Minnesota October 01, 2021
Take Highway 61 Through Minnesota For An Incredible 150-Mile Scenic Adventure That Ends At The Canadian Border
The Land of 10,000 Lakes is home to unsurpassed natural beauty and thrilling adventures, though perhaps there is no better lake than our very own Lake Superior, one of the United States’ five Great Lakes. And while we love making a splash in the lake itself when the temperatures allow, the destinations you’ll find on its shore along Highway 61 are even more incredible — and all you’ll need is an awesome driving playlist, some snacks, and your vehicle (preferably one with off-roading capabilities) to enjoy them.
the link to a Google Maps itinerary that will serve as your navigator on this epic road trip.
Hugging the shoreline for 150 miles, the drive along Minnesota’s North Shore stretches from Duluth all the way to Thunder Bay, near the Canadian border, passing near eight magnificent state parks as well as countless natural wonders — from breathtaking beaches and landmark lighthouses to wondrous waterfalls and fantasy forests.
Our adventure starts in the port city of Duluth — population 85,915 — where you might stop to visit one of the city’s most iconic landmarks: Canal Park. Here, you can walk along the Lakefront and take in views of the historic 1905 Aerial Lift Bridge. Be sure to stock up on road trip snacks from Duluth’s Best Bread.
Just north of downtown Duluth, you’ll stop for breakfast at the New London Cafe, a cozy diner known for its hearty breakfasts and a full espresso bar. Would you prefer an omelet, biscuits and gravy, or cinnamon fritter French toast?
After fueling up, we're headed to the beach — but not just any beach. The only beach of its kind in Minnesota, Black Beach is known for its striking fine, black sand that lines the shore of Lake Superior.
Bordered by jagged cliffs and unique rock formations, this unique wonder is, perhaps surprisingly, unnatural. The black sand is the result of taconite being dumped into the water by mining companies for years, then washing ashore with the waves. The particles of this mineral mixed with the sand to create an otherworldly destination unlike any other.
Now, it’s time to check out the iconic Palisade Head.
Near Silver Bar at milepost 57, turn onto a narrow lakeside road. This steep road features some tight maneuvering and leads to the top of a coastal cliff where you will discover jaw-dropping views. Made of rhyolite, a light-colored volcanic rock that provides a stark contrast to the dark basalt common along the shore, this 350-foot vertical cliff face is, in a word, awe-inspiring.
Next, it’s off-the-paved-path we go into the Superior National Forest on Forest Rte 362. Stop by the Finland Cooperative, Minnesota’s oldest continuously operating co-op, for some snacks before heading out on a gravel road that takes you off Highway 61 and into the forest. This path is best enjoyed in a 4x4 vehicle— like the Nissan Frontier pictured here.
Just 20 minutes from Finland is Taconite Harbor, the site of a once-bustling little community that sprang up along the shore of Lake Superior.
This tiny, two-block community was built by the Erie Mining Company in the 1950s to provide housing for the employees of the nearby taconite plant. In 1988, the last remaining resident of the town moved away, and today, all that remains are foundations, streets, and a few street lights. Walk through the once vibrant community, marvel at a place since left to nature, and if you visit at night, look up to the skies — with little to no light pollution, this spot is a stargazer’s dream.
Further north still is Artist’s Point. Located in the charming lakefront community of Grand Marais, Artist’s Point is popular with painters who enjoy setting up their easels on the jagged rock formations along the coast.
To visit, park on any of the city’s streets and walk south towards the Grand Marais Coast Guard Station, where you will turn left and venture out onto the rocky coastline. Be sure to walk out to the pine-covered “island” for a fantastic vantage point of the shoreline.
Last, but certainly not least, on our grand North Shore adventure is the breathtaking Grand Portage State Park.
Situated on the Canadian border, this 278-acre park is held by the surrounding Grand Portage Indian Reservation and leased to the state of Minnesota for just $1 a year. It is the only U.S. state park jointly managed by a state and a Native American band and is the only Minnesota state park not owned by the state.
The park is home to the state’s tallest waterfall, High Falls, which measures 120 feet in height and is viewable from three different viewing decks. After snapping a few photographs of this gem, we’re off on a rugged adventure to Middle Falls.
Covered in rocks and roots and featuring several hundred feet in elevation gain, this 4.5-mile backcountry trail will lead adventurers to a stunning natural wonder that cascades 30 feet into a wide pool surrounded by prehistoric volcanic activity. Along the way, hikers can practically reach across the international boundary, touching the Ontario side of the Pigeon River.
Whether you live in Northern Minnesota or have never gazed upon the magnificence of Lake Superior in person, this off-the-paved-path adventure is sure to fuel your wanderlust and leave you excited to explore all the road trip possibilities available to you across this beautiful country of ours.
So, what are you waiting for? The next time you’re aching for a little adventure, you’ll want to pack up your car, fill up the tank, and enjoy a thrilling, off-the-paved-path day trip along Minnesota’s scenic, serene, and sensational North Shore. Of course, if you prefer to add the classics to your drive, the North Shore is also full of more well-known destinations, too, like Tettegouche State Park, the Split Rock Lighthouse, and Glensheen Mansion.