Highway 61 aka Scenic 61
This lakeside drive, Scenic 61, is part of the original Highway 61, following the 1899 wagon trail about 20 miles from Brighton Beach to the entrance to Two Harbors. It offers overlooks, access to Lake Superior, shops, restaurants and lodging. Mostly it gives the flavor of what Highway 61 was like back in the day.
If you are looking for a slower-paced drive with lots of views of Lake Superior, this is your road. Be sure to pull into the wayside rests and take the Stoney Point Road, too [details below]. Look for agates, listen to the lake, watch the waves, stop for smoked fish.
Milage starts at the Duluth Lift Bridge
Canal Park – where the North Shore starts – includes the Aerial Lift Bridge, the Marine Museum, the Lakewalk, sculptures and public art [like this sculpture wall], shops, restaurants, and lodging.
Enter the Lakewalk from several points in Canal Park and walk along the shore, through Leif Erikson park and the Duluth Rose Gardens and continue to Brighton Beach, on the eastern edge of Duluth; up to 10+ miles roundtrip.
The gargantuan counterweights slowly descend, raising the 900-ton span of the Aerial Lift Bridge, nearly 140 feet in the air. That allows the 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!
Choose the ‘Two Harbors Turn’ and ride the rails from downtown Duluth to the waterfront in Two Harbors. Hop off, have lunch, shop and board for the return trip.
Operates summer weekend leaving at 10 am and returning late afternoon.
Part of Kitchi-Gami park; Brighton Beach is perfect for skipping stones, agate-hunting, ship-watching, wading, picnicking and lollygagging. Features summer-use restrooms, picnic tables and grills. Brighton Beach starts just past the little blue tourist info center and runs 0.8 miles to Scenic 61/Congdon Blvd.
Note North Shore beaches are pebble or cobblestone; for sand, head to Park Point In Duluth.
Watch for traffic on these routes! A one-mile-plus paved road runs through Brighton Beach, the first park northeast of Duluth, just past the Lester River.
A bike ride along Scenic 61 showcases Lake Superior and allows you to explore along the way. Stop for lunch, and pick up some delicious smoked fish.
Length: up to 19.5 miles one-way
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Trailhead: Brighton Beach, MM 5.2
McQuade Harbor Rest Area is a spanky little safe harbor. W You’ll find a boat launch, kayak ramp, restrooms, interpretive panels, shelter, and paved walkway with a tunnel to the east b.breakwall. It includes three fishing platforms. Nice spot for a picnic, shore casting, or a little leg-stretcher.
French River Wayside Rest Area
The NEW interpretive panels at French River Wayside Rest give a snapshot of the creation of Scenic 61/Congdon Boulevard. Learn some history of commercial fishing on Lake Superior. The site has an easy walk down to a gravel swimming beach (no fishing!). That makes it an ideal place to cool down on those 12 hot days of the year.
A fish sanctuary from the mouth of the French River to the four-lane freeway is in place. as tThe MN Department of Natural Resources traps adult rainbow trout, sometimes referred to as steelhead. The big steelhead run happens from late October into November, with a smaller spring run in April.
Eggs are removed and sent to a Minnesota hatchery, where offspring are raised and returned to Lake Superior. The hatchery fish have their adipose fin (the one on the back between the dorsal fin and tail) clipped. Unclipped fish are native and have naturally reproduced.
steelhead, rainbow, kamloops trout – what’s the difference?
Rainbow trout and steelhead are the same species. Steelhead live in saltwater and spawn in freshwater streams, while rainbows live in freshwater.
Pacific steelhead fish were introduced to Lake Superior in the 1890s. Rainbows raised in a hatchery and released are also known as Kamloops or ‘Loopers. Unclipped/native fish can never be harvested when fishing.
Stoney Point Scenic Drive is a brief one-mile dirt road edging Lake Superior off Scenic Highway 61. It is ideal for wave-watching on stormy days, lake gazing and relaxing on calm days, and picnicking. You will find public access to the big lake toward the east end of the road.
The little burg of Knife River MN includes a DNR marina, the river, a Lake Superior beach, rec center, and a few businesses. 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.