North Shore Scenic Drive
- DesignationAll-American Road (2002)
- Intrinsic QualitiesRecreation
- Length154 miles
The spectacular scenery of the North Shore of Superior, including eight state parks, has earned this scenic route a national designation as an "All-American Road." Small shoreline towns offer restaurants serving local fish and produce as well as unique shops and art galleries.
Experience the history of the shore at the 1910 Split Rock Lighthouse, a commercial fishing museum in Tofte, and Grand Portage National Monument fur-trading post. With a playhouse, galleries and a folk school, the harbor town of Grand Marais is an arts center.
Story of the Byway
For as long as people have been able to travel along the North Shore, the road, Lake Superior, the forest, and rugged landscapes have been linked. If one wants to best experience the scenic beauty of the North Shore, the first and best place to do it from is the North Shore Scenic Drive.
The road is perfectly positioned between Lake Superior and the ridgeline, offering views of waves crashing on the rocky beaches and forested hills rising along the ridges. In addition, there are multiple rivers that cascade down from the Lake Superior highlands to meet Lake Superior.
The North Shore Scenic Drive is a four-season route. The change of seasons brings a new and refreshing appearance to the Byway throughout the year. Each fall, there is an explosion of color along the route. Visitors come from all around to see the display of red, yellow, and gold. In the winter, the proximity of the road to the lake allows for even more views to be exposed once the leaves have fallen from the trees. In spring, the break-up of ice shows another side of Lake Superior as mountains of ice are driven up the shore. Finally, the summer brings residents and visitors alike to the lake to enjoy a respite from the heat.
The North Shore Scenic Drive remains unmatched as the only route in the nation that offers an opportunity to experience Lake Superior's rugged shoreline and forests in such an intimate manner. There are many roads that take people around lakes in the United States. However, only the North Shore Scenic Drive offers people such a personal experience with the scenic beauty of Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake.
Lake Superior and the North Shore Highlands provide a unique array of all-season recreational experiences that is unmatched. Fortunately for travelers, the North Shore Scenic Drive offers excellent access to many of these opportunities for the traveler who wants to augment their journey by pursuing recreational opportunities. People have been escaping to the natural beauty of the North Shore since the route was completed early in the century. The many points of interest along the route give visitors a reason to come back again.
Areas near the North Shore Scenic Drive from Duluth to the Canadian Border have well-developed facilities for camping, hiking, biking, alpine and Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, golfing, snowshoeing, canoeing, kayaking, and boating. In addition, activities such as bird-watching and fishing are popular.
The first people to settle the North Shore region arrived about 10,000 years ago. These Native Americans entered the region during the final retreat of the Wisconsin glaciation. Many waves of Native American people inhabited the North Shore prior to European contact. The first Europeans, French explorers, and fur traders reached Lake Superior country around 1620. By 1780, the Europeans had established fur trading posts at the mouth of the St. Louis River near Duluth and at Grand Portage Bay at Grand Portage. The recent history of the North Shore encompassing fur trading, logging, fishing, and mining, among many other activities, begins here. Many of these historical industries are linked by the shipping and rail industry, which has dominated the economy for over a century.
Hiking: The North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota, often referred to as the North Shore All-American Road, is renowned for its stunning landscapes along the shores of Lake Superior. While it's not primarily a hiking destination, there are several excellent hiking trails and opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to explore the natural beauty of the North Shore region. Here are a few notable hiking trails you can find along this scenic route:
1. Gooseberry Falls State Park: This park is a highlight along the North Shore Scenic Drive, and it offers a variety of hiking trails suitable for different skill levels. The Gooseberry Falls Trail is a popular choice, providing an easy walk to view the picturesque Gooseberry Falls. More challenging hikes include the Fifth Falls and Superior Hiking Trail sections within the park.
2. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: This park features a section of the Superior Hiking Trail, which is a long-distance trail that spans the North Shore. The Split Rock River Loop Trail is a 5-mile loop within the park, offering scenic views of Lake Superior, dense forests, and the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse.
3. Tettegouche State Park: Located just off the North Shore Scenic Drive, Tettegouche State Park offers a range of hiking options. The High Falls Trail leads to the tallest waterfall entirely within Minnesota. The Shovel Point Trail provides panoramic views of Lake Superior, and the rugged Palisade Head Trail offers challenging terrain and breathtaking vistas.
4. Cascade River State Park: This park is known for its cascading waterfalls and offers a series of hiking trails. The Cascade River Trail is a popular choice for hikers and takes you along the scenic Cascade River with multiple viewpoints to enjoy the falls and river views.
5. Oberg Mountain Loop Trail: Located near Tofte, this is a popular and relatively short loop trail that offers spectacular views of Lake Superior and the surrounding forested landscape. It's particularly stunning during the fall when the foliage changes color.
