goes into the hole simply reenters the river from underground, right below the kettle, and since it’s so powerful, you cannot tell.

The hike to Devil’s Kettle Falls is only 2 miles round trip, with just under 400 feet of elevation gain and features multiple waterfalls. It is 100% worth the short hike to see it!

Grand Portage National Monument

Grand Portage National Monument

The Grand Portage National Monument is an absolute must when on the North Shore! 

This FREE national monument shares the history of the Grand Portage Ojibwe Native Americans, whose land this is on, as well as the 8.5 mile portage trail. The trail contributed to the fur trade which enabled European expansion into the northwest and developed the international boundary between Canada and the US. 

Grand Portage National Monument

While here you can see a recreation of the headquarters from the North West Company, who came to the area to disrupt the monopoly on the fur trade by the Hudson’s Bay Company. They ended up dominating the North American fur trade by controlling 80% of it. There are quite a few buildings of the North West Company to explore, like a kitchen and the dining area.  

Grand Portage National Monument

You can also see an Ojibwe village and learn how the Ojibwe and North West Company worked together. There are workers wearing period pieces that will help explain all of the history as you walk through the different areas. It was extremely fascinating!

Grand Portage National Monument

Beyond the buildings and history, this national monument is also very scenic as it’s located right on the water and offers different hiking trails. For a short trail, hike up Mount Rose (1.2 miles), which overlooks the monument, as well as Lake Superior. We had started this hike, but not too far into it we ran into a BLACK BEAR (!!!) and decided to turn around since he appeared to be going the way we needed to go.

You can also hike the 8.5 mile (one way) Grand Portage Trail, which is what the voyageurs used to transport goods up to Fort Charlotte right on the Canadian border. You can camp overnight at Fort Charlotte with a free permit.

Mount Josephine

We hear that the hike up Mount Josephine has the best views on the North Shore! This 2.5 mile round trip trail gains 646 feet of elevation, which may not sound like a ton, but with the first 0.6 miles being flat and the last part being very uphill.

We had intended to hike up Mount Josephine, but the parking lot is tiny and is only able to fit 4 cars maximum. Since our van is huge, we didn’t feel comfortable parking there and risking blocking someone in or having someone hit it. So we skipped it this time, unfortunately.

Wayswaugoing Bay Overlook

MN North Shore

This roadside overlook is incredible! From the parking lot and the cool extended viewing platform you have gorgeous views of the Wayswaugoing Bay, Lake Superior, and the surrounding land. 

During our stop here it was pretty smoky, so the views weren’t as clear as normal, but even with smoke, it was well worth a quick stop and a good plan B since we couldn’t hike Mount Josephine!

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park is one of the most isolated national parks in the lower 48 and while technically in Michigan, it is located on Lake Superior and can be accessed from Grand Portage in Minnesota. 

To get to Isle Royale you have two main transportation options: a boat or a seaplane. You can view all of the route options here. Grand Portage is the closest area to the park and the fastest by boat (seaplanes will be faster from other areas), so if you plan to visit the park while on the North Shore, leaving from Grand Portage is a good option.

We have yet to make it to this park due to the logistics to get there and having Kona with us, but we will visit it someday! To find out everything to do on Isle Royale National Park, check out the NPS website.

Note: You can do a day trip to Isle Royale National Park, but camping overnight is a popular activity and a better way to see more of the island.

Grand Portage State Park

High Falls Grand Portage State Park

Last, but definitely not least (we’d argue it’s in the top 5 best sights on the North Shore) is Grand Portage State Park. This park is located right at the US/Canada Border and is home to the tallest waterfall in Minnesota, High Falls (also called Pigeon Falls), which is 120 feet tall.

We mentioned another High Falls earlier, which is the tallest waterfall 100% in Minnesota, but this High Falls is the tallest in Minnesota, although it is partially in Canada too!

The hike to High Falls is only about 1 mile and is pretty easy and oh so beautiful once you get to the viewing platforms to overlook the falls. During our visit, the falls weren’t raging, but still had a lot of water and were very impressive (and we’ve seen a lot of waterfalls on our adventures)!

Grand Portage State Park

After seeing High Falls, we suggest continuing to Middle Falls, which makes for a total hike of around 5 miles, with 767 feet of elevation gain. It’s definitely a lot steeper and rockier/rootier to get to Middle Falls, however, there is a quick detour around 1.4 miles in that has great views of the area, which is a good spot to stop and rest for a second. 

Once you get to Middle Falls, you’ll get to walk right along the riverside to see smaller falls at the top of the falls and go a bit further down the trail to see them plummet over the side. From the Middle Falls viewpoint you can see into Canada from here and it was pretty cool for us to see Canadians enjoying the views from the other side!

A couple things to note: this park is actually FREE! So if considering getting the state parks pass, keep in mind that you don’t have to pay for this one. Also, the water here contains giardia, so don’t let your pups get in!

Road Trip Itineraries for Minnesota’s North Shore

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and struggling to figure out how to organize your time on Minnesota’s North Shore, here are a few road trip itineraries to get you started!

5 Day Itinerary

Day 1

Spend the day exploring Duluth! We highly recommend visiting Canal Park and the Aerial Lift Bridge, Enger Tower, the Lake Superior Marine Museum, and eating at both OMC Smokehouse and Love Creamery.

