Top Things to Do Along Minnesota's North Shore | Midwest Living

Top Things to Do Along Minnesota's North Shore

Sprawling parks and maritime marvels line the Lake Superior shore between Duluth and Grand Portage. The best way to see it all? The 154-mile-long North Shore Scenic Byway (State-61). Check out our guide for what to do, where to eat and where to stay in Duluth, Grand Marais and all along the North Shore.


Aerial Lift Bridge Duluth’s 135-foot-tall bridge rises more than 20 times each day for sailboats and skyscraper-length ships traveling between Lake Superior and Duluth Harbor. Watch the action from the North or South piers or along the Lakewalk.

Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge.

Aerial Lift Bridge

Artists Point A ½-mile hike from the parking lot at Grand Marais Harbor leads over lava rock and through forest to the scene at the end—a rocky shore and lighthouse, popular with photographers.

Artists Point, Grand Marais

Artists Point at Grand Marais

Boundary Country Trekking Along with other adventure vacations, this small outfitter plans lodge-to-lodge routes on the Superior Hiking Trail, arranging accommodations, meals and shuttle service.

Canal Park Near the foot of the Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth’s revived warehouse district contains shops, restaurants and attractions, such as the Lake Superior Maritime Visitors Center and the Great Lakes Aquarium.

Canal Park

Lighthouse at Canal Park

Cascade River State Park Hiking or cross-country skiing trips lead past waterfalls crashing over black volcanic rock in a gorge 10 miles southwest of Grand Marais.

Glensheen Tour the 39 rooms and 7 acres of gardens of this 1908 mansion, built by a Duluth iron mining baron.

Gooseberry Falls State Park North of Two Harbors, pull off of State-61 for a ¼-mile walk to the first of a series of copper-color falls. Displays at the visitors center explain the geology and history of the area.

Grand Portage State Park  A 1⁄2-mile trail and boardwalk lead to the 120-foot-tall High Falls of the Pigeon River on the U.S.-Canada border. In the 1700s, fur traders had to take a 9-mile detour, or portage, to get around the rocky terrain.

Grand Portage State Park

Grand Portage State Park. Photo courtesy of Ginger Crichton.

Great Lakes Aquarium Check out the freshwater critters (otters and gigantic sturgeon) at this Duluth aquarium.

Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway This two-lane road winds 57 miles inland from Grand Marais to hiking trails, fishing spots and wildlife viewing areas. Make reservations for dinner at Loon Lake Lodge, which serves a different entree each night. Gunflint Lodge offers horseback riding, ziplining and dining in Red Paddle Bistro.

Hawk Ridge Bird Nature Reserve More than a dozen species of raptors stop here during their fall migration. Bring binoculars to see them from the trails off Duluth’s East Skyline Parkway.

Jay Cooke State Park Hikers get a bird’s-eye view of the St. Louis River from the swinging bridge in this trail-loaded park 20 miles southwest of Duluth.

Lutsen Mountains Sawtooth Mountain Park A tram takes you up to panoramic views of Lake Superior; an alpine slide speeds you down Eagle Mountain. Eagle Ridge Resort puts you in the middle of the action.

North House Folk School  In Grand Marais, year-round lessons keep alive traditional crafts like basket weaving and canoe building.

North Shore Scenic Railroad Interesting narrated train rides chug along Lake Superior’s rugged shore.

Park Point Beach Watch ships pass through a Duluth canal from a spot on the largest sandbar in the world—or the chilly waters off it.

Spirit Mountain Zoom down the Timber Twister—an alpine slide and roller coaster combo—or take the chairlift to mountain bike runs at the Duluth area resort.

Split Rock Lighthouse Costumed interpreters talk about the life of a lightkeeper. Stairs at the 1910 lighthouse lead to lake views.

SS William A. Irvin Climb aboard Duluth’s 1938 iron ore workhorse to learn about Great Lakes freighters.

Superior Hiking Trail This trail stretches more than 300 miles along the ridge above Lake Superior.

Tettegouche State Park Sixty miles northeast of Duluth, lava flows, like Palisade Head, rise 300 feet above Lake Superior, while a 60-foot waterfall rewards hikers along the Baptism River.

Two Harbors Light Station Museum Tour the oldest continuously operating light station—since 1892—in the state.

Vikre Distillery Lake Superior water goes into craft products like aquavit, a spiced Scandinavian liquor.

Vikre Distillery

Vikre Distillery


Amazing Grace Bakery and Cafe The motto “Be brave, be kind, don’t eat bad bread” sums up the attitude of this Canal Park spot frequented by musicians, poets and diners looking for comfort food.

Angry Trout Cafe This sunny favorite on the harbor in Grand Marais is local to the core: Lake Superior fish and artisan decor in an old fish house.

