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Fantastic Fall Drives

8 amazing trips for enjoying autumn colors, apple pie, eagles, hiking, crafts, shopping, smoked fish, and more

Fantastic Fall Drives
Photo by Andy Richter

(page 3 of 3)

Mile by Mile

Superior's North Shore

Start: Canal Park, Duluth. Spend your first night at South Pier Inn on the Canal, which bills itself as Duluth’s best “shipwatching hotel.” Located next to the iconic aerial lift bridge, it provides a great view of the Twin Ports harbor. In the morning, grab breakfast at Amazing Grace Bakery Café (394 S. Lake Ave.) then take time to explore Canal Park: watch ships arrive and depart, walk along Park Point, visit the Great Lakes Aquarium, tour the ore boat S.S. William A. Irvin. Then, hop in the car and drive northeast.

Mile 18.3: Visit Tom’s Logging Camp on Scenic 61, the re-creation of an early 1900s logging camp and Northwest Fur Company trading post.

Mile 19.4: Buy smoked whitefish and trout to nibble on while driving at Russ Kendall’s Smoke House in Knife River.

Mile 28.0: Leave the highway to drive to the Two Harbors waterfront. Moored near the docks is the Edna G. tugboat. Built in 1896 and retired in 1982, Edna G. was the last coal-fired, steam-powered tug in operation on the Great Lakes. (Tours available through the Depot Museum.) Also be sure to check out the Yellowstone Mallet 229. Used to haul iron ore from mines to the lakeshore, it was one of the most massive and powerful steam locomotives ever built. Tour the Two Harbors Lighthouse, where the keepers quarters are now a bed and breakfast.

Mile 40.9: Stop at Gooseberry Falls State Park and browse the Joseph N. Alexander Visitor Center, where you’ll find state-park information, interpretive displays, and the Nature Store. Then, hike some of the 20 miles of trails, including the spectacular route along the upper, middle, and lower falls of the Gooseberry River.

Mile 47.3: Continue up Highway 61 to Split Rock Lighthouse Historic Site. Perched on a cliff rising more than 100 feet above the water, Split Rock is one of the most beautiful and imposing of the many lights on the Superior shore. It’s open for tours every day into mid-October. If you need more North Shore scenery to get your fix, continue north 50 miles to Lutsen Mountains. There, ride the gondola to the top of Moose Mountain, where, 1,000 feet above Lake Superior and Poplar River, the best view of the drive awaits.

Mile 56.5: Heading back toward Duluth, eat dinner at the Rustic Inn Café in Castle Danger, an unpretentious place that got its start in the 1920s (but has since been rebuilt). Try the roast-beef dinner and a slice of five-
layer chocolate pie.

Mile 73.5: Back near Two Harbors, check in at Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior for a prime view of Lake Superior from 40 acres of woods and 1,300 feet of private lakeshore. Oh, and don’t forget about the indoor pool, all-season outdoor Jacuzzi, and wood-fired sauna.   


Spirit Rocks Drive

Where the old bones of the continent poke through southwestern Minnesota’s farmland, the dramatic outcrops of Sioux quartzite have their stories.

The tour starts at Pipestone National Monument, long a sacred site to many American Indian tribes, who mined a layer of soft red “pipestone” in an exposed ridge of Sioux quartzite. Hike along the outcrop, take in the view of Winnewissa Falls, and watch local Native Americans, who still mine the pipestone with hand tools to produce pipes for their own use and for sale.

Drive south into Pipestone, where 20 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places are constructed of local quartzite. Fortify yourself at Lange’s Café (110 SE Eighth Ave.) with a hot beef sandwich and slice of sour-cream-raisin pie.

Follow Highway 75 south to Blue Mounds State Park, where another ridge of Sioux quartzite erupts from the prairie. Hike through fields of native prairie, and enjoy long views into Iowa and South Dakota, including bison grazing on the hilltop. 

Head east on I-90 and north on Highways 60 and 71 to the Jeffers Petroglyphs State Historic Site. Faint images of humans, deer, elk, bison, thunderbirds, turtles, atlatls, and arrows tell a mysterious story of human occupation spanning more than 5,000 years. The petroglyphs are located about eight miles northeast of Jeffers and seven miles west of Comfrey, on County Road 2.

Iron Range

Heavy Metal Holiday

A tour of a landscape that has been dug up, blasted, and rearranged by heavy industry doesn’t sound like much. But on Minnesota’s Iron Range, this combination of iron mining and the history of 19th-century immigration actually makes for interesting sights and stories.

Start at Soudan Underground Mine on Highway 169, where you can ride in an elevator cage nearly a half-mile underground. To get an above-ground look at a mine, head south on Highway 169 to Virginia’s Mineview in the Sky, a 20-story-high overlook of the Rouchleau open pit mines. On your way, play a round of golf in Biwabik at Giant’s Ridge, then stop at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, where you’ll find interactive displays and a history of hockey in the United States.

Continue west from Virginia to Chisholm to take in the Iron Man statue, climb aboard mining trucks at the Minnesota Museum of Mining, and experience the multi-ethnic history of the Range at the Minnesota Discovery Center. A little farther west in  Hibbing is a panoramic view of the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine, the largest open-pit mine in the world. Get dinner at Sammy’s Pizza on Howard Street in Hibbing. The next day, if you’re traveling before Labor Day, catch a trolley tour at Hill Annex Mine State Park in Calumet (Thursday–Saturday).


Sherburne Wildlife Refuge

Considering it is located only 50 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge is an exceptionally large sweep of wild land, encompassing 30,000 acres of woodland, prairie, oak savanna, and wetlands. It’s one of the best places in Minnesota to reliably watch sandhill cranes, which stage in and around the refuge by the thousands each October. Numbers usually peak about the third week of the month. The parking lot on County Road 70, on the northern edge of the refuge, provides good viewing at dawn and dusk, when flights of up to 20 cranes are leaving or returning to their nighttime roosts.

You might also spot other large birds, including bald eagles, trumpeter swans, ducks, wild turkeys, and Canada geese. Take time to follow the 7.3-mile Prairie’s Edge Wildlife Drive, stopping often and scanning the landscape with binoculars. (Download maps at fws.gov/midwest/sherburne). Other options for spotting wildlife are hiking the Mahnomen Trail (about three miles) and Blue Hill Trail (about five miles). You might catch a glimpse of deer, black bears, and even wolves.

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Sep 7, 2012 07:57 pm
 Posted by  KJSOMN

Fantastic article that inspired my husband and I to take a 2 day trip to Decorah next week and then take the long way home to Mankato via Hwy 61 to Red Wing and then home.

Really looking forward to checking out the stops you mentioned in both articles.


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