Most road trips in Minnesota begin with Duluth as the prime destination!! It might sound crazy but Duluth is the place where the lovely North woods collide with the gigantic Lake Superior to create a dramatic story in the form of the North Shore Scenic Drive. The scenic drive has all the ingredients for a perfect weekend getaway. Not only is it only a 3 hour drive from Minneapolis, but the scene of the never ending coast, secluded woods and the small town vibe soothes your mind beyond words!! 🙂
The north shore drive or MN 61 is a 150 mile two way state highway which takes you till the Canadian border at Grand Portage ( If you have the time and the energy to follow the route till the end!! 😉 )
Lake Superior sparkles in the sun and envelopes the right hand view for most part of the way. The scene stays pretty much the same for the entire length of the road except for few places when you can see the lovely cliffs jut out in the water along with cute little lighthouses.
Take a pit stop and soak in the beauty of the enormous Lake Superior. I still remember the first time I had seen it, I was spellbound to see something so grand and beautiful. The blue water glistened in the sun like sequins and the view stretches on for miles till it merges with the sky in the horizon. Frankly speaking, I can’t even find the right words to describe its vastness. All I can remember is that as I looked at its never ending stretch, I felt really small and that put my whole life into perspective. It was like being born again! 🙂
As you enter Duluth, the first thing that catches your eye is the Canal Park. It is a huge recreational area which connects to the major landmark of Duluth – the aerial lift bridge. It is a vertical lift bridge which was built in 1905 and also features in National Register of Historic places. The bridge can be raised to its full height of 135 feet in about a minute, and is raised approximately five thousand times per year. If your timing is right, the local people say that you can watch the bridge go up as the ship passes from under it. I personally haven’t seen that happen yet in my last 5 visits even though Duluth being a working port! 😦 I guess that the odds are not in my favor…but if you get a chance, don’t miss it for the world! 😉 One word of caution…if you have a sensitive ear, you might want to carry a pair of earplugs with you as it is customary for the ship and the bridge to greet each other with a series of ear piercing honks! 😉 😛
You can walk along the aerial bridge and towards the lake boardwalk to enjoy the unobstructed view of Lake Superior. Canal park overall is a very vibrant place with loads of shops and restaurants around the place. There is a beautiful light house at the end of the shore too. You can eat, walk, bike, or just laze around in this place. I spent hours just sitting by the pebbled shore beach and feeding the birds mini donuts. 🙂 To be completely honest…it is a touristy kind of place, so prices at the shops and restaurant are on the high side and finding a parking spot can be tough during peak summer season.
As you go ahead for another 40 miles, you will come across first of the many state parks of the North Shore scenic route – The Gooseberry Falls State Park. I have been to the park twice and I find it beautiful no matter the time of the year. A small walking trail leads you to the waterfall. You will lose track of time while enjoying the beauty of the sound and sight. The view from top of the waterfall is stark different from the bottom one. I personally liked to walk down the path and get a complete view of the waterfall.
You can hike a long way around it to soak in all its beauty. Every where you look, you will find an alluring sight tucked in. It is a nice place to stretch your legs if you are gonna go further ahead in the North shore scenic drive! 😉
Just few minutes drive from here is the Split Rock Light house State Park. It sits beautifully atop a giant cliff overlooking lake superior.
From a distance, it looks like the epitome of Minnesota’s beauty. But in reality its presence is a reminder of the tragedy that happened on 1905 due to the famous Mataafa Storm when 29 ships were lost on Lake Superior. Although the light house has been rendered obsolete a long time back but it has been restored to its 1920’s appearance to offer the tourist a peek in the past! 🙂 It is one of the most photographed places in the North Shore drive and you will always find a lot of tourist around the place. Nonetheless the place offers some spectacular views of the lake and its adjoining rocky areas.
If you love hiking in the cliffs and want more of the rocky beauty, you should drive another 10 mile ahead and look out for Palisade head at Silver bay. There is a very small sign that will mark its arrival so watch out for it!! A small road will take you to the top of the hill and the parking lot is just there overlooking the scenic Palisade head.
You can walk around the cliff even though there is no paved trail around here. Just be extra cautious as there are no safety railings as well and the cliffs get really sharp and steep at few places. The view is stunning from above the cliffs and the water beneath it looks crystal clear.
The look out offers expansive view of the lake and beauty is breathtaking. The winds can get really chilly up there, so its better to carry a light jacket or a sweatshirt irrespective of the season you are visiting it in. Even if you are not a rock climber, you can enjoy the view whilst taking a easier route around the cliffs. The adventurous ones can go near the cliff’s edge to get a perfect vertical view of the lake.
This is the maximum I have traveled on this 150 mile Scenic route. There is so much to see and so many pit stops on the way that if you really want to experience each and everything, you will need more than a weekend for that.
Is it worth that long a trip? Well…Totally!! And if you are driving so up north, don’t forget to check out the Auerilia Borealis forecast. You never know when you might end up with an amazing Northern lights sight! 😉