6. Superior Hiking Trail: While not a single trail but a long-distance hiking trail, the Superior Hiking Trail stretches for over 300 miles along the North Shore. It offers a range of experiences, from easy day hikes to challenging multi-day backpacking adventures. You can access different sections of the trail from various points along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
7. Temperance River State Park: This park features a series of hiking trails that follow the Temperance River, offering opportunities to see waterfalls, gorges, and scenic river views. The trail system includes the Carlton Peak Trail for more experienced hikers.
These hiking trails provide an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Minnesota's North Shore region. Whether you're interested in a short, easy hike to a waterfall or a more challenging trek with panoramic views of Lake Superior, there are options for hikers of all levels to enjoy along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
Waterfalls: The North Shore Scenic Drive is a treasure trove of waterfalls. Here are some of the most notable waterfalls you can explore along this picturesque route:
1. Gooseberry Falls: Located in Gooseberry Falls State Park, this is one of the most popular waterfalls along the North Shore. A series of falls and cascades can be seen here, with the main falls dropping about 30 feet. Well-maintained trails and overlooks make it easily accessible for visitors of all ages.
2. Split Rock Falls: This waterfall is within Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The 100-foot-tall waterfall can be reached via the Superior Hiking Trail and offers magnificent views of Lake Superior and the surrounding forest.
3. High Falls of the Baptism River: Tettegouche State Park is home to the Baptism River, which features the highest waterfall located entirely within Minnesota. The High Falls drops about 60 feet and can be reached via the High Falls Trail.
4. Cascade Falls: Located in Cascade River State Park, this beautiful waterfall is easily accessible via a short hike from the parking area. It's a great spot for photography and enjoying the serenity of the North Shore.
5. Temperance River Gorge and Falls: The Temperance River State Park features a series of waterfalls and cascades within a dramatic gorge. There are several hiking trails that allow you to explore the gorge and see the falls up close.
6. Cross River Falls: Cross River Falls is situated near Schroeder and can be viewed from a bridge along Highway 61. It's a picturesque waterfall that's easy to access.
7. Caribou Falls: Located just off the Caribou River Wayside Rest, Caribou Falls is a stunning 35-foot waterfall surrounded by lush forest. A short trail leads to an overlook where you can enjoy the view.
8. Illgen Falls: Illgen Falls is a lesser-known gem near Gooseberry Falls State Park. A short hike leads to this peaceful waterfall, which is a bit hidden and offers a tranquil escape from the crowds.
9. Devil's Kettle Falls: Found within Judge C.R. Magney State Park, Devil's Kettle is a unique and mysterious waterfall. Half of the waterfall disappears into a pothole, and the other half flows downstream. It's a fascinating natural phenomenon.
10. George H. Crosby Manitou State Park Falls: This remote state park offers a network of trails that lead to several waterfalls, including Benson Falls and Manitou Falls. The park is known for its pristine wilderness and challenging hikes.
These are just a few of the enchanting waterfalls you can discover while traveling the North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota. Each waterfall has its unique charm and can be enjoyed year-round, with autumn being a particularly beautiful time due to the fall foliage. Remember to check trail conditions and park information before embarking on your waterfall-hunting adventure.
Follows Forest Hwy 11. From Silver Bay: West on Lake Cty Hwys 5 and 15 to St Louis Cty 16 and northwest on 110. From Aurora & Hoyt Lakes: Southeast on St Louis Cty Hwy 110, then east on St Louis Cty Hwy 16. Continue east on Lake Cty Hwys 15 and 5.
Points of Interest
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Nestled along the breathtaking shores of Lake Superior, Gooseberry Falls State Park is a natural gem that offers visitors a captivating blend of cascading waterfalls, lush forests, rugged shoreline, and outdoor adventures. Located on Minnesota's North Shore Scenic Drive, this state park is a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts, hikers, and anyone seeking serenity in a pristine natural setting.
The park is most renowned for its stunning waterfalls. Gooseberry Falls State Park boasts a series of cascades and falls along the Gooseberry River, each with its unique charm. The main attractions are:
1. Lower Falls: The Lower Falls is the closest to the parking area, making it easily accessible for all visitors. It features a broad and picturesque cascade that flows into the river.
2. Middle Falls: Just a short walk upstream from the Lower Falls, the Middle Falls is a series of stepped cascades that create a mesmerizing natural spectacle.
3. Upper Falls: The Upper Falls is the most impressive of the three main falls, with a drop of approximately 30 feet. A viewing platform provides an ideal vantage point for admiring this majestic waterfall.
Gooseberry Falls State Park offers a network of hiking trails that cater to hikers of all skill levels. Some of the popular trails include:
• Gooseberry Falls Trail: This easy trail takes you on a loop around the main waterfalls, offering close-up views and excellent photo opportunities.
