North Shore Scenic Drive
Explore the rugged coastline of Lake Superior
|Mileage||147 miles (237 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||2 hours, 43 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||All Seasons|
|Roadways||Minnesota Highway 61|
|PassesSome of the adventures on this scenic drive require an admission fee that these passes cover. Please read the drive description for more information.||America the Beautiful Annual National Parks Pass|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, pharmacies, etc.||Duluth, MN▼, Hermantown, MN▼, Superior, WI▼, Two Harbors, MN▼, Silver Bay, MN▼, Schroeder, MN▼, Tofte, MN▼, Lutsen, MN▼, more...Grand Marais, MN▼, Proctor, MN▼, Beaver Bay, MN▼, and Grand Portage, MN▼|
4.2 average from 13 votes
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Get a Park Pass
Natural areas along this route require an entrance fee used to protect and maintain our most scenic treasures. Save time by purchasing your forest passes before you go.
Travel this designated “All-American Road” from the bustling city of Duluth to solitude of Grand Portage along the rugged coastline of Lake Superior. Sculpted by volcanic activity and glaciers, discover outstanding cliff views, rock-strewn shores, sandy beaches, and welcoming towns with ample opportunities to experience the outdoors.
Though you can drive the route in a few hours, plan to stay longer. There are numerous picture-perfect overlooks, picnic-perfect state parks, hiking trails, waterfalls, wildlife-watching and recreation opportunities.
If time allows before or after the drive, consider these Duluth highlights. Canal Park (H2) is a must! Watch boats pass under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, then visit the free Lake Superior Marine Museum and Visitor Center located at its base. Exhibitions explore the history of Lake Superior and the port of Duluth, the role of commercial shipping, navigation, historic ship wrecks, ship models, and more. Cross the bridge to Park Point Recreation Area (H5). At 7-miles long, it is the world’s longest freshwater sandbar. The spit divides Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake on the planet, and Superior Bay. Once you pass the homes and other commercial buildings, discover a sandy life-guarded (in season) swimming beach, bird-watching, and the Park Point Nature Trail which passes the ruins of the state’s first lighthouse, Minnesota Point Light. Or stroll, jog, or bike along the accessible four-mile paved Duluth Lakewalk. The path begins at the Bayfront Park Pavilion passing shops, trendy eateries, cafés, and hotels. Stop at Leif Erikson Park and then further along, the Duluth Rose Garden which features more than 3,000 rose bushes and thousands of other perennials, shrubs, and trees. Revel in the formal gardens with benches, gazebos, and views of Lake Superior. Alternatively, you can drive to the Rose Garden. The Great Lakes Aquarium (A1) features exhibits on fish from the Great Lakes region, the Amazon River, an Otter Cove, touch tanks, educational activities, and much more. There is a fee to enter. Adjacent Bayfront Festival Park (H1) makes a great picnic and playground stop for the kids. It is also host to a varied array festivals and events year-round.
The byway officially begins on MN-61 heading south. At Lester Park (H4), you will already feel like you’re far from the city. Hike or bike along 9 miles of trails, including the Amity East Trail or the Lester River Trail. There is a playground, picnic tables and grills, and softball diamond, making this a great spot for a gathering. In winter, enjoy cross-country skiing and winter biking. Nearby Hawk Ridge Nature Preserve (A2) is popular with birdwatchers, especially between August and November when raptor migration begins. Explore over 4 miles of hiking trails, learn about birds, the bird-banding program, and more from naturalist programs.
Just a short distance from Lester Park, and easily accessible by a bike/walking trail is Kitchi Gammi Park (H3). Also known as Brighton Beach, enjoy sandy beaches and rocky outcrops, and stellar views to relax, skip stones, and picnic.
Surfing on Lake Superior? You bet. The big waves are a draw at Stoney Point (V1). You can watch or join the fun.
No visit to Two Harbors would be complete without a pilgrimage to Pierre the Pantsless Voyageur (A4). The 20-foot high roadside attraction commemorates early French fur traders. Did you know that Two Harbors was the birthplace of 3M Corporation? Visit the 3M Dwan Museum (M1), housed in the original office, and learn about how their first product, sandpaper, was invented. There is a small entrance fee, and free for 3M employees. The Two Harbors Light Station (A5) is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on Minnesota’s North Shore. If you have always wondered what it’s like to live in a lighthouse — it is now open as a B&B. While here, take a leisurely mile-long walk on the partially-paved Sonju Trail and absorb the majestic views. Enjoy seasonal festivals such as the Heritage Days in July, and the Two Harbors Kayak Festival in August, and the Two Harbors Winter Frolic in February.
