September 17, 2012

Highway 61 - The North Shore

Minnesota's northeast border is located on the shores of Lake Superior, the largest of the great lakes.  I may be a little biased when I say this, but I think this is one of the most beautiful places in the world... at least the Midwest.  Highway 61 is about 140 miles from Duluth, MN to Grand Portage and the Canadian Border.  The sunrise over Lake Superior gets me every time.  Also, it is one of the few places where you can REALLY hear the Minnesota accent.

As a child, our family vacations never included any Disney resorts, no Smithsonian museums and definitely not Lady Liberty.  We always took our week long vacations in the summertime to the North Shore.  We camped with family friends, canoed in the Boundary Waters, hiked parts of the Superior Hiking Trail and whizzed down the alpine slide in Lutsen.  In the winter, we spent our weekends travelling to small towns in Minnesota for hockey tournaments or heading right back to Lutsen for some skiing.  As an adult, I do feel a little behind (that is the reason Disneyworld is on my 30 before 30 list), but I'm grateful that I have seen so much of the beauty that Minnesota has to offer.

My husband and I just got back from the Lutsen area where we celebrated our 4 year wedding anniversary.  We had the most beautiful weather and such a lovely week.  We stayed at Bluefin Bay Resort, which is one of our favorites.  Their website is Each room has it's own kitchen and balcony with a lake view so you can make your own breakfast and sit for hours just listening to the waves.  They also allow you to bring your dogs, so we were able to go on vacation with our whole family - Quincy & Lola were so excited.

Photo Credit

Once you leave the beautiful city of Duluth on Highway 61, make sure to take the scenic route (never the expressway) to Two Harbors.  You will see a little shop called Russ Kendall's on your left - they have AMAZING smoked salmon and many other things to choose from.  This is a must if you like fish.  Also, the New Scenic Cafe has a great lunch menu and it definitely worth the stop if you're hungry.

Two Harbors is a great little town if you want to do a little shopping and maybe get some ice cream.  The main street is off the lake a little, but if you head down to the lake, there is a nice little walk out to the lighthouse.  We usually pass right through Two Harbors unless we are extremely hungry.  We are usually way too excited to stop after just 30 minutes of driving.

Gooseberry Falls is one of the first state parks you will pass.  It's usually one of the busier parks, but it's beautiful.  If you're looking for something that is a little more quiet - keep heading north.

Palisade Head is a must for everyone.  It will be on the right side of the road with a small sign for the turn off.  It comes up pretty quick once you pass through Beaver Bay & Silver Bay.  The road that climbs up the hill is a little scary, but once you get to the top, you'll realize that it is worth it.  You will get breathtaking views of the shoreline each way because you are standing at the top of a cliff.  There isn't too much for hiking there because it's not very large, but it's a good time to get out of the car and stretch your legs and take in the views.

As you continue up Highway 61, I recommend spending some time at Temperance River.  There are 7 waterfalls you can see as you follow the river.  It is one of my favorite hikes on the North Shore.  We did this as kids quite often, so it isn't too difficult of a hike.  You will also get to the towns of Tofte, Schroeder & Lutsen which all provide some lakefront restaurants and places to stay.

As I said before, Bluefin Bay is one of our favorites and that is right in Tofte.  Lutsen is extremely popular as well because there is lots to do there during all 4 seasons.  The views are awesome even in the winter time and the condos are hillside ski in/ski out and really fun to stay at.  In the summer, we always try to sneak in the Alpine Slide and take the gondola up Moose Mountain to the Mountaintop Chalet.  We enjoyed a wonderful mimosa in the 75 degree weather on the deck this year.  The Oberg Mountain trail is near Tofte as well and it is also a beautiful hike (only about 2.5 miles.)

 The last stop that I usually make on Highway 61 is Grand Marais.  Sven & Ole's Pizza is a must.  If you are lucky enough to be there in the summer, you can stop at World's Best Donuts.  They have lots of awesome little shops & restaurants along their lakeshore.  The Ben Franklin is awesome.  It has everything you could ever need and usually has a pretty good deal on Minnesota made goodies.  Beth's Fudge also never disappoints.

Grand Marais is also where the Gunflint Trail begins.  The Gunflint Trail is a quiet drive that is about 60 miles long and will take you up into the hills and towards Canada.  The campgrounds on this trail are so peaceful and quiet with gorgeous lakes and awesome canoeing.  If you take the trail all the way to the end, you will find Gunflint Lake and the Gunflint Lodge.  Having lunch & a glass of wine on their patio is a great way to enjoy the peacefulness.  They recently put in a treetop zip line as well - we haven't done that yet, but will be making a reservation next time we head north.

My other favorite place is near Flour Lake campground and the Golden Eagle Lodge.  When you are driving up the trail, look for the Flour Lake turn off on the right, take that dirt road a few miles past Aspen Lake and the Flour Lake Campground and you will see a small sign on your left for Honeymoon Bluff.  It is about a .25 mile hike up a nice trail and when you get to the top, you will have a breathtaking view of Hungry Jack Lake and the surrounding lakes & wilderness.  Here are some photos, but I promise, they don't do it justice.

We had an absolute blast on our anniversary trip.  Taking a nice weekend at the end of each summer to just spend time together is a treasure for us and something that we will continue to do each year.  This is such a beautiful place to hike, camp and enjoy the outdoors.  

Left - September 2008 - Right - September 2012
"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit." - Edward Abbey

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Thanks for reading my ramblings. It makes my heart happy.