Lake Superior has become an annual summer vacation for many Minnesotans, Wisconsinites and Canadians. From port cities and metropolises to historic towns filled with rustic log cabins, these meccas of people and commerce that populate the shores of the world’s largest freshwater lake have distinctive character and ambiance.
To experience the full array of beauty that surrounds the 31,700–square–mile lake, visit the eclectic mix of towns by driving the Lake Superior Circle. Whether you decide to book a few days away or make several weekend trips up north, it’s important to note the highlights of each area so you don’t miss a thing. Read on for a tour of Lake Superior.
Duluth: One of the Twin Ports
Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin, are the “head of the lakes,” the Twin Ports, where the St. Louis River is located. Duluth has a population of just under 100,000, and has the qualities of a buzzing metropolis and a tranquil lakeside town. This center for commerce is characterized by more than 185 retail stores that stretch from Fifth Avenue West to Third Avenue East. London Road has a unique mix of shopping and dining, and the Dewitt–Seitz Marketplace has both specialized and general merchandise.
Take a walk down to Leif Erikson Park, the home of Duluth’s Viking ship, which has been restored after sailing from Norway in the early part of the 20th century. Drive to the dramatic Skyline Parkway, and of course, the famous Aerial Lift Bridge, which will allow you to take in the city lights, crashing waves on the lake, and chiseled shoreline.
When touring this North Shore town, be sure to stop by the Glensheen Historic Estate, location of Minnesota’s most infamous double murder. The 39–room Jacobean Revival mansion was built in 1905 for attorney, mining entrepreneur, and state legislator Chester A. Congdon. The estate will host special events throughout the summer, including fine dining and self–guided tours on Mother’s Day. And on August 5, the Festival of Fine Art and Craft will be held on the Glensheen grounds, 3300 London Road.
In addition to its natural beauty and historic charm, Duluth will soon be known for its musical and artistic culture. The Duluth Festival Opera will debut this summer with a lavish production of Madame Butterfly on July 20 and 22. The new company wants to present “Grand Opera on the Great Lake,” and they have a big vision for a world–class cultural arts experience that will appeal to opera lovers everywhere. The new company is importing big talent and investing big bucks to build an artistic reputation that will attract national attention.
The harbor town accommodates its summertime visitors by providing top–rate hotels for the lakeside shoppers, diners, and arts–goers. Fitger’s Inn is a combination of elegance and rustic North Shore décor, and is only steps from the Lakewalk. The AAA four diamond–rated hotel is a historical landmark, as it was originally built as a brewery in 1859 at Seventh Avenue East and Superior Street. Fitger’s summer events include the Solstice Celebration and the June 24th Scottish Fest, which includes Scottish Highland Dancing Competition in the Courtyard. On Wednesday nights in June, view sailboat races in the courtyard.
Views alone could make Superior Vista Condominiums the most desirable residential project in Duluth. The complex was designed to take advantage of a unique hillside property that offers a wide–spectrum view of Duluth’s waterfront cityscape. “It’s all about the views,” said Tim Wicklund, chief manager of Superior Vista.
One, two, and three bedroom homes are available, each with large picture windows and a private deck/patio. Owners can choose from interior features, including doors and trim, cabinetry, tile, carpet and vinyl flooring, and other options. Conveniently located at 1144 Mesabi Avenue, Superior Vista offers all the advantages and pride of homeownership without the worry, work or maintenance. Owners will have access to heated and secured parking, a car wash stall, suites for overnight guests, exercise facilities, and a library, among many amenities.
Along the North Shore
Venture a little further north, and you’ll drive through other historic cities, including Larsmont, Two Harbors, Beaver Bay, Tofte and Lutsen.
The Nokomis Restaurant is a perfect place to stop for exquisite food and wine. The restaurant sits halfway between Duluth and Two Harbors on the Scenic North Shore Drive, and offers “food with a view.” Views of the lake are stunning in sunlight and moonlight, and diners are close enough to be able to watch the waves break on the rocky point and shore. Chef Sean Lewis offers a seasonally changing menu with dishes that delight the eye and palate. Favorite appetizers include white fish cakes and lobster strudel. Main courses include specially raised meats and poultry, including Six Point Berkshire pork, Wild Acres chicken, and Lake Superior fish. Desserts are always a temptation, from lavender–infused creme brulee to baked Alaska.
Drive a few miles north to Larsmont, and make yourself at home in a lakeside cottage at the newest resort on the North Shore, Larsmont Cottages. You will enjoy a peaceful Lake Superior retreat but still be close to Duluth’s flourishing art scene, entertainment, restaurants, and shopping in Canal Park. Luxury awaits in your lakeside cottage or guest suite with decks overlooking Lake Superior, spacious living areas, designer amenities, custom kitchens and bedrooms, fireplaces, and much more. Soak-in the relaxation of the North Shore with a massage in Larsmont’s one–of–a–kind massage cottage on the Lake Superior shore, then head to the wood–fired Finnish sauna.
