MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Where to stay on Minnesota's North Shore

Everyone wants a place on the big lake, and here's a guide to the best.

The 1927 Cascade Lodge sits alongside the Cascade River.

Beth Gauper

The 1927 Cascade Lodge is a North Shore landmark.

In summer and fall, don't rely on luck to get a reservation on Minnesota's North Shore.

In the heat of summer, everyone wants to bask in Lake Superior's cooling breezes. In fall, everyone wants to see the fall colors. On winter weekends, skiers flock in.

Below are a few of the many places to stay; reserve as far in advance as possible for popular dates, especially Minnesota's school break in October.

Rates drop in late October and stay low until the holidays; check for deals. The best deals come in spring. Snow and ice can linger until late April, and traffic doesn't pick up until school lets out in June.

Traditionally, people go to the North Shore to hike, gaze at the lake and gather around  evening campfires, so not all cabins have televisions and phones, and only a few resorts have pools. If you have to have those things, ask in advance.

Many resorts allow pets in some units for a small fee and larger resorts have WiFi. Many resorts offer free shuttles to nearby hiking trailheads, but some are even more accommodating; if that's important to you, ask when reserving.

For an introduction to the area, see Escape to Minnesota's North Shore. For a guide to highlights and locations, see North Shore by the mile

The properties below that have a hyperlink and are highlighted in bold are those in which I've stayed and can recommend. I've toured the properties that have hyperlinks only and think they look fine for their intended markets.

Traditional mom-and-pop resorts

Luckily, there are still small family-run resorts on the North Shore that have clean, tidy and updated housekeeping cabins (that is, cabins with a kitchen) on lovely shorelines.

Very few cabins have phones or televisions. If you love the old-time North Shore, these are for you.

Castle Haven Cabins, 12 miles east of Two Harbors, has 12 two-bedroom cabins right on the lake, and seven have wood-burning fireplaces.

Split Rock Cabins has 10 nice housekeeping cabins on flat, grassy Lake Superior shoreline. It's just off the Gitchi-Gami Trail and a half-mile west of the Split Rock River, 218-226-4735.

Naniboujou Lodge is a landmark on the North Shore.

Beth Gauper

Historic Naniboujou is a quiet retreat across from Magney State Park.

Whispering Pines Motel is on Minnesota 1 at the northeast edge of Tettegouche State Park and has one cabin and seven tidy motel rooms, set away from the highway and surrounded by trees.

Fenstad's Resort in Little Marais has 16 classic cabins on the lake, nine with fireplaces, plus a sauna and playground.

Lamb's Resort and Campground in Schroeder, bordering the Cross River, has 14 cabins amid large poplar and spruce trees. Some small red-log cabins with decks are on the river, have a great view of the roaring Cross River waterfall and are a short walk to the Schroeder Baking Co., which serves pizza, salads and subs as well as morning pastries.

Some cabins are on the lake. The resort also includes RV and tent camping (see Camping, below).

Cobblestone Cabins near Tofte has eight cabins and a wood-fired sauna right on a lovely cobblestone cove. People who love the outdoors and the traditional North Shore experience love this resort, run by avid skier Jan Horak, and its slogan is "For characters and common folk.'' In summer, it rents by the week.

Solbakken Resort near Lutsen is a friendly place with six cabins that have a great location right on the lake, and all allow pets. It also rents three fireplace suites with TV, patio and kitchen in the Historic Sawbill Lodge and motel rooms with kitchenettes, back decks and charcoal grills.

All guests can use the hot tub and sauna in the lodge, which has WiFi and rents snowshoes and cross-country skis. Solbakken is the sister resort of the nearby Cascade Lodge, and guests are welcome at its daily summer programs and the free weekday sleigh rides in winter. 800-435-3950.

Koeneke Shoredge near Lutsen has three simple cabins with a great location right on the lake, plus Slabsides, a small cabin without hot running water. There are swings where guests can watch the lake and a rock shore perfect for making a fire.

Parking is a short distance from the cabins, an amenity to many people.

Kah-Nee-Tah Gallery & Cottages near Lutsen has three cottages amid trees behind the gallery.

The cottages have classic north-woods interiors, with fieldstone wood-burning fireplaces, but no view or access to the lake. Pets are welcome.

