North Shore, MN Road Trip on Highway 61: Weekend Away
hides a secret that has yet to be uncovered.
is one of the most unique beaches on the North Shore.
Silver Bay offers shear cliffs for views and climbs.
shear cliffs made ready for the days assault.
offer seclusion without the tent.
A weekend road trip to Minnesota North Shore’s fabled Highway 61 offers opportunities year-round. Plan a trip every season to enjoy the endless vistas, miles of hiking trails, waterfalls and forests, and numerous dining and lodging options. The fall offers some of the best views of fall leaves in the state, and winter months offer skiing, snowshoeing and a glass of wine while you warm up by the fire.
Enjoy acclaimed restaurants, tasty smoked fish, or homemade candy line the section of Hwy 61 known as the North Shore Scenic Drive. From north to south, galleries dot the highway. You'll find panting and iron work, galleries and gift shops, jewelry, photography and furniture. Visit during the fall for the North Shore's annual Crossing Boarders tour. Catch beautiful views of the fall leaves while touring galleries from Scenic Hwy 61 to Grand Portage.
Along the way, visit some of the North Shore’s hidden treasures. Quiet beaches, unique vistas and beautiful waterfalls line the North Shore. The region also offers some of the state's most beautiful parks, with rushing rapids, towering waterfalls and great hikes for a day or a backpacking adventure.
Highway 61 Dining & Arts Road Trip
Start your drive north of Duluth on Old Highway 61, overlooking Lake Superior. Between Duluth, MN and Two Harbors, Old Highway 61 runs parallel to Minnesota Highway 61 and closer to the lake. Praise from food critics ranging from the St. Paul Pioneer Press to the Wall Street Journal have earned this stretch of Highway 61, known as Scenic Highway, a deserving nickname – the Culinary Highway.
The menu at Scenic Café rivals any fine dining spot in the Twin Cities, and when you consider the lakeside views, some may argue the dining experience is one of the best in the Midwest. Scenic Café’s menu features fine contemporary American cuisine, served in a cabin-like atmosphere perfect for the North Shore.
Just before the Knife River, you’ll be drawn to the smells of smoked fish as you approach Russ Kendall’s Smoke House. The small roadside smokehouse serves newspaper-wrapped fish smoked daily. Try the brown-sugar cured salmon and be sure to buy the side of crackers along with knives and napkins for a lakeside picnic stop.
Just across the street the Great Lakes Candy Kitchen is a must stop along the highway for any sweet tooth. Open through December 31 each season, the shop offers fudge, turtles, bear tracks, English toffee, Swiss mints and other favorites. Order online for a special holiday treat . . . or pick up extra when you stop!
While Duluth and Grand Marias have long been known for galleries featuring North Shore artists, Highway 61 offers a number of galleries and arts crawls to draw arts lovers.
On Scenic Highway 61, Burton Forge & Gallery is open seasonally. Iron creations hand forged by Dale Burton include candlesticks, chandeliers to hold candles in both antique and modern designs, gates, tables and unique fishing pole holders.
Further along in Two Harbors, Silver Creek Co. features framed paintings by Jim Hansel, Rick Kelley and Jon Wright depicting North Shore scenes. Watercolors by Nikki and Susan Pavlatos highlight well-known local scenes, including lighthouses and boats on the lake.
And further north, Lutsen is also home to two galleries, Last Chance Studio & Gallery and the Kan-Nee-Tah. Open daily, Kan-Nee-Tah features original artwork from more than 100 local artists, including jewelry, furniture and lamps, paintings, photography, pottery, sculpture and stained glass. Last Chance, the working studio and foundry of artist Tom Christiansen, represents more than 50 local contemporary artists.
Hidden Highway 61
Some of the best kept secrets on Highway 61 offer quiet and seclusion from the more popular tourist destinations, and truly unique views of the North Shore.
Just north of Two Harbors and across from Betty’s Pies, Kelsey Beach is a small dark cobblestone beach, with rivulets of water falling across the stones and ancient dark lava formations. Follow a short, uneven path just past the Stewart River Bridge to get to the beach.
Another mile north, Silver Creek Falls is hidden just after Highway 61 crosses Silver Creek. Turn right on Silver Cliff Road to access the creek, and you’ll find the falls just upstream. The falls were named by the Ojibwe, who once thought the area held vast amounts of silver. The creek was later used by Europeans who immigrated to the area for logging.
Just north of the falls and immediately after the Silver Creek tunnel, Silver Creek Cliff Trail offers one of the most dramatic views of the lake on the North Shore. The cliff is the highest bluff rising directly from the lake. Today, visitors travel through a 1,344-foot tunnel completed in 1994, and the once-perilous drive along the cliff has been converted to bike and walking trails that take visitors directly to the cliff’s edge. Parking is available at the wayside rest, which is now maintained as part of the 21-mile long Gitchi-Gami State Trail between Gooseberry Falls State Park and the Beaver River at Beaver Bay.
