Lake Superior's Scenic North Shore
This presentation could be considered a sister article related to a few others I have written, "The Stones Cry Out", "Waterfalls," and "Light Houses," which center more around Biblical studies. This article will not be without some spiritual content, but will more showcase one of my favorite road trip destinations along the north shore of Lake Superior.
I will be covering the places I have personally visited. Therefore, keep in mind there are many more things to do and see in this area that may not be included in this presentation, such as the zoo and North Shore Scenic Railroad, that runs from Duluth to Two Harbors, which I will most likely catch the next time I head that way and will be sure to share with you as soon as I do.
Duluth Skyline Parkway
Let's begin with a beautiful and scenic 20 mile drive through Duluth's Skyline Parkway which hosts stunning views overlooking the city of Duluth, Lake Superior bay, and shoreline.
This road can be accessed right off of Interstate 35 at exit 249 before actually entering Duluth from the south. Set aside an hour or more and leave time for making plenty of stops along the way.
Scenic overlooks aren't the only thing you will see on this drive. The road will wind around through edges of pine forest, stone bridges, over rivers, along with beautiful waterfalls to admire along the way not to mention there are plenty of places to stop and picnic, or if you prefer swing down into Duluth for a bite to eat.
There is a bit of residential along this path but nothing truly distracting.
City of Duluth
Duluth has an old, historical, and industrial atmosphere to it. It is a city with a population of around 86,000 and it is about as metropolitan as Minnesota gets north of the Twin Cities. It was voted the best outdoor city in the U.S. by "Outside Magazine" in its 2014 contest.
Our favorite place to stop in Duluth is Canal Park Pier, light house, and lift bridge where you can watch the big barges, that come all the way from that Atlantic, roll in and out. The big ships really are immense and amazing to watch.
If you like big ships, every August Duluth hosts an event called the "Tall ships" where you can see and tour historic ships. It draws a pretty good sized crowd if you don't mind that.
There are shops and places to eat within walking distance including the infamous "Grandma's Restaurant" which is where the "Grandma's Marathon", that includes about 10,000 runners a year, is hosted every year in June.
There is also a maritime museum/visitor center right on the pier with information on incoming and outgoing barges as well as some interesting history with some hands on displays.
You can schedule a cruise on the lake or If you want to do a little fishing you can book a fishing tour with a charter boat. Much information is available online and best to plan these excursions in advance.
First stop just outside of Duluth is a sweet little park on the shore that includes picnic areas and portable toilet facilities. I mention this only because these opportunities become less frequent the further North you get. Shopping opportunities past this point amount to a couple of local grocery stores and gas stations, along with some tourist shops along the way.
It was at this beach that I found a beautiful piece of calcite just laying there on the large slabs of basalt, and waiting to be discovered. If you like rocks, there is always something beautiful to be found along the shores of Lake Superior. I never leave a shoreline without pockets full of something.
Scenic Highway 61
Highway 61 is a scenic 150 mile drive that does not disappoint in terms of sight seeing. It will take you all the way to Canada if you wish to go that far. There are plenty of overlooks and places to pull over and just admire the views.
As you travel North, the "Big Lake", as the locals call it, is off to your right and to the left is birch and pine forest with intermittent stunning basalt cliffs and formations. There are couple of tunnels to drive through, that are cut into the basalt cliffs, for you driving convenience and visual pleasure. The old highway went around one of the cliffs, and was considered a treacherous stretch. The video on the right will take you through them if you like.
The remainder of this article will showcase and highlight many of the beauties along this route. The further north you get the more mountainous it becomes. I have been a Minnesota native all my life and I really had no idea Minnesota had mountains until these visits up north.
Apparently Bob Dylan wrote a song about this highway and he actually grew up in this area.
Two Harbors is the first town to be encountered on the trek north on 61. It is about 35 miles northeast of Duluth. It is a small town with a population of a little over 3500. but about as big as it gets north of Duluth. This is where you will find a grocery store and some little shops that cater to tourists.
If you're an avid rock hound, like me, there are a couple of beaches, Agate bay, and Burlington Bay, both signed, that have a lot of interesting Great Lake material to sift through. This can be relaxing unless you're OCD like me and get overwhelmed with all your spectacular rock options and can't stop looking.
I must note that although I find many beautiful things on the shores. I rarely find agates. Rocky fields and gravel pits are a better bet if that is what you are looking for. Don't be shy about bringing waders and a grabber to look a little deeper into the water. Some of us actually do this. Just keep in mind that the water gets deep rapidly.
A Funny story while on one of our trips, I met a lady on the shore whose husband was in the lake about knee deep intensely looking for an agate. She was greatly annoyed and sarcastically asked me "So, how do you find these magic rocks"? She then explained that she had spent way more time than she had cared to wait for him to find one, and she was hoping that he would just buy one and get it over with. I was amazed that he was able to stay in the cold water so long,
On that note, I must also inform you that Lake Superior is ridiculously cold with an average water temperature of 40 degrees and it is just plain frigid, even in the summer. We usually go on vacation in September, when the water has had all season to warm up, and wading in it for just a few minutes is limb numbing. Swimming isn't usually on the menu.
