Nothing beats the heat like rolling down the windows and heading out on the open road. You’re with your friends or family and you’re probably on vacation, so take your time, see the sights, and let the road trip become part of the adventure. For anyone who has made a CD mix just for a road trip (and then got all sentimental listening to it later), this one’s for you!
So beautiful it was officially named a National Scenic Byway, the North Shore Scenic Drive isn’t just a road; it’s a destination. Just beyond Duluth’s city limits, the ancient Sawtooth Mountains crest high in the distance. Scenic Highway 61 hugs the spectacular Lake Superior shoreline up to the Lutsen/Tofte area, with forests of pine, birch, and aspen on the inland side of the road, and the world’s largest freshwater lake on the other.
Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approx. 250 miles, 4.5 hour drive
What to do along the way: For a closer look at Lake Superior’s waves, the boreal forest, rivers and waterfalls, travelers should stop in at Tettagouche, Temperance River, or Gooseberry Falls State Park. Temperance River State Park is especially memorable, with dramatic waterfalls.
Your final stop: The Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts—Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior, Surfside on Lake Superior, and Temperance Landing—are conveniently located near four state parks known for hiking, mountain biking, rivers, and waterfalls. Grand Marais’ unique shopping, Lutsen Mountains’ fun and family-friendly alpine slide, and the wild beauty of the Gunflint Trail are a short drive away. Access to the Boundary Waters, Superior National Golf Course, and the famous fishing waters of Lake Superior are all within easy reach.
One more thing: Each of the three resorts offer shuttle service to trailheads, guided hikes, free mountain bike rentals, free tennis equipment, kayaking lessons, lakeside campfires, environmental programs guided by Wolf Ridge naturalists, and kids’ activities right on site.
Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approx. 250 miles, 4.5 hour drive
What to do along the way: Stop at the Rustic Inn (10 miles past Two Harbors) for amazing gyros and pie, swing by the small production brewery, Castle Danger, for a handcrafted growler, stretch your legs at Caribou Falls on the Superior Hiking Trail, or experience one (or all) of the eight Minnesota State Parks located on the North Shore.
Your final stop: Lutsen Resort is a full-season resort steeped in history and perched in the midst of every possible North Woods adventure any outdoor enthusiast could want (kayaking, guided hikes, fly fishing, trail or mountain biking, geocaching), with a friendly, knowledgeable activities staff to help you out. Come for outdoor adventure, a variety of summer festivals and celebrations, or simply a chance to relax and recharge.
One more thing: Lutsen Resort is perfectly situated as a base camp for exploring up and down the North Shore, as well as day trips inland to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Stay along Minnesota 61 until the road leads you deeper into wild boreal forest. With Lake Superior stretching off into the distance, and the Sawtooth Mountains rising in the background, a trip to Grand Marais feels like a trip to the sea shore.
Distance from the Twin Cities: 260 miles, 4.5+ hour drive
What to do along the way: Check out Minnesota’s highest waterfall in Grand Portage State Park.
Your final stop: Grand Marais is known as an arts community, and the Grand Marais Art Colony is the perfect representation of this. Housed in an old picturesque church, the Art Colony provides hands-on art classes for all skill levels (visual arts, ceramics, glass, printmaking, and painting), as well as artist studios, events and exhibits. After taking a class, walk out to the lighthouse, go for a wildnerness hike, or see a show at the Playhouse.
One more thing: Visit July 14-15 for the Grand Marais Arts Festival, when the quaint streets of Grand Marais really come alive. (Grand Marais is the only North Shore community whose downtown is right on the lake.)
St. Croix Falls/ Taylors Falls
Distance from the Twin Cities: 50 miles, 1 hour drive
Appeal of the summer drive: In less than an hour, you can be away from your desk and on the bluff line overlooking the wild and scenic St. Croix River!
What to do along the way: Take I-35 north to Highway 97 near Hugo, then at 97, head east to the St. Croix River. Highway 97 goes through Scandia and reaches Highway 95—head north to Franconia Sculpture Park, then follow Highway 8 east down into the gorge leading to Taylors Falls. Interstate Park (on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin side) attracts hikers, campers, climbers, canoeists, and photographers.
Your final stop: The Upper St. Croix, where you can appreciate stunning views, wildlife, marvelous food, fun shops, a lively art scene, and outdoor recreation.
One more thing: Visit during Wannigan Days July 19-21, a lumberjack and rivertown festival with street dances and parades.
