Guide to a Grand Marais Roadtrip
The North Shore is a beautiful, scenic place to explore, regardless of the time of year. The 150-mile stretch of beautiful, rugged, shoreline often feels very costal; lighthouses, rock cliffs, waterfalls, and tourist stops along the way.
One of my favorite ways to explore the shore is make the trip down Scenic Highway 61 along the shore and plan out or make spontaneous stops along the way. This time, I'm taking you on our journey from Duluth to Grand Marais and everything in between!
Flood Bay State Wayside
This is a super quick stop right off the highway. It's a black beach with huge chunks of driftwood and some great skipping rocks and agets. The sand was crazy here – black sugar-like sand. Catch some great views on the water and skip some rocks! Scenic spot for a picnic or rest stop. Take the Flood Bay State exit off 61 – it's conveniently close to Betty's Pies too. ;)
It's very possible you've visited or at least heard of Betty's Pies. The acclaimed tourist attraction is known for their classic pies (shocker) but is a fun and kitschy cafe in Two Harbors. Breakfast, burgers, pies, old fashioned malts – expect a wait if it's a weekend, they pack the guests in! I'm a breakfast fan, but you can have pie any time of the day!
Onyx Beach/Black Beach, Silver Bay, MN
A small little beach right off the highway sits across from Betty's Pie's. It's a one-of-a-kind beach made of rock and fine sand with a black hue, due to the taconite mining. Taconite was dumped into the lake for 25 years, until fisherman complained. 5 years after the dumping stopped, the fish returned.
This place is unreal - what a hidden gem. It's tucked back a ways off 61 and you may feel like you're going the wrong way as you pass the propane tanks... but keep going. After parking, the trail opens up so you can see a sneak of the water - as you walk closer to the beach, the ground suddenly transitions to black gravel-like sand. The black, slick rocks contrast against the water and sit amongst some stunning rock formations, creating two inlets. This is a great daytime hangout, it has picnic tables and grills, the property is pristine and the views are unreal! This is a must-stop!
Sugarloaf Cove Trail / Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center, Schroeder, MN
Sugarloaf Cove sits on 34 acres and the trail is about a mile long. The trail passes through several “sections” including pine forests and scenic water views. It's a bit more touristy since it's built around a nature center but there's still plenty of room to walk and hike without running into people all the time.
The 1 mile is a walk goes through a pine forest, out to rocky slopes, down to Lake Superior, back through a nature area, onto the cobble beach and back up around the nature center; experience a little bit of everything the north shore offers. You don't have to go the full mile to get these views, and wow is the water clear!
Superior National Golf Course at Lutsen
If you’re big into golfing, this course is a beautiful stop. Right off HWY 61 is Superior National Golf Course. Sweeping views of woodlands and Lake Superior make for a relaxing and scenic round of golf.
We played 9 holes on the “Mountain” course which they want to renovate next year. Currently they are renovating “Canyon” (9 holes), which is part of the second phase of a 4.5 million dollar renovation! The “River” course is newly renovated and now open.
Angry Trout Cafe, Grand Marais
A laid back stop for lunch or dinner, Angry Trout is a small restaurant on the Grand Marais harbor; they have ample indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating boasts some pretty views but we opted for an inside spot due to the extreme heat... Definitely a beautiful setting though!
This place sure gives a small town vibe; simple menu options and locally caught fish; In fact, you might see a grey boat docked at the end of the pier, that's the fisherman's boat! The restaurant is big on sustainable, organic foods and they purchase as much local food as they can.
Their fish specials change often but the smoked trout (and herring) was just about as fresh as can get. Their staple dish is the "fish and chips" but the fried fish whitefish sandwich was not a bad meal!
They don't take reservations, but they'll offer you a cold one while you wait. They're open for lunch and dinner May through October.
Voyager Brewing Co. (downtown Grand Marais)
This place was a favorite. The Voyager Brewing Company and Tap Room has been open for over a year now; it sits off Highway 61, smack downtown Grand Marais. This was within walking distance of our stay so it was a great hangout spot.
The brewery has a beautiful, modern industrial style with indoor and outdoor seating space. They often have live music inside and have a killer rooftop with views of the lake. They have a few seasonal beers that change out along with about 4 staple brews. I got a taste of them all with the flight (generous flight might I say) and I think my personal favorites were the Devil's Kettle IPA and Palisade Porter; props on the clever names too... This one is definitely worth a stop! Their beer can be found in liquor stores in a few places across MN including Minneapolis if you can't wait to try it.
Temperance River Hike / Carlton Peak
Temperance River State Park is located between Schroeder and Tofte on Highway 61 on the North Shore of Lake Superior. We did a 7 mile round trip hike to Carlton Peak (3.5 miles each way); out of all the trails here, this one boasts the best views. It's a moderate hike which starts out gradual and then gets a bit steeper the last half mile.
With 1,200 ft of ascent, it has some very rewarding views of Lake Superior and the forest. Totally worth the hike! This was probably my favorite part of our trip - a great workout and beautiful hike with waterfalls, open spaces, trails and stunning views from afar (even in hundred degree heat). Watch where you're walking and protect your ankles. I definitely recommend this venture!
