From scenic North Shore routes to peaceful rural escapes, small town getaways to big-city rock-star weekends, we highlight our favorite stops. Here’s to driving with the windows down, the radio up, and finding unexpected discoveries along the way.
The North Shore Scenic Drive
Take Scenic Highway 61 from Duluth to Grand Marais, hugging Lake Superior’s rugged rocky shoreline.
Take turns driving so everyone has a chance to look out the window during this beautiful and relaxing drive. Just beyond Duluth’s city limits, U.S. Highway 61 showcases pine, birch, aspen, and wildfowers on one side of the road; views of the world’s largest freshwater lake on the other. Wooded hills, bays, coves, cliffs, and waterfalls are all part of the spectacular scenery.
Canal Park and the New Scenic Café in Duluth, Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors, waterfalls at Gooseberry Falls and Cascade River state parks, Split Rock Lighthouse, Lutsen Mountains Alpine Slide and Summer Park, North House Folk School in Grand Marais. Stop to watch ships in the harbor, stretch your legs, skip rocks, or picnic on the lakeshore.
A 20-mile drive from Duluth will bring you to Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior. For a memorable dining experience, reserve the chef’s table at Ledge Rock Grille. You’ll love the entertainment that is served with your six-course meal. Amenities include an authentic Finnish sauna, private Massage Cottage on the water’s edge, and an all-season outdoor whirlpool.
A little further up the road is Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors, where you can stay in a lake home, log cabin, or lodge room on the shore of Lake Superior, most rooms with a fireplace and lakeside deck as well as large whirlpool tub and kitchenette appliances. Guests can check out a free bike, hike along portions of the Superior Hiking Trail (the Castle Danger trailhead is just two miles away), or visit nearby Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse. Unwind in the evening with a glass of wine while dining on excellent local cuisine at the on-site Splashing Rock Restaurant and Lounge.
Caribou Highlands Lodge on Lutsen Mountains is slopeside along the Poplar River. This family-friendly resort is like summer camp, but for all ages. The free kids camp programs are fully supervised, fun, and educational. With both an indoor and outdoor pool on-site, tennis courts and playground, kids of all ages have a place to play (guests especially love the free guided canoe trips). Stay July 12-14 for the Caribou Hopped Up Beerfest, with live music, beer sampling, and a barbecue-prepared lunch under the big tent on the mountain.
A tradition of warm hospitality with Scandinavian influences can be found at Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior, in the Lutsen/Tofte area. The natural beauty of the North Shore has been attracting guests to this spot since the late 1800s, when a Scandinavian family first opened their home to travelers. Over the years, the family home evolved into a favorite vacation destination, with modern accommodations including sea villas, luxury condos, log homes, and hotel-style lodge rooms. Resort amenities include a restaurant, pub, pool, whirlpool, sauna, and game rooms. For those itching to explore the area, a variety of activities and programs are available, including half-day kids camps, a par-3 golf course, guided kayaking and hikes, and naturalist programs. Once the day is done, relax at a lakeside evening campfire under a blanket of stars (if this isn’t on your bucket list; it should be).
Drive along Minnesota 61 until the road leads you deeper into the wild boreal forest. With Lake Superior stretching off into the distance and the Sawtooth Mountains rising in the background, it’s easy to see why many people consider Grand Marais “the jewel of Lake Superior.” This pretty city is an arts destination with numerous galleries and arts organizations encouraging visitors to get involved. Visit the Grand Marais Art Colony, Minnesota’s oldest colony, for a tour of the campus, or better yet—sign up for a visual arts, ceramics, glass, printmaking, or plein air painting class (available year-round for all skill levels). The 23rd Annual Grand Marais Arts Festival is July 13-14, when over 70 local and regional artists will set up by the sparkling shore of Lake Superior, sell their unique handcrafted work, and provide insight into their artistic process through demonstration and dialogue.
Book the Renewal Steam Suites, with a spacious steam shower, two-person whirlpool, gas fireplace, and private balcony overlooking Lake Superior at Best Western Plus Superior Inn and Suites. All 66 of the clean, smoke-free, well-equipped rooms and luxury suites feature lake views. The hotel features a private cobblestone beach and is located near hiking and biking trails, the North House Folk School (take a class this summer), and within walking distance of shops and restaurants in downtown Grand Marais.
State Highway 210
Take State Highway 210 to the city of Carlton, approximately a one-hour drive from Duluth International Airport via Interstate 35-S to Black Bear Casino.
