Exactly a year ago, I wrote my first Minnesota North Shore blog. So why another one? First of all, why not? For those of you who have never heard of Minnesota's North Shore, it's a magical place where people from all over the state (and country) vacation for the scenic drives, shore views, crisp clean air, freshwater fish meals, and incredible hiking. Even though the North Shore is a 4.5 hour drive from Minneapolis/St. Paul, there are so many great stops along the way for delicious food, Duluth Pack, hiking and scenic photos.
Mostly, another blog is necessary because I'm confident that Tristin and I did our trip WAY better this year.
The catalyst for this trip being completely different was our choice of lodging and location. During all of our previous trips we stayed at Lutsen Resort, in the winter for snowboarding and in the summer for their amenities and free guided activities. While we loved all of our experiences there, we found ourselves driving 20 minutes to Grand Marais too often for food. The North Shore is a perfect outdoor adventure and we also wanted the option to bring our dog without paying a TON of money each night.
This year, we stayed in Grand Marais at East Bay Suites and it was one of my favorite hotel experiences ever. There, we enjoyed three beautiful days of: falling asleep and waking up to the sound of Lake Superior's crashing waves, seeing incredible Instagrammable Lake Superior coastline views from our balcony, and being steps away from the most perfect independent bookstore Drury Lane Books, and World's Best Donut Shop (no explanation needed). Because Grand Marais has a population of about 1,300, you can imagine that pretty much everywhere else in town is within walking distance.
- Eat dinner at Gunflint Tavern and get dranks on their new rooftop bar (#1 best dinner for our trip)
- Try the local food at Angry Trout, Blue Water Cafe and Sven and Ole's
- Try steamed cold press at Java Moose (it's an actual thing and it's delightful)
- Get geared up and ask trail questions at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply
- Shop for some cool, affordable art at Siverston Art Gallery
In Grand Marais, you too can go on a strict coffee, donut and fish diet.
Grand Marais is surrounded by some of the best hiking and lake views in the nation. Naturally, this trip we took full advantage and spent most of our time outdoor exploring.
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Gooseberry Falls State Park is really easy to like. It would be perplexing if you didn't. Located near Two Harbors, this park was perfect for a post-lunch stop and breaking up the last leg of the trip. Like most of the parks on the North Shore, Gooseberry is built around some pretty breathtaking water features. People of all ages can get up close and touch the waterfalls, wade in the shallow river, take a quick hike for a panoramic view of the falls, and end with a visit to Agate Beach. Words can't describe this place, but my photo album can. Click on a small thumbnail above (and for all of the other entries in this blog).
Grand Portage National Monument
I didn't know anything about this place before I saw the sign from the road and decided to turn in (screaming: NATIONAL MONUMENT!). In stumbling upon Grand Portage National Monument, we got to learn from volunteer interpreters all about the significance of the place and a bit about Native American life. If you're not familiar, Grand Portage served as the site for the Rendezvous where thousands upon thousands of fur traders from all over Canada and the Great Lakes would gather in August for a week or two to do some serious trading. Pretty cool, considering the rest of the year less than 50 people actually lived there.
Interpreters also enthusiastically showed us the birch canoes they used to on the Great Lakes to get to the Rendezvous, traders' buildings and what an Ojibwe village would have been like.
After all of this learning we took the short, but surprisingly tiresome hike up the Mount Rose Trail. Totally worth it because the Lake Superior views never get old.
We didn't go into the central building to see the history video, but I'm sure it is great.
Entrance to the National Monument is free! I hear they also serve some traditional snacks! Snacks!
Grand Portage State Park
Grand Portage State Park, not to be confused with the National Monument, lies on the border of Minnesota and Canada (a 40 minute drive from Grand Marais). When we first pulled into the parking lot we found ourselves in a sea of elderly people. Not really thinking much of it, we ventured to the falls realizing that the half mile paved path and boardwalk make the falls completely handicap accessible. If you're more adventurous, there are a few more unpaved trails that run alongside the river that are worth maybe not knowing where you're going.
If you're even more adventurous, there's another more wooded 4 mile trail that goes to the Middle Falls. The sign at the entrance to the trail said there were leaches and steep, rocky ascents. We blamed it on the dog that we couldn't do this one. Maybe next time. Or maybe NAH.
Judge C.R. Magney State Park
Do you like stairs? I mean, do you REALLY like stairs? Then this is your park. Judge C.R. Magney was the least developed of the parks we visited and saw the least amount of other visitors. Located just north of Grand Marais, this is a great last stop on your way back from Grand Portage.
Upon entering the park, visitors cross a bridge with a rushing river below and ascend slowly to a high view of the Devil's Kettle waterfall. Here's where the stairs come in. If you're not satisfied with that view (you probably won't be because the vegetation is overgrown) you can choose to descend more than 100 stairs to get up close to Devil's Kettle. And to get back, you have to do those stairs again. Can I say, snack time?
Was it worth the hundreds of stairs? Yeah. Even though this park didn't have the wow factor of some of the others, it makes up for it in tranquility and lush beauty. You definitely have to work a bit more to get to the park's focal point.
Cascade River State Park
Cascade River State Park is my absolute favorite Minnesota State Park (and I've been twice). It's rugged, not too busy, and has trails that run along the river, picturesque waterfalls, and hikes in varied terrain to choose from. With some resistance, Tristin agreed to take the 3 mile hike to Lookout Mountain. The trail hooks up with the Superior Hiking Trail and I'm convinced that I must hike the entire thing before I turn 30. The Lake Superior and the park views atop the mountain (see above) were majestic. Yep, majestic. Don't forget your water.
Have you been to Grand Marais? Tell me what you did in the comments!