Gooseberry Falls State Park (H6) is named for the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls of the Gooseberry River. The waterfalls are a short walk from the visitor center, and two other falls can be seen with longer hikes. There are trails for every level of ability that explore lush forest, home to a diverse variety of birds, mammals, and plants. Discover a gorge and Agate Beach with a rocky shoreline that reveals the regions volcanic and ice age past. While here, admire the extraordinary craftsmanship of rock walls such as “Castle in the Park” wall, fireplaces, and other structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. There is a self-guided tour map to see them all. Stop at the Joseph N. Alexander Visitor Center for information, interpretive displays, and nature shop. Stay overnight RV and tent camping featuring wheelchair accessible sites and a kayak site. The park is also an access point to the Superior Hiking Trail and the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. The 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail begins on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border and travels to Grand Marais. The trail is well-marked, has numerous campgrounds along the way, and access every 6-10 miles. The Gitchi-Gami State Trail, is not yet fully complete, but ultimately will be an 89-mile non-motorized, paved recreational trail between Two Harbors and Grand Marais. Check the GGST website for sections that are already open. There is fee for vehicles entering Minnesota State Parks.
Lesser known, and less crowded is Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area (A6). One of three Scientific and Natural Area in Minnesota, the pristine and undeveloped pebbled beach has a unique feature. Pink rhyolite and felsite pebbles on the beach make a musical tinkling sound when waves roll in and out. Please enjoy, and leave the rocks for future audiences. Swimming is permitted (water shoes recommended). There are no maintained trails, but you can hike to explore native plants and wildflowers, and do some bird-watching. Bring water and snacks as there are no services.
Don’t miss Split Rock Lighthouse State Park (H7). Back in 1905, the ship Madeira struck Gold Rock during a violent storm and sunk, taking with it many lives. To protect future sailings, Split Rock Lighthouse was built in 1910. Now a National Historic Landmark, visit the museum to learn more about its history, watch a film presentation, and see exhibits on the North Shore’s tourism and commercial fishing industries. One of the most photographed lighthouses in the U.S., there are 7 marked vantage points to capture your own photos, including one from the highway in case you don’t have time to visit. To explore the interior of the lighthouse and the other historic buildings on the property (open May 15 through October 31) there is a fee not covered by the Minnesota State Parks Annual Pass. There is no charge to walk the grounds and enter the visitor center. The wreck site of the Madeira is popular for scuba diving as there are many intact ship parts. Camping reservations for every Minnesota State Park are required and can be made online (https://reservations1.usedirect.com/MinnesotaWebHome/Facilities/SearchView.aspx) or by calling 866-857-2757.
Black Beach Park (H8) in Silver Bay is one of many small beaches dot the route. This one is known for black sand and rock due to taconite residue (low grade iron ore) from past mining operations.
Views that span miles await at Palisade Head (V2) also known as the Hellacioius Overlook. A steep, narrow road winds up to the top. Once there, be careful at the edge and keep a close eye on kids, as there are no barriers. At times, you may see rock climbers.
From here, the drive continues, passing six state parks, each with its own unique character.
Tettegouche State Park (H9) offers another opportunity to revel in expansive views. Twenty-three miles of trail travel by steep cliffs, bluffs, six inland lakes, and four waterfalls, including High Falls of the Baptism River, a dramatic 60-foot cascade. Hike to Shovel Point where you can observe sea caves in the rock where Baptism River meets Lake Superior. There are a myriad of activities: take part in a naturalist program, head out bird-watching looking for kinglets, spruce grouse, and peregrine falcons, try your hand at rock climbing or fishing. In winter, trails are open for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Enjoy year-round camping, or rent a cabin.
George H. Crosby Manitou State Park (H10) was the first state park in the system designed primarily for backpackers and remains a backpack-only park. Enjoy rugged wilderness hiking and camping amid old growth forest of fir, cedar, spruce, and northern hardwoods.
At Sugarloaf Cove Visitor Center (I1) participate in fascinating educational programs, from bird banding demos to geology walks. Take the self-guided 1-mile interpretive hiking trail which examines the geology of rocks more than 1 billion years old. The Sugarloaf Point Scientific and Natural Area is inhabited by watchable wildlife and an Audubon Important Bird Area. In winter, enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
A bridge spans the gorge at Temperance River State Park (H11) offering a mesmerizing vantage point from which to watch the cascades. Hike in deeper and see where swirling water that has created large potholes and deep channels. Hop across rocky outcrops, enjoy the cool swimming holes. Hike the 6.5-mile round trip to Carlton Peak. The elevation is only 325-feet, but does require some scrambling over rocks. Venture out fishing or rock climbing, and stay overnight tent or RV camping.
