Minnesota’s North Shore + Lake Superior

Today's Lake Lover is Alyssa Eakley, a dear friend who hails from MN and has a heart for Lake Superior. Her story below. 

“Those who have never seen Superior get an inadequate, even inaccurate, idea, by hearing it spoken of as a “lake”, and to those who have sailed over its vast extent the word sounds ludicrous.  Though its waters are fresh and crystal, Superior is a Sea.” -The Reverend George Grant, 1872

I am incredibly fortunate to call Duluth, Minnesota my “home base”.  Although I grew up in a suburb of the Twin Cities, my parents packed up their lives and permanently headed North nearly 12 years ago.  And who can blame them?  Duluth is a charming city on a hill supplying boundless, breathtaking views of the the mighty Lake Superior.  And beyond Duluth, even further to the North, cozy lake communities and state parks dot the shoreline, providing abundant opportunities to enjoy and explore Minnesota’s North Shore from Beaver Bay to Grand Marais, and of course, to revel in the beauty of Lake Superior herself.  

Lake Superior, appropriately called Gitchi-Gami (meaning “Big Sea” or “Huge Water”) by the area’s native Ojibwe,  is the world’s largest freshwater lake* and is therefore objectively the greatest of all of the Great Lakes ;).  When I was a kid, we often vacationed along Minnesota’s North Shore, and Lake Superior was this magical and mystifying force that captured my young imagination. She still does.  Sometimes, at daybreak, she is calm and smooth as glass, stretching into the horizon for miles and miles until seemingly disappearing into the sky.  But, at other times, like when the November gales blow, she is capable of swallowing freighter ships whole (most famously, the Edmund Fitzgerald, 1975), and hundreds of ships are thought to have met their unfortunate fate below her icy waters.  

Her distinctive shoreline is a mix of pebble beaches, dramatic cliffs and other rock formations.  Perhaps the most breathtaking examples are the cliffs of Palisade Head (Tettegouche State Park), where rock climbers and hikers gather to swap stories from the ledge.  Sometimes, approximately every 20 years, Lake Superior succumbs to the bitter cold climate of the North and nearly freezes over completely.  During these cold winters, when the conditions are just right, hearty North Shore dwellers and tourists tread over the ice to revel in the beauty of the frozen waterfalls and ice formations that cling to the cliffs and sea caves.  

For these reasons and beyond, the North Shore of Lake Superior is an unexpected destination for adventurers from all over the world who come for a visit or to work at one of the cozy resorts in hopes of getting just a taste of what the area has to offer.  They come to hike, explore, fish, relax, kayak, camp, sail, climb, and ski.  Those who have never been would likely be surprised that so much adventure and beauty can be found in the midwestern state of Minnesota. But that is part of the magic.  The North Shore reminds us that incredible, natural beauty surrounds us and can be found in the most unexpected places.  It reminds us that the world (like Lake Superior) is vast and our personal problems are relatively quite small.  That, despite the seemingly endless race to develop and expand our bustling cities and suburbs, there exist these remarkable places that remain largely pure and untouched by the human hand. And it fills us with a wild desire to preserve them.

I hope you will come, unplug, explore, and find renewed appreciation for the wild world around you on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Long Live Lake Life,

Alyssa

*Largest freshwater lake by surface area

Closest major city and airport?

Duluth, Minnesota and the Duluth International Airport.  The airport is a newly remodeled, no nonsense airport with approximately 4 gates. It’s glorious! From Duluth, you can head North on the Scenic Hwy 61 and reach many of the “more northernly” North Shore towns within an hour or two.

Distance to nearest grocery store?

Several small-towny general stores are located along the North Shore.  Nothing fancy, but you will be able to find everything that you need.  Which isn’t much.  The goal here is to simplify.

Local things to do and see?

There are so many things you should do and see. You could spend a whole month on the North Shore and never run out of things to explore.  I attempted to whittle the list down to our top recommendations:

  • Take a drive up the Gunflint Trail, a paved roadway that begins in Grand Marais and ends in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area near the Canadian Border.  If you are so inclined, pull over and fish in one of the many lakes or pitch a tent for a few nights of camping.  You will see the most spectacular night skies.  If you make it all the way to the end of the Gunflint, have a beer on the patio at the Gunflint Lodge and wave to Canada.
  • Bike! Take a bike ride on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail.  
  • Hike!  You will find trailheads around every bend.  Most famously, the Superior Hiking Trail is a 300+ mile trail over cliffs and through boreal forest that boasts stunning lake views.  You may even see black bear or moose that inhabit the area.  Other recommended areas for hikes:  Temperance River State Park, Tettegouche State Park.  Some trails are a bit more intense than others, so we suggest bringing a pack of supplies with you - many great suggestions here
  • Fish!  The area is home to many tributaries that feed Lake Superior and are filled with trout.
  • Grab a hot meal at the Angry Trout Cafe (Grand Marais, MN), Lutsen Lodge (Lutsen, MN), or Bluefin Grille (Tofte, MN).  In fact, if you are not camping, spend a few nights at Bluefin Bay Resort. I love it so much that I convinced my husband, who hails from Milwaukee, to get married here on the shores of Lake Superior.

What to do when it rains/snows?

Charlie (my husband) and I love to check out the area’s art galleries on rainy days.  Local art is abundant in the area as artists swarm in an attempt to capture the breathtaking scenery on film or canvas.  Reluctant suburbanites like us can hang the art in our homes and daydream of the wilderness and adventure to the North.  There may or may not be three North Shore paintings hanging on the wall behind me as I type this post.  Here are a few of our favorite art galleries:

On rainy days, the local breweries attract crowds.  Our favorites are Voyageur Brewing Company (Grand Marais, MN) and Castle Danger Brewing (Two Harbors, MN).  

When it snows, there is no reason to stay inside.  There is an abundance of outdoor activities to be enjoyed including hiking, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, and downhill skiing (particularly  Lutsen Ski Resort in Lutsen, MN). Beauty abounds in every season.  

Best fish fry?

Fish fries are not as much of a “thing” in Minnesota, as they are in Wisconsin. However, a visit to Russ Kendall’s smoke shop for locally caught and smoked fish is a must.  As they say, “If you drive up the Shore and you don’t stop here, you’re doing it wrong”.  They’re right.