Minnesota’s North Shore Is Breathtaking
Lake Superior’s North Shore is a truly magical place. Parts of the North Shore remind me of Ireland and Vancouver and I can’t seem to get enough of it. Every time I go, I discover another great hike, coffee shop or lunch spot. Here’s the full summary on the absolute must see spots along Minnesota’s North Shore.
1. Canal Park
Canal Park is a bustling section of Duluth with tons of restaurants, a brewery and distillery and many shops. We love Canal Park Brewery for burgers and beer, or Vikre Distillery for fancy cocktails. For excellent seafood, stop by Northern Water Smokehous, or Vitta Pizza for Neapolitan-style pizza, or the very popular Grandma’s Saloon for burgers, sandwiches and wraps. For much more inspiration on things to do in Duluth, check out my post here.
2. Duluth Lighthouse
You’ll definitely want to walk out onto the pier so you can get a close look of the Duluth lighthouse. There are actually three lighthouses in the Duluth Harbor, and the one pictured above is the North Pier Lighthouse, which is under fully operation of the Coast Guard. Construction on this lighthouse began in 1909, and was completed in 1910. More than 100 years later it still shines bright.
3. Glensheen Mansion
For an incredible step back in history, you’re going to want to visit the Glensheen Mansion. The Congdons were an impressive family of very forward-thinking people. If there’s only one point to make about the Congdon family, it’s that they weren’t just a wealthy family. They were brilliant, creative, kind and so far ahead of their time in terms of their ideas and accomplishments. Plan to spend at least 1.5 hours taking the tour throughout the house and walking around the property. Here are a few fast facts:
- Glensheen was built from 1905-1909
- The mansion has 39 rooms, 10 bathrooms and 15 fireplaces
- It’s 32,000 sq. feet
- It cost $855K to build, which is roughly $24M today
4. Castle Danger Brewery
The Castle Danger Brewery is located in Two Harbors and is a great place to stop along your drive up north. The first time we went to the Castle Danger Brewery, we were so excited because we love their cream ale beer. Grab a seat outside on their huge lawn or find a cozy spot inside to enjoy your beer. The first time we went it was sunny and beautiful, and from the outdoor tables we could get a little peak of Lake Superior in the distance.
5. Agate Bay
After leaving Castle Danger Brewery, we grabbed sandwiches to-go from Cedar Coffee Company and had a picnic around the corner at Agate Bay Beach. Access to this beach is totally free and it’s only a few steps from the parking lot. It’s a great place to get a close up view of Lake Superior, and even dip your toes in the water on those hot summer days.
6. Betty’s Pies
You’ll see the building for Betty’s Pies right on Highway 61 as you pass through Two Harbors. This popular spot has been around since 1956. They offer a wide variety of pies from caramel apple and cherry, to raspberry rhubarb, and Butterfinger cream. Pick up a whole pie or just a slice!
7. Gooseberry Falls
If you’re looking for a hike that offers incredible views with minimal effort, Gooseberry Falls is the park for you. A very short walk from the parking lot brings you up close to a large waterfall. There is a paved path to the waterfall as well, making this spot wheelchair accessible. Head towards the Lower Falls and stop to get some photos and a close-up view. Continue meandering along the river where you may see people fishing.
Pro tip: Nic and I tried to visit this park on a summer weekend, and we couldn’t even find a parking spot so we had to leave! This state park is very popular and for good reason! When I did get to visit, it was mid-April and fairly empty.
7. Split Rock Lighthouse
Drive or hike to Pebble Beach for a killer view of the Split Rock Lighthouse. If you choose to walk, it’s about ten minutes through a wooded path. If it’s a hot summer day, be sure to take off your shoes and cool off in the crystal clear water. If you want to learn more about the lighthouse, take a tour for $8. You’ll be lead around the grounds and even get to go inside the lighthouse.
8. Black Beach
Black Beach is one of my top five stops along the North Shore, it’s absolutely stunning. The sand is literally black due to taconite which was dumped into the lake, which later washed ashore creating a man-made beach. The property used to be privately owned, but luckily in 2015, it became public.
9. Palisade Head
Palisade Head is probably the most popular and well-known spot along the North Shore, and for good reason! No hike necessary, just drive up the hill and you’ll find a free parking lot at the top. It’s hard to remember you’re in Minnesota with such steep cliffs, and views of Lake Superior as far as the eye can see.
10. Tettegouche State Park
Stop by Tettegouche State Park and hike to the Shovel Point lookout for mesmerizing views of Lake Superior’s North Shore, and Palisade Head in the distance. Although the hike is just .75 miles each way, it’s almost entirely climbing stairs on the way up to the lookout point. The view is definitely worth the workout, however, and you won’t regret the climb.
11. Sugarloaf Cove
Sugarloaf Cove is an easy walk to a secluded and quiet beach. A $5 fee is required, making this a less crowded spot. Walk to the point for expansive views of Lake Superior, hunt for agates, or enjoy a peaceful picnic. There’s also a nature center, which offers fun and educational programs for kids and adults alike.
