The North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota is one of the most popular places to go “up north.” As Lake Superior is the third largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the largest lake in North America (making it the biggest of all of the Great Lakes), there’s a whole lot to see in this beautiful part of Minnesota!
The North Shore begins in Duluth and stretches along the lake to Grand Portage (about 145 miles) and the Canadian border (roughly 160 miles). Highway 61 is a National Scenic Byway, and some of the views are simply stunning! There are lots of rest stops, way areas, and small places to pull off so you can get out of the car and snap some pictures.
As with any road trip, there are a few essentials you should have: good road trippin’ music, a detailed map, a whole lot of snacks, camera, sunglasses, and a good attitude. Keep in mind that it can be exceptionally windy (and therefore a bit chilly) on the North Shore, so bringing a jacket is a good idea even in summer. If you plan on doing any hiking (or just climbing on rocks along the lake), be sure you have good, sturdy shoes.
For full disclosure, I did the Duluth-Grand Marias portion in one day from Minneapolis, and got back to Duluth where I was staying for the night. It was an extremely long day—if you’re coming from the Twin Cities, I recommend at the very least two days to see the North Shore. You should plan on going for longer if you want to do any camping/hiking along the way.
There are plenty of gas stations along the highway, as well as lots of shops, restaurants/cafes, and galleries. You’ll always have more options in one of the towns (however small they may be) along the highway!
So where all should you stop along Lake Superior’s North Shore in Minnesota? Here are the top places to visit on the North Shore!
Duluth is such a great city, it merits its own full blog post, which you can read here. As one of the largest cities in Minnesota after the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), Duluth is a solid destination for a trip up north. There’s tons to do, especially around the Lakewalk and Canal Park area. You can’t miss a trip to PortLand Malt Shoppe—I’d walk back to Duluth for another one of those bad boys!
This town is definitely typical of the cozy, small towns you find along the North Shore. The main street (the same as Highway 61) has some small shops and restaurants/cafes that help break up a road trip. There’s nice views of the lake from the town, and Betty’s Pies (just north of town off of Highway 61) was recommended to me by two different people, even though the wait was over half an hour when I visited and I couldn’t stop!
Another can’t-miss site on the North Shore, there’s plenty to see at Gooseberry Falls State Park. You’ll need a State Park permit in order to visit. There’s an on-site visitor center, but of course the main attraction are the falls themselves. You can visit the Upper, Middle, and Lower falls to get great views of the river crashing through the gorge.
Split Rock Lighthouse
One of the most iconic symbols of the North Shore, Split Rock Lighthouse was built in 1910 and operated until 1969. Today, the site is run by the Minnesota Historical Society—they do tours of the lighthouse area, and there’s also an exhibit center and short film. The best views of the lighthouse are from down below, at the bottom of the old tramway. The whole place is a can’t-miss stop on any North Shore road trip! If you want to visit Split Rock Lighthouse State Park just down the road (which I definitely recommend!), you’ll need a State Park permit.
This rock formation is a spectacular part of the shoreline on Lake Superior. There’s only a small sign for the turn-off for Palisade Head (just north of Silver Bay), and it’s a narrow, winding drive up to the top parking lot. The views are stunning—have your camera ready!
Tettegouche State Park
Another great State Park along the North Shore, Tettegouche is a great place to stop to do some hiking, fishing, or rock climbing. There are four waterfalls (including the High Falls of the Baptism River, the highest waterfall located entirely within Minnesota), as well as a beach on Lake Superior. There is a large visitor center off of Highway 61.
While I unfortunately missed this on my most recent trip, I’ve been camping at Caribou Falls before and really enjoyed it. There is a small wayside off of Highway 61, and a hike (about 1 mile) along the Caribou River brings you to Caribou Falls. If you have the time and are looking for a short hike off the highway, stop over at Caribou Falls!
Again, I missed out on exploring this area more as I was crunched for time. But even just from the highway wayside, you could hear the thundering of the Temperance River on its way through the gorge to Lake Superior! This would be another great stop to get out and do a bit of hiking to break up all the driving.
If you are coming to the North Shore in winter, you will probably be going to Lutsen to ski. As mid-America’s largest ski resort, this small town is full of resorts and in the snowy season transforms into ski central! If you’re visiting in summer, make sure to take the mountain tramway to the top of Moose Mountain, for amazing views of Lake Superior and the surrounding area.
A cute, small town with loads of independent shops and restaurants, Grand Marais is also famous for its harbor and lighthouse. It’s a nice place to do some shopping and get some food while on the North Shore! I devoured a delicious burger at Gun Flint Tavern, but Sven and Ole’s Pizza is a classic as well. Voyageur Brewing Company has an outside deck with views of the lake!
Grand Portage is just about as north as you get in Minnesota. Go any farther, and you’ll be in Canada! If you’re going here, chances are you’ll be visiting Grand Portage National Monument, a United States National Monument to the important fur trade activity and Native American Ojibwe heritage. You can still hike the Grand Portage, an 8.5-mile route between the Pigeon River and Lake Superior, which was part of the trade route of French-Canadian voyageurs. The hike passes several waterfalls.
Over to you! Where are your favorite places along the North Shore? Any places I’ve missed?!