Timberlund’s Resort just south of Grand Marais has spectacular views of Lake Superior from clifftop log cabins built in 1936. Try to get No. 4, which has appealing old-time decor and great views from the sink/kitchen counter, dining table and beds in both bedrooms.

Lund’s Motel & Cottages on the edge of downtown Grand Marais has small but cute cottages on a tree-shaded property and also an immaculate motel with good rates.

A cabin at Lamb's Resort.

Beth Gauper

At Lamb's Resort, guests of this cabin face the Cross River waterfall.

Grand Marais has many inexpensive mom-and-pop motels, some of which also have cottages, including Nelson's Travelers Rest, across from Lund's. For more, see Mom-and-pop motels of Grand Marais.

Anderson's North Shore Resort just north of Grand Marais has eight attractive cabins on a quiet frontage road on the lake. No. 2, 3 and 4 are right on a large cobblestone beach that would be great for small children.

No. 5 is set back but has a wood-burning fireplace, wrap-around deck and an arty decor.

Croftville Road Cottages, three miles north of Grand Marais, has three newly restored 1930s cottages on a quiet frontage road on the lake. The Arts and Crafts decor is very attractive, like a good B&B, and each cottage has a gas stove, DVD player, charcoal grill and fire circle, with firewood provided.

It would be a nice getaway for a couple, but the layout, with a lawn that leads to a rocky but not jagged shoreline, also is appropriate for children.

Classic lodges

In Lutsen, the 1952 lodge of Lutsen Resort is a classic, with picture windows overlooking the beach and an incredibly inviting lobby with a wood-burning hearth. It also has a fine restaurant (also with great views), a pool complex and a great beach for collecting rocks and driftwood.

Activities directors give free kayaking lessons/tours, guide hiking and skiing excursions and provide shuttles for guests who want to go off on their own. The WatersMeet Spa and Wellness Center is just up the hill.

The lodge has comfortably furnished, smallish rooms, many with lake views. On the hills overlooking the lodge/beach, it also rents the newer and luxuriously furnished Cliff House Townhomes, Log Cabins and Poplar River Condos, all with lake views

The older Sea Villas are on the lakeshore 2 miles south of the lodge and have their own pool complex and playground. The villas are individually owned and decorated, with some more attractive than others, and many allow dogs.

Call 866-471-2360. For more, see Loving Lutsen.

Cascade Lodge, between Lutsen and Grand Marais, has a nice variety of cabins, lodge rooms, motel units and a house, some with whirlpools and fireplaces.

Some of the cabins are 1923 originals; for romance, try Cabin 11, which is reached by its own wooden bridge high above a small waterfall.

The resort faces the lake on the other side of the highway; it's a short walk to the trails of Cascade River State Park. In winter, guests can ski right onto the Deer Yard Lake-Cascade classical system, which the lodge grooms with a Pisten Bully. It rents cross-country skis and snowshoes.

There's a good restaurant and pub on the premises. In the shoulder seasons, the lodge offers excellent value; check for specials. Call 800-322-9543.

Naniboujou Lodge, 14 miles east of Grand Marais, is a striking 1929 lakeshore lodge across from Judge C.R. Magney State Park. Its rooms are simple, without phone or TV, but attractive.

Kah-Nee-Tah Lakeview cabin.

Beth

The Lakeview Cabin at Kah-Nee-Tah has a classic North Shore look.

The restaurant, in a great room that has a giant fieldstone fireplace and walls and ceiling decorated with vivid Cree-style designs, is stunning and serves fine food.

For more, see Serenity at Naniboujou.

Vacation condos/resorts

This is the new generation of North Shore lodgings. The newest resorts have multiple owners and are owned by development companies.

Units are right next to each other, and trees are in short supply or absent. But if you describe your preferences as "upscale,'' and you value king beds, flat-screen TVs, private whirlpools and dishwashers over the traditional cabin experience (and don't mind paying for them), these are for you.

Two miles west of Gooseberry Falls, Grand Superior Lodge includes lodge rooms and luxury log cabins and townhomes next to the lake. There's also a restaurant and pool area.

On the edge of Beaver Bay, Cove Point Lodge sits on a very pretty cove. It has a cozy lobby with a wood-burning fire, restaurant and pool area, and there are also cottages. Guests can get free use of snowshoes, and it rents bikes.

