Things To Do On Minnesota's North Shore
The North Shore
The North Shore of Lake Superior is the summer playground for the Twin Cities. Well-to-do (and even some not-so well-to-do families keep cabins by the lake shore for annual escapes from the Great Plains heat).
For the rest of us, flying into Minneapolis and renting a car for the drive north is worth it for spectacular views of the lake shore, numerous waterfalls, and a great combination of tourist facilities and quiet atmosphere.
What is there to do, however? The answer is plenty...enough to fill a week or two and leave you wanting more.
The geology of the north shore lends itself to waterfalls. Of these, the most popular is Gooseberry Falls - it's close to the road, wheelchair accessible, and has a wide, safe pool at the bottom that people often jump into on hot days.
The problem with Gooseberry Falls is that it is so popular that you will dodge other tourists trying to get a good shot of the falls.
There are several other good waterfalls, although none of them are as easy to get to and all require some hiking over rough terrain. Cascade Falls is 120 feet through a deep gorge, although the river drops a full 900 feet in its last three miles. If you are a serious hiker, it's worth going up along the Cascade River's valley.
Spectacular in a different way - and bizarre - is the Devil's Kettle on the Brule River. Half of the river falls down a waterfall and flows to the lake. The other half...disappears into a hole in the ground that is reputed to be bottomless. Nobody has yet managed to establish where the water comes out, even by use of dye, ping pong balls and other objects. No object thrown into the Devil's Kettle has ever emerged...
The tallest of the waterfalls is High Falls, right up at the Canadian border. In total, there are fifteen named waterfalls on the north shore.
Visit Grand Marais
Grand Marais is the largest town on the North Shore - which is a low bar. It's not very grand (population of 1,351 at the 2010 census) or very marais (Marais means sea - and this is a lake). But it's an attractive little harbor village with interesting dining and several art galleries. Being so small, it's perfectly walkable.
If you happen to be there for July 4th they let off fireworks from rafts in the harbor. The World's Best Donuts actually might be, whilst the pricy Crooked Spoon Cafe offers a romantic atmosphere, good food and good service.
Try Something New
Waterfalls. Hiking. Boating on the lake. It's all appealing, but what if you want to do something different?
Say hello to the North House Folk School. Ever fancied trying your hand at carriage driving? They can hook you up with a local stable. They also offer courses of lengths ranging from a few hours to a week in all kinds of things you might never have thought to try - making birch canoes? Baking artisan bread? How about making soap? If you're not very crafty, they also have storytellers and organize nature walks.
If you're crazy enough to go up in the winter, you can find places to rent skis (cross country) or snow shoes. There are even several places that will take you out on a dog sled and let you try your hand at mushing. Or you can go skijoring...and even camp overnight in the middle of winter.
The North Shore is a great place to find something you have never tried before.
Hike, Hike, Hike
The truly fit - or insane - walk the full length of the 275 mile Superior Hiking Trail.
The rest of us? There are lots of hiking trails on the North Shore, ranging from the 7 mile climb of Eagle Mountain, the highest point in the area, to the easy walk out to the Grand Marais Lighthouse and Artists' Point (don't do this walk without a camera. You will regret it). Basically, no matter what your level of fitness, you can find a hiking trail.
Take a good set of boots - most of these trails are "rough" trails (unpaved) and some of them can be difficult. Oh, and wear long pants, spray the bottom of your pants and top of your boots with DEET-based repellent and check yourself for ticks - deer ticks are, sadly, rampant in this are.
Find a good list of trails with directions and difficulty levels here.
A few more things to do
Here are a few more suggestions:
1. Stop in Duluth on your way up or back and visit the maritime museum, then spend time ship spotting. If you get lucky you might even see one of the 1,000 foot long "lakers", which carry bulk cargo. You can also tour an old freighter.
2. Visit Split Rock Lighthouse and learn just how dangerous Lake Superior can be in winter (price warning on this one).
3. Get some maple syrup - it's made locally, delicious, and likely costs less than in your local supermarket.
4. Go fishing. There's plenty of fish in the lake.
5. On a windy day, go to (but not too close to) the edge of the lake and appreciate the power of the water.
6. Try canoeing or kayaking.
7. Take a sailing trip from Grand Marais - the 50 foot schooner Hjordis heads out from their harbor regularly. Just don't get becalmed in a fog. (Yeah, guess who that happened to).