Shafts of green light dance across the sky. Fans of pink glow for hours. Vibrant pulsating white wands illuminate the night heavens. This is the aurora borealis, one the most amazing phenomena you can experience.
Scientifically, auroras are created as gases on the sun’s surface release protons and electrons into space. Disturbances ranging from mild eruptions to violent storms emit masses of these atomic particles, which are attracted to the north and south magnetic poles. Aurora forecasting is a bit of a gamble, bu they are known to arise when sunspot activity peaks. Click on the additional info below for my favorite forecaster, choose the map that includes northern MN and if the forecast is 4 or higher, your sightings odds are decent.
Remember, in November it starts getting dark in late afternoon, so you don’t need to stay up late to view the aurora.
Weather is great topic of discussion on the Shore. People ask if you have heard the forecast. But the forecast is often for right along the shore which can be an entirely different temp than inland, which is separated by the big lake by a ridge. After while you learn to just look out the window. My tip is to remember to look at night, too.
when you look, you begin to see the ever changing skies manifest some awesome celestial phenomena. One reliable feature is the Milky Way. Our entire solar system sits minutely amid this massive spiraling star formation. The Milky Way arches across the sky throughout the year but is brightest in the summer and is most easily seen on moonless nights away from obstructing lights. Use binoculars to focus in on the stunning mass of shimmering stars.
This annual meteor shower takes place from about April 17 -25, peaking on April 22nd-23rd. During peak, you can expect about 20 meteors an hour. Lyrids are caused by the dust from Comet Thatcher. and named after the constellation Lyra. Starting the evening of April 22nd, go outside, away from artificial light, and look northeast. Get comfy and enjoy. The comets will pass near Vega, which is the brightest star in this part of the sky that night.
Every year in August, Earth passes through a stream of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The shower is beloved by sky watchers. It is rich in fireballs and plays out over a two-week period of warm, starry summer nights. The 2018 Perseids will peak on the night of August 12 and early morning hours of August 13. A new moon creates dark skies and excellent conditions to see the shooting stars. Peak watching should begin about midnight, when up to 48 meteors per hour could e seen.
Go outside between midnight and dawn and look to the eastern sky. Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up. Perseids can appear anywhere in the sky, but their tails will point back to a single point in the constellation Perseus.
December 13-14, 2018, mid-evening until dawn. Radiating from near the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini the Twins, the Geminid meteor shower is one of the finest meteors showers visible in either the Northern or the Southern Hemisphere. In 2018, the rather wide waxing crescent moon staying out until mid-evening shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. The moon will set before the peak viewing hours of the Geminid shower, from late evening until dawn. The meteors are plentiful, rivaling the August Perseids. They are often bold, white and bright. On a dark night, you can often catch 50 or more meteors per hour. The greatest number of meteors fall in the wee hours after midnight, centered around 2 a.m. local time (the time on your clock no matter where you are on Earth), when the radiant point is highest in the sky.
Birds can be easy to spot but hard to identify. More than 200 native species reside from Duluth up the North Shore plus some unusual birds can be seen on the highly traveled Lake Superior migration route. For identification, look for an app, or buy a field guide book. Minnesota’s state bird, the common loon, can be observed nesting, diving and swimming on inland lakes, spring to fall, while non-breeders linger on Superior’s shores. You will most likely spot Canada geese and snow gees plus a variety of ducks on Superior, too. One year round resident is the Herring gull, [mistakenly, but commonly called a seagull].
Some big birds you may spot along the shore include the bald eagle, which stands up to 3-feet tall with wingspans up to 7-feet. Immature bald eagles are often mistaken for golden eagles, which are slightly smaller and have an amber head and neck. Of the same size, is the turkey vulture, characterized by its red, featherless low-held head. The large great gray and snowy owls are up to four times the size of the native boreal and saw-whet owls. And then there is the pre-historic, red-capped pileated woodpecker [pictured here].
Lake Superior and northwest winds funnel migrating hawks down Superior’s shoreline each September. In mid-September, thousands of broad-winged, red-tailed, and rough-shinned hawks ride the thermals. In mid-October, sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawsk and goshawks pass through. The osprey, largest of all hawks, builds nests along inland lakeshores. At 2-feet tall, with a five-to-six foot wing span, and a terrific head-first dive that makes a last minute minute switch to feet first, you’ll know the osprey when you see it.