Temperance Landing, just north of the Cross River in Schroeder, is part of the Bluefin Bay family of resorts; if you gave Ralph Lauren a bunch of Lincoln Logs, this is what he'd make.

The units are in a tight row, right on the lake, and each has a garage or carport. Guests can use the indoor pool, whirlpool and sauna at Surfside on Lake Superior, three miles down the highway.

Bluefin Bay's Surfside on Lake Superior, which replaced the old Surf Side resort near Tofte, rents luxury townhomes and includes a pool/spa complex and cafe on the property. There's a shuttle to Bluefin Bay, a mile down the road.

In Tofte, Bluefin Bay has many kinds of units, from standard with hillside view to luxury suites with whirlpool, fireplace and lake view. Some units are more updated than others; ask for one in the newer section if that matters to you.

The resort's biggest assets are lake views, from most units and also from a large outdoor hot tub that is shielded from wind by a glass wall and an outdoor pool.

A cabin at Anderson's Resort.

Beth Gauper

At Anderson's near Grand Marais, cabin 4 is right on a pebble beach.

There's also an indoor pool complex, the Bluefin Grille restaurant, the Superior Waters Spa and Wellness Center and the popular Coho Cafe on the highway.

The resort's activities staff is refreshingly competent, offering gear, shuttles and advice year-round. In the off season, it offers good deals.

On Lutsen Mountain, Caribou Highlands Lodge has a restaurant and attractive lodge rooms, condos and townhomes. It has a large outdoor heated pool and offers free family and children's activities in summer, much like a traditional lake resort.

In late summer and early fall, it offers excellent deals; see Summer's last resort. It can also be quite accommodating to backpackers who need a shuttle (be sure to tip the driver).

Also on Lutsen Mountain, Eagle Ridge is attractive and very convenient for skiing, being right under the chairlifts.

In Grand Marais, the East Bay Suites replaced the beloved East Bay Hotel but still is pet-friendly and has the same great location on the pebble beach downtown. The small-town coziness is gone, but the suites are handsomely furnished.

Hotels

The Americinn in Silver Bay may be a good place to take kids; it has a 110-foot spiral water slide and rates include breakfast with waffle bar.

The Americinn in Tofte is across the highway from the lake and has a pool.

The new Surfside resort near Tofte.

Beth Gauper

In Grand Marais, the Grand Marais Hotel Company manages five properties,  the Aspen Lodge, Shoreline Inn, Spruceglen Inn and Cobblestone Cove Villas, downtown, and Super 8, on the edge of town.

The newly built Cobblestone Cove Villas, facing the harbor, are popular with well-heeled tourists. The Shoreline is older but right on the water.

The Spruceglen is modest at best but is a very good option for budget travelers (see Mom-and-pop motels of Grand Marais).

In Grand Portage, the Grand Portage Lodge & Casino is right on Lake Superior and has standard hotel rooms and five suites with fireplaces and whirlpools. It also has a restaurant and indoor pool and sauna.

The lodge and nearby Hollow Rock Resort are operated by the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

They're very convenient for visiting Grand Portage National Monument and High Falls on the Pigeon River and for catching the ferry to Isle Royale National Park. Staff members also take guests to see the Little Spirit Cedar tree.

Bed-and-breakfast inns

Cobblestone Cove Villas in Grand Marais.

Beth Gauper

Cobblestone Cove Villas overlook the harbor in Grand Marais.

In Two Harbors, the Lighthouse B&B has three spare but tasteful rooms, and you can't beat the location. They share one bathroom, and there's a half-bath in the basement. The Skiff House, on the grounds adjoining the visitors center, has its own bathroom and hot tub.

The inn is run by volunteers from the historical society, 888-832-5606. For more, see The Lighthouse Express.

Near the northern border of Tettegouche State Park, the log Baptism River Inn B&B, three miles up Minnesota 1 from Minnesota 61, has four very attractive rooms, each with a double whirlpool. It also has an adorable wood-fired sauna at the edge of the woods, 877-353-0707.

Four miles north of Grand Marais, the Superior Overlook is a pleasant B&B on the lake, with two rooms and sauna.