Ruttger’s Birchmont lodge, Bemidji
Distance from the Twin Cities: 230 miles, 4 hour drive
Appeal of the summer drive: The Great River Road from Lake Itasca (the source of the Mississippi River) east to the Chippewa National Forest makes for a memorable drive up North to the Bemidji area, a cultural oasis in the heart of the wilderness.
Your final stop: Experience true American hospitality at Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge on Lake Bemidji—a great family resort with a natural sandy beach, indoor pool, fitness center, on-site restaurant, free use of kayaks and canoes, and pontoons available for a rental fee. In summer months, the resort also offers a complimentary supervised kids’ camp.
One more thing: Tee it high and let it fly! Enjoy terrific golfing at nearby championship golf courses.
Trapper’s Landing Lodge, Walker
Distance from the Twin Cities: 190 miles, 3.5 hour drive
The summer drive: Take 371N toward Brainerd and 200 to the Leech Lake area (mile marker 136).
Your final stop: Trapper’s Landing Lodge on Leech Lake faces over 1,600 feet of shoreline, complete with a sandy beach and full-service marina with boat rental. Fishing, hiking, swimming, and biking fill guests’ days, but when it’s time to unwind, an outdoor pool, sauna, and the BeachFire Bar & Grille are waiting.
One more thing: Trapper’s Landing Lodge is a sister resort to Beacon Pointe Resort in Duluth, Larsmont Cottages and Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors, Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen, and East Bay Suites in Grand Marais. Just recently, they rolled out a new EXPLORE the North Shore initiative for those who plan to do the full circle tour of Lake Superior but can’t commit to the 1,300 mile, 10-day trip. With this initiative, you can stay multiple nights at up to five resorts with just one call for all reservations and with the assurance of competence and quality—all North Shore Odyssey Resorts recently earned the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence. For more information, visit odysseyresorts.com and click the “Start Exploring” tab.
The prairie meets the forest in this part of the state, where the glaciers carved their way through Minnesota thousands of years ago creating a perfect blend of lakes, wooded hills, and rolling prairie. Tourists are drawn to the lakes, parks, and variety of lodging options including lakeside cottages and campgrounds.
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately a 2 hour drive
Appeal of the summer drive: Take the Glacial Ridge Scenic Byway for some amazing scenery.
What to do along the way: Stop in Sauk Centre, the birthplace of legendary author Sinclair Lewis.
Your final stop: Once in Alexandria, bike along the Central Lakes Trail, a 55-mile rail trail that borders the historic downtown shopping district; visit the 28-foot tall “Big Ole” overseeing the bike park and farmers’ market; fish or swim in one of 500 lakes in Douglas County; shop at the charming independent boutiques.
One more thing: While Alexandria is rich in natural beauty, it also has a wealth of historical activity as well. It is home to three unique and nationally-recognized museums: The Runestone Museum, host to an ancient artifact that lets them promote their area as the “birthplace of America;” the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum, with spectacular gardens and lake items on display; 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.
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 130 miles northwest
Your final stop: 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, though, 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.
One more thing: If you’re staying with a group, ask about the golf, tennis, volleyball, putting and fishing tournaments, or check out a variety of fun games organized and run by their Recreation Department, like Wacky Olympics, Amazing Race, Carnival, or Resort-a-thon.
Dickerson’s Lake Florida Resort
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 100 miles west, about a 2 hour drive
Appeal of the summer drive: You won’t be inching along at an aggravating 5 miles per hour when you head west from the metro. Relax and enjoy the scenery: rolling hills, trees, lakes, and crisp, clean air.
What to do along the way: Stop at Crow River Winery near Silver Lake (Highway 7) or the Railroad Museum and Ball of Twine (on Highway 12 in Darwin).
Your final stop: Dickerson’s Resort is a quaint beachfront resort with 13 cabins, an array of water toys, beautiful sunsets, and background noise as simple as the call of the loons. This fourth-generation, family-owned resort specializes in families and kids. One of the main attractions is a beautiful, flat, sandy beach on a clean, glacial lake full of fish!
One more thing: Head to Neer Park in New London and watch a Little Crow Ski Show on Friday nights during the summer. Top skiers perform pyramids, jumping, barefooting, ballet lines and more ($5/adults; $3/students; preschool and under free).
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 110 miles
Appeal of the summer drive: Trade in the bustle of the big city for small town life. On your drive south, you’ll pass corn and soybean fields, dairy pastures, limestone bluffs, and maybe even an Amish horse-drawn buggy.