Four miles north is the city of Two Harbors, which features a working harbor and Minnesota’s only operating lighthouse. Ore boats enter the port of Two Harbors and are loaded with taconite before they begin their journey down the Great Lakes. You can watch the activity from Agate Bay or stroll the breakwall and watch the ships as they come and go. Two Harbors also features an 18 hole golf course, several parks, museums and walking trails. Several festivals are held in Two Harbors every summer, including Heritage Days, the Folk Festival and the Kayak Festival. Superior Shores Resort and Conference Center, located in Two Harbors, is 20 miles north of Duluth and less than three hours from Minneapolis/St. Paul. The resort offers a variety of accommodations, including rooms, studios, and suites at the lodge, and its newest addition, the Burlington Bay Lakehomes. The lakehomes are located on the shore and feature full kitchens, fireplaces and private decks with gas grills, and range in size from one to three bedrooms.
The resort is situated on 60 wooded acres with over a mile of Lake Superior coastline, including a 2000–foot pebbled beach. Indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, tennis courts and hiking trails also compliment the property. Kamloops Restaurant and Lounge, located on the second floor of the lodge, offers a spectacular view of Lake Superior and the North Shore, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Those looking for an enchanting getaway, where Mother Nature’s beauty is the most popular diversion, can book their stay at Grand Superior Lodge. Located on the shores of Lake Superior in Two Harbors, this log home resort promises serenity in the majestic setting of Minnesota’s North Shore. Guests often head to the rock beach of Lake Superior, find an oversized boulder that jets out into the lake to climb on, so the waves encompass their senses while reading a book or meditating. Others soak in the luxury of their lake home or cabin, for the ambiance of the lake beams into the large picture windows to surround those inside. In–room massages are available to bring the feelings of relaxation and rejuvenation to life.
Convenient to some of the North Shore’s most majestic landmarks, serenity can also be found in the great outdoors; Gooseberry Falls State Park is just two miles away, and Split Rock Light House State Park and Historical Center is also nearby. The Castle Danger trailhead of the Superior Hiking Trail is within two miles, and in just a 10 minute hike, you’ll reach Wolf Rock for a breathtaking vista of Lake Superior and her wondrous Sawtooth Mountains.
Twenty–five miles from Two Harbors (and 50 miles north of Duluth) is Beaver Bay, where you’ll find Cove Point Lodge. At the full service Scandinavian–style lodge, all rooms face Lake Superior. Views overlook a unique natural cove with a spectacular ledge rock point. Next to the lake and secluded from the highway, Cove Point is surrounded by 150 acres of woods, rocks, and water.
Cove Point has deluxe cottages that include two bedrooms, two baths, a deluxe kitchen, wood burning fireplace, Jacuzzi bath, top–notch furnishings, wood floors, ceramic tile, and wood clad interiors. Amenities include a pool, hot tub and sauna along with an intimate dining room, cozy great hall fireplace and sitting area.
If you decide you’d rather drive a little further before settling down, make your way to Tofte, 32 miles north of Beaver Bay. As you drive north, you’ll pass through Tettegouche State Park, “a hiker’s paradise with miles of trails that overlook the Sawtooth Mountains and wind down to inland lakes accessible only by foot,” according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Stop and get a quick workout (or not so quick, depending upon your pace, and whether you stop and enjoy the scenery) by hiking the 1.5–mile Shovel Point Trail.
Tofte is home to Bluefin Bay, a resort with appointed seaside vacation homes with fireplaces, private decks, vaulted ceilings, breathtaking views and private whirlpool baths. Surrounded by the Superior National Forest and five state parks, Bluefin is within the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. More than 200 inland lakes are within 25 miles, which means there is outstanding lake, stream, and deepwater fishing, including trophy salmon.
The Sawbill Trail leads right up to Tofte, where you can stay in completely furnished condominiums at Chateau LeVeaux, five miles from the Lutsen mountains. Guests will experience the best of both worlds: the tranquility of the North Woods area and access to recreation, retail and dining locations. Outdoor equipment rentals are available for the Lutsen Mountains’ miles of hiking, biking, canoeing and kayaking areas. The Cascade and Temperance River State Parks, Gitchi Gami Bike Trail, and Superior National Golf Course are nearby.
Lodging options include LakeView Suites, Great Lakes Condo, Great Lakes Whirlpool Condo, and the Superior Condo. At night, relax by the wood burning fireplace or indoor pool and hot tub. Or watch one of the 500 movies available for borrowing. Chateau LeVeaux is “right in the middle of everything you want to do, and the perfect place to do nothing at all.”
