Lake Superior Experience
We highlight a variety of destinations along the “inland sea” of Lake Superior. See why the world’s largest freshwater lake is the perfect place for your next weekend getaway or week-long vacation.
Duluth, two and a half hours north of the Twin Cities, is a true escape for a day, weekend, or weeklong trip. Built into a steep, rocky hillside, the city overlooks the sparkling blue waters of Lake Superior. Most visitors see the vista unfold as they crest the hill of Interstate 35, and what a view it is.
“You never get tired of watching the lake and it’s many personalities,” says Gene Shaw, director of public relations for Visit Duluth.
The town is full of outdoorsy activities: you can skip rocks along the shoreline, walk along the Lakewalk, get an overview of the scenery from Enger Tower, tour the grounds at the historic Glensheen Mansion, or enjoy a picnic lunch at Leif Erickson Park.
Perhaps one of the most unique Duluth activities is watching the Aerial Lift Bridge and the massive ships coming into port.
Get an up-close look at lake freighters, ocean-going ships, lighthouses, and exciting harbor activity on a Vista Fleet tour, a full-service tour boat company celebrating their 50th anniversary this year with a special kickoff celebration June 27.
Visitors can learn about the lake, harbor, and industries of the area while enjoying the open water and untouched shoreline. There are special cruises throughout the year, including “the best seats in town” during the July 4 fireworks, says Arnie Marten, general manager.
After a memorable boat tour, have lunch, dinner or a cocktail on the patio at Nokomis Restaurant and Bar, featuring award-winning cuisine and an extensive wine list. “We had a diner email from her home in England to tell us that even a month after her meal at Nokomis she was still savoring it,” says Sean Lewis, chef and co-owner. “She told us she dines out often in London and Paris, and Nokomis is at the top of her dining list.”
About an hour north of Duluth on Highway 61 is the town of Two Harbors, perhaps best known as the location of the famous Split Rock Lighthouse. The lighthouse, open every day for tours from mid-May through mid-October, should be on everyone’s list of things to see.
Stay in Two Harbors at Grand Superior Lodge or Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior, sister resorts on Lake Superior’s shoreline. As part of a new Odyssey Resorts program, these two resorts—along with Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen—are rolling out a new program called Explore! with Odyssey Resorts, where guests can freely explore the activities and amenities offered at all Odyssey Resort locations.
“If you’re staying at Grand Superior, you can drive up to Caribou Highlands and go canoeing for free, for example,” says Martin Pettersson, marketing director. “Whether it’s fishing in a new location, reading a good book on a different shoreline, getting a massage, enjoy a guest lecture, or joining a guided hike, with Explore, guests can take advantage of everything Odyssey Resorts have to offer.”
While staying in Two Harbors, Pettersson recommends hiking along the Superior Hiking Trail, kayaking on Lake Superior, or fishing on a charter boat.
“Get up early in the morning and get out on the lake when the water is calm,” he comments. “Watch the sun come up over the horizon. It really is an awesome experience.”
A combination of the lake’s beaches and rocky cliffs on one side of the road, and the Sawtooth Mountains and thousands of acres of forest on the other, provides some truly breathtaking scenery in the Lutsen/Tofte area.
Once in the town of Beaver Bay, stay at the Scandinavian-style Cove Point Lodge, where guests are treated to peace and solitude. The setting—a picturesque lodge surrounded by 150 acres of woods and rocks, with all rooms facing Lake Superior—is ideal for a romantic getaway.
Summer vacationers searching for a resort that has a little something for everyone will find Bluefin Bay a natural choice. A children’s program and play area keeps the little ones busy, and kids of all ages enjoy the outdoor pool and hot tub/spa, indoor pool and whirlpool, volleyball and tennis courts, sea kayaking lessons, naturalist program, and complimentary use of mountain bikes. (A portion of the paved Gitchi-Gami Bike Trail runs right past Bluefin Bay.) Bluefin offers the entire resort experience—gourmet dining at Bluefin Grille, bonfires on the beach, charter fishing, outdoor activities, unwinding with a massage at the Superior Waters Wellness Center, and luxurious amenities within the midst of the North Shore’s rugged wilderness.
Lutsen Resort is another popular destination for those who want the total vacation experience. Amenities include complimentary childrens’ programs, kids’ camps, guided hikes, disc golf, fly fishing, naturalist programs, and kayak tours led by members of the activities staff.