Your final stop: Nestled in the bluffs near the Root River, Minnesota’s self-proclaimed “bed and breakfast” capital does not disappoint. Taste local wines, go shopping in the historic downtown, lined with mid- and late-19th century buildings, bike the Root River State Bike Trail, canoe the Root River, tour the town on Molly the Trolley, or see a show at the Commonweal Theatre.
One more thing: Step back in time to an 1890s living history site at Historic Forestville, 11 miles away in the small town of Preston.
Riverwalk Market Fair, Northfield
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 50 miles south
Appeal of the summer drive: Green, rolling countryside dotted with pretty lakes.
Your final stop: Experience a Summer Saturday at Northfield’s Riverwalk Market Fair, providing area farmers and artists with a place to show and sell their products. While in town, browse the unique shops along Division Street, enjoy an evening of music on the deck of the Contented Cow, 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.
One more thing: Riverwalk Market Fair hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through October—with the exception of Sept. 8 for The Defeat of Jesse James Days event—in downtown Northfield on Bridge Square, at Division and Fourth streets.
Canoe Bay, Chetek, Wis.
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approx. 120 miles, about a 2 hour drive
Appeal of the summer drive: Take Highway 36 east into Stillwater and follow it across the St. Croix River into Wisconsin, then take 64E through charming Wisconsin towns until you are in the northwestern part of the state. Once you get close (just south of Rice Lake), trust the GPS coordinates provided by the lodge. The quiet, secluded location is a big part of its personality.
Your final stop: 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 this beautiful Northwoods retreat. Hike the grounds, visit the meticulously landscaped gardens, and enjoy phenomenal dining, an impressive wine selection, and comfortable amenities.
One more thing: Book the “Anniversary Romance Package” for an additional fee, and enjoy wine, flowers, dinner-for-two, and breakfast in bed.
Hawks View Cottages, Fountain City, Wis.
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 100 miles downstream
The summer drive: Take the Great River Road down to Winona, then head six miles north.
Your final stop: 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.
One more thing: Visit The Monarch Public House Irish pub and tavern for a “taste of the past” (and a pint of their own Prairie Moon Red), visit Elmer’s Auto and Toy Museum, and check out the 320-acre Merrick State Park.
Distance from the Twin Cities: 19 miles from St. Paul; 28 from Minneapolis
Appeal of the summer drive: Take the scenic route to Hudson, Wis. through Afton and enjoy the countryside. Travel south on CR 21 (Exit 258), the merge onto the St. Croix Trail South into Hastings. In Hastings, cross the drawbridge at US 10 to Prescott, Wis., then head north on CR F to Hudson.
What to do along the way: In Afton, stop at the Squire House Gardens, Gift Shop and Nursery, located in a charming circa 1875 home, or stop off and 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 mighty Mississippi.
Your final stop: Hudson offers bed & breakfast inns as well as many comfortable lodging choices for the perfect close-to-home getaway. 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.
One more thing: Enjoy free Thursday night concerts in Lakefront Park from June through August.
Madeline Island, Bayfield, Wis.
Distance from the Twin Cities: Approximately 240 miles (90 miles from Duluth) + a 20 minute ferry ride to the island, about a 4 hour drive
Appeal of the summer drive: Follow 35N through Duluth to Highway 53, which takes you through Superior Wis. to Highway 2 east. Once you’re west of Ashland, go north on Highway 13 through the lovely town of Washburn. Follow signs to Bayfield.
Stops along the way: Once in Washburn, stop at the Washburn County Historical Museum, a century-old German church which now houses pioneer, logging, farming, and native American memorabilia. A parson’s house and one-room schoolhouse are also on the premises.
Your final stop: The Cape Cod-like village of Bayfield 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.
One more thing: The Madeline Island Ferry Line provides daily transportation to and from the island every 30 minutes during the summer.
Ultimate Summer Road Trip Mix
We asked representatives of the destinations in this section to give us their favorite summer road trip songs for the perfect compilation. Here it is!
Smooth – Santana and Rob Thomas
Sailing – Christopher Cross
Drive By – Train
Moondance – Van Morrison
All Summer Long – Kid Rock
Walking on Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves
Take It Easy – The Eagles
Vacation – The Go-Go’s
Margaritaville – Jimmy Buffet
Kokomo – The Beach Boys
Summertime – D.J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Born to be Wild – Steppenwolf
We Are Family – Sister Sledge
Hot Fun in the Summertime – Sly and the Family Stone
Midnight on the Interstate – Trampled by Turtles