12. North Shore Winery
The North Shore Winery is located at the base of Lutsen Mountain. This newer winery has only been around since 2016, and they offer wines with locally inspired names like Superior Agate Red, Boundary Waters Rose, and Caribou Sparkling. They often have special events going on with live music and markets with art and gifts for sale.
13. Lutsen Mountain
I love Lutsen, especially Lutsen Mountains for skiing and snowboarding. It’s a great destination for anyone who appreciates the beauty of winter. If you’re visiting Lutsen during the warmer months, drive to the top of Lutsen Mountain and enjoy the restaurants and outdoor patios that offer incredible views of Lake Superior in the distance.
14. Cascade River State Park
Just a short 15-minute drive south of Grand Marais, Cascade River State Park is a must-see stop. A few steps from the parking lot, you’ll encounter your first waterfall. Continue deeper into the park, and stop a few minutes later when you pass another waterfall. Walk up the incline and encounter yet another cascading waterfall. Part of the Superior Hiking Trail snakes through this park so you can get a taste of that popular backpacking trail. This is a great park to visit in any season, but if you can visit in the spring when the waterfalls are ripping through the park, that would be the most breathtaking time. I went in April when everything was green, wet, and quiet. It was a beautiful walk in the woods.
15. Artists Point
While visiting Grand Marais, be sure to walk along the beach and out to Artists Point, which is a narrow peninsula that juts into Lake Superior. Be aware that sometimes this narrow pier is slick and wet in warmer months and icy in colder months as water often splashes over during high tide. The water is so clear and the rocks along the shoreline are great for skipping.
16. Voyageur Brewing
Stop by Voyageur Brewery for a refreshing beer after a long day of hiking and exploring. They are set back from Grand Marais’ downtown area and have a rooftop patio with great views of Lake Superior. From red ales to blonde and sours, Voyageur Brewing has something for everyone. They also have a great food menu and I highly recommend the fish tacos.
17. World’s Best Donuts
Since 1969, the World’s Best Donuts has been making mouth-watering donuts and other sweet treats. From chocolate glazed and jelly-filled donuts to freshly brewed coffee, this spot is only open during late spring and summer, and the line begins to wrap around their tiny building very early in the morning. After you take your first bite, you’ll understand why this spot is so popular!
18. Devil’s Kettle
The Judge C.R. Magney State Park is in far northeastern Minnesota, and is an oasis for waterfalls, wildlife, trees, and quiet trails. Many trails are rocky with uneven terrain so wear hiking boots for safety. You may see people fishing for trout or having a picnic by the extremely popular Devil’s Kettle waterfall. It’s a rigorous hike with many steep inclines and stair, but it’s definitely worth it!
The Devil’s Kettle waterfall has stumped scientists for years as half of the waterfall seems to “disappear.” People have tossed sticks, GPS trackers, and ping pong balls down the falls waiting for them to pop up further down the river, only to be disappointed when they never show up again. A DNR hydrologist finally confirmed that the waterfall goes underground into a pothole and reemerges roughly 500 feet downstream!
19. Grand Portage National Monument
Spend time at the Grand Portage National Monument that preserves a vital center of British fur trade activity and Ojibwe heritage. Grand Portage was once one of the British Empire’s four main fur trading centers in North America. The Grand Portage, or large canoe route, is an 8.5-mile path through waterfalls and rivers that flows into Lake Superior. This path is part of the historic trade route of the French-Canadian voyageurs.
20. Grand Portage State Park
Minnesota’s most northern state park brings you to the state’s tallest waterfall. Although it’s partially in Canada, so some say it doesn’t count as Minnesota’s tallest waterfall! Take the one-mile round-trip paved path to the waterfall, which is what we did. If you’re looking for an expert level hike, take the 4.5-mile round-trip trail to Middle Falls, a 20-foot waterfall. This trail is heavily wooded and rugged. It will take you 3 to 4 hours to fully appreciate all its beauty.
Stay Lakefront at an Affordable Price
While visiting the North Shore for our first time, we stayed at Cascade Lodge in Lutsen. They offer a large lodge with several rooms inside, small cabins on the premise and they even have a few luxury homes. You can really find whatever level of comfort and price point you’re looking for.
We stayed in the main lodge, which was a very nice experience. The building was clean, quiet and the employees were friendly and helpful. There is an open and charming lounge with a lot of natural light. It had a real Minnesota feel with plaid pillows, a fireplace and large wooden beams running across the ceiling. We were lucky to get a room with windows that faced Lake Superior. An early morning breeze was blowing across scenic highway 61 right into our open windows. It’s a real special treat to wake up and see Lake Superior sparkling just a few hundred feet away.
The North Shore is Simply Incredible
Lake Superior’s North Shore is one of the midwest’s best kept secrets. Various spots along the North Shore remind me of Maine, Vancouver, and Ireland. It’s absolutely breathtaking and it’s hard to believe it’s just a few hours away from the Twin Cities. I hope this list of my absolute favorite spots gets you started! Looking for more North Shore inspiration? Check out my post on things to do in Duluth and Grand Marais!