Enger Park tower in Duluth. Climb the stairs for breathtaking views of Lake Superior.
Keep on driving until you reach Black Bear Casino, a reasonably-priced weekend getaway offering clean accommodations (including smoke-free room options), on-site dining (don’t miss the delicious well-stocked buffet), a swimming pool and small arcade, a popular nightclub, entertainment featuring national recording acts, musicians, and comedians, and a gaming area with 2,000 video slot machines, bingo, blackjack, and a poker room. The 18-hole championship Black Bear Golf Course is adjacent to the hotel and casino, set in the woodlands of northern Minnesota.
Brainerd Lakes Area
For the most scenic route to the Brainerd Lakes area, take Highway 169 to Garrison, then Highway 18 into Brainerd, allowing for views of Mille Lacs along the way.
Nearby areas worth exploring :
Crow Wing State Park, Pillsbury State Forest, Cuyuna Recreational Area (featuring International Mountain Bicycling Association-certified mountain bike trails), and just north of Brainerd, the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway, a 54-mile county road driving route.
The real appeal of a drive to the Brainerd Lakes area is the diverse list of activities available to guests once they arrive. The list includes (but is not limited to) golfing, fishing, biking and hiking along miles of trails (the 112-mile Paul Bunyan Trail begins in the Brainerd Lakes area), bird-watching, scuba-diving in underwater mine pits, horseback riding, driving a racecar at Brainerd International Raceway, boating, canoeing, kayaking, and three indoor waterparks. Popular summer events include Arts in the Park (July 7), the Paul Bunyan Extreme 5K Mud Run (July 13), and the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals (Aug. 16-19). Affordable lodging options, boutique shopping, and excellent dining—both lakefront and in town—create the perfect vacation experience.
Take the Great River Road National Scenic Byway (US 10 N) north to the junction of MN 371, travel on 371 to US 2W into Bemidji.
Leave the fast pace of the metro and travel through farmlands to the peaceful forest and lakes region. This route to Bemidji, the First City on the Mississippi, crosses the Mississippi River numerous times, threads between the vast Chippewa National Forest and Paul Bunyan State Forest, and skirts sparkling lakes and roadside attractions and trails.
Pass through quaint towns with good eats, treats and roadside attractions, like the Paul Bunyan statue and his sweetheart, Lucette. Bring bikes and/or blades (or rent in town) and explore a section of the Paul Bunyan or Heartland State trails. There is a reason, after all, that Bemidji was awarded “Bicycle Friendly Community” status. Shuttle service is also available.
Pick up the Great River Road National Scenic Byway again to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park. Legend has it that those who cross the river at its source go on to live a long and prosperous life. For a new adventure, explore the route between Brainerd and Bemidji via geocaching by checking out “MN’s Paul Bunyan
See a performance at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, located in the historic Chief Theatre, downtown Bemidji. This professional, nationally recognized live production theatre, the longest continually operating summer repertory in Minnesota, is host to a variety of music and drama performances throughout the warm months.
While visiting the area, stay at Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge on the northwest shore of Lake Bemidji. Accommodations include lakefront rooms, suites, townhomes, a romantic whirlpool suite with a fireplace, and cottages with anywhere from one to four bedrooms, all spread out along 1,700 feet of natural sand beach.
Great River Road National Scenic Byway (South)
Take the Great River Road Highway 61 south from the metro to Winona.
Take in panoramic views of the Mississippi River on one side, and the towering bluffs on the other as you drive along the Great River Road, meandering through historic river towns, and by pastoral farms, scenic outlooks, parks, and unique attractions including the Red Wing Shoe Museum in Red Wing, the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, and Lark Toys & Carousel in Kellogg. Eagles are a common sight amidst tree-lined portions of Highway 61 as they dive for fish on the river, from Red Wing to Winona. You’ll find unique gifts (and great food) on the Wisconsin side of the river, in the lovely city of Pepin.
From the sculpted bluffs to the mighty river and the vibrant streets in-between, the city of Winona has a natural beauty mixed with a cool urbanity and Old-World charm. Visit the Minnesota Marine Art Museum and enjoy “Sacred Waters: Photographs from National Geographic Society” (Aug. 1 through Oct. 27), see the “Art of Fine Furniture” exhibit showcasing works of regional and local studio furniture artisans at the Winona County History Center (through Aug. 11), and learn skills or rent equipment for your next outdoor adventure through the Outdoor Education and Recreation Center at Winona State. Winona’s Park and Recreation offers free canoeing/kayaking, and visitors can try stand-up paddleboards. One of the best panoramic views of the river valley is from the Garvin Heights Overlook. (While you’re up on the bluffs, stop at Garvin Heights Vineyard.)
