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.
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.
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.