Highway 61 in Minnesota between Duluth and the Canadian border is a beautiful drive.
Known as the Scenic North Shore drive, the highway weaves between woodlands and lakeside of Lake Superior.
The scenic drive gives people an opportunity to see an abundance of waterfalls, trees and water. Quaint towns dot the highway.
The drive from Duluth to Grand Portage at the top of the state usually is a 5-hour round trip. We managed to turn the drive into a 14-hour trip (minus Duluth, too).
We wanted to take our time and enjoy the drive. Our goal when leaving the hotel that morning was to stop and check out whatever we wanted.
We went to the town’s main attraction – the only working lighthouse in Minnesota.
The Two Harbors lighthouse is not your typical round lighthouse. It is attached to a lighthouse keeper’s building, which looks like a house.
The Two Harbors area was a scenic view to start our daylong trip.
Our next stop was the Silver Creek Cliffs overlook, just a few miles north of Two Harbors. About 15 years ago, the state built a tunnel through the rock to help improve the traffic flow. Where the highway once went around the cliffs and next to Lake Superior, an overlook area was built.
We enjoyed a nice walk around the area. Quite a few people were out enjoying the nice weather and views. I know that looking out over the same lake can probably get old for some people, but we loved it.
During our walk, we saw a couple of guys starting to climb the rocks. A little down from their location were the remains of a deer that apparently took the wrong step…off the cliff and fell to its demise. All that was left were its bones.
Our next stop was Gooseberry Falls State Park. We’ve been here before, in 2008. In fact, we lost one of our stuffed traveling monkeys during a hike around the park. We had a moment of silence for him.
We didn’t think we’d spend that much time here since it was a return visit. Wrong! We hiked a bit on the upper falls area – something we hadn’t done previously.
The falls are beautiful regardless of how many times you may see them. The sky was blue and mostly clear, so it was just a picturesque view.
We traveled all three falls – upper, middle and lower.
Once our visit was done here, we headed out for our next stop – Split Rock Lighthouse.
This was our second visit here, too. But, again, the area is so beautiful, the return visit seemed new.
After checking out the lighthouse and the surrounding grounds, we hiked down the trail to the lake shore.
It’s a popular hike, with a lot of people walking around. We saw a couple of kayakers in the lake. One was shooting photographs of the lighthouse. That had to be a great view.
After picking up a couple of souvenirs from the gift shop, we decided to find a town with a nice café for some lunch. Our hotel manager suggested Lemon Wolf Café in Beaver Bay. Excellent choice!
The restaurant is decorated in a homey style.
One thing I thought was cute was a wooden bear carving “looking” in from outside the window.
Near the parking lot, a beaver carving welcomes you to the café.
After lunch, we pressed on. We hadn’t gone any farther north than Split Rock before, so all of this was new to us.
Silver Bay is a few miles north of Beaver Bay. We stopped at the harbor in town and did a walkabout. The town does not have a whole lot to see attraction wise – mainly the harbor and the taconite factory. In fact, the taconite factory is the focus of an overlook in town.
“Rocky Taconite” welcomes people to Silver Bay. The mascot recognizes the role taconite plays in making steel.
We moved on to the next stop – Cross River Falls in Shroeder. Cross River Falls was perhaps the second or third most powerful waterfall we saw on the Northlands trip. The sound of the water gushing downward was loud. The force with which the water was dropping seemed deadly.
Catholic priest Frederic Baraga and his Ojibwe Indian guide fell to their deaths in 1846 when they were swept into the falls. A white cross honors them near the spot where the river flows into Lake Superior.
From there, we moved on to our next stop – Grand Marais. But, first, we found a spot to stop at along the way. Sugarloaf Cove seemed like an interesting spot to pull off the highway at.
We walked about half a mile into the woods to come out along lake shore. It was a nice view (aren’t they all, really?). We walked along the rocky beach. Tons of rocks piled on the beach made it a challenging walk. I kept thinking to myself, “Do not fall and sprain or break your ankle.”
Well, after quite a bit of time walking along the beach, we stopped and shot some photos of the shoreline, lake and woodlands.
Eventually, we made our way back to the car and headed north to Grand Marais.
We made it. Grand Marais has a reputation as an artist’s town. It had a lot of beauty – both water and woods.
We found a spot to park downtown. Since we arrived after 5 p.m., the visitor center was closed. We walked toward the shoreline.
The Beaver House store was near where we parked. A large fish sticks out from the roof to the side of the building. Lisa remembered seeing it in a travel magazine. Oh, the store is for sale – $288,000.
We walked out to the small lighthouse along the harbor.
Grand Marais is a quaint lake town with about 1300 people. It is known mainly for being an artsy attraction for painters, poets and photographers. One spot near the harbor is referred to as Artist Point.
Once we finished our walk in Grand Marais, we headed north for our final stop on the scenic route – the waterfalls at Grand Portage.
Grand Portage is about 35 miles north of Grand Marais. There is a scenic overlook just south of town that has a stunning view of the area. Trees and islands jut out of the shade and into the light of the sun. It was beautiful.
We met a woman at the overlook who was heading back south from the waterfalls. We asked her how much farther north it was, just to be safe. She told us it was an immediate left just south of the US-Canada border. She wasn’t kidding.
As we approached the area, we did not see any signs for the waterfalls. Instead, we saw a rest stop and then the border area. I decided we needed to double check the falls location, so we pulled into the rest stop.
I figured there had to be a map with the falls on it. As soon as we walked in, we saw a sign that said “To the waterfalls, exit here and follow boardwalk.”
So, off we went. We walked about half a mile on the trail, which was paved after the boardwalk ended.
We could hear the water as we approached, but still did not see any signs.
Well, there was no need for a sign when we made it, because you walk up to the majestic view of the Grand Portage waterfalls.
The High Falls (actual name of the falls) has a 120-foot drop. It is a thunderous waterfall. It was enjoyable to stand and watch and listen to the water as it dropped.
After spending about 30 minutes in the area, we headed southward to Two Harbors. We decided to try to find a place for a late dinner closer to Two Harbors. Well, as we eventually hit town about 10 p.m., we realized our chances for a decent dinner had gone by the wayside. Two places were open that we found – McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. We ordered a pizza, bought some soda and headed back to the hotel for a delicious dinner of greasy pizza at about 11 p.m. Lesson learned (or not).
To conclude our North Shore scenic tour, we stopped in Duluth the following morning. We walked around the harbor. This was our second visit to Duluth, so we decided to cut the tour short since we had to get down to the Twin Cities to visit the Minnesota Zoo and Mall of America.
Our tour of the harbor walk consisted mainly of the lighthouse and bridge area. We fed the gulls and watched them fly off as little kids chased them around.
As I mentioned earlier, we may be the only people who can turn a short tour into a long day (except for the SS Minnow guests), but it’s an experience we wouldn’t trade for a nice steak at a lakeside pub. We had a great time and gained a lot of vacation memories.