things to do on the north shore, mile by mile
Here is a catch-all of things to do on the north shore. Mile-by-mile recommendations along the North Shore Scenic Drive, an All-American Road, from Canal Park in Duluth, along the shore, through the burgs and woodlands, to the international border at Grand Portage with a taste of what to expect in Canada. This is just a sampling, get out and make your own discoveries! Note the mileage is indicated by the green mile marker signs posted every mile along Highway 61.
… sail through the canal and under the Aerial Lift Bridge. The gargantuan counterweights slowly descend, raising the 900-ton span of the Aerial Lift Bridge nearly 140 feet in the air to allow 1000-footers [ore boats carrying taconite pellets] and salties [ocean-bound ships] to pass into the harbor. The canal was excavated in 1871 and is a deceptive 300 feet wide and 1,650 feet long. The first aerial transfer was erected in 1905 and modernized in 1929 to what you see today. It can rise to its full height in 55 seconds.
The Lake Superior Maritime Museum houses actual-size replicas of a ship cabin, pilothouse, and massive steam engine. Exhibits and displays include several scale ship models. They list and announce all ship arrivals and departures, too. It’s free!
Part of Kitchi-Gami park; Brighton Beach is is perfect for skipping stones, agate-hunting, ship-watching, wading, picnicking and lollygagging. Features summer-use restrooms, picnic tables and grills. Brighton Beach Road starts just past the little blue tourist info center and connects in 0.8 miles to Scenic 61/Congdon Blvd.
Note North Shore beaches are pebble or cobblestone; for sand, head to Park Point In Duluth.
McQuade Harbor Rest Area is a spanky little safe harbor with a boat launch, kayak ramp, restrooms, interpretive panels, shelter and paved walkway with tunnel to the east breakwall which includes three fishing platforms. Nice spot for a picnic, shore casting, or a little leg-stretcher.
Stoney Point Road is ideal for wave watching on stormy days, lake gazing and relaxing on calm days, quiet driving, picnicking. You will find public access toward the east end of the one-mile road.
A DNR marina, the river, a Lake Superior beach, Rec Center and a few businesses add up to be the little burg of Knife River. Originally founded as Buchanan, after President Buchanan, this unincorporated village has been home to commercial fishermen for the past 150+ years. During a spring gale in April 1914, 64-mile-per-hour winds proved too much for the 239-foot steel steamer Benjamin Noble, which sank off Knife Island.
A small cluster along Scenic 61, the focal point of Larsmont is the Little Red Schoolhouse. On the National Register of Historic Places, it is a community hub for area residents. Stop and see what’s happening.
Interesting tidbit: Larsmont received its name in 1914 from an early settler who was originally from Larsmo, Finland.
Visit the oldest operating lighthouse in Minnesota; on the National Register of Historic Places. Tour the Fog Horn Building, which focuses on fishing and shipwrecks, and a pilot house from the iron ore ship Frontenac. The light keeper’s quarters are now a B&B. The complex is part of the Lake County Historical Society.
Walk from Agate Bay near the iron ore docks along a 1-mile paved walkway, the Sonju Trail, to Burlington Bay.
Agate Bay attractions include the Edna G tugboat, the Railroad Depot museum, the Two Harbors Lighthouse museum and gift shop, and working ore docks – watch ships enter the harbor, dock and load up with pellets. Skip stones, picnic and search for agates along the cobblestone beach of Burlington Bay.
Walk the Beach
Flood Bay State Wayside offers a nice long pebble beach. Amble, search for agates, wade, picnic, relax. The walkway to the beach goes through a wetland that is sometimes home to waterfowl, otters, and beavers. Offers a seasonal restroom.
For many this is the first big stop on their travels. This four-season park offers accessible trails to rushing waterfalls, plus trails to through the woods, along the river and to Lake Superior; naturalist programs, biking, fishing, fall colors, birding, skiing, plus shopping, exhibits, restrooms, and visitor info in a firelit lobby within the Visitor Center.
Go to the Pink Beach
Drive right up to this expansive beach, Iona’s Beach Scientific & Natural Area, which is bookended by cliffs, rhyolite, and bedrock to the north and basalt to the south. Nor’easters work away at the northern cliff, breaking off shards of the pink rhyolite and wash them down shore. Once home to Twin Points Resort, the area is named after longtime owner Iona Lind.
Scientific and Natural Areas [SNAs] are natural resources that are rare or of exceptional scientific and educational value.
Split Rock Lighthouse is the most well-known visual representation of the North Shore. Have you been? The Lighthouse, part of the MN Historical Society, offers a guided tour of the lighthouse, fog-signal building, oil house and light-keeper’s house. The visitor center has gifts, exhibits and a brief video. Each November 10th, the beacon is lit at the Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial.
The adjacent state park has trails, camping, and alluring forests running down to the shoreline.
Enjoy the eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, then stop by the cemetery and pay your respects to legendary North Shore mail carrier John Beargrease.
Stop by the new trailhead, check out the maps and make the short walk to admire views of the Beaver Falls, Beaver River, river mouth and bay. The river drops 300 feet in a series of cascades and falls above the Highway 61 bridge, then enters the sedate bay.
Spacious slips for daily or seasonal rental, a picnic area, amenities in the marina shop, a short hiking path and a top-notch view of ships being loaded with taconite at Cliffs Natural Resources dock. The Silver Bay Marina plays host to the annual Salmon Classic fishing contest, too.
This calm slice of shoreline gets its name from the taconite tailings [crushed rock] that makes up the beach. Offering picnic tables, outhouses and both the Black Beach and an agate beach. New in 2020 is the adjacent campground.