Betty’s Pies If five-layer chocolate pie or apple-strawberry crunch pie sound good, you've found your happy place in Two Harbors.

Bluefin Grille The eatery attached to Tofte’s Bluefin Bay resort offers innovative takes on local specialties, such as wild-rice pancakes and cranberry duck.

Clyde Iron Works Restaurant and Bar Enjoy wood-fired pizza and wood-grilled burgers in Duluth’s former steel manufacturing plant. On the main floor, diners can even enjoy a quick game of bocce ball on the full-size indoor court.

Coho Cafe and Bakery Breakfasts like sourdough French toast and wild rice sausage add big flavor at a small lakeside cafe in Tofte.

Crooked Spoon Cafe Try fresh Arctic char with red curry butter sauce at this intimate spot in Grand Marais.

Dockside Fish Market Order smoked fish and fish chowder to go, or dine in at the local favorite in Grand Marais.

Duluth Grill Local, organic, gluten-free, vegetarian? Yep, those buzzwords rule here. Even the ketchup and coffee mugs are locally made.

Grandma’s Saloon and Grill At the original location in Duluth’s Canal Park, diners sit practically at the foot of the Aerial Lift Bridge. Choose from a hearty array of salads, sandwiches and entrees.

Gun Flint Tavern A diverse menu in Grand Marais showcases microbrews, organic ingredients and a mix of ethnic dishes. Live music entertains many nights of the week.

Loon Lake Lodge A set menu, a set serving time and all-inclusive prices make dinner on the Gunflint Trail feel homey. Entree options may include ribs, roasted duck or lasagna.

New Scenic Cafe Fourteen miles northeast of Duluth, the restaurant looks like a typical roadside cafe, but it plates expertly prepared dishes. We crave the hamburger with heirloom tomatoes on a brioche bun.

Northern Waters Smokehaus Duluth deli owner Eric Goerdt marries classic with modern, piling moist, flaky smoked salmon on a salad with Marcona almonds and wasabi mayonnaise.

Papa Charlie’s Mountain views from the deck of this Lutsen spot make a meal of barbecue ribs or chicken Florentine tortellini all the more enjoyable.

PortLand Malt Shoppe Slurp salted caramel malts while admiring Lake Superior from the Duluth Lakewalk.

Portland Malt Shoppe

Portland Malt Shoppe

Rustic Inn Cafe Tasty fruit pies and hot, made-to-order sandwiches satisfy at a cozy cafe 10 miles northeast of Two Harbors.

Va Bene Caffe The scent of garlic pulls diners into this cafe perched above the Lakewalk in Duluth. After homemade pasta, savor an espresso and gelato.

Valentini’s Vicino Lago Years of experience feed the Italian menu at the family-owned Duluth eatery.

Voyageur Brewing Company Cheese and ale fondue pairs well with Devil’s Kettle, a pale ale with pine notes. Relax on a rooftop patio with views of the Grand Marais harbor.

Zeitgeist Arts Cafe Yes, the menu lists artistic compositions of fresh ingredients. But the name also refers to the Duluth venue’s movie house and black-box theater.


Breezy Point Cabins on Lake Superior Twelve recently renovated cabins just south of Two Harbors perch in a prime location on rocks at the lake’s edges.

Caribou Highlands Lodge In Lutsen’s Sawtooth Mountains, the ski resort is a four-season destination.

Cross River Lodge A quiet resort along the Gunflint Trail makes a hospitable and family-friendly fishing base.

East Bay Suites Stay in sleek lakeside condos with balconies and fireplaces at the edge of Lake Superior in the heart of Grand Marais.

Edgewater Hotel and Waterpark A tropical-theme water park with two tube slides attracts families to this Duluth hotel.

Fitger’s Inn Top-notch staff work at this stylish inn in walking distance of Duluth’s Canal Park.

Grand Superior Lodge North of Two Harbors, the resort offers amenities like kayak tours. Choose from rooms, cabins or lakefront homes.

Gunflint Lodge All-inclusive packages draw guests to a lakefront resort at the edge of the Boundary Waters, 43 miles northwest of Grand Marais.

Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior Twenty miles north of Duluth, luxurious rentals line Lake Superior. Swim in the indoor pool and unwind in the wood-fired Finnish sauna.

Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior Reasonable prices for the lodge, condos and cabins include kayaking, yoga, guided hikes, campfires and stand-up paddleboarding.

South Pier Inn on the Canal Second-floor rooms facing the canal give the best view of ships passing under Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge.

For more information: 

Visit Duluth

Cook County Visitors Bureau/Grand Marais

Cook County Visitors Bureau/Gunflint Trail

Cook County Visitors Bureau/Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder

Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce


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