Grand Marais, MN: Weekend Away
A quaint artist town with organic restaurants, outfitters, sailing and outdoor adventure year round, Grand Marais, MN is known for its cool lake breezes, lake effect snows ideal for skiing and snowshoeing, and relaxing activities year round. Stay for a weekend, or longer.
- Best Bets
- Things to Do
- Where to Eat
- Where to Stay
- When to Go
- Getting There
Little Village on the Lake
Grand Marais, MN has been a lakeside village for hundreds of years. Long before Europeans arrived, the town was an Ojibwe village named Kitchi-Bitobig, “double waters.” When fur traders arrived, the town became a trading post, and before long it was an important fishing village and lumber town. The first settlers came in the 1850s.
By the 1900s, settlers were able to make claim to 160 acres of land. They soon found they could “get rich quick” by selling land to timber companies, and many sold their homesteads at the rate of $600 for 40 acres. It wasn’t long before the North Shore became an important vacation spot, and travelers arrived for moose hunting at resorts along the shore.
Once roads were built, travel increased, along with logging, farming and fishing. Fish caught along the North Shore would be trucked to Duluth and by the next day they could be sold in fish markets in Chicago. Arrival of the lamprey in Lake Superior, a parasitic fish with a funnel-like mouth that is known to kill other fish, devastated commercial fishing in the area, and the industry continues to recover today.
Today, the town is an important gateway to the famous Gunflint Trail and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).
Grand Marais, MN Best Bets
- Spend an afternoon in town enjoying the shops and galleries, including Sivertson’s and the unique Superior Design Jewelry.
- Drive north to Grand Portage National Monument historic site. Learn more about our state’s voyageur history, and be sure to plan time to visit the state’s tallest waterfall at Grand Portage State Park.
- Hike the Superior Hiking Trail or nearby Cascade River State Park for a hike along beautiful views of the waterfalls.
- Don’t miss a slice of pizza at Sven & Ole’s, a Grand Marais classic or a donut at The World’s Best Donuts a seasonal mainstay.
- If you’re headed to the Boundary Waters, find any additional supplies you’ll need at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply or Lake Superior Trading Post.
- Come in the winter to ski or snowshoe on the famed Gunflint Trail.
Things to Do
Grand Marais, MN is an ideal destination for a learning adventure. The North House Folk School offers a variety of courses year round – from boat building and jewelry making to sailing and pottery to photography, timber framing and woodworking. Courses are hands on and vary in length.
For an artistic getaway, the Grand Marais Art Colony offers workshops year round, including pottery, drawing, painting and stained glass. Courses vary in length and some two-day courses are available, especially during the summer.
Festivals take place just about every month, including Winter Tracks in February, the Wooden Boat Show & Summer Solstice Festival in June, Arts Festival in July, Fisherman’s Picnic in August, and Moose Madness fall festival in October. During the holidays, visit for “A North Shore Holiday,” five themed weekends of activities along the north shore, featuring dining, arts, shopping and winter activities.
An afternoon downtown offers galleries, outfitters, coffee shops and ice cream along the harbor. See Betsy Bowen’s famed woodcuts, which have become well-known prints and illustrations, at her studio in the lower level of the Old Playhouse. Eight Broadway Gallery and Johnson Heritage Post Gallery offer paintings, drawings and photography. For handmade jewelry, visit Superior Design Jewelry, made from stones found on the shores of Lake Superior, including chlorastrolite, thomsonite and agates. Sivertson Gallery offers artwork, sculpture, jewelry and home décor.
Other shops include Lake Superior Trading Post, Blue Moose Gallery and Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply.
Grand Marais is also centered to excellent sections of the Superior Hiking Trail. To the west, the section of trail within Cascade River State Park crosses beautiful falls for which the river is named. To the east, view panoramic vistas at Pincushion Mountain, and head further east to Kadunce River, to the section of the trail which is the only part touching the lake shore.
The trail is also an excellent cross country ski and snowshoe destination in the winter. Sections of the trail available for skiing are wider and grassy, and are groomed in the winter. Due to lake effect snows, it’s common to have two feet of snow inland.
