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In case you don’t already know, Minnesota’s North Shore All-American Scenic Drive is a 145-mile stretch of meandering, Lake Superior-hugging two-lane road from Duluth to Grand Portage, and one of the best drives in the state. It’s dotted with historic sites, small towns, state parks, and scenic trails leading into untouched wilderness. And if you’ve been looking to take a family road trip this year, here are the top five reasons to make this North Shore drive your next adventure.
If you’ve driven through Minnesota, chances are, you may have missed Duluth. Now, this picturesque port city on Lake Superior will be your launching point. Plan on a few days here first, though. Canal Park near downtown is the epicenter of family-friendly fun: glass blowing at Lake Superior Art Glass, watching 1,000-foot ships pass underneath iconic Aerial Lift Bridge, the Lake Superior Maritime Museum, Vista Fleet sightseeing tours, and strolling the Lakewalk. The whole family will enjoy the amenities at Park Point Marina Inn, which is just 10 miles from Spirit Mountain Adventure Park.
State parks and waterfalls
One of the best ways to “explore the shore” is to visit as many of the eight state parks you’ll encounter on your drive as you can. Several show off some of the best waterfalls in the Midwest, too. Gooseberry Falls State Park rewards visitors with scenic overlooks, interpretive programs, and great trout fishing for young anglers. Spectacular Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls are accessed by a paved 1/10-mile trail from the visitor center. There are four waterfalls in Tettegouche State Park, including a 70-foot thundering cascade known as High Falls. A 1.5-mile trail from the visitor center leads up to the falls, a perfect picnic destination that is, if you haven’t already sat atop Palisade Head. Minnesota’s tallest waterfall, the majestic 120-foot High Falls, is in Grand Portage State Park near the U.S.- Canadian border. Visit the welcome center to learn about the local Ojibwe culture, then head out to spot eagles, otters, and maybe even a moose!
Two Harbors Lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on Minnesota’s North Shore. A self-guided tour leads up to the lighthouse watch room, and through the Frontenac Pilot House, the Fog Signal Building, and the 1894 Assistant Keeper’s House. Looking for a unique night’s stay? The light keeper’s quarters are now a cool B&B. Twenty miles up the road is Split Rock Lighthouse, one of the most photographed locations in the state thanks to its rocky perch 130 feet above the lake. Take the self-guided tour or book the Keeper’s Tour for an educational walk of the historic grounds and lighthouse. Inside, a 32-step spiral staircase leads to the lantern room and the original Fresnel lens that still turns!
Tasty local bites
Northern Waters Smokehaus has some of the best food in Duluth. Bite into the Cajun Finn (house-smoked Cajun salmon, green onion cream cheese, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini, and lettuce on Stirato bread) or try their delicious smoked pancetta. They make boxed lunches (sandwich, cookie and chips) for kids, as well. Russ Kendall’s Smoke House in Knife River has been smoking fish for four generations. Blocks away is Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen, a must-stop for handmade candies, chocolate treats, and some fun photo-ops along the kid-friendly Bear Trail. Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors is world-famous. And if you haven’t found the tastiest donut yet, try World’s Best Donuts in Grand Marais and see what you think.
Isle Royale National Park
When you finally reach tiny Grand Portage, it’s time to park the car. From here, your journey to Isle Royale National Park will be by ferry. It’s a rugged, isolated island park, far from the sights and sounds of civilization, so plan accordingly. Backpackers can traverse the entire island or split it into easier sections. Either way delivers a truly unique experience with plenty of wildlife and nights under starry skies. If you only have a day or two, spend it in Rock Harbor on the island’s east end. There’s a lodge, a restaurant, a small store, and plenty of good day hiking.
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