Are you interested in visiting the beautiful North Shore in Minnesota? Packed with crazy cool historical sites, wondrous waterfalls, stunning views of Lake Superior, cute little lakeside towns with unique local shops, and so much more, the North Shore is one of the top places to road trip in MN. To help you plan your next adventure here, read my helpful guide on how to plan an awesome road trip up Minnesota’s North Shore.
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Earlier this year, my mom and I went on an amazing road trip up Minnesota’s North Shore to celebrate Mother’s Day with a mom and daughter adventure.
Our 3 day itinerary packed in popular North Shore destinations like Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Grand Marais, as well as the more underrated sites, such as hiking up Mount Josephine, visiting High Falls on the Pigeon River (aka the tallest waterfall in Minnesota!), and Devil’s Kettle.
Though I was born and raised in Minnesota, not to mention I lived in Duluth for two summers, I never really gave the North Shore the attention it deserved.
In fact, for many years, I totally overlooked the state of MN as whole!
Instead, I sought to explore other destinations throughout the US, liking going on a 1-month USA road trip, wandering around Arizona for one week, visiting Glacier National Park, cruising up the stunning Oregon Coast, and camping throughout Yosemite and Sequoia National Park.
Turns out, this remarkable region in northern Minnesota is one of the best places you can explore by car! And it has so much to offer in terms of nature, historical sites, hiking routes, local gems, and more.
So, are you ready to discover Minnesota’s North Shore for yourself? Find out how to plan your own MN North Shore road trip by reading my guide below.
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HOW TO PLAN A MINNESOTA NORTH SHORE ROAD TRIP
First things first – where should you start this road trip from?
Depending on where you’re coming from, I recommend flying into Duluth, as this is where the MN North Shore begins. Not to mention, Duluth is a seriously fun city!
Alternatively, you can also fly into Minneapolis, rent a car from there, and drive the 2 hours and 15 minutes up to Duluth.
For affordable car rentals, I recommend using Kayak. Over the past few years of traveling, I have discovered that this platform consistently shows the best car rental prices! Thus, it’s my go-to when I’m planning a road trip.
To search for a rental car in Duluth or Minneapolis, use the handy dandy search box below.
Minnesota North Shore Itinerary Overview
To help you get a better idea of what your North Shore trip might look like, here’s my ideal itinerary.
- Duluth — 1 night
- Grand Marais — 2 nights
- Duluth — 1 night
On the drive up from Duluth to Grand Marais, you’ll make several stops at cool MN North Shore destinations, like Tettegouche State Park and Father Baraga’s Cross Historical Marker.
During your full day in Grand Marais, you’ll drive up to Grand Portage State park and see the tallest waterfall in Minnesota, as well as hike up to one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the area (if you’re into hiking, that is!).
After Grand Marais, it’s time to make your way back to Duluth for one last night in the area. When you get to Duluth, I have some great recommendations on top tourist spots to visit and the best local restaurants for fantastic eats!
If you’re someone who already has their own vehicle and is not flying into one of the destinations mentioned above, then I recommend starting your Minnesota North Shore road trip in the vibrant city of Duluth.
Hands down, this is one of my favorite destinations in Minnesota. While you won’t be spending too much time here, as most of this road trip focuses on interesting points-of-interest and destinations along the North Shore, Duluth still has a ton of cool things to offer travelers and tourists.
When you’re making your way through Duluth, I highly recommend making a short stop at Canal Park.
This is the main tourist part of the city where you can walk along piers, check out the Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth North Pier Lighthouse, stroll down the Lakewalk (aka Duluth’s boardwalk along Lake Superior), visit the Lake Superior Marine Museum, and eat at all the delicious restaurants in this area.
Depending on where you start your trip from, you might want to spend one night in Duluth. These are my favorite Duluth accommodations:
Duluth → Grand Marais
The drive from Duluth to Grand Marais is about 2 hours in total, so I recommend starting this journey early in the morning to get a full day of seeing the amazing North Shore. (This is why it’s a rather good idea to spend one night in Duluth.)
Though most of this drive will be along Highway 61, there’s a slight detour I want you to take in order to make the most of your North Shore road trip — jumping off Highway 61 onto the Old North Shore Rd and then making your way along North Shore Scenic Drive (called Scenic Dr on the map). You won’t be disappointed in the Lake Superior views you get from this road!
In addition to the lovely Scenic Drive, here are some other great stops you should add to your Minnesota North Shore road trip itinerary when driving from Duluth to Grand Marais.
