The North Shore of Minnesota is a beautiful area of Lake Superior and is excellent for anyone who wants to visit. Scenic Highway 61 is a stunning drive along the coast of the lake and runs through charming towns and villages. From the industrial masterpiece of Duluth to the lovely fishing town of Grand Marais, there’s something for everyone to enjoy along this route.
Best Things To Do
Tobies is known as ‘Minnesota’s famous halfway stop,’ and their delicious baked goods will get you all revved up for the road again. Founded in 1948, Tobies has expanded into a large rest stop midway between Minneapolis and Duluth.
It’s a perfect stopping point for stretching your legs and giving in to their unreasonably delicious baked goods. There’s also a restaurant and a picnic area for those looking for a more extended break.
Aerial Lift Bridge
Anyone visiting Duluth for the first time should take a day or two to appreciate the city entirely. One of its biggest attractions is the Aerial Lift Bridge, where a giant bridge lifts up and down to let 1000-footers and salties into the harbor. There’s an entire viewing area for it. It’s also close to the Lake Superior Maritime Museum, where you can learn more about shipping on the Great Lakes.
Whether you’re staying a night in Two Harbors or are just passing through, you have to stop for pie. Betty’s Pies is the most popular pie restaurant in the area, and they have pies for days in all the flavors you can imagine. Who can resist a short stop to feed your sweet tooth before moving on?
If Betty’s doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are plenty of other restaurants in the region. It seems the pies made in this region are especially delicious.
Pink Sand Beaches
You’ve probably heard of Hawaii’s famous black sand beaches, but what about pink sand? It’s not in some exotic locale. It’s in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Iona’s Beach is pink from the rhyolite on the nearby cliffs. It’s not very well-marked, but it’s worth exploring. Just turn in to Iona’s Beach and Boat Landing area, and walk into the path in the woods. You’ll soon arrive at the cotton candy beach of your dreams. Walk another two minutes, and you’ll find an even bigger one.
Split Rock Lighthouse
Featured on countless North Shore postcards, Split Rock Lighthouse is an iconic landmark you can’t miss. If you want a photo from afar, stop on the scenic overlook on Highway 61. Or you can visit Split Rock State Park and pay the entrance fee to get up close and personal, or even walk the stairs to the top! You can also drive to Pebble Beach to get a dramatic shot of the lighthouse from below.
If you want to see a jaw-dropping overlook of Lake Superior, stop by Palisade Head, a 300-foot cliff that towers over the lake and offers incredible views in any direction. But be careful! There are no guard railings, so you can walk right up to the edge to take a death-defying photo proving you went there.
Temperance River Gorge
This is one of the most popular trails on the North Shore and is incredibly stunning in the autumn. It’s one of the best places to view peak fall color in the nation. It’s located in Temperance River State Park, and it’s an easy hike.
Grand Portage National Monument
Grand Portage is a great city, including this gorgeous monument dedicated to the Anishinaabeg Ojibwe tribe and trade history in the region. There are several galleries nearby, and the volunteers even dress in period costumes!
Isle Royale National Park
If you take the ferry out from Grand Marais, you’ll soon come across one of the most undeveloped tracts of land in the United States. Isle Royale is known for its isolated environment and scientific studies. It’s only open from May to September, and the ferries leave once every two days, so plan accordingly.
Best Cities to Stay
You’ll need to find places to stay along your route, but luckily the road is chock full of charming towns and cities that are fun activities in their own right.
Duluth is a trading city at the beginning of Highway 61, with plenty of charming attractions for you to explore, like the Aerial Lift Bridge. It’s best if you stay a day or two at the beginning of your trip to take in this lovely city.
Two Harbors is a scenic seaside village with several notable landmarks to explore. You can spend the night here to take full advantage of their delicious pie while exploring the coastline and spending time at the beach.
This will be one of the most charming midwest towns you’ll ever come across. Make sure to spend a night in this adorable fishing village and visit the art galleries to take it all in. The town includes some great pizza and donuts.
Unless you’ve brought your passport along, this will probably be your most northern stop. If you want to take the trail to the end, visit Grand Portage State Park, and bask in the glorious silence that is as far north you can be without entering Canada.
Best Time To Visit
Minnesota is a gorgeous state year-round, and the North Shore is no exception. However, visit during the spring or autumn if you want to see when it’s at its most lovely. Spring has new growth and gentle spring flowers for you to admire along your route, while autumn has gorgeous reds and yellows and is breathtaking during peak season.
If you plan on any water activities, visit during the summer to play on the beach and enjoy the lake at its best, but keep the crowds in mind. The North Shore is also fabulous for winter as there are several cross-country ski, snowshoe, and snowmobile trails for you to enjoy.
Minnesota’s North Shore is one of the best drives in the state and a great road trip or vacation for you to enjoy. It has history, views, thrills, beaches, everything you can get out of a road trip, and some of the most charming cities in the state.
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