Minnesota has a lot more to offer than just frozen winters and ice fishing. Specifically, it has what locals lovingly call “up north.” The North Shore of Lake Superior offers endless sights and recreation opportunities. Driving up State Highway 61 towards Canada is one long scenic overlook dotted with state park after state park. From forested hiking to Great Lakes sailing to quaint villages filled with dining and shopping, this area has everything a summer vacation could possibly want.
I was born and raised in Minnesota but I did not make the trek to the North Shore until I was in college. Ever since then Kenon and I have tried to get up there once a year, if not every other year. We have a list of favorite things to do but since there is seriously so much to do up there we easily mix it up every time we visit. This blog post is all about our favorite things along the North Shore of Lake Superior. They are listed in geographical order, from south to north along State Highway 61.
This map, courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration, shows the area of Minnesota that this blog post will cover. You can follow along with the drive by locating each spot on the map as you read. There are more stops on this map than I will mention but honestly just about every location is worth visiting. There are also some stops that are not on this map but I will do my best to give you an idea of where each one is in relation to other locations.
This is my favorite place to stop on the North Shore because I loooooove pie. They have so many varieties, from fruit to cream. Stop early, though. By supper time the pie selection has diminished immensely. Betty’s Pies is located in Two Harbors and is the perfect first stop for a long day of sight-seeing.
One time Kenon and I stopped for breakfast. We each got the Eggs Benedict and it ended up being one of the best we have ever had! And of course, we each ordered a slice of pie – how often do you get dessert with breakfast? At Betty’s it’s just normal!
Split Rock Lighthouse
Split Rock Lighthouse is the icon of the North Shore. It is a historical monument, a state park, and, though it is no longer active, a beacon to all visitors welcoming them to the North Shore. You can get the full Split Rock experience by visiting the state park. There is an admission fee but you get a guided historical tour and this is the closest you can get to the lighthouse.
If you are short on time, want to do something free, or simply do not like historical tours, you can view the lighthouse from Pebble Beach, about a mile south on State Highway 61 from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. After parking at Pebble Beach, follow the trail north for less than 1/4 mile and then follow offshoots of the trail towards the shore. This offers a brilliant view of the majestic lighthouse.
Silver Bay Marina
Kenon loves many things about the North Shore but Silver Bay Marina is his most talked about and most suggested. There isn’t much to it – it is a giant pile of rocks, stretched out into a breaker wall that ends in a cliff-like island jutting out of Lake Superior. Hiking across the boulders is an adventure in itself. Up and down, over and around with Lake Superior splashing on both sides and underneath you.
The real fun, though, starts when you get to the island. The first time we took Kenon’s parents, his mom asked, “Is there even a way to get up once we get there?” Kenon replied with an offhand, “Yes.” And we all continued on our way. Well, the way to get up is actually a log leaned against the cliff with a couple of questionable ropes tied somewhere above. “Kenon! You said there was a way to get up!” His mom worried while looking at the fraying rope.
“In all fairness, you never asked if it was an easy way,” I chimed in. Fair is fair and everyone recognized it. No worries, though, because we did get everyone up (and back down) that cliff! We put our trust more on the log, using the rope only as balance, and it all worked out.
Kenon likes to go out to the island to cliff jump. The waves and currents can be treacherous for most of the year, so he has not been able to accomplish this very often. The occasions when conditions have lined up, though, has earned this a top spot on Kenon’s favorite cliff jumps list.
Whether you make it all the way to the island, whether you are able to cliff jump or not, Silver Bay Marina offers a unique experience and perspective of Lake Superior.
This is a new-to-us location we found just this year. Just a few minutes north of Silver Bay is this unique little beach. The beach is created from years of the iron mill dumping taconite tailings into the water. This went on until fed up fisherman finally put a stop to it. As time went on, the taconite found its way to the beach and created what we now have today. A few years ago, an organization took it upon themselves to clean up the beach and add picnic tables and fire rings.
