Road Trip Travel

Minnesota North Shore Scenic Drive Must-See Stops

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on
July 12, 2020

The Minnesota North Shore is a rite of passage when it comes to experiencing rugged “Up North” beauty! The breathtaking scenery and unspoiled fresh air here is something that simply cannot be experienced elsewhere.

Featuring a plethora of rushing waterfalls, scenic hiking trails, state parks, and epic views of Lake Superior, the pristine beauty of the Minnesota North Shore leaves a lasting impression on its many visitors.

This article provides you with an ordered list of the must-see stops on Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive to help guide your epic outdoor adventure.

North Shore MN map
North Shore Map | Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service

Minnesota North Shore

What is the Minnesota North Shore?

Minnesota’s North Shore refers to the shoreline of Lake Superior that runs from Duluth, Minnesota to Ontario, Canada. The shore is characterized by cobblestone beaches, rocky cliffs and ridges, scenic rivers and waterfalls, and hillside forests.

People experience Minnesota’s North Shore by means of driving the 145-mile North Shore Scenic Drive. This All-American Roadway follows Highway 61 and winds its way through small towns, historic sites, and untouched wilderness.

The Minnesota North Shore can be experienced via several different itineraries and can include combinations of driving, biking, and hiking – making it a highlight of any Minnesota bucket list!

Our must-see stops are listed in order from the gateway city of Duluth, MN to our endpoint, Grand Marais, MN. This is a 110-mile stretch of the North Shore Scenic Drive located entirely along Hwy 61 and is doable in 1-day.

Duluth’s Lake Superior Harbor

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Duluth, Minnesota

As the gateway to Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive, the lakeside city of Duluth, MN is a family vacation destination in itself.

With dozens of fun and free things to do in Duluth, our 2-day Duluth itinerary includes all of the top attractions.

If only passing through however, be sure to visit Duluth’s Lake Superior harbor, also known as Canal Park.

Here you will experience the world-famous Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, North Pier Lighthouse, and free Maritime Museum.

Time your visit just-right by viewing the harbor’s shipping schedule to catch a 1,000+ feet-long bulk cargo ship exiting off of Lake Superior and heading into the Port of Duluth/Superior.

Russ Kendall’s Fish Market

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Knife River, Minnesota

Russ Kendall’s is by no means a fancy place, but it is the best around when it comes to perfectly smoked fish on Minnesota’s North Shore.

When wanting to try the best local cuisine, people line up to select purchases from the wide variety of smoked fish available in a grab-n-go style.

Favorites include the sugar-cured silver smoked salmon, smoked trout, and whitefish.

With a smell so good, you’ll be eating it in the car as you pull away!

Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Knife River, Minnesota

You can’t miss the colorful Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen shop that sits along scenic Highway 61.

Complete with picnic tables, an interactive “Bear Trail” for kids, and a quick-service window, the Candy Kitchen gets rave reviews for its handmade chocolates and other candies.

The line can get long here as tourists line up to purchase favorites including: Bear Tracks, Turtles, Hot Air, caramels, frozen bananas, and ice cream treats!

Castle Danger Brewery

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Two Harbors, Minnesota

Castle Danger Brewery is a delicious addition to the Minnesota North Shore! They’re nationally known for their hand-crafted brews, especially the popular Castle Cream Ale.

This large, beautiful brewery complete with a pet-friendly outdoor patio does not serve food, however.

Instead, they offer chips, salsa, and pretzels for purchase, as well as encourage patrons to bring in their own food or take-out from local restaurants.

The atmosphere here is fun and laid back! They offer 30-minute brewery tours every Friday and Saturday at 5:00 PM.

Betty’s Pies

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Two Harbors, Minnesota

Serving up delicious-ness since 1957, Betty’s Pies is one of the most popular and talked-about stops on Minnesota’s North Shore!

Not only does Betty’s serve delicious homemade pie (by the slice, or whole), but they serve awesome breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections as well.

“Broasted chicken and a pie shake, anyone?”

With a staff that is an epitome of Minnesota-nice, it’s bright white and blue diner decor, and a rotating pie menu makes Betty’s Pies a place that people come back to year after year.

Additional planning tip: Located 8-miles further down the highway, The Rustic Inn Cafe is another popular North Shore restaurant.

Known for its wild rice meatloaf, made from scratch onion rings, and homemade pie, your tummy, and your heart will both be full after dining here.

Gooseberry Falls

Gooseberry Falls:  Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Two Harbors, Minnesota

When traveling the Minnesota North Shore from Duluth to Grand Marais, Gooseberry Falls is the first nature-filled stop – and it’s a good one!

The Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls are located only a short walk (or wheelchair accessible route) from the visitor parking and nature center making this a perfect spot if you’re not looking for a long hike.

Kids and adults alike can get up-close-and-personal with the waterfalls as this park is highly interactive.

The waterfalls all have awesome climbing rocks and flow into shallow ponds that allow you to feel (or play in!) the rushing water.

Additional planning tip: Stay tuned until the end of this article where I list necessary tips for visiting the North Shore sites and waterfalls.

Splitrock Lighthouse

Splitrock Lighthouse: Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Two Harbors, Minnesota

Splitrock Lighthouse is a must-see North Shore attraction and provides for one of the most iconic photo-ops on the entire North Shore Scenic Drive.

The historic site and adjacent state park offer spectacular views of the lighthouse and of Lake Superior. The views can be experienced from both from the cliff top and from along the shoreline.

Black Beach

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Silver Bay, Minnesota

The black sand beach in Silver Bay, MN is the most unique place along Minnesota’s North Shore.

The sand is interestingly black here because of iron ore dumping into Lake Superior, which then created a man-made peninsula and beach.

Black Beach is a free public swimming beach complete with restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, and plenty of room to lounge. It is located on a gravel road and has limited parking.

The beach was a bit littered when we visited but it was still worth the stop!

Palisade Head

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Silver Bay, Minnesota

Palisade Head is a gigantic rock cliff that sits on the edge of Lake Superior. It is my favorite spot on the Minnesota North Shore!

You’ll drive up a long, narrow, and hilly roadway, to get to the lookout area. Once there, you’re treated to some of the most breathtaking (and terrifying!) views of Lake Superior.

The drop-off is dangerous, so be sure to use caution when visiting here.

Tettegouche State Park

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Silver Bay, MN

Perhaps the most popular hiking spot on Minnesota’s North Shore, Tettegouche State Park is a must-see-stop!

This park requires some planning to visit if you want to see the entire park or hike the 3-mile moderately difficult High Falls Trail to experience High Falls. High Falls is the highest waterfall entirely in the state of Minnesota.

Due to time constraints, we chose to walk just a short distance from the visitor center to a cobblestone beach where the Baptism River meets Lake Superior.

Here, we laid down beach towels and had a picnic while the kids enjoyed rock-skipping.

Cross River Falls | Temperance River State Park

Cross River Falls
Temperance River

Schroeder, Minnesota

Cross River Falls and the Temperance River lookout are two epic waterfalls that can be enjoyed in just 5 – 10 minutes each.

Both of these lookout areas are located directly adjacent to Highway 61 and do not require a hike to get to them. In fact, Cross River Falls can be viewed as you’re driving by.

Be sure to stop at them both, however, and look for the sign that explains why the rushing waters look like a root beer float!

Lutsen Mountain

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Lutsen, Minnesota

Lutsen Mountains is an amazing ski resort turned adventure park in the summer months, making it the epicenter of fun on the MN North Shore.

Along with offering the best skiing in Minnesota during the winter months, Lutsen is home to hiking trails, alpine slides, Summit Gondola rides, and voyageur canoe tours during the warmer months.

With onsite lodging available, Lutsen Mountain offers summer activity packages to make a visit here a vacation in itself.

Additional planning tip: Our kids loved riding up the chair lift to the top of the mountain, then riding the alpine slide down. Expect that your kids will want to go down more than once when anticipating your ticket purchases.

Cascade River State Park

Cascade River State Park

Lutsen, Minnesota

Though Cascade River State Park is an entire experience, we chose to view the popular waterfalls found here from the park’s short roadside lookout trail.

Watch for a road sign indicating “Cascade River” and there will be a few parking spots on each side of the highway.

Park your vehicle for free, follow the trail map, and take a short walk to this magnificent 6-tiered waterfall!

World’s Best Donuts

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Grand Marais, Minnesota

World’s Best Donuts in Grand Marais, MN has been in business for over 51 years (and 5 generations of bakers)!

This longevity, along with its awesome and amazingly fresh homemade donuts make World’s Best Donuts a staple destination on Minnesota’s North Shore.

With very limited hours of operation, plan ahead if you want to indulge in their famous Chocolate Knots, Bavarian Cream-Filled Long Johns, or Raspberry Jelly-Filled Bismarcks.

Artist Point

Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.
Top U.S. Family Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, details a Minnesota North Shore road trip along the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Grand Marais, Minnesota

No visit to North Shore, MN would be complete without a stop at Artist Point in Grand Marais.

The colored rocks and unique natural beauty found here are so picturesque and perfectly compliment the harbor’s quaintness.

Spend time exploring the lakeside via the gigantic boulders as well as by walking the 4-foot wide concrete sea wall out to the Grand Marais lighthouse.

