Destination: North Shore

Boat adventures to Minnesota’s northern border along Lake Superior

An aerial view of the pier at Silver Bay, Minnesota.
Silver Bay is a highlight of North Shore water explorations

photo by Christian Dalbec

It’s hard to find a more beautiful, fickle shoreline than the rugged 170-mile route following Lake Superior from Duluth up to the Susie Islands near Grand Portage. Boating this stretch demands resourcefulness and heroic timing, but the wildlife, scenic adventure, and sweet stops along the way make it worth every effort.

Duluth is a perfect launching point for any type of watercraft—from sailboats and power boats to kayaks and canoes. At the full-service Lakehead Boat Basin marina on the bayside of Park Point, the longest freshwater sandbar in the world, you can dock, wander the miles of sandy beach, and hike a trail to the point’s end. Just across the Aerial Lift Bridge, you’ll find restaurants, galleries, and shopping in Canal Park, plus concerts and events in Bayfront Festival Park. It’s a beautiful bike ride along the lakefront trail all the way up to the northeast edge of town.

Heading out from Park Point, it’s almost 20 miles up the shore to the next full-service marina at Knife River, a serene stopping point with a rocky beach full of agates, nearby access to the Superior Hiking Trail, and fresh-caught trout, salmon, and more at Russ Kendall’s Smoke House.

Continuing north of Knife River, the route passes the loading docks at Two Harbors, the majestic Split Rock Lighthouse, and the Silver Bay Marina, where you can find a roomy transient slip, relax in the yacht club, and do a load of laundry (or three). Play a round of golf at the Silver Bay Golf Course, or explore the new paved section of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail between Silver Bay and Beaver Bay. The Northwoods Family Grille is a family-friendly option nearby. If you’ve brought your sea kayak, you can check out a section of the Lake Superior Water Trail.

The panoramic view of Grand Marais harbor.
The panoramic view of Grand Marais harbor

photo by Ackerman + Gruber

When you leave Silver Bay, make sure the galley is stocked, the fuel tanks are full, and you’re up to date on the marine forecast—because it’s a long 50 miles up the shore to the next stop. Rest assured, Grand Marais Marina is worth the wait after a long day on the water.

This lovely town is fun to visit by car, but the waterfront opens its arms to boaters and offers so much within a short walk from your boat. You can reserve a transient slip, a mooring buoy, or tie up on the wall near the coast guard station.

Hike out to Artist’s Point, tour art galleries and shops, try a range of restaurants, and resupply your galley at the Whole Foods. Buck’s Hardware Hank has what you need for the engine room, and Drury Lane Books is full of local authors for your cruise. If the weather is rotten, there’s no better place to be socked in. A week of a small-craft advisory can turn into blissful lounging and stops at the World’s Best Donuts shop.

Grand Marais Harbor master Dave Tersteeg says a benefit of fall cruising on the big lake is the warmer water. Last year, as he delivered his sailboat Falcon across the lake to Cornucopia, Wisconsin, in early October, the sea surface temperature averaged 65 degrees (warmer than the air) for most of the trip across.

“Seeing fall colors [from the water] is amazing,” he says, “especially looking back at the ridgeline and seeing the grand scale of things.”

If you hit the season just right, you could follow those fall colors all the way up the shore to your final Minnesota stop—the “Susies,” 13 small islands against a backdrop of cliffs at the Pigeon River outlet. Just beneath the Canadian border, a cove nestles inside Susie Island—one of the 13—perfect for dropping anchor in the midst of remote wilderness. There is no cell service, no Wi-Fi. Just loons, fish, the occasional bear, and stars. It’s the last stop on a grand tour of Lake Superior’s North Shore, and well worth the monumental journey to reach it.

Eat, Play, Stay on the North Shore

The patio at Pier B Resort overlooking Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota.
Pier B Resort’s patio is right on the water in Duluth

photo by pier b resort hotel

Pier B Resort

This is the only place in Duluth where you can park your boat in a slip and enjoy dinner at the resort’s Silos Restaurant with a front-seat view of the Aerial Lift Bridge.

Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen

A short walk from the Knife River Marina, this shop sells old-fashioned candy made by third- and fourth-generation candy experts, and unbelievably good ice cream bars.

Ice cream at Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen on Minnesota's North Shore.
Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen

photo by Patricia Canelake

Silver Bay Marina

From May through the end of October, Laker Taker Charters, Sweet Retreat Charters, and Fish Finders of Silver Bay can take you from the marina to the trout, steelhead, king, coho, and pink salmon.

North House Folk School

While you dock your boat at Grand Marais Marina, take a class in one of more than 20 folk arts, from baking bread to weaving a birch-bark basket.

Small-Craft Rentals

Rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, and other gear in Duluth from the Recreational Sports Outdoor Program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Outdoor PURSUIT! at the College of St. Scholastica.