Day 2

Leave Duluth early to start your drive up the North Shore! Along the way, grab coffee at Cedar Coffee Company and some pie at Betty’s Pies (you can also get breakfast there, but pie counts as breakfast too, right?!).

Spend the morning at Gooseberry Falls State Park, before heading to Pink Beach, Split Rock Lighthouse, Black Beach, and Palisade Head. All of these stops can be pretty quick depending on how much time you’d like to spend there. If you don’t have time for it all, don’t worry, you can revisit this area on Day 5!

After exploring, head to Grand Marais to stay for the next few nights!

Day 3

Spend the day in Grand Marais! We suggest starting with maple lattes at Java Moose and donuts from the World’s Best Donuts and enjoying them by the water. Make sure to head to Artists Bluff too!

For the afternoon, you could just hang around Grand Marais and walk around the shops and hang out at the beach. Or you could drive the Gunflint Trail and go for a couple hikes, like Honeymoon Bluff or Magnetic Rock. If you want to grab a picnic lunch for the day, head to the Whole Foods Co-op beforehand to get some food items.

After an afternoon of exploring, grab dinner at Hungry Hippie Tacos to end the day! 

Day 4

Leave Grand Marais early (you’ll be back that night!) for a day trip up to Grand Portage. Along the way, stop at Devil’s Kettle Falls (20 minutes from Grand Marais) for a quick hike to see the mysterious falls. 

Continue up the North Shore about 25 minutes to the Grand Portage National Monument. After spending a few hours walking through the buildings and learning the history of the area, continue up the North Shore to either Mount Josephine (if you have time and there is parking) or the Wayswaugoing Bay Overlook to see beautiful views of Lake Superior.

End the day at Grand Portage State Park to see High Falls, as well as hike to Middle Falls if you have time. And then head back to Grand Marais to rest for the night! 

Day 5

For your final day on the North Shore, you’ll be heading back to Duluth, with some stops along the way! And first up: hike the Bean and Bear Lakes Loop! We suggest doing this first because it can get busy and it’s nice to have solitude at the overlooks.

After your hike, head to Tettegouche State Park. We spent a few hours here and loved hiking to Shovel Point, High Falls, and Two Step Falls.

If you didn’t have time for some stops on Day 2, you can spend the rest of the day checking them out before heading back to Duluth!

6 Day Itinerary

Day 1

Follow the Day 1 itinerary from our “5 day itinerary”

Day 2

Follow the Day 2 itinerary from our “5 day itinerary”

Day 3

Follow the Day 3 itinerary from our “5 day itinerary”

Day 4

Follow the Day 4 itinerary from our “5 day itinerary”

Day 5

For Day 5, you have some options. You can either:

  • Go to the Lutsen Mountains area to ride the gondola and alpine slide
  • Spend more time on the Gunflint Trail 
  • Visit Cascade River State Park or Temperance River State Park (or both!)
  • Go to Isle Royale National Park for a day trip

Day 6

Follow the Day 5 itinerary from above and head back to Duluth, with stops along the way!

7 Day Itinerary

Day 1

Follow the Day 1 itinerary from our “5 day itinerary”

Day 2

Follow the Day 2 itinerary from our “5 day itinerary”

Day 3

Follow the Day 3 itinerary from our “5 day itinerary”

Day 4

Follow the Day 4 itinerary from our “5 day itinerary”

Days 5-6

For Days 5-6, you have some options. We suggest a combination of:

  • Go to the Lutsen Mountains area to ride the gondola and alpine slide
  • Spend more time on the Gunflint Trail 
  • Visit Cascade River State Park or Temperance River State Park (or both!)
  • Go to Isle Royale National Park for either a day trip or an overnight camping trip

Day 7

Follow the Day 5 itinerary from our “5 day itinerary” and head back to Duluth, with stops along the way!

Ready to experience Minnesota’s North Shore?

Pin or save this Minnesota North Shore road trip guide to help your planning!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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6 Comments

  1. Paul

    Lester Park in Duluth is like being in a State Park way up the Shore! Also Congdon Park!

    Reply
    • Kathryn Frazer

      Awesome, we will have to check them out next time. There is SO much to do up there!

      Reply
  2. Barb

    Wow! This guide is amazing….I’m from Duluth and I can safely say you definitely hit the highlights of this beautiful area. Great job! After eating at OMC, grab a beer at one or both of the breweries, either Bent Paddle or Ursa Minor. (These are all located close together in the Lincoln Park area.) Better yet, grab a table at Bent Paddle and order online from OMC..they’ll deliver right to your table.

    Reply
    • Kathryn Frazer

      We are always so happy to get a local’s approval! And thank you for sharing some brewery tips! As non drinkers, we don’t have first hand brewery knowledge to share, so we love when others can share their favorites!

      Reply
  3. Allie

    I have followed you for some time now via Youtube, but this is my first time coming to your site to check out your content and wow am I impressed. This trip guide has helped me plan an August trip. Thank you so much for providing such a wealth of knowledge and detail. I don’t know when you find the time for all this!

    Reply
    • Kathryn Frazer

      Hi Allie! We are so glad you found our site! We like to think it’s the extra helpful version of our videos and we are so happy this helped you plan an upcoming trip. Have a blast!

      Reply

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