Enjoy the Lake by boat. Superior Charter Sail offers sailing trips aboard the 35 foot Snow Day. For a shorter trip, the North House Folk School offers two-hour trips aboard the Hjordis.
Grand Marais is also just minutes away from Superior National Golf at Lutsen, a top-rated golf course according to Golf Digest. The course offers 27 unique northwoods holes, some with views of the Lake. After a round of golf, visit the nearby Lutsen Lodge’s Lakeside Dining Room for fine dining overlooking the lake.
The city is also a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) one of the world’s best canoe, backpacking and hiking destinations. Visit one of the town’s outfitters for information, passes and equipment.
Or for a fishing adventure, several guide services are available. For inland fishing, try Joe’s Guide Service. Try Bear Track Outfitting Co. for Lake Superior fishing charters. They also offer scenic lake cruises.
Where to Eat
Grand Marais, MN is one of the best spots in the state for locally grown, fresh caught and organic meals. Its cool harbor breezes and numerous restaurants overlooking the Lake will make you want to stay for dessert, or longer!
A Grand Marais favorite for fresh-caught fish is Angry Trout Café. Open seasonally, the former commercial fish house’s dock seats diners on the lake – literally. The menu offers organic and locally grown produce, seafood and meats, and an organic wine selection.
Next door, Dockside Fish Market offers local fresh and smoked fish, including Bluefin herring, whitefish, and walleye, as well as other freshly flown-in fish, scallops, shrimp, crab and lobster. Dockside also offers a takeaway menu of fish and chips, soups and chowders, sandwiches and wraps, salads and shrimp. Grab a basket for a lakeside afternoon lunch.
Along the harbor, the Gunflint Tavern is a local institution open year round and offering a diverse menu of soups and chili, southwest inspired entrees like tamales and enchiladas, seafood, burgers, sandwiches, burritos and homemade pizzas. The Tavern offers a dozen microbrews and more than 30 specialty beers and wines. Open late, the Tavern also features live music.
Another favorite is Sven & Ole’s, offering some of the best pizza on the North Shore. World’s Best Donuts has served fresh, homemade donuts seasonally since 1969.
Where to Stay
On the harbor, look for rentals including: Cobblestone Cove Villas, which rents townhomes, featuring stone fireplaces, private decks, vaulted ceilings, whirlpool spa and lakeside views within steps of shops and dining; or the modern East Bay Suites offering studio to three bedroom rentals, with maple woodwork and maple floors in some units, stone fireplaces (electric), LCD TVs, kitchens or kitchenettes, and private decks overlooking the Lake.
Just four miles west of Grand Marias, the Terrace Point luxury condos offers condos for rent on the lake. Retro-style suites feature full kitchens, LCD TVs, slate fireplaces (electric) and private decks overlooking the Lake.
On the Gunflint Trail, check in to the Pincushion Trails Inn bed and breakfast, a four-room cabin on 18-acres, near skiing and hiking trails. The quiet inn overlooks Lake Superior.
The historic Bearskin Lodge offers a classic cabin feel with onsite dining. Open year round, the lodge offers canoeing and hiking, dogsledding, skiing and snowshoeing amid white pines and birch trees. On the Gunflint Trail, Bearskin is about 50 minutes from downtown Grand Marais.
When to Go
With cool lake breezes and plenty of outdoor activities, Grand Marais is an excellent mid-summer getaway. It’s also an excellent spot to enjoy the fall leaves early in the fall until mid-October when many of the seasonal establishments close for the winter.
In the winter, enjoy the Gunflint Trail, offering one of the best cross country ski and snowshoeing destinations in the state, as well as dog sledding adventures and cozy lodge getaways. Be sure to check the hours for your favorite Grand Marais spots – many have limited winter hours or are closed for the winter.
Head north on Highway 61. It’s well worth the scenic drive, with plenty of places to stop along the way. Grand Marais, MN is about two hours north of Duluth, MN and less than two hours south of Thunder Bay, Canada.
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