North Shore by the mile
Planning a trip to this beloved part of Minnesota? Start at 0.0.
© Beth Gauper
An excursion boat heads into the lake past the Marine Museum on Canal Park, Mile Marker 0.0 for the drive up the North Shore.
If you don’t know much about Minnesota’s North Shore, trip-planning can be confusing.
For one thing, it’s really the west shore of Lake Superior. People in Ontario don’t get confused because they live on the real north shore. Chicagoans do because they call their northern suburbs the North Shore.
This pointy corner of Minnesota also is called the Arrowhead Region. Some people call its roads by their names — Sawbill and Caribou — and some by their numbers — County Road 2 and County Road 4. Some people heading north along the shore say they’re heading east, and they’re right.
Even if you know exactly where you are, it’s still hard to plan a trip to the North Shore: There’s so much to see and do, and everything passes in a flash.
Every time I head up the shore, I take a blue fold-out brochure called North Shore Drive of Lake Superior, which lists the
main attractions by mile marker, from 0.0 (Duluth’s Canal Park) to 151.0 (the Canadian border).
Want to make sure you don’t zoom by Palisade Head? It’s at Mile Marker 56, two miles past Silver Bay.
Getting Temperance and Tettegouche state parks mixed up? Tettegouche is 2˝ miles beyond Palisade Head, and Temperance is 22 miles further, just past Schroeder.
Published since 1937, my favorite blue brochure has been discontinued, so I guard my remaining copies jealously.
“People used to come in and say, ‘Where’s that blue and white thing?’ and we knew exactly what they meant,’’ says Diane Brostrom of Visit Cook County. “That thing had a huge history.’’
This scenic highway, also a national scenic byway, is hallowed ground to Minnesotans and many people in surrounding states. If you’re planning a trip but are overwhelmed by the choices, here are the places you may want to see — along with mile markers.
For more on hiking, skiing, dining, lodging and sightseeing, see our large North
0.0 Canal Park in Duluth. Tourists now flock to a part of town once filled with seedy bars and old
warehouses. They can't resist watching giant ore boats head into the harbor under the Aerial Lift Bridge, or strolling along
the Lakewalk as sea gulls screech for handouts.
There's shopping at DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace, cool exhibits in the Marine Museum, boat excursions to take from the harbor and
train rides from the Depot. Kids love it all,
especially jumping on the rocks.
© Beth Gauper
Gooseberry Falls State Park is a favorite place to play year-round.
5.1 Lester River. The beautiful park along this river once was a weekend destination
for city folk. The nearly 1-mile Lester Park Trail follows
the river, off Superior Street and 61st Avenue East. In winter, it's a superbly groomed ski trail.
5.2 Scenic 61. Just beyond Duluth's Kitchi-Gammi Park,
also called Brighton Beach, turn right and take the scenic route to Two Harbors. In June, it's the route for Grandma's
13.1 New Scenic Café. This sunny little spot is a good place to stop for coffee and fruit pie (among the region's best) or a meal.
15.0 Stony Point. Watch for the turnoff to a one-mile drive that hugs a point. It's
known for giant waves and the surfers who congregate to catch them.
20.0 Knife River. You still can buy smoked fish in
this little fishing village, and there's a restaurant and candy store. There's also a campground and marina.
24.0 Two Harbors. Don't whiz past
— turn right and go down to Lighthouse Point to see the North Shore's only real lighthouse, now a B&B, and walk the
enchanting Sonju Trail. If you're lucky, you'll see an ore boat being loaded.
39.5 Gooseberry Falls State Park. It doesn't cost anything to park here and see the falls, which makes this the most-visited state park except for Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities.
Kids love clambering around on the rocks; bring water shoes. If it's a warm day, follow the river down to its mouth and
you'll find a good spot to swim in Lake
The falls also are fun to visit in winter, when they're frozen.
From here, you can ride the paved Gitchi-Gami State
Trail to Split Rock Lighthouse and Beaver Bay.
43.5 Split Rock River. From the parking area, there's a great five-mile hike up the
west side of the river and around, a rare loop on the Superior Hiking Trail.
Built after the Mataafa Blow of 1905 damaged 29
ships on Lake Superior — sinking the Madeira on Gold Rock, just across the cove — it became a tourist favorite
after the highway was paved in 1924.
The state park has hiking trails, a beach and the best views of the lighthouse. Sites at the campground, tent and hike-in
only, are the hardest to get in the state.