Head six miles north of Winona to Fountain City, Wis., and Hawks View Cottages. Hawks View Cottages are not your typical summer cottages; they are better described as five beautiful two-story luxury treehouses built halfway up a bluff, overlooking the Mississippi River backwaters in the midst of a vineyard.
Colleges and Dairy Farms
Take US-52 from St. Paul to Hampton, then follow Northfield Boulevard to Northfield, about a 40-mile drive.
Enjoy a leisurely drive past green, rolling countryside dotted with pretty lakes and wildflowers. This is rural southeastern Minnesota farm country at its best.
Northfield is not only home to Carleton and St. Olaf colleges, but the Riverwalk Market Fair, the state’s only combined art and farmers’ market on Saturdays during the summer. While in town, browse the unique shops along Division Street, cruise the scenic Mill Town Bike Trail, dine at a cozy restaurant, or learn the story behind the famous bank raid by the Jesse James Gang. The Riverwalk Market Fair, in downtown Northfield on Bridge Square—at Division and Fourth streets—is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday from June through October—with the exception of Sept. 7 for The Defeat of Jesse James Days event. While in the area, check out The Garden of Quiet Listening at Carleton College, rated as one of the top 10 Japanese gardens in the country by the Journal of Japanese Gardening; and Beach Dude and the Viking statues, just north of Hampton on Highway 50.
Glacial Ridge Scenic byway
Drive through the towns of Glenwood, Alexandria, Sauk Centre, Terrace, Starbuck, New London, and Willmar.
Pass by giant lakes and hills created by Ice Age glaciers, and past rolling prairies and farmland, through small towns, and into hardwood forests.
The Kensington Runestone Museum in Alexandria,and the Douglas County Historical Museum, with guided pontoon tours on the Chain of Lakes (complete with historical commentary—booked for any group at any time). Other fun activities include hiking up Inspiration Peak, bird-watching in Lake Carlos, and fishing in Otter Tail Lake.
Even in the dog days of summer, it can be fun to splash, soak, and slide at an indoor waterpark (no sunscreen required!). The fun of staying at Alexandria’s Arrowwood Resort on Lake Darling is not only the 38,000-square-foot Big Splash Indoor Waterpark, but the Atikwa Golf Course, Darling Reflections Spa, on-site restaurant and lounge, full-service marina (with boats available for rent), opportunity to go horseback riding, and nightly campfire and marshmallow roasts.
Travel north to Detroit Lakes and stay at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, a lovely lakefront lifestyle hotel nestled in a tree-filled setting on the shore of Big Detroit Lake. Each of the 55 large, smoke-free rooms and suites were designed to face the lake and the sunset, a unique aspect of the property. Other unique features include live regional music in the fireside lobby, a full-service spa, an indoor pool and hot tub, a large sandy beach, boat slips, an expansive fitness area, and fun specials like “Martini and Manicure” Thursdays. The hotel is less than two miles from downtown Detroit Lakes.
Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway
Drive on a series of roads following the Minnesota River.
Enjoy a peaceful drive filled with views of lush prairies, billion-year-old granite outcrops, purple cornflowers, and bald eagle sightings.
Catch the western access of the Sakatah Singing Hills Bike Trail in Mankato, learn about the state’s Dakota Indian heritage (and the tragedy of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War) at the Lower Sioux Agency, Fort Ridgely, and Lac qui Parle Mission state historic sites, celebrate German heritage (and tour the August Schell Brewery) in New Ulm, and sample delicious local wine at Fieldstone Vineyards.
For a fun weekend trip, head to the town of Sleepy Eye, named for the chief of a band of Sisseton Dakota, or Chief Sleepy Eye, “friend to all men.” Located at the intersection of State Highway 4 and US Highway 14 in Brown County, the best times to visit are during the Old-Fashioned Fourth of July, Buttered Corn Days on the third Friday in August (complete with a free corn feast, waffle feed, volleyball tournament, and parade), and in September for the Great Grassroots Gathering flea market and craft show.
It’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump across the river from the Twin Cities to Hudson, Wis. (19 miles from St. Paul; 28 from Minneapolis).