Ten miles north of Tofte is Lutsen, a prime summertime destination for recreation. You can “stay where you play” at Caribou Highlands Lodge. Guided canoeing along the Poplar River, self–guided hiking tours through the Sawtooth Mountains, mountain biking, family bingo, trivia, bonfires and s’mores, and Mountain Kids Camp for the little ones are just a few of the complimentary offerings available to guests of Caribou Highlands Lodge. Nearby at Lutsen Mountains, families can whoosh down the alpine slide, horseback ride along backwoods trails, take a scenic gondola ride to the top of Moose Mountain, mountain bike down hills that are serviced by a chair lift, or go on a Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness adventure.
Experience a blast from the past by staying at Lutsen Resort and Sea Villas, the resort that “really was Lutsen” until the very recent past. You can’t see Lutsen Resort from the highway, but it’s a piece of Minnesota history worth experiencing, said Nancy Burns, owner of Lutsen Resort and Sea Villas. Tucked away along Lake Superior, this spot was first homesteaded in 1885 and by the early 1900s had developed into a favorite destination for travelers. The resort evokes its timeless past through the classic historic lodge with its cozy firelit lobby and fabulous lakeside dining room. Contemporary lodging options such as lakeside log cabins and new luxury townhomes complement the overall experience. Even if you can’t stay, Lutsen Resort is a great place to stop by for a look at some Minnesota history.
The Lutsen Lodging Company and Real Estate Group offers a host of vacation properties, each with unique amenities and locations that are sure to fit with your travel plans. Whether you’re looking for something tucked along an inland lake, along the north coast of Lake Superior, along the wooded fairways of Superior National Golf Course, or at Lutsen Mountains, the Lodging Company has a place for you. From economy to luxury, the vacation properties are located throughout the area’s finest wilderness and recreational settings.
“I believe what makes our Lodging Company unique is we have the ability to ‘tailor fit’ our guest lodging requests based upon their travel plans and property requirements,” said Mike Larson, managing partner at Lutsen Lodging Company. “We offer a wide ranging variety in style, location and price. In addition, we have the ability to not only find that right fit, we will take it the next step and are able to customize packages – that may include golf outings, reunions, engagements, ski clubs, weddings, retreats. Typically we work with smaller groups, allow for more intimate with such planning efforts.”
Grand Marais: The Upper North
Continue moving along Highway 61 toward Canada, and you’ll come across the harbor village of Grand Marais. The quaint town is characterized by its antique shops, culture and festivals. The area is also the beginning of the Gunflint Trail—follow it up to Gunflint Lake and enjoy the tranquility of America’s most beautiful waters. Portage, hike, bike, or run, and enjoy the perfect day in Grand Marais, located on the oldest exposed rock on earth.
The city is also known for its eclectic mix of shopping and dining. Savor fresh fish and homemade meals at pleasant restaurants, diners, and taverns. Then meander around the small harbor village of cafes, coffeehouses, intriguing museums, galleries, and area specialty shops.
Walk over to the Grand Marais Art Colony, Minnesota’s longest–lived art colony. The arts center offers workshops in ceramics, visual arts, printmaking, book arts, glass and more from beginning to professional. Many mentored opportunities are available for artists that want to work in a specific area. In addition to its original visual arts studio, there is a new building that houses a non–toxic printmaking studio with an intaglio and relief press, a ceramic studio with six wheels and two kilns, and a glass studio for both cold and warm glass (fusing and slumping). These studios are available for rental on a daily or monthly basis as well as used for instruction throughout the year.
The Grand Marais Art Colony sponsors the Grand Marais Arts Festival, held on July 8 and 9, which has about 100 participating artists and an audience of around 3,000. Its Second Annual Fundraiser Art Sale will be Fisherman’s Picnic weekend on Sunday, August 6, from 3 to 8 p.m.
Live in luxury in Grand Marais at Best Western’s Superior Luxury Suites, a favorite of many guests. The hotel features rooms with Italian tile, a gas fireplace, corner whirlpool, cozy bathrobes, Howard Sivertson artwork, and private balcony overlooking Lake Superior. When the suites opened, Hotel & Motel Management Magazine featured them in an article as having “dramatic décor.” All rooms are lakefront and feature a breathtaking view of Lake Superior with Artist Point in the distance. Look out your window and see boats in the Grand Marais Harbor.
Thunder Bay: Oh, Canada!
Once you cross the border via the Pigeon River Bridge and travel east along Canada Highway 61, you’ll soon arrive in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Passports are not required for American visitors, but proof of citizenship or naturalization is necessary. The 156–mile city is located near the center of the country, and is the largest city on the 2,080–kilometer Lake Superior Circle Route. As you voyage north, forestlands become valleys and summer pastures. You’re in the Eastern Time Zone now.