Palisade Head is a lakeside cliff with a stellar sweeping outlook over Lake Superior and up and down its shoreline. In the summer, drive to the top along a a curvy tree-shadowed barely-two-lane road with limited parking and an occasional blueberry bush at the top. In winter, you can hike up the unplowed road. Stop at the Tettegouche State Park office for a permit if you wish to climb [gasp!] Palisade.
Spread over 9300 acres, Tettegouche is a handful of overlapping parks including Lake Superior coastline, Baptism River and falls, inland lakes, hardwood forests, rugged topography PLUS 24/7 restrooms, a café and gifts, and charming fireside indoor and outdoor seating. Something for everyone!
Lift your glass to this mythical Finnish saint who is cherished for leading the grasshoppers away from vineyards’ grapes. This is the perfect stop for people looking for something out-of-the-way, and a little less known. While the wooden carving of St. Urho is many feet high, keep an eye out, a leafy tree semi-obscures the statue from the road. When you’re done taking selfies, have a bite to eat in town.
St. Urho’s Day is celebrated the Saturday closest to March 16th. Finland offers up a beauty pageant, a parade, music, food and fun.
Take a leg-stretcher along the 1-mile interpretive nature trail that departs from the parking area and includes a stop at Sugarloaf Cove on Lake Superior. The Interpretive Center has exhibits and artifacts from early logging operations in the area.
For thirty-one years Taconite Harbor was home to families working the adjacent Erie Mining loading dock and power plant. When mining took a downturn in the 1980s, the company cleared the town for a new venture. Follow the road south of Highway 61. On the right you will see the remnants of main street, including a few street lights and the basketball court. The end of the road takes you to an outdoor exhibit explaining the taconite operation, a public boat launch, safe harbor, and views of the rusting ore docks.
Highway 61 spans the Cross River mid-waterfalls. While the drive-by view is nice, stop and walk the pedestrian bridge, an ideal vantage point for photos. Back in the day, the John Schroeder Lumber Company would dam the headwaters of the Cross River until spring, then shoot logs downriver to Lake Superior, where they were bound into rafts and floated over to Ashland and Superior, Wisconsin.
Amazing river gorges that start a few feet inland from the highway, waterfalls, two foot-bridges, hiking, a cobblestone river mouth, camping and hiking. Hike a short way upriver to the amazing gorges, then return south of the highway and walk across the foot-bridge. During spring runoff or after rainy days, the river spray will mist you. Back in the day, this was the only river without a [sand] bar at the mouth, hence the name, Temperance.
And how did they do it 100 years ago? Learn about commercial fishing, past and present, at the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum, where many artifacts from families’ of the original Scandinavian settlers are on display. Continue your education via plaques along the the lakewalk edging Bluefin Bay.
This perennial favorite, the Oberg Mountain Loop, starts off a short spur from the parking area and climbs at an angle up to western views down the shore, then panoramic Lake Superior views to the south, then northeast view up the shoreline, and finally northern views over Oberg Lake and the amazing maple-covered hillsides to the north. The trail meanders under maple and birch canopies, over bedrock slabs and can be steep at times. The loop is 2.25 miles total.
Lutsen Mountains, the Midwest’s largest and tallest ski area offers alpine skiers and snowboarders 95 sweeping runs over four mountains. Non-skiers can enjoy slopeside views and amenities at two chalets. Spring, summer and autumn visitors can hike, bike, ride the gondola and alpine slide, and dine at the chalets.
Cascade brings the river to you. A quick jaunt up well-maintained trails brings you to overlooks and a footbridge spanning the cascades [ideal photo spot]. Picnic spots are a quarter mile farther along Highway 61. If you want to ski over the river and through the woods, Cascade has amazing cross-country skiing. Feel free to snowshoe anywhere, too.
Heading northeast, just past Thomsonite Beach, Highway 61 curves left, revealing picturesque Good Harbor Bay, Seagull Rock, and, in the distance, Grand Marais. Use the pull of to admire the view and take photos. A quarter mile farther is Cut Face Creek Wayside, a nice spot for a picnic, an agate search, and skipping stones.
Artist’s Point is the island and tombolo, spit of land, that makes up the east side of the harbor including the east breakwall and lighthouse; a drop of wilderness in the lake. So inspiring! Find picnic tables along the East Bay’s cobblestone beaches.
Relax, skip stones, and picnic on the beach. The there-and-back hike follows the Kadunce River with spurs to overlooks and pools. During the warm months of summer, when the water runs low, many locals hike up the river including climbing the waterfall.
The popular hike runs cliffside high above the Brule River. After a spur to the Lower Falls, make the final climb to where the splits. The eastern flow tumbles over the High Falls while the western arm drops into the Devil’s Kettle, final destination unknown. The hike is within Judge C.R. Magney State Park.
This sweet little bay is a Lake Superior safe harbor with a boat access; no amenities; pack out what you pack in.
Learn about the alliance between the Grand Portage Ojibwe and the North West Company during the fur trade boom in the late 1700s. at the Grand Portage National Monument. Explore the reconstructed stockade and great hall, the visitor center, garden and grounds, Mount Rose trail and historic Grand Portage trail leading 8.5 miles inland to Fort Charlotte on the Pigeon River.
It’s all about hiking to the 120-foot High Falls, but leave time for the exhibits, gift shop and interpretive signs in and around the Visitor Center, where you can learn about the culture and traditions of the Grand Portage Ojibwe people. Bring your camera.
Access to Grand Portage State Park is Free!
State Park Vehicle Permits are NOT required at this park.
Cross the border and spend some time in Canada [passport/approved documentation required to cross the border]. Thunder Bay is 36 miles over the border; along the way are the Middle Falls Provincial Park, shops and farm stands, Old Fort William, Kakabeka Falls. Canada is English-speaking, uses the same rules of the road, uses the metric system, has their own currency, and is in Eastern Time Zone, one hour ahead of Minnesota.