Duluth – Minnesota, Autumn, Split Rock Lighthouse

If you’re planning a trip to the North Shore of Minnesota, you need to get your cardinal points right. While the destination is known as the North Shore, this is actually the west shore of Lake Superior. The people in Ontario are the residents of the real north shore. This region is also called the Arrowhead Region because it is the pointy corner of Minnesota. However, regardless of its position or name, Minnesota’s North Shore is a natural wonder and a beautiful destination for travelers who love the outdoors. It has 10-times more deer than people so it’s easy to imagine what to expect.

Lake Superior is the third largest freshwater lake in the world by volume and the largest lake in North America. You can be sure there is plenty to do and discover in this lovely part of Minnesota. This is the perfect destination for hikers, bikers, snowmobilers, and even surfers. You just need to set your priorities right, buy a compass, and follow north(ish)!

The shore stretches from Duluth along the lake of Grand Portage (145 miles) and the Canadian border (160 miles). If you decide to follow Highway 61, you will be driving along the National Scenic Byway, a superb route that unveils beautiful views and offers access to cute fishing towns and lovely sights, like Split Rock Lighthouse, Caribou Falls, and Palisade Head.

Start from Duluth

Most journeys of exploration of the North Shore start in Duluth. This is the fourth largest city in Minnesota and deserves at least a few hours of your time. You can even set your base here to discover the areas of Lakewalk and Canal Park. Tourists love to see ore boats heading into Duluth’s harbor, under Aerial Lift Bridge, and shop at DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace or visit the Marine Museum.

Whatever you choose to do in Duluth, make sure you include staying in line for delicious ice cream at PortLand Malt Shoppe. Some of Duluth’s great swimming places and superb ski trails await in the beautiful park of Lester River.

Don’t miss Two Harbors

Follow the scenic Highway 61 and don’t drive past Two Harbors. This is where you’ll see the only real lighthouse on the North Shore. The Lighthouse Point is now a B&B, so you can spend the night here and walk the beautiful Sonju Trail. Two Harbors is a lovely small town with plenty of small shops and restaurants and beautiful views of the lake.

Gooseberry Falls Middle Falls and Lower Falls in full flow
Gooseberry Falls Middle Falls and Lower Falls in full flow

Admire the Gooseberry Falls

Part of the Gooseberry Falls State Park, where it’s free to park, the Gooseberry Falls are worthy of your time. This is the most visited sight in the park, except for Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities, and the perfect spot for kids to clamber on the rocks and even swim in Lake Superior if the weather is nice. For a great swim spot, follow the river down to its mouth. You can visit the Upper, Middle, and Lower falls, to make sure you capture wonderful views.

Smiling next to a rocky background in North Minnesota
Smiling next to a rocky background in North Minnesota

Get your camera ready for Split Rock Lighthouse

Built in 1910 and operated until 1969, Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most iconic landmarks of the North Shore and a National Historic Landmark, so it’s almost a sacrilege to ignore it. Head to the bottom of the old tramway to get superb views of the lighthouse. If you want to do a tour, you’ll have the chance to also visit an exhibit center and watch a short film. Those who want to spend more time here can plan hiking trips in the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, where they’ll have access to many trails and a beautiful beach.

Palisade Head - North Shore, Minnesota
Palisade Head – North Shore, Minnesota

Follow the winding road to Palisade Head

The drive to this rock formation is steep but the views down are spectacular. Make sure to keep your eye for the sign to Palisade Head. It’s small and situated just north of Silver Bay, a quiet little town with a marina and a nice picnic area, and also the starting point for an 11-mile stretch of the famous Superior Hiking Trails that offers some of the most beautiful views of the North Shore. From Palisade Head you will capture superb views of Shovel Point.

Discover the waterfalls of Tettegouche State Park

Another beautiful park on the North Shore, Tettegouche is an amazing destination for outdoor sports like hiking, rock climbing or fishing. It is home to four waterfalls, including the High Falls of the Baptism River, the highest waterfall situated entirely within Minnesota, so you’ll have plenty of trails and great destinations to keep you fit. During the summer, visitors often relax on the beautiful beach on Lake Superior that can be found here. If you decide to walk to Shovel Point, you’ll discover glorious views of the region and Palisade Head.

Add Caribou Falls to the itinerary

Take the small wayside off of Highway 61 and head to Caribou Falls. Park your car and enjoy a 1-mile hike along the Caribou River that will take you face to face with the splendid Caribou Falls. It’s a beautiful place and a great excuse to stretch your legs and get out of your car.

Ski in the Lutsen Mountains

Lutsen is mostly known as a ski destination but it also offers plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails in the summer. The ski resort is home to one of the largest cross-country trail networks in the US, the largest alpine resort in the Midwest, and 450 miles of snowmobile trails. As you can see, it’s impossible to say no to a winter getaway here! If you’re visiting in summer, take the mountain tramway to the top of Moose Mountain and enjoy superb views of Lake Superior.

Be surprised by Grand Marais

Grand Marais is home to only 1,300 residents but it will blow your mind with the array of restaurants, independent shops, and activities available. This cute town is mostly famous for its harbor and lighthouse. Angry Trout, which you’ll find on the harbor, is often considered one of the best restaurants in Minnesota, while the local pebble beach in town is definitely one of the prettiest in the country. For amazing views of the lake, head to Voyageur Brewing Company, where you’ll be able to enjoy a beer while admiring the scenery from the outside deck.