North Shore Rugged ~ A Taste of Minnesota

Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota’s name originates from the Dakota Sioux Indian word for “clear water” or “sky-tinted water”.  We came to tour the North Shore, to bask in the vastness of Lake Superior and hike some of the beautiful trails we had read about along this stretch of Minnesota.  In our woefully limited time we saw a few of her flowing rivers and lakes and found the name given by the natives well-suited.

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Lake Superior, sometimes smooth as glass, sometimes raging in a Nor’easter, has stunning rugged cliffs tumbling to pebble beaches laden with agates and driftwood and is the main attraction along Scenic Hwy. 61, which runs the length of the North Shore. With plans to hike and to check another national park off our list we found ourselves traversing this scenic roadway daily.  If you are not a hiker there is still so much to do here that you could arrive mid-summer and stay through the fall colors and never want for interesting activities.

The only downside to this stretch of road is the lack of big-rig friendly campgrounds. We settled for three days at Knife River Campground which had a handful of sites to accommodate us.  It was none too exciting but we spent little time there and Randy, who manages the park, provided wonderful tips for restaurants.   We found some of the best sugar-cured smoked trout and salmon at Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse, such melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness that we just had to go back a second time to take some on the road with us.

If hiking through dense forests of fir, cypress, and birch, along rushing river gorges sounds heavenly, this slice of Minnesota is for you.   Many of the hiking trails find you walking sections of the Superior Hiking Trail, 296 miles of ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border.

A few fun facts about Lake Superior:

  • biggest of the Great Lakes at 350 miles long by 160 miles wide
  • contains 10% of the world’s fresh water
  • average depth of 439 feet with its deepest at 1333 feet
  • average water temp of 42º F
  • largest recorded wave height of 31 feet
  • over 350 shipwrecks with more than 1000 lost

There are so many quaint little towns along this scenic drive, with great little restaurants, breathtaking views of Lake Superior, roaring waterfalls, cascading rivers, lovely lighthouses, so very much to delight your senses.  If you have only three days to visit the North Shore like us, stop into the Superior Hiking Trail Association store in the little town of Two Harbors for trail maps if you are looking to experience some off-road excitement.  The staff recommended the 5-mile Split Rock River Loop Trail and 7-mile Bean and Bear Lakes Loop Trail and we enjoyed both.

Split Rock River Loop Trail views:

Bean and Bear Lakes Loop Trail views:

The most visited spot on the North Shore is the Split Rock Lighthouse, majestically sitting on a 130-foot cliff at Lake Superior’s edge, near the town of Beaver Bay.  Put into service after 29 ships were damaged during the infamous storm of November 1905, this light station was in use until 1969.  What was once a beacon of safety for passing ships is now an icon for visitors to the North Shore.  Watch for the “Thousand Footers” (ore boats) coming into the harbor near Beaver Bay.  The crowds were so deep when we arrived at the Visitor’s Center that we opted to enjoy this beauty from the overlook on Hwy. 61 instead.

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Final destination for our Minnesota coastal tour is Grand Portage, gateway to Isle Royale National Park, six miles shy of the Canadian border.  Stay tuned for my next post on this roadless land of wild creatures and unspoiled forests.

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44 thoughts on “North Shore Rugged ~ A Taste of Minnesota

      • I can relate. We only had 2 nights and enjoyed hiking and exploring. We could have spent a week and not seen it all. I love that lighthouse! We stayed at a state park on a bluff above the lake.

      • Hopefully one day we can return. Luckily the mosquitoes were not an issue, but where we are now, near the boundary waters, it is a different story. 😦

  • Isn’t that lighthouse beautiful? I remember it well. We loved the drive from Duluth to Grand Marais. Is the waterfall water still rusty in color from all the iron ore? I look forward to your post on Isle Royale NP. We’ve never been. I’m surprised the mosquitos are still a problem at this time of year. June is horrible and July much better. It’s usually the black flies that are bad in July if I remember correctly.

    • The lighthouse is really beautiful, one of the loveliest we have seen. The waterfall is still rusty in color due to the iron ore. After your email Ingrid we made a point to stop by Grand Marais and wished we had been closer to do some exploring. We did have lunch at the Dockside Fish Market and enjoyed walleye fish and chips…yummy!

