North Shore Lake Superior Circle Tour Travel Planner
Duluth to Cascade River State Park, Minnesota
Minnesota North Shore Travel
The attractions offered by Duluth merits a few hours of your time and can easily occupy several days. At the very minimum exit off I-35 at Canal Park and take a stroll around Canal Park and the Lakewalk to the Aerial Lift Bridge. At the base of the bridge is the Maritime Museum. Here you can get a taste of the history of shipping on Lake Superior plus see a schedule of the coming and goings of big ships for that day. If you’ve got more time take the Lakewalk in the opposite direction to Lake Park (climb the stairs) or continue around the bay to the Fitgers Brewery complex.
Recommended places and things to do:
- Walking The Duluth Lake Walk
- Ship watching from the Aerial Lift bridge and lighthouse walk, and visiting the Marine Museum at the Martine Visitor Center
- Canal Park Shopping, Browsing and Outdoor Cafes
- Climbing the Enger Park Tower
- Touring the Rose Gardens on London Road
- Driving along Skyline Drive and Seven Bridges Road
- Hiking and Bird Watching at Hawk Ridge
- Shopping, dining, and tasting at Fitger’s Brew Pub Complex
- Hiking and picnicking at Park Point & the Sand Dunes
- Picnicking and Rock Picking at Brighton Beach
North Shore Scenic Drive to Two Harbors (see pictures & more info here)
As you leave Duluth on Hwy 61 going Northeast, look for the Scenic Drive exit. There you’ll part ways with harried vacationers who are taking the inland expressway to Two Harbors in favor of a more leisurely 20 mile drive along the lake. Once in Two Harbors, you rejoin the major flow of traffic. When we are not rushed, we enjoy stopping in downtown Two Harbors to visit the Vanilla Bean Cafe and the Superior Hiking Trail store across the street. We also enjoy a side trip to the main Harbor and Lighthouse for a short hike on the Sonju Walking trail.
Most of the easily accessible scenic gems along the North Shore are located within the boundaries of the state parks. If you enjoy hiking and are willing to accept some moderate difficulty, scenic treasures abound along the famed Superior Hiking Trail. If this is you, make sure to stop at the Superior Hiking Trail office in Two Harbors for information on worthwhile shorter hikes or visit them on the internet at www.shta.org
Continuing north on Hwy 61 past Two Harbors, you pass through the Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel. About 15 miles out from Two Harbors you arrive Gooseberry Falls State Park. There’s a free wayside parking area there and a large parks visitor center. There you can get information about all the parks along the North Shore, natural history educational material, and other information of interest to outdoors enthusiasts. A network of trails, including some that are handicap accessible, allows you to view the upper and lower waterfalls from many angles. You can also hike out to the mouth of the river or take a high bluff trail overlooking the lake. Unless it very dry and the rivers slowed to a trickle, stopping at Gooseberry is a “must see” along Minnesota’s North Shore. Figure 1/2 hour to two hours depending on your hiking ambitions.
Gooseberry has a very popular full service campground which ordinarily requires advance reservations unless it is the off season.
Just a short distance further down the road (7 miles) you encounter another popular north shore attraction – Split Rock Lighthouse State Park – a Minnesota Historic Site. There is an admission charge for the tour of the lighthouse, grounds and the history center. The unique cart-in campsites at Split Rock’s campground are nicely wooded and well isolated from one another, many with views of Lake Superior. Reservations are recommended. Allot at least an hour for the Lighthouse Tour.
Upon leaving Split Rock check your odometer so you’ll know when you’ve traveled about 10 miles. Then look for the road to Palisade Head. It is a short winding drive that takes you to the top of a 350 feet high bluff. From the overlook on a good day you can see 30 – 40 miles.
Continuing your drive on Hwy 61, you come to Tettegouche State Park and Wayside. There is no charge for parking in the wayside parking lot for a few hours. That gives you enough time to walk to nearby lake overlooks, plus hike some of the lakeshore trails. One trail leads to Shovel Point, an oft photographed scenic site which happens to be featured in the SuperiorTrails.com masthead. If you didn’t get North Shore park information at the Gooseberry Falls visitor center, you can get the same info at Tettegouche’s. While not quite as popular as Gooseberry and Split Rock, campsites at Tettegouche do fill up fast.
The next state park and worthwhile scenic stop is in 22 miles: Temperance River State Park. You can park free along the highway and take a hiking trail loop along the river to see how the river has carved gorge’s and potholes in the bedrock. If you haven’t made advance campsite reservations, you may find an opening at Temperance River.
At this point you are about 80 miles from Duluth’s Canal Park and will have expended from 2 – 6 hours of time depending on the number and duration of your stops. The next community of any size, with an abundance of lodging choices, is Grand Marais, 29 miles down the road. While there are a number of motel and resort lodging choices along the way to Grand Marais, many may be spoken for if it is the busy season. If you are camping, there is one more state park campground before Grand Marais – Cascade River. If that is full, chances are you will be able to find a spot at Grand Marais’ municipal campground. If your day began in Duluth, plan to go no further than Grand Marais. Too many neat things to see and do to rush through so fast.
Hiking Trails & Water Falls
There are numerous impressive waterfalls along the North Shore and the famous Superior Hiking Trail, which runs from Duluth to Grand Portage, intersects with the hiking trail systems in the State Parks to provide an extensive network of day hiking opportunities, many to the top of the various mountains that stretch inland along Lake Superior. You can see some of these in our pages on our Seven Summits Fall Color Hikes pages.