50.0 Beaver Bay. This busy little town is the home of the Agate Shop, a good place to see spectacular examples of the state gemstone, and many places to eat, including Northern Lights Roadhouse, Lemon Wolf Cafe and Wit's End Corner bakery.
51.0 Beaver River. The beach at the mouth of this river is one of the best places to look for agates.
© Beth Gauper
A family of hikers enjoys the view from Carlton Peak.
54.0 Silver Bay. There's a marina with a nice picnic area along the lake, and a supermarket in town, handy if you're camping or staying nearby.
The 11-mile stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail from Silver Bay to Minnesota 1 often is called the trail's most scenic (and also one of the most challenging), passing Bean and Bear lakes in Tettegouche State Park, Round Mountain, Mount Trudee and High Falls on the Baptism River.
56.0 Palisade Head. It's a steep drive up to this clifftop with a spectacular view down the cliff-lined shore to Shovel Point. Bring a picnic — and watch your kids.
58.5 Tettegouche State Park. Park for free in the lot and walk the half-mile trail to Shovel Point, where basalt headlands form a coastline that looks more like northern California than Minnesota. The view, which includes Palisade Head to the south, is incomparable.
Until mid-summer 2013, however, the main parking
lot/rest area is closed while a new visitor center is built; there's a small lot by the mouth of the Baptism River that
allows access to Shovel Point.
60.2 Minnesota 1. This is how you get to Illgen Falls and the Illgen Falls Cabin in the upper part of
Tettegouche State Park, Wolf Ridge Environmental Center, the town of Finland
and Crosby-Manitou State Park (on
County Road 7).
Keep going through Superior National Forest and you'll reach Ely.
71.3 Caribou River. A 1˝-mile trail leads to Caribou Falls. In winter, this is a good
73.0 Sugarloaf Cove. This nature preserve is one of the secret spots on the North Shore, where you still can see all the stones and cool stuff that used to be on all North Shore beaches before people carted them away for landscaping.
A one-mile interpretive trail winds through a red-pine plantation and alder thicket to a U-shaped cobblestone cove and crosses an old tombolo on a boardwalk. In the log nature center, interpretive staff give Saturday programs.
79.0 Cross River. There's a lovely waterfall here, best seen from Lamb's Resort and
Campground on the south side of the river. There's also a bakery and the Cross River Heritage Center.
On the north side of the river, a road leads to Father Baraga's Cross.
80.4 Temperance River State Park. Trails at this park, named because the river has no bar at its mouth, follow the tortuous course of the Temperance River, seething and twisting like a flume ride from hell. Pebbles in the swirling water have scraped potholes in the riverbed and in the sides of the gorge.
A lot of people swim here, but you shouldn't — several have drowned in recent years.
Park trails lead into the Superior Hiking Trail. It's a three-mile hike to Carlton Peak, whose 924-foot summit commands a spectacular view up and down the shore.
Skiing and hiking central
82.4 Tofte U.S. Forest Service ranger station. Pick up Boundary Waters permits and information on local hikes.
© Beth Gauper
Swimmers wade near the mouth of the Temperance River, named because it has no (sand) bar.
83.0 Tofte. This formerly quiet fishing village is the home of the large Bluefin Bay
Resort and its Coho Cafe, a good place to stop for a sandwich, pizza or dessert.
83.4 Sawbill Trail/County Road 2. This 23-mile trail, roughly following the Temperance River, ends in Sawbill Lake, an entry point to a quiet part of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Three miles up the trail, you'll reach the Britton Peak trailhead of the Superior Hiking Trail. From here, it's a three-mile round-trip to Carlton Peak.
87.0 Onion River Road/Forest Road 336. This is how you get to the trailhead for the very popular two-mile Oberg Mountain hiking loop, where frequent overlooks give hikers views of the lake and inland maple forest.
It's two miles uphill to the parking area. From the other side of the parking area, the Superior Hiking Trail leads to
Leveaux Mountain. It’s a one-mile hike to a spur trail that goes to the summit.
The parking area also a trailhead for the Sugarbush ski trails in winter.
It's a great place to stay, but you also can enjoy the view from the window-lined restaurant, have a drink in front of the wood-burning fire, wander on the beach or walk through the covered bridge.
Turn inland and you're on the ski hill. In summer, take a few rides down the Alpine Slide or hike east on the Superior Hiking
Trail to Lake Agnes.