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Gooseberry Falls is a very popular stop along the MN North Shore. Why? Because this tourist destination is absolutely stunning and great for everybody; families, couples, solo travelers, and hikers alike.
But the real attraction is the giant 3-part waterfall nestled among the beautiful trees in Gooseberry Falls State Park.
Gooseberry Falls, which is the name of the waterfall, attracts thousands of visitors each year due to its close proximity to Duluth. And no wonder! It’s gorgeous, and well worth a stop on your Minnesota North Shore road trip.
*Tip: You will need a state park vehicle pass to visit Gooseberry Falls State Park. I recommend buying one online from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. More tips like this below.
Split Rock Lighthouse
Another classic stop up the North Shore, Split Rock Lighthouse is hands down one of the most photogenic and beautiful lighthouses I’ve ever come across.
Perched on the edge of a giant jagged cliff, Split Rock Lighthouse is a cheerful yellow beacon against a background of deep blue skies and the never-ending Lake Superior.
While it used to serve a purpose in steering ships away from the dangerous rocks of the coastline and guiding them through the stormy waters of Lake Superior, Split Rock Lighthouse closed as a working lighthouse in 1969.
To ensure this historical destination did not fall into disarray, it was purchased by State of Minnesota in 1971 and transferred to the Minnesota Historical Society, which restored to its former historic 1920s appearance.
Then, in 2011, this remarkable lighthouse was designated as a National Historic Landmark. And for the last few decades, it has been one of the top tourist destinations in Minnesota! Thus, it’s highly worth a visit when making your way up the North Shore.
Want to get the most incredible views of Lake Superior and its teal-blue waters that never seem to end? Make your way up to Palisade Head!
Don’t forget to bring a camera or your phone, because — WOW! — Palisade Head is one of the most gorgeous destinations along Minnesota’s North Shore and you will no doubt be stunned by the views.
In addition to a camera, don’t forget your common sense. What do I mean by that?
Well, Palisade Head currently has no barricades, fences, or walls to keep you (or your loved ones) from falling down the rocky cliffside. Make sure you watch your footing and step carefully down the rocks to avoid taking a tumble over the edge.
Though the safety of Palisade Head is questionable, this place is totally worth it! Don’t miss out.
Tettegouche State Park
Love hiking and going on walks? Then Tettegouche State Park is a must-do attraction on your Minnesota North Shore road trip!
One of my favorite state parks in the area, Tettegouche State Park features beautiful cascading waterfalls, rivers and creeks weaving through the landscape, breathtaking views of the surrounding forests, and easy-to-follow hiking trails that make it simple to discover what this state park has to offer.
Some great waterfalls to discover in Tettegouche State Park include:
- High Falls
- Two Step Falls
- Cascade Falls
- Illgen Falls
Sugarloaf Cove Nature Reserve
Personally, this is one of my favorite stops when on a Minnesota North Shore road trip! Sugarloaf Cove is a pristine nature reserve that has a guided nature walks, showcases gorgeous preservation and restoration of the North Shore, and ridiculously cool geological formations that’ll have you in awe.
When visiting Sugarloaf Cove Nature Reserve, I highly recommend walking out to the incredibly scenic Sugarloaf Point! You won’t be disappointed. (The trees and views of Lake Superior are amazing!)
Father Baraga’s Cross Historical Marker
The story behind Father Baraga and how he impacted the region of Northern Minnesota is so interesting! Born in what is now Slovenia, Father Baraga journeyed to the area in 1830 as a Roman Catholic missionary to minister the Ottawa and Ojibwe tribes, as well as the later immigrant miners of Michigan.
Even cooler, Father Baraga was a grammarian of Native American languages and spoke eight different tongues and wrote the first book in the Ottawa language!
This made him especially impactful among the native communities, as could best give them his healing services and medical provisions (more so than his minister services, as those were not likely needed among the Native American tribes).
Anyways, among the many hurdles that Father Baraga had to deal with, one of the biggest was Lake Superior itself.
One day, Father Baraga heard that a small Ojibwe village near Grand Portage was suffering from a possible epidemic, so he and his native guide – Lewis – boarded a birch-bark canoe and embarked on a 40-some-mile journey across the treacherous Lake Superior.
During this journey, a fretful storm and its wild waves threatened to throw them overboard into the grey-black waters. Father Baraga prayed ceaselessly and, in the end, they two were blown into the mouth of the Cross River.