“Our guests regularly comment on the friendly and helpful staff,” says Diane Loh, who has been with the resort since 1961. “A lot of the time couples or families come up here not knowing quite what they want to do, then pick and choose off activities off our itinerary. ”
Loh says guests love not only the vast array of activities, but also the resort’s covered bridge, the Adirondack chairs on the beach, the different accommodation choices (lodge rooms, lob cabins, townhomes, or condos) and the historic lodge.
While in the area, head over to Lutsen Mountains for a fun summer day on the slopes. An all-day pass includes unlimited rides on the gondola, which takes you up to Moose Mountain for hiking and biking, and rides up the chairlift to Eagle Mountain, featuring the alpine slide. The winter ski trails are well marked for hiking and biking. Bikes and helmets are available for rent.
Nestled in the Sawtooth Mountains is the family-friendly destination of Caribou Highlands Lodge, with a variety of styles and prices for every visitor. The resort offers complimentary activities for kids so parents can be free to take advantage of activities like guided canoeing, pool volleyball, or water workouts. The lodge also features a heated outdoor three-season pool, an indoor pool, three spas areas, two saunas, tennis courts, volleyball, basketball, picnic areas, and game rooms. Accommodations include up to four-bedroom luxury log homes designed for privacy, townhomes that sleep up to twelve, condos which sleep up to six, and hotel-style rooms in the lodge, all with optional whirlpools and fireplaces.
Get a great room, view, and deal at Eagle Ridge on Lutsen Mountains, offering 75 affordable slope-side studios and condominiums near Sawtooth Mountains. “The Lutsen area combines the mountainous topography with the coastline,” says Jim Vick, marketing manager. “And the mountains are where you play.”
All Eagle Ridge rooms feature a gas fireplace and patio overlooking the mountains and Poplar River valley along with refrigerator, microwave and TV/DVD. Many rooms have a whirlpool and all condos feature a full kitchen. At the end of a fun day, build a fire and make s’mores in the campfire pit.
Located a mile and a half from Lutsen on the edge of the Superior National Forest, Cedar Cliff Retreat is the perfect cure for the summertime blues. With six large bedrooms (sleeping up to 21 people), three bathrooms, a full kitchen, large screened porches at each end of the Great Hall (relax in the hammock on the afternoon porch), the house is perfect for large groups. The house is near the Superior Hiking Trail, Superior National Golf Course, and Lutsen Mountains.
“Summertime, and the living is easy,” or so the song goes, and that’s just how it is in Grand Marais, a harbor village on the shore of Lake Superior.
“There’s a timeless quality here, similar to that of a fishing village on the coast of Maine,” says Diane Brostrom, director of the Grand Marais Area Tourism Association. “The harbor is the centerpiece of town, but the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains and Superior National Forest just beyond makes the area the most unique in Minnesota.”
Visitors enjoy wandering the streets of Grand Marais (the only North Shore community whose downtown is right on the lake), walking out to the lighthouse at Artists’ Point, going on a guided kayaking or canoeing trip, hiking along the Superior Hiking Trail, taking an art class at the North House Folk School or Grand Marais Art Colony, or watching a performance at the Grand Marais Playhouse.
Grand Marais also marks the start of the Gunflint Trail, an old logging route that now offers access to camping and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a unique wilderness of more than a thousand lakes and streams joined by short overland trails called “portages.”
Stay on the Gunflint Trail just north of Grand Marais at the Gunflint Lodge, where activities include paddling trips, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, moose viewing, boat rides, and fun presentations like “Bear Truth” and “Great Lakes Ghost Stories.” Lodging options include classic cabins, Gunflint Lake homes, and romantic cottages.
Enjoy a daily dose of the beautiful from Best Western Superior Inn & Suites, where all of the rooms are lakefront. Stay in a new Renewal Steam Suite featuring a walk-in steam shower, fireplace, hydrotherapy whirlpool, and wet bar. The hotel is within walking distance of many unique restaurants, shops, and art galleries.
Another lakeside lodging option in Grand Marais is East Bay Suites, where guests can stay in a completely renovated vacation condo, merging the history and gracious hospitality of the East Bay tradition (East Bay Suites was originally built as the Lakeside Hotel in the 1900s). After a day of playing outside, work out the kinks with an in-suite massage.
Bayfield, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior’s South Shore, is a tourist haven filled with great restaurants, gift shops, arts and crafts festivals, first-rate accommodations, and scenic attractions. In addition, it is the gateway to the Apostle Islands, opening up a whole new world of outdoor adventure and natural beauty. This is boat country, whether you’re riding the ferry, sailing, or kayaking.