In Lutsen, Cascade River State Park (H12) offers an easy hike to waterfalls and small cascades. Stand on the footbridge that spans the river, or at any of the viewing spots above the river, to see, and sense the power of the water as it cascades down a volcanic canyon. Spring offers the strongest flows, but every season delights. In fall, the boreal hardwood-conifer forest of aspen, birch, fir, spruce and cedar dazzles a brilliant palette of orange, brown, yellow, and red. In winter, snowshoe to the striking beauty of frozen waterfalls. There are tent, RV, group, and backpacking campsites. After the outdoor action, kick back and relax at North Shore Winery (A8). The winery and cider house are open for tastings and tours from noon to 7 p.m., closed Tues. and Weds.
Take the easy way up to superb views of the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior at Lutsen Mountains Ski and Summer Resort (A7). The Summit Express Gondola is open year-round. In summer, enjoy the Alpine Slide, and trails for hiking and mountain biking. In autumn, colorful views are unparalleled. In winter, ski or snowboard on four interconnected peaks overlooking Lake Superior, test your skills at the terrain park, or meander on miles of back-country trails. Equipment rentals and lessons on-site.
Paddlers rejoice! Traveling the entire distance of this scenic drive is the Minnesota section of the Lake Superior Water Trail. The trail will ultimately circumnavigate Lake Superior. Get maps and information on the Minnesota State Parks and Trails website.
Perhaps inspired by the striking landscape, the charming town of Grand Marais is an artist colony, and here you’ll discover an eclectic array of art galleries, studios, and workshops. The North House Folk School (A9) teaches traditional northern crafts, including basketry, painting, jewelry making, woodworking, music, clogging, and more. Wander the trails through the woods at Artists Point (V3), then scamper across the volcanic rocks, or just sit and listen to the crashing waves. Artists Point is popular for swimming, cliff-jumping, sunset-viewing, and photography. Like many areas, take heed at the cliff edges and in rough waters.
The Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway begins in Grand Marais and winds 57 paved wilderness miles northwest near the border of Canada. The Gunflint Trail borders the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness which boasts over one million acres of wilderness, 1,000 lakes and streams, more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes, and 2,000 designated campsites. This pristine wonderland is simply stunning. Immerse yourself in the solitude of nature. Note there is no electricity, cell phone coverage, supplies, or telephone lines, and a permit is required. In the nearby towns of Schroeder, Tofte and Lutsen and Ely, you’ll find outfitters that have equipment rentals as well as guided excursions.
The North Shore Scenic Drive continues. Devil’s Kettle Falls is the focal point at Judge C. R. Magney State Park (H13). Views are sensational, but also require going down, and then back up 200 wooden stairs. There are benches for resting along the way. Hike through beautiful wooded forest, lush with moss and ferns. The park is a popular birding destination, or enjoy fishing along the Brule River, and camping.
The Grand Portage National Monument (H14) preserves the history of the Grand Portage Ojibwe and the North West Company during the fur trade era. Explore exhibits and the Historic Depot which features three log buildings, the voyageurs encampment, and historic gardens to imagine what it must have been like when the Ojibwe and French traders lived and worked here. Don’t miss living history events throughout the summer, or the chance to participate in a guided ranger-led walk or bread-making demonstrations. The park is free year-round, donations appreciated. Grand Portage Rendezvous Days and PowWow take place the second full weekend in August.
Grand Portage State Park (H15) sits on the border of Ontario, Canada. Take the half-mile paved and wheelchair accessible trail to High Falls of the Pigeon River. At 120-feet, it’s the tallest waterfall in Minnesota. Hike off the beaten path to Middle Falls, a 5-mile round-trip. The Visitor Center is chock full of information, and doubles as a Welcome Center/Rest Area for Explore Minnesota Tourism. Learn about the Grand Portage Ojibwe tribe through exhibits as this park is located on tribal land.
The drive officially ends in Grand Portage, but consider an excursion to Isle Royale National Park (H16) in Michigan. This isolated island is car-free which enhances the solitude and natural beauty. Enjoy hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and shipwreck scuba diving (permit required). Wildlife abounds, look for Common loons, moose, wolves, and beaver. Enjoy overnight camping, back-country camping, or stay at the Lakeside Lodge or cabins. There is a fee to enter, or use your America the Beautiful Pass. It does take advance planning to get here, but the experience is well worth it. There are four passenger ferries and one seaplane from Grand Portage in Minnesota, or Houghton and Copper Harbor in Michigan. Reservations recommended, especially in peak summer season. Check the NPS website for details.