North Shore Getaways

What to know before you go—Summer Vacation on the North Shore

We don’t have the mountains or the ocean, but we do have Lake Superior. ¶ Besides being the largest freshwater lake with the greatest surface area at 31,820 square miles, the water is crystal clear – like liquid glass. Depending on the atmosphere and shoreline conditions, the lake can take on a wide spectrum of coloring, in some areas the lake is a rusty root beer color (the water is very clean, the color actually comes from decomposing vegetation), and in other areas, the lake is a beautiful deep blue-green color. You can swim in the lake (although it’s pretty chilly), fish, surf, snorkel, SCUBA dive, kayak/canoe, or cruise the lake on a boat or ship. ¶ Not only does the Lake have different moods and personalities, but every town has its own charm, from Duluth up to Lutsen and Bayfield, and over to Ontario and Michigan.


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 the Big Lake. Most visitors see the vista unfold as they crest the hill of Interstate 35, and what a view it is.

Every year, more than 3.5 million visitors are welcomed to the city. Some come for Grandma’s Marathon (June 18), Bayfront Reggae Festival (July 16-17), Blues Festival (August 12-14), or the Duluth Trail Festival (August 27-28). Others come to skip rocks along the shoreline, walk along the Lakewalk, enjoy a microbrew at Fitger’s Brewhouse, tour the house and 22-acre grounds at the historic Glensheen estate (and to see other signs of Duluth’s old wealth in other homes along this route), and check out the gardens in Enger Tower and the Rose Garden. And yet others come to watch the Aerial Lift Bridge and the massive ships come into port, learn about the city’s shipping past at the Great Lakes Floating Maritime Museum, and visit the Great Lakes Aquarium. “There’s something for everyone at the Aquarium,” says Jack LaVoy, executive director. “It’s great for families.  Playful otters, “talking” birds, slithering snakes, turtles, stingrays, seahorses, and over 100 species of fish are just some of our surprising residents.”  Children enjoy the daily dive and otter shows, stingray feedings, touch tanks, and the “Wow of Water” exhibit, including a giant wave machine and a nearly 100-foot-long water table for hands-on exploration; while adults enjoy learning about the shipping industry, Lake Superior geology, and native fish and their many habitats. Visit this summer for  the “Project Cuttlefish” exhibit, running June 30-Oct. 15. 

Two Harbors

You can’t drive up Highway 61, about 20 miles northeast of Two Harbors, without stopping at one of Minnesota’s most loved landmarks — Split Rock Lighthouse. The lighthouse is set on a dramatic, steep cliff and has been guiding ships to safety for decades. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 seniors and college students, $5 children ages 6-17, and free for children age 5 and under and MHS members. The lighthouse is open every day for tours from mid-May through mid-October.

Lutsen/Tofte area

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, less than four hours from the Twin Cities. The real star of any vacation with the Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts—Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior, Temperance Landing, and Surfside on Lake Superior in the Lutsen/Tofte area—is the lake, says Lori Schaefer, marketing director. “I love waking to the big boats on the horizon, breathing in the fresh lake air, and then stepping outside and being so close to Lake Superior’s sparkling waters and crashing waves that I can feel the crisp, cool spray. Being this close to Lake Superior is a transformative, rejuvenating experience that I have yet to discover anywhere else.”

Whether guests are seeking the storied romance of Bluefin Bay, the luxury of Surfside, or the comfort of Temperance Landing, they are guaranteed unforgettable views of Lake Superior.  “Our resorts bring guests closer to the magnificent waters of Lake Superior and inevitably, closer to each other.”

All three locations are within a short drive of Lutsen Mountains’ family-friendly alpine slide, Superior National Golf Course, four state parks (perfect for hiking and mountain biking near rivers and waterfalls), unique shopping in Grand Marais, and the wild beauty of the Gunflint Trail. Guests staying at Bluefin Bay, Temperance Landing, and Surfside on Lake Superior have access to free shuttle services to trail heads, guided hikes, free mountain bike rentals and tennis equipment, kayaking lessons, lakeside campfires, naturalist programs, and kids’ activities on site.

Visit June 11 for the Lutsen 99er, the Midwest’s premier ultra mountain bike race taking place from the Lake Superior shoreline to the summit of the Sawtooth Mountains, or stay during the first week in August when neighboring Grand Marais hosts its annual Fisherman’s Picnic, four days of fun, live music, and activities.

Win a three-night getaway this summer through the “Tell Us Your Bluefin Bay Story” contest. Share your favorite Bluefin Bay memory through photos, videos, and essays. Entries will be accepted through September 7. For contest details, visit

Established in 1898, Lutsen Resort was the first resort in the state. Tucked down on the shore of Lake Superior, next to the Poplar River, it was originally a home and fish and logging camp for the Nelson family, who founded the Swedish-style resort. “The resort reflects the hospitality that visitors have experienced for all these generations,” says Nancy Burns, resort owner of the family-operated resort. “Guests appreciate our warm welcome.”

Whether they come for a romantic getaway or a family vacation, people love to sit in the adirondack  chairs on the pebble beach, watching and listening to the lake. Lodging accommodations include luxury condos,  townhomes with whirlpools, fireplaces and private decks, and lodge rooms, with the Main Lodge— with its stone  fireplace, hand-hewn timbers, and lakeside dining room—being a draw to everyone. The dining room received Wine Spectator  Magazine’s “Award of  Excellence” for the third year in a row for their excellent selection of wines and wine  pairings. Guests also appreciate the activities available on-site, including a nine-hole “pitch and putt” golf course, disc golf course, swimming pools, shuffleboard court, and game room. An activities staff offers complimentary sea kayak instruction and tours, guided hikes, naturalist programs, fly-fishing classes, yoga on the beach, and “kid’s camp”.  The spectacular 27-hole Superior  National Golf Course is adjacent, and those wishing for a massage  can book one at the WatersMeet Wellness Center at the  resort. Take advantage of the Family Vacation Value Package, where kids 12 and under stay free and can eat breakfast and one dinner free (off the kids’  menu). For more information, visit

Grand Marais

“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. The harbor is the centerpiece of town, but the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains and Superior National Forest makes the area truly unique. 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.”

Enjoy a daily dose of the beautiful from Best Western Superior Inn & Suites, where all of the rooms are lakefront. Stay in a romantic 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.


South of Grand Marais, Highway 61 connects to Highway 1, a stretch of highway moving inland from Lake Superior to Ely, gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Known as “canoe central” in the summer months (the area is often explored the ‘old-fashioned way’ atural beauty of the area can also be found in surrounding lakes, streams, and the Superior National Forest. Fox, deer, and moose are not unusual sightings.

For those who would rather sleep in a lodge than ‘rough it,’ Grand Ely Lodge is a family-friendly resort featuring an indoor pool and sauna, and lake activities at the marina on Shagawa Lake. Bikes are available to guests who wish to use the Trezona Trail across the street, connecting to the International Wolf Center.

Bayfield, Wis.

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. And speaking of ferries, Madeline Island, a ferry ride from Bayfield to LaPointe, Wis. is one of 22 Apostle Islands and the only island not part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, meaning it is the only developed island of the bunch. What that means for you, dear reader, is opportunities to golf, visit museums, charter a sport fishing boat, sailboat, sea kayak, or canoe, and plenty of shopping, dining, and lodging options. The Madeline Island Ferry Line provides daily transportation to and from the island every 30 minutes during the summer.