      We didn’t have any problems on the North Shore with mosquitoes or biting flies but where we are now, in Ely bordering the boundary waters, it is a different story. Thankfully they can’t seem to find us when we are out in the kayak. 😉

      • Out on the water? Oh how I miss those paddling days. We sold our canoe when we sold the house 😦 We’re thinking a Midwestern visit next August might be in the plans…. seems to be calling to us for some unknown reason; nostalgia perhaps! Have you ever visited the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore? I’ve read mixed reviews and have always been curious.

      • A bit of nostalgia isn’t bad and once you’ve spent a little time in the Midwest you will most likely be fixed for awhile. 😉 We have been to the Apostle Islands twice and enjoyed it both times. We took a tour boat out to some of the islands and also did some hiking. We wanted to sea kayak but the waters were a bit rough while we were there this past time.

    • I think you two would really enjoy it. I would love to be here for the fall colors. We have not even had any flying, biting bugs to contend with, that is until we got to Ely and the Boundary Waters, where we are right now. They have definitely found us here but fortunately not while we are out kayaking.

  • Paul nor I have been to that area. I just ready another post where they are up that way. It looks absolutely gorgeous. I told Paul I would like to head that way when we leave Ohio next fall. Totally a different route. Keep enjoying the good life.

    • I think being here for the fall colors would be fabulous! I loved the wedding post. Might we see more wedding photos in the future? 🙂

      • I agree about the fall. Would be so lovely.

        Thanks for your nice comment about Kelly and Dave. I thought I replied but when I looked couldn’t find one. Getting old isn’t all I is cracked up to be….lol. When we get the profeissional photos, I want to show off a few. I have to say daughter or not, she was gorgeous. Enjoy your week.

  • that is a majestic lighthouse!  wow…  it’s not often where a man-made object captures my attention before the natural world, but…..

    as always, you two are amazing, and i’m so glad that you continue to paint that landscape!

    z

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  • “Sky-tinted water” — I just love that description! The waters are incredibly beautiful — as are your photos. This looks like a place Eric and I would really enjoy exploring — but I think we’ll take your advice, and try to plan being there in the fall.

    • Although we haven’t experienced the issues with mosquitoes and biting flies, I think the fall, with its many colors, would be a lovely time to be here. We are now in the Boundary Waters for a few days and the mosquitoes have definitely found us here, but fortunately not while we have been out on the water.

  • Once again a wonderful post, beautifully illustrated with magnificent photos… I almost feel as though I’ve been there now… Thank you LuAnn a post off the top shelf…

  • The north shore is one of those places we didn’t know existed until we got there! We were at a campground in Duluth and a local guy told us all about the amazing north shore. Like you, we only had 3 days to explore, but I remember it fondly and can’t wait to go back. Thanks for bringing back the memories 🙂

  • Yeah my Minnesota! So happy you got to see the North Shore! It is so special LuAnn! Did you stop in Lutsen at all or Grand Marais? I spent every fall in Lutsen as a child and we hiked Eagle Mountain tallest “mountain” in Minnesota and a spectacular hike. Wished you could have passed through the cities. My door is always open for you and Terry to stay with me! 🙂

    • We should have set aside so much more time to explore this special little slice of MN. When our plans changed earlier this summer, we quickly had to find reservations elsewhere so we were limited in our stay. We would have loved to hike Eagle Mountain and explore more of Grand Marais. Other than lunch at the Dockside Fish Market, we did little else. Most of our time was spent out on the trails. Thanks so much for the invitation Nicole. We will definitely be back. There is so much more to see. 🙂

  • Great post and, as usual, beautiful photos. Looks like a great place to explore. Glad you were able to enjoy this area.

  • Lake Superior, like Lake Michigan, sure doesn’t disappoint in the color category. The crystal clear water is amazing from above. The green blue color blew me away.

    I love the Bean and Bear Loop hike. A little of everything. I would have enjoyed this hike. Thanks for the gorgeous photos. Looking forward to Isle Royale post:)

    • There won’t be much to it, I’m afraid. We discovered that unless you backpack and stay for more than a day, there is really not much that can be seen. There was more to see on the boat ride over.

      • Getting there, thanks LuAnn. Looking forward to two weddings, one in Italy, then receipt of truck and receipt of furniture then moving into a rental house. Feeling quite calm under the circs! Looks like you are enjoying Minnesota! 🙂

      • We are enjoying the North Shore but since we left it the mosquitos have found us. 😦 So glad to here you are finally able to decompress.

  • So many greens on this post! I always thought of beautiful green nature when I think of Minnesota even though I’ve never been. Looks like there’s so much to love for nature lovers. Love the edge of the cliff pics.

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