Take the scenic route through Afton and enjoy the countryside. Travel south on CR 21 (Exit 258), then merge onto the St. Croix Trail south into Hastings. In Hastings, cross the drawbridge at US 10 to Prescott, then head north on CR F to Hudson.
In Afton, stop at the Squire House Gardens, Gift Shop and Nursery, located in a charming circa 1875 home, or have a glass of wine at the Swirl Wine Bar in the Historic Afton House Inn. In Prescott, Wis., check out the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center at Freedom Park, where the St. Croix River enters the Mississippi.
Rest your head in a quaint B&B, or modern hotel or motel in Hudson. Dine al fresco at a charming independent restaurant, take in views of the St. Croix River Valley from Birkmose Park, or shop at Seasons on St. Croix Gallery, featuring the work of over 160 local, regional, and national artists. If you can’t make it to Hudson on a weekend, visit on a Thursday for free concerts in Lakefront Park (through August).
Drive 220 miles north to the furthermost tip of Wisconsin—Bayfield—and then take a ferry ride over to Madeline Island on Lake Superior.
In Madeline Island, the isolation is part of the charm. Hike, bike, canoe, golf, read, or nap. (When you’re here, you’re on island time.) If you’re feeling adventurous, try sea kayaking, sailing, or even scuba diving.
Head from the Twin Cities to Canoe Bay in Chetek, Wis., about a 120-mile drive, or two hours.
Take Highway 36 east into Stillwater and follow it across the St. Croix River into Wisconsin, then take 64E through little Wisconsin towns until you get to the northwestern part of the state. Once you get close (just south of Rice Lake), trust the GPS coordinates provided by the lodge. The secluded location is a big part of the draw.
Stay with the love of your life in a guest room, lakeside cottage, or 2,000-square-foot villa and disconnect from the world at the beautiful Northwoods retreat of Canoe Bay, a member of the prestigious Relais and Chateaux collection of lodging properties. Rooms feature stone fireplaces, whirlpool baths, and private decks. Explore the secluded property—go for a walk in the woods or canoe or kayak on the small lake, then unwind with an in-room massage. Amenities include a modern fitness center and library, and a gorgeous cathedral-ceiling lakeside dining room, where a talented chef prepares gourmet meals. (For a really romantic dinner, book the private wine cellar.) The extensive wine selection earned a Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence.”
SUMMER HIKING TIPS COURTESY OF THE NORTH FACE
Summer is the reason so many of us put up with seemingly never-ending Minnesota winters, and when the sun is shining there’s no better place to be than on the trails. Whether you want an easy hike or need to see the world from atop a mountain, hiking can take you to sights that you can’t find just anywhere. Here are some fun tips for your next trek.
BE PREPARED FOR ANY WEATHER.
Living in Minnesota, you probably already know this, but dress in layers (preferably not cotton, which insulates poorly when wet). It’s a good idea to bring a rain jacket, windbreaker, good hiking shoes or boots, a hat, sunglasses, and other appropriate gear to stay dry and warm. It’s also a good idea to wear light-colored clothing in order to spot wood ticks. If you want to geocache with your GPS or track your hike with a pedometer, check to see how your gadgets hold up in hot and humid or soggy and wet conditions before going. If you get caught in a thunderstorm, avoid high ground, isolated trees, and water.
FOLLOW BASIC TRAIL ETIQUETTE.
Stay to the right. Uphill hikers have the right-of-way in order to keep their momentum. Give other hikers a heads-up if you’ve encountered any problems.
Hiking along the Superior Hiking Trail on Minnesota’s North Shore can be a lot of fun, as long as you know what you’re doing. Make sure you feel comfortable with your route, make sure someone knows your itinerary in advance, and pack your weight and gear well before you hit the trail (you don’t want to make hiking a chore. It’s supposed to be fun). Know your limits, too. Find a trail that suits your skill level, bring a friend, grab your gear, and get out there.
DON’T RUSH IT!
You know the old adage, “It’s the journey, not the destination?” In hiking, it’s both! If you see wildlife you wouldn’t normally see at home, stop and take a picture (possibly from afar!). If you like the scenery, find a nice rock, sit down, and soak it all in. If you’re feeling tired, take a load off, hydrate, and enjoy a little rest under a shady pine tree. Pace yourself. It’s much more fun than speed-hiking. Part of the beauty of hiking is having the opportunity to pay attention to Mother Nature.
For all of your climbing and hiking needs, visit www.thenorthface.com.