The beach is easy to find from Google Maps. It has a parking area with a bathroom. The beach is outfitted with clean picnic tables, complete with fire rings. It is also perfect for swimming! We made more use of the fire ring than the swimming because even though we went at the end of June the fog rolled in and made the beach frigid. With a nice driftwood fire going it actually ended up being the perfect day!
This is another Kenon favorite. Palisade Head is literally just a cliff overlooking Lake Superior. It is grand, though! The water at the foot of the cliff is so blue and clear it almost looks like the Caribbean.
Palisade also boasts some wonderful rock climbing. Read about it here. You have to have trad gear and set up your route from the top, rappel down to the water, and climb back up. If you are a climber, this is a must-do!
Tettegouche State Park
Tettegouche is another new-to-us place that we both thought we had visited before but it turns out we hadn’t. The trails here range from easy to moderate. There are A LOT of stairs to conquer – they go up and down both ways since you decrease and then increase in elevation before reaching the end of the trail.
We did the Cascades Falls trail, which is about 3 miles round trip depending on where you park. This trail is so fun because it ends in a swinging bridge. To get the most out of this park, stop at the visitor’s center, tell them how much time you have and give them an idea of what you want to see, and let them help you plan your hike.
Temperance River State Park
Temperance River might be my favorite hiking stop along the North Shore. The name itself evokes images of peace and refreshment. The park delivers these in spades. The main trail in TRSP is actually part of the Superior Hiking Trail and runs right along the canyon, offering dramatic cliff and river views. We usually only hike about 1.5 miles and end where the canyon becomes less dramatic and the trail begins to meander away from the river.
The hike is easy and the views are brilliant. You can also walk across the street from the parking area and follow a trail down to the shore of Lake Superior. If you continue walking, you will find a picnic area right on the shore.
So much goodness about Grand Marais, it got its own post. Read it here. Grand Marais is kind of the gateway, the place to stay, for all of this North Shore goodness.
Kadence River Hike
Kenon’s mom describes this one as one of the best experiences she has ever had. For the Kadence River Hike you literally hike in the river for about a mile-and-a-half. There are four waterfall obstacles to get over. The waterfalls can be quite tricky, especially if the river is high and flowing fast, so definitely choose your time frame carefully. Read a route description here.
We went the last weekend in June and brought a large group, ranging in age from 5 to 55. Ted, one of the dads, even wore his little 3 year-old on his back. It is such a blast! With every water and climbing activity, please exercise caution if participating.
Some waterfalls are easier to get over than others. The second waterfall had Kenon wishing he brought some webbing to make the ascent just a little bit safer. If we do it again, we will definitely bring some webbing to make some of the trickier parts more safe.
We worked it out, though, by making a sequence of men that could hand off some of the less confident people, working them up the waterfall little by little. It worked out so well, was super fun, and everyone had a blast!
DM us on Instagram @handmedownexperience if you would like to know more!
Judge C. R. Magney
Judge C.R. Magney is a 20-minute drive to the north of Grand Marais. It has hiking and picnic opportunities but its biggest draw is the Devil’s Kettle waterfall. Devil’s Kettle is a mysterious waterfall that sucks in gallons of water every hour but scientists have absolutely no idea where it comes back out again.
Downstream from Devil’s Kettle, on days when the river is a bit calmer, there is a great little cliff jumping area for those with strong swimming skills.
Grand Portage State Park
Continuing to travel towards the Canadian border, the last stop on the Minnesota side is Grand Portage State Park. This park protects the tallest (and what is arguably the most majestic) waterfall in Minnesota. The trail to the High Falls overlooks is paved or a boardwalk and is wheelchair accessible.
We absolutely adore visiting northern Minnesota and we know you will, too! If you ever get the chance, DM us @handmedownexperience on Instagram and we’ll help you plan your trip!
Visit our Isle Royale National Park post for another exciting Minnesota adventure.