This is where you’ll find the now tall granite cross marker, which was once just a simple wooden cross that Father Baraga erected to say his thanks to his Lord!
Personally, my mom and I loved stopping here on our Minnesota North Shore road trip! She particularly loved learning about Father Baraga’s story, as well as hunting the nearby beach for agates.
Cross River Falls
Just a short walk away from Father Baraga’s Historical Cross Marker is the Cross River Falls!
A classic waterfall stop along Minnesota’s North Shore, Cross River Falls is known to be one of the most convenient waterfalls on this road trip, as you can basically see the whole of it from the road!
However, I recommend making a quick stop in the parking and walking to the viewing area. This is where you’ll get the best view of Cross River Falls as they tumble down the rocks and make their way towards Lake Superior!
Alternatively, you can walk here from Father Baraga’s Cross, which has ample amount of parking space, as no one really stops here when on a Minnesota North Shore road trip.
Located on the map as Hidden Falls Trailhead – East, this is one of my FAVORITE waterfalls located along Minnesota’s North Shore! Mainly because it’s underrated and under-visited by North Shore visitors.
Not to mention, Hidden Falls is seriously stunning! This waterfall cuts through ancient lava bedrock, creating a gorgeous gorge where the water snakes through to cascade down a tall rock face, making its way to the giant Lake Superior.
My favorite part though is definitely uncovering the various views of the deep caverns and gorges where the Temperance River has molded and sculpted the rock into smooth formations and deep potholes. It’s truly something to behold!
Temperance River Falls
When visiting Hidden Falls, don’t forget to cross the road and walk down the Temperance River walkway!
You’ll see some more pretty waterfalls, as well as some great views of Lake Superior. You might even see some local fishermen (and fisherwomen) tossing their lines in the river and hoping for a fresh catch!
Cascade River State Park
Another fantastic state park to stop at on your North Shore trip, Cascade River State Park features beautiful waterfalls that are really easy to get to (just a simple short hike/walk) and lovely views of the surrounding wooded areas.
Additionally, Cascade River State Park holds one of the most expansive viewpoints on the North Shore — Lookout Mountain. While this moderately-rated hike may be tough for some, the views are worth the effort to get here!
Grand Marais, Minnesota
After your first full day of seeing some of the most spectacular stops along the North Shore, it’s time to base yourself in the cutest little town in Minnesota — Grand Marais!
I LOVE this little town, even if it gets jam-packed with tourists in the summer and fall months!
Grand Marais has some of the best local shops, a beautiful lighthouse that’s well worth a walk out to, lovely beaches where you and the family can hunt for agates, quaint eateries perfect for grabbing a delicious meal at, and phenomenal local breweries that serve up awesome beers, ciders, and more.
Additionally, Grand Marais has some lovely accommodations to stay at when you visit the North Shore! Here are my favorites:
Additionally, the Cascade Lodge and Solbakken Resort On Superior are lovely places to stay. However, they are not located in Grand Marais; both are just a bit down south of Grand Marais on the North Shore.
As mentioned above, I recommend staying in Grand Marais for two nights!
Alternatively, you can stay for one night in Grand Marais and another night at a different accommodation along the North Shore. There are some truly beautiful places to stay in this region of Minnesota, so find the one you like and book it!
Best Things to Do in Grand Marais, Minnesota
Aside from the fabulous accommodations in Grand Marais, there are even more fabulous things to do that’ll no doubt keep you occupied for hours!
Here are my favorite attractions, sites to see, and things to do in Grand Marais:
- Visit Artist Point and walk out to the Grand Marais Lighthouse.
- Wander around the Lake Superior Trading Post and find a cool souvenir.
- Have a cheeky donut at World’s Best Donut (only open in the summer season).
- Stroll through downtown and visit some local shops.
- Have a cold beer at some local brewpubs, Voyageur Brewing Company and Gun Flint Tavern.
- Munch on some tacos and burritos at Hungry Hippo Tacos. (Psst, they can make any taco or burrito vegan!)
Just make sure to get an early start on your day when doing these activities in the summer, as Grand Marais gets incredibly packed during this time of year!
Grand Marais → Grand Portage State Park
After spending your first in Grand Marais, it’s time to wake up early, feeling fresh and ready to make your way up to Grand Portage State Park!
This is one of my favorite sections of the North Shore, as it is far less touristy and packed than other parts, such as Gooseberry Falls or Palisade Head.