It is between Two Harbors and Silver Bay that my husband and I like to cabin up. It is central to most things we want to do and see.
We have tried a couple of different places, Gooseberry cabins and Castle Haven Cabins, both equally cozy, as well as reasonably priced. We like this venue as it is great for some rainy day puzzle time if need be, as well as a meal expense saver, in that it lends us the option to cook rather than eat out.
Both sit right on the lake and are located specifically in Castle Danger township.
Cabins: Time to Settle In
I can't tell you how pleasant and relaxing it is to hear the lake lapping at night or even crashing against the rocks so violently that the cabin shakes like thunder, during a storm. The Wisconsin side of the lake can barely be seen from this point and it is also a good spot where you can watch the barges come and go throughout the day as observed in the photo heading this section
All the Gooseberry cabins and some of the Castle Haven cabins, are situated so that you can have a fire right on the Basalt slabs that sit right on, and into the lake.
We also like this spot, as it is in between the two grocery stores. One is in Two Harbors to the south and one in Silver Bay to the north. It's about a 12 to 15-minute drive either way.
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Gooseberry Falls is just one mile north of our usual cabin spot and hosts a lovely set of waterfalls and trails. The walk to the falls is not very far but there are longer hiking trails that move up along the river if you enjoy hiking. The trail loops back to the starting point.
This particular fall was named after the Gooseberry bush that is frequently found growing in this region. The fruit is edible but State Parks prohibit disturbing or removing any natural thing in the Park. This means no rock collecting either.
Minnesota State Parks have done an excellent job making great visitor access to the sights they boast. The trails are well groomed and maintained, as displayed in the accompanying photo in this section. The visitor centers in Minnesota State Parks are educationally centered, featuring history, wildlife, and landscape topics. I never mind buying State Park stickers for both my vehicles for this reason.
Just to let you know, Northern Minnesota has the highest black bear population in the lower continental United States. I only know this because, much to my husband's annoyance, I am terrified of bears and needed to know everything about them during our travels.
My husband made a sad attempt at trying to reassure me that they would be nowhere near the more heavily trafficked areas we would be visiting, but upon our arrival to Gooseberry we found the sign to the right posted on the Park bulletin board only a mile from where we were staying and wandering in the nearby woods. I am pretty sure I smelled one on a trail we hiked.
Split Rock Light House
Split Rock Light House, right off of scenic 61, is an interesting stop if you enjoy a bit of a history. It was built after a series of wrecks that occurred in the early 1900s.
It is a pay to get in place and they have tour guides who will talk you through all of the historical features of the site. Or you can simply look around if you prefer. I prefer to wander on my own and just look at things, such as the classic iconic view, seen at the top of this section, from the ground level, which takes 170 steps down to get to. Not for the faint of heart. The way back up is grueling. There are benches on a couple of landings if you need. Other than that not much for hiking or trails of any kind at this park.
Beaver Bay and Silver Bay
Beaver Bay and Silver Bay are your second best opportunity for gas and food and about 30 miles from Two Harbors.
The Beaver Bay Agate shop is right off the highway and easy to spot. It is the oldest rock shop in the United States which has an actual rock Museum that displays some of the most interesting material from all over the world.
Beaver Falls is right off the road as well. There is a place to pull over and you can hike down to a little beach with a lot of rock material or just admire the view. It is privately owned and signed as such. The owners only ask that you not litter and leave it as you found it.
Silver Bay is famous for its taconite processing plant, which can plainly be observed sitting right on Lake Superior. It also has a scenic overlook. We found a nice little church to attend while we were there and met a lovely couple named Wally and Barbara, to hang out with in future visits and also shared some inside info on gravel pits we can visit for rock hunting.
In the fall when the foliage is bursting with the most intense hues, it is stunning just to drive around the few winding hilly highways in this area.
A little past Silver Bay, there is a rock formation that you can drive up to the top of, and get a stunning panoramic view of the Lake and cliffs. It is just past Palisade Baptist Church and easy to miss if you aren't paying attention. There is also a large cell tower at the top that can help you identify it. Hang on to your little ones in this area as there is not much for fencing or guard rails. The cliffs are a 300-foot sheer drop off, and hikers have fallen and died there.
Just a little ways down the road you can hike out to the point that you can see on the horizon in the photo to the right. It's not a strenuous hike by any means.
On one of our trips, we were privileged to watch a deer rescue. It somehow was trapped at the bottom of the cliff and was discovered by a rock wall climber who assisted in the rescue. The video is included below. Apologies for my poor video taking skills. I didn't know that the phone should have been held horizontally during the recording process which made it difficult but not impossible to see. If you watch closely you can see them hoisting the deer up the cliff. Watching it full screen helps.
The photo to the right shows a rock wall climber. Tettegouche Park, which we will be visiting next and is very nearby, is one of three Minnesota State Parks that offers rock wall climbing tours.
Tettegouche State Park: The Baptism River
The claim to fame of this state park is the High Falls, a 70 ft drop, that is part of the Baptism River. It is the highest waterfall that is entirely in the state of Minnesota. The Baptism river drops a total of 700 ft before reaching Lake Superior The High Falls of the pigeon river in Grand Portage is bigger but it is also shared by Canada.