Our north woods are host to timber wolves, moose, coyotes, black bear, white-tailed deer, pine marten, fisher, and beaver. Lots of folks hope to chance upon one of these mammals, but you can increase your opportunity for sightings by considering a few points. First, look in the right place, at the right time, keeping in mind the season.For instance, look for white-tailed deer yarded up midday in clearings during winter when snow is deep.Second, become aware of signs and when to read them. Winter is an ideal time to learn animal tracking. Third, be patient and bring binoculars. From September 1 through the end of the year, wear a blaze orange cap or jacket, too, since several hunting season are open at this time. Stay at least 50 feet away – they are wild animals after all.
The thick foliage and bounty of summer make wildlife sightings tougher. Consider spring and fall, when migration, courtship rituals and feasting mean high activity levels. If you have questions, stop by a Forest Service Ranger Station. Wildlife is their business. Both the Tofte and Grand Marais Ranger stations [on Hwy 61] have a variety of animal mounts, too.
Drive backroads in May before the trees leaf out, when the moose are filling their bellies on fresh browse. Drive the same roads at dusk in early December when the moose come out to lick the [de-icing] salt off the roads.
How delicious is it that while out ambling nature offers these delectable treats! The most common edible berries in the north woods are strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and high bush cranberries, which ripen in this order. Wild strawberries are tiny, if you find a thimble-sized one, it is a bonus. Look in mid- to late-June at dry edges of woods and in open fields. Blueberries grow in rocky upland forests, especially in areas where forest fires came through a few years prior. Picking begins around the 4th of July and continues through Labor Day and sometimes into September. Raspberries grow in cutover areas, producing juicy red fruit from July into August. If, when raspberry picking, you come across what appears to be a mammoth softer raspberry with less distinct lobes, you’ve discovered thimbleberries, which are also edible, although the flavor is bit more muted. And round your season of berries by heading out in late August into September for high bush cranberries. These bright red berries grow in clusters on bushes overhanging lakeshores and in bogs and swamps.
Ours eye are often drawn to the big view – the amazing waterfall, the panorama of the Lake Superior, the river gorge. While you’re out and about, take time to look down. The shaded habitat of wooded river edges favors little spring flowers like spring beauties, trillium and columbine. No need to hike to see flowers. Marsh marigolds fill spring ditches with masses of yellow heads. Then in June the lupine [shown here] spread across hillsides. Throughout summer contrasting daisies and black-eyed Susans, set the stage for tall willowy hot pink fireweed.
Unique or infrequently seen wildflowers grow in mini-tundra ecosystems found along the shore, including the Butterwort Cliffs. It is located a few miles northeast of, but still within, Cascade River State Park. [Note – it is illegal to pick or dig up wildflowers within state parks]. Butterwort is a small carnivorous plant typically found closer to Hudson Bay and north. It grows in fragile mats with sticky yellow-green leaves. Another carnivorous flower is the northern pitcher plant, found in swampy areas and where shallow creeks join lakes. It looks a bit like a muted red lady’s slipper. The lady slipper, Minnesota’s state flower, can sometimes be seen in openings in wooded areas where you may also spot wild lilies and orchids.
Enjoy the flowers!
This is the real thing! Third and fourth generation candy makers using family recipes, and quality ingredients. And they make an amazing variety of candy -> chocolates with and without nuts, divinity, barks, fudge, jellies, brittle, toffee, marzipan, caramels, truffles. Everything is flavorful and fresh and beyond delicious!
Open seasonally from late April until late December.
Open daily 10am-6pm, and until 7pm June 1 to mid-October
At 233 Scenic Drive in Knife River at mile marker 19.5
note: the Scenic Drive runs along Lake Superior parallel to Highway 61
Smoking Lake Superior Fish since 1908. That’s 110 years. They’ve got it down.
My favorite is the smoked whitefish, but you should really try the sugar cured salmon. And the trout. Or get a sampler and pick your own favorites. You’ll also find crackers and cheese and a few other items to round out your quintessential North Shore picnic lunch. By the way, bring a cooler, because smoked fish makes a great souvenir. Keep it in the paper, not ziplocs or plastic as they encourage mold. And for a fresh off the smoker taste, I like putting mine in the oven just until it warms through – yum!
