Minnesota's Own Northern Exposure
At the southwestern tip of Lake Superior sits Duluth, Minnesota's third-largest city and home to the world's largest freshwater inland port. Duluth boasts great facilities for the Minnesota visitor, whether you're staying put for the city's offerings, or making it your launch spot for a trek through northern Minnesota. If you choose the latter, motor north along the North Shore Scenic Drive towards Lutsen, Grand Marais and Grand Portage. People come here to relax, and they do so in an idyllic setting highlighting nature. They also come for activity, with outstanding facilities to bike, fish, hike, golf, canoe, ski and snowmobile. Grand Marais offers not only arts and cuisine along Lake Superior's North Shore, but also serves as the gateway to the Gunflint Trail and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wildnerness. Experience millions of acres of the Superior National Forest, rocky cliffs, serene inland lakes and wilderness streams plunging over waterfalls to Lake Superior below.
Day One - Duluth
Arrive in Duluth after your Twin Cities metro experience. Check into one of the area hotels or B&Bs to sample a bit of the San Francisco of the Midwest. Both the hilly surroundings and shoreline's abundant outdoor spaces create the similarity. Dine in one of the many offerings in Canal Park, next to the historic Lift Bridge. Overnight in Duluth.
Day Two - Duluth
People of all ages will enjoy Duluth's area attractions. Tour the Great Lakes Aquarium or William Irvin ore transporter ship, take a harbor cruise, or motor along Skyline Drive, high above it all. Cross over on the lift bridge to enjoy five miles of sandy beaches along Park Point. History buffs will hear about the waves of Nordic immigration to the region and marvel at the vast collection of trains at the Depot, or experience how the upper crust lived at Glensheen Mansion. Overnight in Duluth.
Day Three - Lake Superior's North Shore Scenic Drive
Grand Marais (110 miles/175 km)
Make the journey north from Duluth on US 61, The North Shore Scenic Drive, a designated Minnesota Scenic and An American Scenic Byway along Lake Superior. Stop along the way in lakeside communities or at historical sites, such as Two Harbors and the Split Rock Lighthouse. There are also several state parks along the route offering vistas and trails. Arrive late afternoon in the harbor village of Grand Marais, and slow the pace down a bit as you amble through this unique, artistic community of 1,300.
A stroll around town reveals an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and galleries.Dabble in the arts at the Grand Marais Art Colony, the state's oldest arts school. Founded in 1947, it offers a wide variety of workshops that will help you find voice to the inspiration you feel, surrounded by the beauty of Lake Superior. Regular presentations by artisans, ongoing gallery exhibitions. The North House Folk School seeks to enrich lives and build community by teaching traditional northern crafts in a student-centered learning environment. Other galleries in town include the Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery, Betsy Bowen Studio, Broadway Eight and the Sivertson Gallery.
For the outdoor-oriented, get in on any of the abundant opportunities. In the summer, there are golf courses, lakes for canoeing and kayaking and streams for fishing. In the winter, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross country trails abound, as well as downhill skiing at nearby Lutsen.
In the evening, several restaurants cater to group dining needs, including The Angry Trout, Blue Water Cafe, Crooked Spoon, Devil Track Resort, The Raven and Sven & Ole's. After dinner, catch a show at the Grand Marais Playhouse or enjoy local music performed in several establishments. Overnight in Grand Marais.
Day Four - Gunflint Trail and Ely
Gunflint Trail (80 miles/130 km - return), Ely (112 miles/180 km)
Taking a driving tour of the area is an exhilarating experience. This 40-mile stretch of the North Shore Scenic Drive from Grand Marais to the Canadian border boasts rugged shoreline, forests, mountains and the sparkling waves of Lake Superior – some of the most beautiful scenery found anywhere in Minnesota. Make sure you stop at Mount Josephine overlook for a spectacular view of the Susie Islands and Isle Royale. Have lunch at the Naniboujou Lodge, dine in front of the state's largest stone fireplace, surrounded by the swirl of bright colors of the Cree decor in a lodge built as a celebrity hangout in the roaring 20s. Continue on your way back to Duluth, or venture west through the North Woods to Ely to complete your northern trek. Overnight in Ely.
Day Five - Ely
Ely is the gateway to one of America's last pure outdoor experiences. It's one of the principle access points into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, offering one million acres of forest and 1,500 miles of waterways. Whether it's to canoe in the unspoiled world-famous BWCAW, or understand the regional wildlife ,visitors can't help but feel recharged. The Ely area boasts some of the best professional canoe trip outfitters, providing specially designed lightweight equipment, food provisions and expert advice. Ely is also home to both the International Wolf Center and North American Bear Center, both of which educate all ages on their wildlife habitats. Area resorts offer many exciting vacation opportunities and a variety of restaurants, plus unique shops and items that are designed and produced locally. Overnite in Ely.
The Gunflint Trail is a 58-mile paved road into the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. A stop at Pincushion Mountain will reward you with a panoramic view of Grand Marais and Lake Superior. Travel further up the Gunflint Trail and explore the ever-changing forest, the pristine lakes and all the wildlife residing along the trail. Go on a Northwoods wildlife safari. Moose, deer, black bear, wolf, lynx, coyote, fox, beaver, otter – and of course chipmunks, red squirrels and many other furry critters call the area home. Whether by vehicle or on foot, you are likely to spot local wildlife throughout the year.
In the winter the absence of leaves in the forest increase your viewing distance, and with the snow-covered ground, many animals gravitate to the roadsides and trails. For the adventurous, strapping on snowshoes or cross-country skis and tracking the many animal footprints on the trails can be a fulfilling winter experience. Numerous lodging options are available, from rustic to luxurious, to serve groups of all sizes.
Bayfront Blues Festival takes place each year in Duluth, featuring great music in a great setting aside Duluth Harbor. OVer 300 bands have performed here in the 20 years of the festival. (August)
Bayfront Reggae Festival is also held in Duluth, and is the Midwest's premiere reggae festival, held on beautiful Lake Superior. Great music, food and artisans. (July)
Duluth Maritime Festival offers close-up views of majestic, traditional, sea-faring schooners. (July 24-30, 2013)
Boreal Birding Festival includes professionals and enthusiasts in three days of field trips along the North Shore and Gunflint Trail. Evening gatherings for presentations and review of the day's sightings of up to 100 different species. (1st weekend of June)
Grand Marais Arts Festivalis a two-day juried art show, fiber guild demonstrations, art exhibitions and silent auction. (early July)
North Shore Dragon Boat Festival originated as a benefit for three local non-profits organizations. Teams of 22 compete in the fast-growing competition, described as the toughest 2 ½ minutes of one's life, and also the most fun! (late July)
Grand Marais Radio Waves and Unplugged Music Festivals feature workshops, mini courses and several evenings of performances by North Shore musicians and internationally acclaimed stars under the big top. (mid September)