It is a good mile and half hike from the Park Pavilion to see these falls with a couple of cute little intermissions of the Cascade and Two Step Falls along the way. The trail is mildly rugged in some spots over roots and rock and a bit of incline. There are actually 23 miles of hiking trails in this park and four waterfalls total on the Baptism river.
The cross in the river, in the photo on the right was taken while I was attempting to get the shot of the High Falls, seen at the top of this section. I turned around and took a quick pic of the river and didn't even notice until I got back to the cabin and scrolled through the days journeys, which introduces us to our next destination.
This river and falls are located at about Schroeder Minnesota and are actually a wayside park right off of Highway 61. Just over the bridge, there is a turn off that leads to a little park that displays a granite cross and is at the mouth of the Cross River. It was erected as a tribute to a missionary named Fredrick Baraga, A Roman Catholic Priest, in the mid 1800's, who was said to have, once, placed a wooden cross there as a thank you to God for surviving a treacherous journey on the lake during one of his missionary tours to the Native Americans in the region. The video below has a more specific history as it is written on the granite cross and gives some pretty good image to this area's highlights.
The north side of this park is for water access that also has a picnic area and a spectacular rock beach. The rock material in this spot is about 3 foot deep before you actually get to the water.
The tourist population begins to thin now as we work our way north.
Temperance River State Park
As far as rivers along 61 go, this one is my ultimate favorite and therefore will include a larger gallery of photos.
The gorges in the Temperance are deep and beautiful and includes hidden falls. The trail up through the gorges is short and steep but not extremely difficult.
There are plenty of great views right off the road if you're not in the mood for some up hill hiking. The park is on both sides of the road and is equally unique and picturesque. Our last visit was just at the end of winter with some snow on the ground and we were able to see bear tracks on the opposite side of the river.
A note concerning winter visits, the parks are technically closed and trails are not groomed for hiking in terms of snow removal. I did fall twice in a couple of icy spots. Snow shoe hiking and cross country skiing are encouraged and trails are signed for that. Bathroom facilities are not open either in the winter. In case you haven't noticed bathroom opportunities are important to me.
The Spiritual Component
I can't help but pull together the themes of these three rivers, Baptism, Cross, and Temperance.
The lessons all taken together of these last three rivers, Baptism, Cross, and Temperance, will be the spiritual component to this article. I simply cannot go anywhere and not see a lesson somewhere in it.
The progression of these names is interesting
Baptism symbols the consecrated to God life and testifies of our personal repentance from sin to God.
the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth;
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” ~ Luke 3:2-6
Then comes the cross
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. ~ Matthew 16:24
Which should result in a life of Temperance
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Devil Track River follows these three which also images a similar chain of events in the life of Christ in His wilderness temptation immediately following His own Baptism, exampling for us a faith tried and true.
At Lutsen the flavor of the North Shore changes just a little bit as it becomes more mountainous. My husband loves to ski here.
On one of our visits he talked me into a gondola ride up the mountain. This was no simple task considering heights are just as unpleasant to me as bears are. I must say, however, that the sights I beheld seriously outweighed any fears I might have had, and that is a lesson in and of itself. I am learning that there are things I really don't want to miss just because I'm afraid.
Grand Marais Minnesota was voted coolest small town in America by CNN Travel. This little town is complete with great local eateries, craft, art, and tourist shops. I highly recommend "My Sister's Place" for a bite to eat. They have 24 burgers to choose from and they were featured on the Travel Channel. We had the all you can eat walleye that did not disappoint.
Not too far past, Devil track river is a five-mile rock beach for rock hound lovers. This beach is accessed from the road by simply pulling over. There is no turn offs. There is a DNR office in Grand Marais as well as a Border Patrol.
This is as far north as we have gone. The next trip I intend to get to the High Falls on the Pigeon river, at the Canadian border which seems to catch rainbows quite frequent
I will conclude with some interesting Lake Superior facts you may or may not have known as recorded by Al Batt in the Albert Lea Tribune Saturday, October 10, 2009, along with spiritual application from the Waterfalls article.
God is showing us that He is a far Superior source of fresh life giving water. He is better than anything we could come up with to satisfy. All other sources are temporary, insufficient and far inferior. Our God is El Shaddai - the All Sufficient God. The God who is enough. He is the largest and most superior source of provision in the universe
It is the largest fresh water lake in the world. It covers 31,829 square miles, is 483 feet deep on average with the deepest point of 1,332 feet, is 350 miles long, and contains 3 quadrillion gallons of water. The other four Great Lakes plus an extra three Lake Eries could fit into Lake Superior. The water in Lake Superior could flood the United States to a level of a foot deep.
I leave you with a little sunset and Gordon Lightfoot's song recounting the famous 1975 Lake Superior wreck of the "American Pride" / The Edmund Fitzgerald as Lightfoot called it. It was historically the largest ship on the Great Lakes and sunk during a severe winter storm packing hurricane force winds that produced waves up to 35 feet high. 29 men lost their lives in this tragic event. The captain's last words were
“We are holding our own.”
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