At 149 Scenic Drive in Knife River at mile marker 19.0
note: the Scenic Drive runs along Lake Superior parallel to Highway 61
The newest old smoked fish shop on the shore. Re-opened this summer, the new owners maintain the quality and legacy of founder Lou Sjoberg. Specialties include Cajun Smoked Salmon and Lake Trout, smoked jumbo shrimp and a nice selection of artisan craft cheese’s by Eichtens.
New to the shop -> hard-scooped ice cream in small, medium and large.
Open 7 days a week in the summer at 10am, closing at 6pm Monday – Wednesday, 8pm Thursday & Saturday, 9pm Friday, and 7pm Sunday.
Located at 1319 Highway 61 just past the northeastern most stop light in Two Harbors at mile marker 27.1.
Liquid gold. Many locals tap trees, collect sap and boil syrup for personal use and the shore is home to a few commercial operations. These two welcome you to stop by and see how the process happens and purchase real North Shore maple syrup. Check local grocery stores, co-ops and gift shops for local maple syrup, too.
558 Caribou Trail in Lutsen
Open 7 days/week
Stop in and see how maple syrup is made. The sugar house is just off Caribou Trail. Maple syrup and other maple related items for sale as well as hand harvested wild rice. Open 7 days/wk
Wild Country Maple
191 Barker Lake Rd in Lutsen
Open daily May-Dec from 9am-5pm
Visit the sugar bush operation and unique dovetail log buildings [call to schedule a tour]. This is the retail operation for Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup and they sell maple syrup and caramels, honey and wild rice.
The North Shore’s first brewery! From a busting at the seams, brewed in a converted garage, local favorite to a hugely popular Taproom and Brewery with Growlers, pints and cans, Castle Danger offers seasonal favorites and classic including IPAs, lagers, Belgians, stouts, and ales. My favorite – the Cream Ale on draught.
Check out live music weekends and events throughout the week. They offer pretzels and chips and salsa and encourage you to order in from a local restaurant and have delivery and take out menus at the bar. Brewery tours are Fridays and Saturdays at 5pm and last around 30 minutes for groups up to 20 people; $3 per person. All proceeds are donated to the local food shelf and a beer is included. No private tours.
Open noon to 10pm Friday and Saturday and noon to 9pm Sunday through Thursday.
Located at 170 Seventh St in Two Harbors; from mile marker 26.8 turn south on 7th St for .4 miles.
The North Shore Winery and the Sawtooth Mountain Cider House ferment red, white and rosé wines and hard ciders using imported and local ingredients like maple syrup from Caribou Creme. Seasonal offerings include a winter dessert wine and specialty ciders to complement the house blends.
Tastings and tours are offered noon to 7 p.m Friday through Monday, and 2-8pm Thursdays for date night, which features live music. Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Located at 202 Ski Hill Road in Lutsen; from mile marker 90.1 drive north .5 miles on the Ski Hill Rd.
Choosing sustainable coffee beans and roating them in house make for a truly delicious cup of coffee. A fika is a moment of quiet indulgence in an otherwise hectic day, a time to gather with good friends for great conversation, a sweet treat, and a hot cup of coffee. Enjoy a cup at Fika Coffee. Buy beans online, at their store or at these North Shore locations -> Mount Royal Market in Duluth, Joynes Ben Franklin, Johnson’s foods & the Cook County whole Foods Co-op in Grand Marais.
Fika Coffee is located at 5327 W. Highway 61 in Lutsen, in the Clearview Complex at mile marker 92.6.
Beer for the adventurous spirit! Been out hiking, paddling, skiing, fishing, berry picking, camping, shopping, pedaling? Voyageur creates adventurous Craft Beers and serve them up alongside perfectly paired food in their Grand Marais, North Shore taproom. Growlers available too.
Live music most Fridays 4pm – 7pm.
Tours Saturdays 11am – noon [$5 which is donated to local charities] registrations required and can be made onlin
Memorial Weekend to Halloween, open 11am-9pm daily, and 10pm Friday & Saturday
Winter Hours – Wed & Thu 3pm-9pm, Fri & Sat 11am-10pm and Sun 11am-7pm
Located at 233 W Highway 61 in Grand Marais at mile marker 92.3.