92.0 Caribou Trail/County Road 4. This is one way to get to the trailhead for Eagle Mountain, the highest point in Minnesota. Drive to Forest Road 153, then four miles east to the trailhead.
© Beth Gauper
In Grand Marais, the 1923 east pier light guides pleasure boats into the harbor.
99.8 Cascade River State Park. The trails that hug both
sides of the river are gorgeous, especially in spring, when they're lined by wildflowers.
Don't miss the Upper Cascade, where the trail is lined with old cedars and feathery ferns and hikers can sit on the shore
watching the river tumble over a series of small falls.
It's a challenging but very beautiful eight-mile round-trip up the river to the County Road 45 bridge and back down.
104.0 Good Harbor Bay/Cutface Creek wayside. This is a good place to look for Thomsonite, a semiprecious gemstone with bands of pink and green that formed out of a single lava flow. It's only found here, along a six-mile stretch of shoreline.
Heading into town
110.0 Grand Marais. This
harbor village has everything a tourist could want: shopping, restaurants, hotels, festivals, nightlife.
Be sure to walk out to the harbor light on the breakwall and to Artists Point, where narrow trails lead through cedars and
spruce. Children love playing in the rocks between the point and the Coast Guard station.
The road heads north, then west, and dead-ends near the Canadian border. It doesn't connect to Ely except by obscure gravel
114.0 Devil’s Track River. On the rim of this deep, narrow canyon is a 2.4-mile stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail, with views of the red cliffs and waterfalls below. The river itself is a favorite snowshoeing destination in winter.
© Beth Gauper
Across from Judge C.R. Magney State Park, historic Naniboujou is a quiet retreat.
118.7 Kadunce Creek/River. A trail follows the rust-tinted waters of the Kadunce
through its narrow gorge. It’s a spectacular and intimate little hike, 1˝ miles round-trip, and the cobblestone beach
opposite the wayside is one of the shore’s prettiest.
123.8 Judge C.R. Magney State Park. Trails in this park,
named after the populist who proclaimed, "Our state parks are everyman's country estate,'' follow the Brule River past three
waterfalls: the Lower, the Upper and Devil’s Kettle.
At the Devil’s Kettle, the river splits, half cascading 50 feet into a pool and the other disappearing into a pothole; no one know where it ends up. It’s 2˝ miles round-trip.
124.0 Naniboujou Lodge. This striking lodge was built in the heyday
of the Jazz Age, just before the stock-market crash. Today, it's a quiet retreat, one of the best places to stay on the North Shore.
The restaurant in the Great Hall, painted with vivid Cree-style designs, is open to the public. It's especially popular for
145.0 Grand Portage National Monument. This re-created North West Co. post at the end of an 8˝-mile big detour — grand portage — around rapids on the Pigeon River once was the center of the fur-trade universe.
Costumed interpreters show visitors around. On a typical day, they can watch historic weapons being fired, hear a bagpiper,
try on the clothing of the fur trade, play voyageur games and see a canoe being built.
Admission is free, and there's a new Heritage Center down the road that highlights Ojibwe culture and contributions to the fur trade.
© Beth Gauper
Grand Portage National Monument re-creates the Scottish-owned fur post that was moved across the border in 1803.
145.0 Boat service to Isle Royale. From the Grand Portage marina, ferries take tourists to Isle Royale National Park. It's a long way to travel for a day trip — three hours each way to Windigo — but same-day round-trip fares are available.
150.8 Grand Portage State Park. The Pigeon River, which marks
the international border, is the largest on the North Shore and was the bane of voyageurs. Its lower 20 miles, a series of
cataracts and chasms, is unnavigable, so the paddlers had to make an 8˝-mile uphill portage before they could travel into the
Today, visitors can follow a half-mile, handicapped-accessible trail to the state's tallest waterfall, gorgeous High Falls, cascading 120 feet over a sheer basalt wall. The Middle Falls Trail goes farther, over ridge tops, about three miles.
The border and beyond
151.0 Canadian border. This is the end of Minnesota and the beginning of Ontario, which is on Eastern Standard Time, an hour later. If you cross, make sure you have a passport (and no guns, Mace or other weapons).
From the Ontario visitors center, you can hike a trail to the top of High Falls, for a spectacular view up and down the
190.0 Thunder Bay. This sprawling port town isn't
pretty (except around the marina in Port Arthur), but there's lots to do and it has great places to eat.
Want to keep going? The scenery doesn't end here.
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