Not to mention, there are the several little pull-outs and off-roads that take you some of the most beautiful views of Lake Superior and the surrounding landscape. Safe to say, you won’t be disappointed making your way from Grand Marais to Grand Portage!
So, what are the top spots and tourist stops on this part of Minnesota’s North Shore?
My recommendations are Devil’s Kettle in Judge CR Magney State Park, Grand Portage town and the Grand Portage National Monument, Mt. Josephine, and, finally, Grand Portage State Park! Let’s dig into each of these spots individually and why they are worth your time when doing a Minnesota North Shore road trip.
Devil’s Kettle (Judge CR Magney State Park)
One of my favorite hikes in Minnesota and a must-do when on a road trip up the North Shore!
Devil’s Kettle is a mysterious waterfall where half of the falls tumble down cliffs into the giant Lake Superior, while the other half seems to disappear down a deep black hole nestled into the rocks.
For years, scientists were baffled by the hole and were unsure as to where the water went. However, in 2017, they uncovered the mystery… the water simply rejoins another smaller river somewhere downstream!
While that discovery may not be exciting or mind-boggling, Devil’s Kettle is still a unique destination along Minnesota’s North Shore! And it’s worth a stop when visiting this region of MN. Not to mention, the walk to the main part of the falls is so pretty. You won’t be disappointed!
That said, when visiting Devil’s Kettle, it’s important to note that this hike includes several hundred steps (200+) you have to walk down and then back up.
Grand Portage National Monument
Interested in visiting a national historic site that was used by Native Americans (mainly the Ojibwe tribe), fur traders, and explorers alike? Then you will love Grand Portage National Monument!
A remarkable site to visit on Minnesota’s North Shore, this national site transports visitors back in time to when the Ojibwe (aka Chippewa) tapped maple trees every spring, fished in the clear waters of Lake Superior, and harvested wild rice from the robust lands.
Alongside the Native Americans, French voyageurs and European traders came from across the pond and braved the harsh North Shore winters to trap and collect furs, as well as exchange goods and services with the local tribes.
Even crazier… this was well before the United States and Canada even existed. How wild is that?
This unique history is why I highly recommend stopping here for a couple hours when road tripping up the North Shore!
Starting from Mt. Josephine Trailhead, this hiking route takes you up one of the best viewpoints along the North Shore! If you’re into hiking and walking, I highly recommend making your way up to the top of this (rather small) mountain.
While the hike is moderately challenging, the views of small islands dotting the shoreline, vibrant trees blanketing the lush landscape, and rocky cliffs cutting through the deep blue waters of Lake Superior are absolutely worth the effort to get to the top.
I mean… I just let the photos speak for themselves. (And then let you lace up your hiking shoes to get your butt up there!)
Grand Portage State Park
The last stop on the North Shore is Grand Portage State Park! And it’s just a short 45 minute drive from Grand Marais, which you won’t even notice after stopping at all the other great spots along this strip of the North Shore.
This awesome state park in Minnesota features the tallest waterfall in the state, aka High Falls on the Pigeon River!
Unlike other hikes mentioned in this Minnesota North Shore road trip guide, the route to the waterfall is a combination of glorious wooden walkways and hard tar paths, which means anyone can easily partake in this walk!
In addition to the crazy awesome waterfall, Grand Portage State Park features vibrant wildlife (including some very friendly and not-afraid-of-humans squirrels), stunning foliage (it’s magnificent in the fall when the leaves are changing color), and beautiful landscapes.
Grand Portage → Grand Marais → Duluth
After visiting Grand Portage State Park, it’s time to head back to Grand Marais for your last night in this quaint town (and depending on your schedule, maybe your last night along Minnesota’s North Shore!).
As mentioned above, the drive from Grand Portage to Grand Marais is about 45 minutes, and the drive from Grand Marais to Duluth is around 2 hours.
Which sites you stop at on the way up the North Shore and which sites you stop at on the way back to Duluth is completely up to you. Additionally, depending on how much time you have, you can pick and choose which sites you visit, as some might not be right for you!
Ultimately, this Minnesota North Shore itinerary is flexible and you can mold it into any schedule that is right for your trip!
All in all, the North Shore in Minnesota is one of my favorite regions in the state and one of the best places to go on a road trip in the USA!
Whether you’re interested in visiting waterfalls, quaint little towns, hiking trails, or simply soaking up the remote wilderness of northern Minnesota, the North Shore is a great place to do so.
Tell me, are you planning a Minnesota North Shore road trip, or have you ever considered visiting this area of the United States before? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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