In Grand Portage, Sweetgrass Cove Guesthouse and Bodywork Studio rents a three-room suite to one party at a time, and breakfast and use of the wood-fired sauna and outdoor hot tub is included. Spa services are available on site.

State-park lodgings

Tettegouche State Park has two highly prized places to stay. The luxurious Illgen Falls Cabin is atop 45-foot Illgen Falls on the Baptism River, off Minnesota 1.

It's disabled-accessible, and there's a swimming hole a short walk up the river. For more, see Cabin on a waterfall.

Lighthouse B&B in Two Harbors

Beth Gauper

The Lighthouse B&B in Two Harbors was built in 1892 and still operates its beacon.

Tettegouche Camp is on the other side of the park, accessible only by a -mile gravel road over which guests must tote all their supplies. It includes four rustic cabins on Mic Mac Lake. Cabin B is right on the lake and most popular.

They share a wood-heated lodge and a heated shower house, and they're as popular in winter as in summer.

For more, see Heirs to a hideaway.

Camping

There's camping at seven of the North Shore's eight state parks. Split Rock Lighthouse, which doesn't have very many sites, is the hardest-to-get reservation in the state, with cart-in tent sites only.

If you want one, call a year in advance, the minute reservations open.

No. 1 is a sunny but protected site that's off the trail; it's good for campers with dogs who may bark at passersby. No. 2 and 3 are right off the parking lot but on the trail, so they have less privacy.

No. 11 is right on the trail but pretty, tucked into the side of a hill. No. 13 is not so protected but has a view of the lighthouse and a cobblestone beach below it.

Mic Mac cabins in Tettegouche State Park.

Beth Gauper

In Tettegouche State Park, four rustic cabins sit on Mic Mac Lake.

No. 16 is perhaps the most scenic camping site in Minnesota, with a dead-on view of the lighthouse from a bench perched at the edge of the cliff (and from the door of your tent). It's also the best site if you're camping with friends; it shares a spur from the trail with No. 17, which has a view nearly as good.

No. 18 has a view and is large. No. 19 is a protected site on the corner of the headland and has a bench with a view of the lighthouse. No. 20 is at the end of the trail and has a view of the other side of the point.

Temperance River, Tettegouche, Gooseberry Falls, Judge C.R. Magney and Cascade River also are in the Top 10 most popular camping parks in Minnesota.

Campsites at the inland Crosby Manitou State Park, east of Finland, are easiest to get. Grand Portage State Park is for day use only.

Reservations can be made online or by phone up to a year in advance, starting at 8 a.m. on the first day of availability; after that, online reservations can be made 24 hours a day and by phone between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., 866-857-2757.

There's a nonrefundable reservation fee of $8.50. 

In Two Harbors, the municipal Burlington Bay Campground has 102 sites with hook-ups and 10 tent sites. 218-834-2021.

Campsite 16 at Split Rock.

Beth Gauper

In Split Rock State Park, campsite 16 has its own bench facing the lighthouse.

In Schroeder, Lamb's Resort and Campground has wooded tent campsites on the lake. The ones at the far end of the campground are most scenic — No. 54 is right at the edge of the lake and next to a small cove with a black-sand beach — but farthest from the bathrooms. Vault toilets are closer.

There are RV sites, too. A sauna and showers are available to campers. 218-663-7292.

The municipal Grand Marais Campground has 300 sites on the lakeshore and is next to the North House Folk School. It's dominated by RVs. There's also an indoor pool with sauna and whirlpool, which campers can use for $3.

There's also rustic camping on the lakes in Superior National Forest, in the hills above the North Shore. Most sites can be reserved, 877-444-6777.

Campgrounds include Sawbill Lake, 22 miles from Tofte on County Road 2/Sawbill Trail, on the edge of the Boundary Waters; Sawbill Canoe Outfitters provides some services. The Devil Track Lake campground is 12 miles from Grand Marais.

Vacation rentals

Many people rent out their North Shore properties through such services as VRBO and HomeAway. They're an especially good option for groups, and they're often available even after nearby resorts have booked up.

For more, see Adventures in renting.

From Tofte, Cascade Vacation Rentals rents 86 privately owned homes, cabins and resort units on the North Shore. Many allow pets, $50 per stay.


Last updated on November 18, 2013
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