From Duluth to the North Shore
A great north shore trip starts in bustling Duluth and follows Lake Superior with breathtaking views, fun trails, and historic attractions all the way to Canada.
DAY 1 Duluth
With its Lake Superior and harbor views and an incredible array of things to see and do, Duluth is a popular destination. The Canal Park area on the waterfront is a great place to start your visit. Watch large seagoing vessels come through the canal and under the landmark Aerial Lift Bridge. Stop in the Maritime Visitor Center to learn more about Great Lakes shipping, and tour the nearby S.S. William A. Irvin ore ship. Also along the harbor is the Great Lakes Aquarium, focusing on the fish and wildlife of Lake Superior. There are several shops and restaurants around Canal Park, and you can take a sightseeing or dinner cruise in the harbor. Stroll the Lakewalk along the shoreline of Superior.
DAY 2 Duluth
There’s plenty to do for a second day in Duluth. If you’re traveling with kids, take in the Lake Superior Zoo, the Duluth Children’s Museum, or ride the alpine coaster at Spirit Mountain. Train buffs will enjoy the Railroad Museum in the old Depot downtown, where you can even take a train excursion. Another historic highlight is a guided tour of the elaborate Glensheen estate, a 1908 mansion and gardens along the lakefront. (It’s a good idea to purchase tickets online ahead of your visit.) Also along the lake front is the beautiful Duluth Rose Garden, with a vast array of blooms.
DAY 3 Up the North Shore
The North Shore Drive, designated as an All-American Road, is a 150-mile scenic byway following the dramatic, rugged shoreline of Lake Superior, with forested hillsides, wilderness streams and waterfalls along the way. From Duluth, follow old Highway 61 north along the shore to Two Harbors. Stop at one of the smoked fish shops and buy a delicious treat for your trip. In Two Harbors, tour the 1886 Edna G. tugboat, an 1892 lighthouse, and the humble place where the 3M company got its start. Head north from town and stop for the great views of Gooseberry Falls, right along the highway. A little north of here is the landmark Split Rock Lighthouse, where you can tour the 1920s lighthouse and light keeper’s home. A couple miles north of Silver Bay, turn off the highway to drive to the scenic overlook at Palisade Head, soaring above Lake Superior. Then continue on to the town of Tofte, where you can visit the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum. From there, Lutsen offers all kinds of outdoor fun, including a mountain tram, an alpine slide down, or scenic golf at Superior National.
DAY 4 Grand Marais & Grand Portage
The charming town of Grand Marais is an artist community, with lots of galleries, shops and restaurants. Walk out to Artists Point along the harbor. Check the calendar for performances at the Grand Marais Playhouse or for workshops and events at the North House Folk School. The beautiful drive north from here to Grand Portage is worth the trip. At Grand Portage National Monument, tour a reconstructed trading post of the late 1700s, and learn about the area’s Ojibwe culture and the lives of the fur traders. Nearby, on the Canadian border, a short walk in Grand Portage State Park leads to a spectacular view of the Pigeon River High Falls, the biggest waterfall in Minnesota.
DAY 5 Gunflint Trail
The Gunflint Trail is a 63-mile paved highway that heads inland from Grand Marais and leads through Superior National Forest, an area of woods and lakes, including access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The fascinating story of the Gunflint Trail is told at the Chik-Wauk Museum, in a restored 1930s lodge. Enjoy a lakeside picnic or dine at one of the resorts along the trail. Rent a canoe from one of the resorts or outfitters to explore a lake, or hike one of the trails. For an adventurous trek, take the seven-mile round-trip hike to the top of Eagle Mountain, the highest point in Minnesota.
The Duluth and North Shore area offer so much to see and do, a short visit isn’t long enough to take it all in. It’s an especially great place for outdoor fun. If you have time for a longer stay, you can bike the Gitchi-Gami State Trail or hike some of the many trails in state parks. Many of these are part of the extensive Superior Hiking Trail, which follows the ridgeline above the shore. Anglers can book fishing charters that go out onto Lake Superior. Winter visitors come for the downhill skiing and snowboarding at Spirit Mountain in Duluth and at Lutsen Mountains. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, ice fishing and snowmobiling are also big winter draws. In September and early October, the North Shore is a prime destination for viewing fall color.