Fall drives are an annual Minnesota tradition, and the ones we’ve selected include everything you need to make the most of the season.
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The skies are dark, the winds cold, the waves high. But I’m cozy under a blanket in my room at Bluefin Bay in Tofte, with a book in hand. The pages tell tales of Lake Superior shipwrecks—fishing vessels foundered, tourist steamers sunk, ore boats cracked in two. But it’s the stories of aspiring capitalists that truly capture my attention. What happened to their fob watches, diamond rings, and silver cigarette cases? How many steamer trunks lie locked and unopened at the bottom of the lake? That night I dreamt of Spanish doubloons.
Two days earlier, a friend and I loaded up the car and drove to Duluth, intending to catch the last of the fall colors along the North Shore. Eschewing progress, we took the slow road—scenic 61—up to Two Harbors, pausing for a civilized lunch of lamb meatloaf and lobster bisque at the New Scenic Café. We snapped pictures at Gooseberry Falls and pulled over at a secret spot just north of Tettegouche State Park to ogle the sea caves and search the beach for agates. We climbed the stairs of the Split Rock Lighthouse and then replaced the calories we’d burned with a tasty slice of coconut-cream pie at the Lemon Wolf Café in Beaver Bay, an unexpected find.
The next morning, we set off on one of my favorite hikes: Eagle Mountain. Not only is it the highest geographic point in the state, it also offers unrivaled views of the gold, red, and orange hues that come with autumn—all the more beautiful when set against the blue of Lake Superior. That afternoon, we drove to Grand Marais and spent the day walking the breakwater, nosing our way through the downtown shops, and finally supping on fish chowder at the Angry Trout Café. As we mopped up the last dribbles with thick slices of bread, my friend mused that, though he’s a native Minnesotan, he hadn’t visited the shore since childhood. All these years he’d been missing out on how scenic it is, how magnetic.
As we drove south the following day, headed back to the Cities, panoramas of the lake unfurled before us again and again. I couldn’t help but recall the shipwrecks I’d read about the previous night—and their long-lost loot. But taking in this view, I realized that no sunken treasure could ever match the dazzling beauty of Superior itself, a jewel hiding in plain sight.
Where to Stay
Luxury condos at the Lutsen-area Bluefin Bay (7192 State Hwy. 61, Tofte, 218-663-7296, bluefinbay.com) or Terrace Point Bay just a few miles outside of Grand Marais (11 Terrace Point Road, 218-387-2500, gmhotel.net).
Where to Eat
Find foodie fare at the New Scenic Café (5461 N. Shore Dr., Duluth, 218-525-6274, sceniccafe.com); casual eats at the Lemon Wolf Café (605 E. West Towne Rd., Beaver Bay, 218-226-7225, lemonwolfcafe.com); plus plenty of fish at the Angry Trout Café (408 State Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-1265, angrytroutcafe.com). Then hit the Gunflint Tavern for live music and craft brews (111 W. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-1563, gmhotel.net).
What to Do
Hike Gooseberry Falls, tour the Split Rock Lighthouse, and explore Eagle Mountain.