• River View Trail: A moderate hike that follows the riverbank and provides scenic views of the falls and the Gooseberry River.
• Lake View Trail: For those seeking stunning vistas of Lake Superior, this trail leads to overlooks with panoramic views of the lake.
• Northern Lights Trail: A longer, more challenging trail that takes you through a variety of landscapes, including forests, rocky outcrops, and serene streams.
• Gitchi-Gami State Trail: This paved trail connects Gooseberry Falls State Park to other parks and scenic sites along Lake Superior's shoreline, offering opportunities for biking and hiking.
The park features an informative visitor center where you can learn about the park's geology, flora, fauna, and cultural history. Rangers and naturalists are available to provide information and answer questions. There are both drive-in and walk-in campsites, making it a great place for camping under the stars. Additionally, there are picnic areas with tables and fire rings, perfect for enjoying a meal in the great outdoors.
The park's diverse habitats make it an excellent place for observing wildlife and birdwatching. Keep an eye out for white-tailed deer, foxes, squirrels, and a variety of bird species, including warblers and raptors.
The park is beautiful year-round. In the winter, it transforms into a winter wonderland, offering opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing. Whether you visit in the summer to enjoy the falls and hiking trails or in the winter for a snowy adventure, Gooseberry Falls State Park showcases the natural beauty and tranquility that Minnesota's North Shore is known for. It's a place where you can reconnect with nature and create lasting memories in any season.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Perched atop the rugged cliffs of Minnesota's North Shore, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park offers visitors a unique blend of pristine natural landscapes and rich historical significance. This park, located about 20 miles northeast of Two Harbors, is renowned for its iconic lighthouse, breathtaking views of Lake Superior, and a variety of outdoor activities.
• Split Rock Lighthouse: The park's namesake and most iconic feature is the Split Rock Lighthouse. This historic lighthouse was constructed in response to the tragic Mataafa Storm of 1905, which claimed multiple ships on Lake Superior's treacherous waters. The lighthouse's construction was completed in 1910, and it continued to guide mariners safely until 1969 when modern navigation methods rendered it obsolete. Today, it stands as a testament to maritime history and offers tours for visitors interested in learning about the lighthouse keepers' lives and the challenges of Lake Superior's waters.
• Panoramic Views: The park offers some of the most spectacular views of Lake Superior. The vantage points along the cliffs provide visitors with breathtaking panoramic views of the expansive lake, offering opportunities for photography and contemplation.
• Hiking Trails: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park boasts several hiking trails, including the Split Rock River Loop, Day Hill Trail, and the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. These trails wind through lush forests and offer glimpses of the lake, waterfalls, and unique geological features.
• Picnicking: The park has picnic areas with tables, making it an ideal spot to enjoy a meal with a view of Lake Superior.
• Camping: The park offers campsites for both tents and RVs, providing visitors with the opportunity to stay overnight in this serene natural setting.
• Birdwatching: Bird enthusiasts will appreciate the park's diverse birdlife, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and migratory songbirds. The park is part of the Lake Superior Birding Trail.
• Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing: In the winter months, the park transforms into a winter wonderland. Visitors can enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing along the park's trails.
• Geocaching: The park hosts a geocaching program, allowing participants to explore the park while searching for hidden treasures.
The park's visitor center provides information about the park's history, geology, and recreational opportunities. It's an excellent place to start your visit and gather maps and brochures.
Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area
The Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, a pristine and expansive wilderness in northern Minnesota, spans over a million acres of untouched natural beauty. Renowned for its labyrinth of interconnected lakes and rivers, it beckons outdoor enthusiasts to embark on paddling adventures amidst serene waters and rugged landscapes. This remote wilderness provides a haven for those seeking solitude, offering exceptional opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, camping, and wildlife observation. As a Dark Sky Sanctuary, it also provides unparalleled stargazing experiences. With strict conservation measures in place, the BWCA remains a symbol of untouched wilderness, inviting visitors to disconnect from modern life and immerse themselves in the tranquil and unspoiled heart of nature.