Voyageur Brewing Company

Voyageur Brewing Company

Grand Marais, Minnesota

End your tour of the Minnesota North Shore from Duluth to Grand Marais with a visit to Voyageur Brewing Company.

It’s rustic decor and pet-friendly outdoor patio, along with a full menu of brews and food, make this the perfect way to end an amazing day.

Head up to the rooftop bar to enjoy a Palisade Porter or Lost Compass Imperial Stout while enjoying panoramic views of Lake Superior.

Brewery tours are offered on special Saturdays throughout the year at 10:30 AM.

Additional planning tip: Also located in Grand Marais is Angry Trout Cafe. This popular North Shore restaurant is a local favorite with incredibly fresh food and an unbeatable view.

Minnesota North Shore Continued

Continue to follow Highway 61 past Grand Marais for more outdoor adventure!

If you have more time, the following stops can be added on to your North Shore road trip:

Minnesota North Shore Tips

  • Bring your camera!
  • Weather can be unpredictable on the North Shore, with cooler temperatures even in summer. Prepare for your visit by dressing in layers.
  • All of the North Shore activities and attractions can be experienced for as little or as long as you like. Adjust the time you spend at each destination according to how many days you’re spending in the area. (For the purposes of this article, we saw all of these sights in one day without feeling too rushed.)
  • Be sure to wear tennis shoes or hiking shoes and avoid sandals and flip flops. Many trails have uneven terrain and the rocks around waterfall areas are slippery when wet.
  • Bring swimsuits and towels as there are several unexpected opportunities to swim and get wet.
  • Hiking maps can be found at the trail-heads with paper copies located in the visitor centers.

Have you traveled the Minnesota North Shore before? If so, what was your favorite thing to see or do?

Jen

If you liked reading about our favorite stops on Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive, check out our related articles:

*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*

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Discover the must-see stops on the Minnesota North Shore Scenic Drive!  From Duluth to Grand Marais, Minnesota these stops will complete your North Shore experience!  Minnesota | North Shore, MN | North Shore waterfalls | North Shore activities | Family travel | MN State Parks #midwesttravel #bestfamilyvacationspots #socialdistanttravel #NorthShoreMN #NorthShoreScenicDrive
Discover the must-see stops on the Minnesota North Shore Scenic Drive!  From Duluth to Grand Marais, Minnesota these stops will complete your North Shore experience!  Minnesota | North Shore, MN | North Shore waterfalls | North Shore activities | Family travel | MN State Parks #midwesttravel #bestfamilyvacationspots #socialdistanttravel #NorthShoreMN #NorthShoreScenicDrive
Discover the must-see stops on the Minnesota North Shore Scenic Drive!  From Duluth to Grand Marais, Minnesota these stops will complete your North Shore experience!  Minnesota | North Shore, MN | North Shore waterfalls | North Shore activities | Family travel | MN State Parks #midwesttravel #bestfamilyvacationspots #socialdistanttravel #NorthShoreMN #NorthShoreScenicDrive
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6 Comments
  1. Reply

    Alexandra

    July 18, 2020

    I honestly have never thought about visiting Minnesota, but after reading this article I think I’ll put it in my bucket list. Thanks for all this useful information.

    • Reply

      Jen

      July 22, 2020

      Yay! I’m glad that I can provide a little ‘travel inspiration’!! Happy travels!

  2. Reply

    Lillie

    July 13, 2020

    I’m blown away by all the attractions in this region. That lighthouse on a cliff?! And the pies?! Awesome!

    • Reply

      Jen

      July 16, 2020

      Thanks! It truly is a beautiful place!!!

  3. Reply

    Harmony, Momma To Go

    July 13, 2020

    Black sand beaches and waterfalls remind me of Hawaii and the cliffs make me thing of what I envision Ireland would look like! Wow what a diverse area, and the worlds best donuts, how can you go wrong? 🙂 I still can’t get over the idea of lakes that look like oceans. Ive been to Chicago, so seen that one (Michigan?) coming from the east coast, its so wild to see

    • Reply

      Jen

      July 16, 2020

      Thanks for reading! The steep cliffs along the drive reminded me of the Pacific Coast Highway. I had to pinch myself to remind me that I was just in Minnesota 🙂

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Hi, I’m Jen!  Welcome to Travel With A Plan!

I’m an avid adventurer who is always planning the next family vacation for my husband and I, and our three boys!

As an advocate for family travel with kids of all ages, I am a firm believer that traveling together helps keep families healthy and happy at home!

Here is where I share our best family vacation itineraries, resort reviews, and family travel tips (incuding Disney!).

Let’s go on an adventure! -Jen

TMOM Travel Writer
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