“Take to crystal–clear waters and glorious beaches as the sun smiles down across the land. Be swept away by the spectacle of the Northern Lights dancing in the late summer sky, eagerly anticipating the harvest and vistas wrapped in every shade of gold, ochre and crimson,” suggests Ontario Tourism. “Get away to vibrant cities and charming towns that herald each season with boundless festivals and events. Come and discover the joys of change in Ontario’s renowned four–season playground.”
While en route, visit Fort William Historical Park, the world’s largest trading post that dates back two centuries. In 1803, it became the site where “goods from Montreal and furs from the wilderness traded hands.” The rendezvous reflected the interdependent relationships with the various peoples involved in the fur trade, including the Scots, French Canadians and the Natives predominating, according to Ontario Tourism. “These groups paralleled the basic social divisions in the business: the merchant-traders, voyageur–labourers and the hunter–trappers.”
While in the city, pick up a free copy of Handmade in Thunder Bay, the Thunder Bay and area guide to a diverse selection of high quality arts and crafts produced by local artists and artisans. “Visit a studio, shop or gallery to choose from aboriginal artwork, basketry, carvings, ceramics, folk art, garden crafts, glass work, paintings or textiles,” according to Thunder Bay Tourism.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, the Valhalla Inn is a luxurious option. Equipped with 267 beautiful bedrooms and suites, an exclusive access floor, two on–site restaurants, a full lounge, room service and complimentary airport shuttle, it is the perfect retreat for couples or families to enjoy Thunder Bay.
The Valhalla Inn has a modern “club quality” fitness and recreation area for the dedicated and casual athlete. Half court tennis and basketball facilities, a heated pool, sauna, and whirlpool cater to guests. If you’re into jogging or hiking, maps are available for the area’s extensive trail system. And golfers can visit Whitewater Golf Club, Tom McBroom’s most northern course in Ontario.
Bayfield: the Southern Tip
On the opposite side of Lake Superior (and approximately 75 miles east of Duluth) is the New England-style town of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Nestled into a Lake Superior hillside, Bayfield is a place where 611 people call home. The rustic, exquisite beauty of this area was once named the “Best Little Town in the Midwest” by the Chicago Tribune.
The land awakens to offer visitors a wonderful array of activities, according to the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce. “For those who want to experience the water, Bayfield and Lake Superior offer the 22 Apostle Islands in a National Park setting that preserves the natural resources and history of the area. Kayak to the sea caves in Justice Bay on Sand Island. Sail up the North Channel to Julian Bay on Stockton Island on a warm Southerly breeze…or take an island tour by cruise boat to sample a variety of islands and lighthouses.”
Come enjoy Bayfield’s landscape of natural beauty, apple blossoms, and wildflowers throughout the area. The fourth annual “Bayfield in Bloom,” set for May 12 through June 18, celebrates spring with 11,000 daffodils. Numerous activities are offered throughout the promotion, many focusing on gardening and the beauty of nature found in Bayfield. Each week features its own schedule of activities that include garden tours, plant sales, the Apple Blossom Run, workshops, historic walking tours, wildflower driving tours, and Bayfield’s numerous ongoing activities.
For more information, call the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce at 800–447–4094, or visit www.bayfield.org. Also, be sure to note the special Bayfield lodging discounts available on the Bayfield in Bloom site good through June 18.
Iron County: Wisconsin’s “Real Northwoods”
“When driving eastward on U.S. Highway 2 along Lake Superior’s South Shore, you’ll reach Iron County after climbing hundreds of feet in elevation on Birch Hill,” said Gene Cisewski, Iron County Supervisor. “You’ll be crossing the ancient Penokee Mountains as you traverse the top of the county. To the south on Highway 169, you’ll discover the hamlet of Gurney and the waterfalls of the Potato River.
“Just a few miles further east discover a scenic overlook on the north side of the Highway to view the lake and her Apostle Islands. Then take a north on Highway 122 to visit Saxon Harbor. Here you can camp, picnic, fish, launch a boat or just agate hunt along a 4–mile, uninterrupted sandy beach where you’re welcome to run your pets. You’re also close to Superior and Saxon Falls and the three mile race of Montreal River connecting them to the delight of kayak enthusiasts.”
Continuing eastward you’ll want to spend time in Hurley, an old iron–mining city infamous for its nightlife for more than a century. Warm hospitality, an abundance of good restaurants, and a large historical museum are yours to explore here. From the Hurley area, you are within a half hour of more than 30 waterfalls, including three with 90–foot cascades. To the south of Hurley on U.S. Highway 51, you’ll discover the lakes region and loon capital at Mercer.
Iron County boasts six of Wisconsin’s 10 tallest waterfalls, more than 200 miles of ATV trails, more than 377,000 acres of county forests, as well as Eagle Bluff and Skye Golf in the Whitecap Mountains, two mountaintop courses that offer you breathtaking views of Lake Superior.