Grand Portage National Monument
The Grand Portage National Monument in Minnesota is a captivating historical site that preserves and showcases the vibrant cultural heritage of the Ojibwe people and the North West Company's fur trading operations. Located along the picturesque shores of Lake Superior, this national monument features meticulously reconstructed structures, including the Great Hall and various fur trade buildings, providing visitors with a vivid glimpse into the bustling fur trading era of the late 18th century. The centerpiece of the monument is the 8.5-mile Grand Portage Trail, which historically served as a vital link between Lake Superior and inland fur trading routes, marked by a steep climb to the Pigeon River's high falls. The monument offers educational programs, cultural demonstrations, and interactive exhibits that celebrate the rich history and enduring traditions of the Ojibwe people and the fur trade era, making it a fascinating and educational destination for history enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
Grand Portage Reservation
The Grand Portage Reservation in northeastern Minnesota encompasses a stunning natural landscape and holds deep historical and cultural significance. Covering approximately 61,000 acres, it is home to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose rich heritage is interwoven with the region's history. The reservation's stunning scenery includes pristine lakes, dense forests, and the iconic Grand Portage National Monument, which preserves the legacy of fur trading and Ojibwe traditions. This vibrant community is dedicated to preserving its cultural identity and natural resources while offering visitors the chance to explore the wilderness, learn about indigenous history, and engage in cultural experiences, making it a unique and enriching destination in Minnesota.
Grand Portage State Park
Grand Portage State Park is a natural gem known for its stunning landscapes and historical significance. Covering 278 acres, the park boasts breathtaking vistas of Lake Superior, forested trails, and the picturesque High Falls of the Pigeon River, the tallest waterfall in the state. Visitors can hike along well-maintained trails to enjoy panoramic views, explore the history of the area at the Grand Portage National Monument, or embark on outdoor adventures like camping and picnicking. This park offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage, making it a popular destination for those seeking outdoor recreation and a deeper connection to the region's history.
Northern Lights and Stargazing
The North Shore Scenic Drive offers an excellent opportunity for stargazing and possibly witnessing the mesmerizing Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. Here's what you need to know about stargazing on this scenic route:
1. Dark Sky Sanctuary: The North Shore area is designated as a Dark Sky Sanctuary, which means it has minimal light pollution, making it an ideal location for stargazing. The absence of city lights allows you to see the night sky in all its splendor.
2. Best Time for Stargazing: The best time for stargazing along the North Shore Scenic Drive is during the fall, winter, and early spring months when the nights are longer and the skies tend to be clearer. Late evening and early morning hours are generally the best times to view celestial wonders.
3. Northern Lights: While not guaranteed, the North Shore is one of the prime locations in the United States for witnessing the Northern Lights. These dazzling natural light displays occur primarily in the fall and winter months when geomagnetic activity is at its peak. Keep an eye on space weather forecasts and aurora alerts to increase your chances of catching this extraordinary phenomenon.
4. Equipment: You don't need a telescope or expensive equipment to enjoy stargazing on the North Shore. Bring a pair of binoculars, a comfortable reclining chair, and a warm blanket to lie on. You can also use stargazing apps on your smartphone to identify constellations and planets.
5. Ideal Spots: To maximize your stargazing experience, consider visiting specific locations along the North Shore Scenic Drive:
• Tettegouche State Park: With its serene lakeshores and minimal light pollution, this park is an excellent spot for stargazing.
• Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: The lighthouse offers a fantastic backdrop for stargazing, and the elevated cliffs provide clear views of the night sky.
• Judge C.R. Magney State Park: Known for its Devil's Kettle waterfall, this park also offers excellent stargazing opportunities.
• Superior National Forest: Numerous pull-offs and overlooks along the drive offer wide-open views of the night sky.
6. Be Prepared: Dress warmly, as North Shore evenings can be chilly, even in the summer. Be patient and allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness for optimal stargazing.
Stargazing on the North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota offers a chance to connect with the universe and witness some of nature's most captivating celestial displays. Whether you're hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights or simply want to enjoy the brilliance of the night sky, this scenic route provides an unforgettable stargazing adventure.
Lakeside on the North Shore
Start at the Duluth Lift Bridge at the Canal Park. There are plenty of fun things to do to start off your journey. Visit the Marine Museum, view sculptures and public art, explore shopping and restaurants. You can enter the Lakewalk from several points in Canal Park to walk along the shore. Watch the massive ships go through the canal. If you want to make a quick detour for a day trip, ride a train to Two Harbors.
As you return to drive along the byway, stop by to see the water at Cobblestone Beach and the McQuade Harbor Rest Area for skipping stones, agate-hunting, ship watching, and picnicking. Drive along the byway to Knife River where you can set sail on Lake Superior when you visit the DNR marina. When you reach Larsmont, try to spot the Little Red Schoolhouse, a hub for local residents.
Soon you will reach the town of Two Harbors. Visit the 3M Birthplace Museum, first home of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing and the Edna G. Tugboat, a historic tugboat museum. There are also many hiking trails and state parks in this area.
From Two Harbors to Grand Portage. Along the way, you will find a number of wilderness areas and state parks that are great for exploring Lake Superior and Lake Superior National Forest. When you reach Grand Portage, learn more about the Chippewa Native Americans at the Grand Portage Reservation and keep an eye out for sights of Canada.
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