As you drive further north, watch for mile marker 42 to find the entrance to Iona’s Beach, one of the most unique beaches on the North Shore. Enter at a paved parking lot and follow the trails to the beach. The 300-foot beach has a distinctive pink hue of rhyolite and felsite bedrock stone, stretching between dark gray cliffs. As you walk the beach, listen for the distinct “tinkling” sound of the stones as you walk and as the stones are moved by the waves.
From pink to black. For one of the most unique beaches on the North Shore, travel 18 miles north of Beaver Bay to Black Beach, a secluded beach of dark stones. The beach’s distinct color comes not from the stones, but from the water – years ago taconite tailings were dumped into the water just off-shore for about 25 years. The dumping ended 30 years ago, and the water has now cleared. But as a result, the beach has a distinctive black color of the ore. Brilliant rust color cliffs line the landscape, and visitors can clip to the top of the cliffs for a view up and down the shore. To get there: take the first right just past the traffic light in Silver Bay and veer left on the gravel road. Follow the road to a “T” and turn right. Continue a quarter mile and turn left again. The path is not well marked, but will be on the left toward the shore, just through the trees.
A more well-known, but only slightly more well-marked view of the lake can be found at Palisade Head, just three miles north of Silver Bay. Watch carefully for signs as you approach and follow the winding road up and toward the lake. There are no railings, but the site offers some of the most amazing views of the lake and cliffs. The location is among the best rock-climbing spots in the state. On a clear day, you may be able to see all the way to the Apostle Islands.
As you drive north, you’ll enter the unincorporated Illgen City, part of Beaver Bay Township. If you traveled through this area nearly a century ago, you’d pass the famous Aztec Hotel, a 12-room hotel built in the style of the Mayan Indians, with a dining room, bar and large lobby. A popular stop for travelers between Duluth and Grand Marais, the hotel – which no longer exists today – was rumored to be a popular destination for Chicago criminals including Al Capone. Today, visitors can see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area, Illgen Falls. To get there, turn left on Highway 1 about 6.5 miles north of Silver Bay, and about 1.5 miles ahead look for the signs for Devil’s Rock. The unpaved trail to the falls is on the left.
Further along as you enter the town of Schroeder, look for Father Baraga’s Cross, just past the Cross River Bridge. Look for a small sign on the right side of the road, where you’ll turn off to a gravel parking area. Follow the path to the shore, where you’ll see a granite cross monument, built to replace the wooden cross that stood in the place to mark the travels of Father Baragra. Baragra, a French missionary, came to the area in 1846 by a small wooden boat from Madeline Island. A strong storm came up during the trip, and Father Baragra prayed for a safe passage. He arrived safely and placed the cross on the place where is boat landed. During the summer months, church services are held at the spot.
Great State Parks: Highway 61
Between Duluth and Grand Marais, the North Shore offers some of the state’s most beautiful parks. Known for their waterfalls and scenic views, each is worth a stop as you travel up Highway 61.
Near Two Harbors, two of the most highly visited parks in the state, Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. While Split Rock is known for its lighthouse historic site, it also offers campsites along the lake. In the winter, snowshoes are available for rent in the park office for a winter hike. At Gooseberry Falls, while most visitors stop at the main falls, hike or ski to the fifth falls. And don’t forget to see the Lake Superior shoreline from the park.
Further north, Tettegouche State Park offers excellent hiking trails, including views of the 60-foot High Falls of the Baptism River. Just south of the park’s entrance is the North Shore’s iconic Palisade Head. Watch carefully for signs to drive to the top of the overlook. In the park, head to Shovel Point for views of the lake. One of the park’s most iconic images, the Arch at Shovel point, a sea arch along the trail, fell victim in 2010 to the same forces that created it – weathering – and is now a sea stack. Plan your visit in advance to stay in one of the park’s cabins at Tettegouche Camp or the Illgen Falls Cabin year round.
For more challenging hiking trails, head further north to George Crosby Manitou state park. The park offers trout fishing in Benson Lake, and pack-in/pack-out campsites. North at the Caribou Falls wayside is another trout fishing destination at Caribou River. The site also offers views of the 35-foot falls and access to the Superior Hiking Trail.
At Temperance River State Park, in Schroeder, is one of the most spectacular views of the North Shore at Carlton Peak, 1,526 feet high. Hike to the top of the peak from the park, or the shorter hike from the access point at Britton Peak. The hike is steep from either direction but well worth the hike. Near the park’s entrance, visit the Temperance River gorge. Stand on the bridge overlooking the falls. Be sure to cross Highway 61 to see the mouth of the Temperance River and walk along the lake.
South of Grand Marais, Cascade River State Park is named for the series of beautiful waterfalls along the Cascade River. Hiking trails on both sides of the river offer views of the falls. Also hike to Lookout Mountain, 600 feet above the lake, or on rugged trails along the lake.
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