From all corners of the country, little cities competed to win the title of America’s Coolest Small Town. Was it Snohomish, Wash.? (No, but they should win something for that name.) What about Pismo Beach in Southern California, Fort Meyers in Florida, or the charming Old Orchard Beach in Maine? Nope, no beach can contend with the quaint lakeside town tucked up north in our favorite state. As declared by Budget Travel, America’s Coolest Small Town is Grand Marais, Minn.
A fun four or five hour road trip from the Twin Cities (half of which is along the gorgeous coast of Lake Superior) is all it takes to say farewell to buildings and skylines and hello to fresh air, woods, and water. Just imagine how many more stars you’ll be able to see at nightfall!
Spring is the season to catch a waterfall in all its glory, and on the way to Grand Marais there are many to choose from, including Cascade River Falls, only 10 miles from town. Cascade State Park offers trails open for activity throughout every season—cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, biking, and hiking. If you’re lucky, spot a moose or the beloved Lady Slipper flower.
As far as where to stay, Grand Marais has plenty of options. If you want homemade muffins and a family-owned atmosphere, check out Art House B&B. Plan a literary retreat at The Writer’s Cabin, which boasts of housing Ernest Hemingway’s favorite model of typewriter. Don’t worry though—there is high-speed Internet for your laptop. The stunning vacation home Stilt Havet is built into the North Shore so that guests might be one with the rising and setting sun over the lake. Need to unplug? The Naniboujou Lodge is a good place to leave technology behind. It opened in 1929 after a group of dreamers imagined the ideal place for hunters and fisherman to be a part of an exclusive club. Today, you will find rooms with no Internet, phone, or television, and all will provide the break from which we all could benefit.
Ignite your creative side at North House Folk School, which hosts weekend and day courses on traditional crafts, or check out the Art Colony (featured as a top 10 artist colony by Coastal Living magazine) for workshops aimed at connecting people to wilderness.
Treat yourself to the twin duck confit at Harbor House Grille, or get a walleye sandwich at Blue Water Cafe. Both establishments lend views to the great Lake Superior. Take a tour of the new Voyageur Brewing Company—they even have a kitchen and serve up tasty dishes to pair with your pint. Will you choose the waterfall-inspired Devil’s Kettle IPA, the chocolate Palisade Porter, the Trailbreaker Belgian Wheat with hints of orange, cardamom, and coriander, or the one-of-a-kind Wild Rice Brown Ale?
If you’re in the mood for shopping, stumble into some one-of-a-kind stores. Don’t miss out on 29 flavors of fudge at Beth’s Fudge & Gifts, or the quirky Birchbark Books that also sells toys and clothing for women and men. Before you leave town, make time to stop at the Lake Superior Trading Post, where you’ll find interesting products like shipwreck maps, handmade pottery, outdoor gear, and Java Moose coffee.
Other seasonal activities that attract visitors to Grand Marais include dog sledding and the peculiar combination of Putt n’ Pets: miniature golf, farm animals, and gemstone mining. This cool (correction, the coolest) little town seems to have endless opportunities for adventure, and we are lucky to have it so close.