Bluefin Grille (at Bluefin Resort), Tofte
Just 1.3 miles from Temperate River State Park is Bluefin Resort - we stopped for a much needed lunch after our hike at the Bluefin Grille. The resort is nestled on Lake Superior right off HWY 61 of course - would be another great place to stay if you are looking to vacation in Tofte/Lutsen. They offer rustic and charming lodging and is just 8 miles from Lutsen.
They have some good eats in the restaurant/bar but no outdoor seating by the lakeside which is a bit of a bummer. Wild Acres Turkey Burger was excellent (maybe I am bias because Wild Acres game farm is about 2 minutes from where I grew up). Apparently the flourless Noir cake is to die for as well... next time!
After reading and hearing so much about the mysterious Devil's Kettle, we had to check it out... we were a bit slow moving after doing 7 miles at Temperance but the Devil's Kettle hike is a shorter one. Devil's Kettle Falls is located in the Judge C. R. Magney State Park off 61 (it's not called out on road signs as "Devil's Kettle" so look for the State Park sign). It costs $5 for a day pass to the park - the pass is good at any MN state parks until 10pm that day.
Devil's Kettle has been stumping hikers and scientists for many generations. The Brule River forks at a rock; one side tumbles down over a few stones like a normal waterfall but the other side vanishes into a deep pothole (Devil's Kettle). It swallows half of the Brule and no one has any idea where it goes. Ping pong balls, dye, logs have all been poured down the hole, never to be found. The only consensus that exists is that there may be an exit below Lake Superior somewhere, but underground rivers are extremely rare and typically form in soft rock (not hard rock like the kind that exists in Northern Minnesota).
The hike is a quick 2 miles round trip (one mile out and one back), mostly uphill and upstream on the way out but very mild, until you reach the 200 stairs leading to the river (watch out for these on the way back). The views of the kettle are a bit limited as you can only view the kettle from the opposing side and from a lookout deck, but still a cool sight to see if you've read the research. The waters were really raging when we stopped so it's hard to see the kettle or pothole itself but do yourself a favor and google it for the full effect. If anything, it's a quick stop - if you can handle the stairs on the way back up that is.
Advice: As you make your way down the 200 stairs leading to the kettle (full of anticipation), watch the people passing you as they come back UP the stairs. You will wonder for a second why they look so tired, and then you'll catch on. After we hitting our 11 mile mark for the day and then climbing those 200 stairs on the way back up in hundred degree heat, we were felt the burn.
Gunflint Tavern, Grand Marais
I loved this place! Gunflint Tavern was just a few blocks from East Bay Suites where we stayed in Grand Marais (right across from "Artist's Point"). The tavern is a hopping place, for good reason. It has an awesome rooftop deck (called The Raven Pub/Nest) overlooking the water (we grabbed a drink upstairs while waiting for a table) and has live bands upstairs.
Inside are at least 3 bars, and lots of dining room seating including a community table - kind of a neat setup. Look behind the bar and you will see a "safe" door - a nod to the fact that it used to be the old Grand Marais State Bank building.
These guys also make 4 of their very own craft brews - we were all quite impressed by them too. Plus, a flight of 4 is only $6.50 - it's a must. Personal favorites were the Northern Exposure IPA and the Base Camp Porter!
Dinner downstairs was great, they have a wide selection of options (dive bar feel with some good eats). Our picks for the night included: dungenous crab (yum!), walleye filet, veggie burger and "The Carol" sandwich. They offer just about anything (ethnic, pastas, sandwiches, steaks, seafood), and they use a lot of organic products (fry in olive oil) so you don't have to feel QUITE as guilty about those fries, right? I highly suggest checking this one out, you won't be disappointed.
Coho Cafe, Tofte
On our way back home, we made a quick stop at the Coho Cafe, a small roadside cafe that is part of Bluefin Resort. It's a simple little cafe with great coffee, pastries and a small breakfast menu made to order. Coffee can be hit or miss along the shore so if you're looking for that strong Americano on your travels, I'd suggest stopping - oh, and get yourself a caramel roll while you're at it.
We had intentions of stopping for brunch on our drive home at the New Scenic Cafe off 61 in Duluth - we were unable to get in due to a power outage unfortunately. We have attempted to go here at least 3 times and the stars have no aligned for us, so until next time...
East Bay Suites, Grand Marais
Last but not least, I want to mention that we stayed in downtown Grand Marais at Easy Bay Suites. We had a walkout unit so we were just steps away from the lake and firepits - very nice! My favorite part was the convenience and walkability; we were so close to everything and were able to walk to restaurants, bars, breweries, shops, etc. Nice little spot on the lake!
The North Shore offers so many options through it's 150 mile stretch, it feels as if there will always be somewhere new to explore. I don't think any trip to the shore will disappoint; I hope these hidden or not-so-hidden gems help you plan your next trip or help grow your MN bucket list a bit!