The vibe in Bayfield is relaxed and welcoming. “It’s clear to Bayfield’s visitors that the residents take great pride in their community and feel very fortunate to be able to share their special place with others,” says Kristen Sandstrom, marketing and events manager at the Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau.
She recommends visiting the orchards and berry farms in town, checking out the quaint shops downtown, trying the homemade fudge or winebread at the Candy Shoppe on Rittenhouse Avenue, taking a guided Bayfield Heritage walking tour of the area, ordering the whitefish liver at a local restaurant, and taking a boat cruise out to the Apostle Islands. Visit from July 25-26 for the 47th Annual Festival of Arts, taking place in Bayfield’s Memorial Park. Over 75 artists will be showcasing work ranging from photography to jewelry (and everything in-between).
SUPERIOR/DOUGLAS COUNTY, WIS.
Once people get to the Superior-Douglas County area of Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, they learn that there is so much more to the area than they originally thought, says Jennifer VanAlstine, group services coordinator with the Superior-Douglas County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The people are friendly, there is a wonderful beach at Wisconsin Point, the parks are great, and the area is full of opportunities for the avid outdoor explorer.
The waterfront museums are definitely worth the drive, says Jan O’Brien, director of the Superior-Douglas County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Fairlawn Mansion, overlooking Lake Superior and Superior Bay, is a Victorian Queen-Anne mansion built in 1890; the SS Meteor Maritime Museum is the last remaining “whaleback” ship, launched in 1896; the Richard I Bong Veterans Historical Center takes you back to times when ordinary people became extraordinary heroes (our veterans); and the Harrington ARTS Center - A World of Accordians Museum, housed in a old church, features over 1200 accordians, concertinas, and button boxes.
VanAlstine recommends visiting Billings Park in Superior with walking trails, great views of the St. Louis River, and the historic buildings and homes in the Central Park area.
In Douglas County, O’Brien recommends the historic Bois Brule and St. Croix River Portage Trail, Pattison State Park, and Amnicon Falls State Park. Both women encourage visitors to ask the Visitor Center staff and the locals for suggestions, too.
“Chances are, people will not only tell you what they like to do, but why they like to do it,” says VanAlstine. “You’ll get to hear stories and trivia about their favorite places.”
Wintergreen Northern Wear: Your Perfect Lake Superior Outfitter
When it comes to outdoor gear, Wintergreen Northern Wear, a small, family-owned business headquartered in Ely, is one of the last full-line outdoor clothing manufacturers left in the United States. In 2008, the company expanded to include a retail store in the Fitger’s Brewery Complex in downtown Duluth.
It all began in 1985 when Susan Hendrickson-Schurke, founder and lead designer at Wintergreen Northern Wear, was experimenting with new synthetic fabrics for her husband, Paul’s, dogsled expedition to the North Pole. From these fabrics, she developed Eskimo-style apparel that was field-tested and perfected on numerous polar training trips.
It didn’t take long for the apparel enterprise to outgrow Hendrickson-Schurke’s garage. She moved operations to a location on Ely’s main street and—as word got out—grew to include a retail and catalog operation. Since then, the Wintergreen brand has been field-tested in just about every cold place on the planet, from Greenland to the Siberian Peninsula. Over time, the Wintergreen name has become synonymous with words like “durable,” “comfortable,” and “Made in the USA.”
“Our customers are extraordinarily loyal because they know our clothing is locally designed and made with care and quality,” says Hendrickson-Schurke.
The company specializes in outdoor wear, including anoraks (Nordic-style jackets), shirts, vests, pants, jackets, shorts, base layer tops and tights, hats, mittens, shoes, snowsuits and buntings for toddlers, and anoraks, pants, accessories, and base layers for children. Wintergreen wear can stand the test of time and the changing moods (and temperatures) of Lake Superior, no matter what the season or activity.
The unique design of the apparel also makes it recognizable to others who own Wintergreen gear.
“People who wear Wintergreen share a special connection,” Hendrickson-Schurke says. “Our customers often tell us that when they spot someone else wearing Wintergreen, for example a stranger at the airport, they greet each other and end up chatting about their common interests. We hear this all the time. In fact, we joke about a secret Wintergreen handshake.”
Bayfield Chamber of Commerce
Best Western Superior Inn & Suites
Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
Caribou Highlands Lodge
Cedar Cliff Retreat
Cove Point Lodge
Eagle Ridge at Lutsen Mountains
East Bay Suites
Grand Marais Area Tourism Association
Grand Superior Lodge
Kah-Nee-Tah Gallery and Cottages
Larsmont Cottage on Lake Superior
Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior
Visit Thunder Bay
Vista Fleet Harbor Cruises