Minnesota’s North Shore

After a gorgeous few days in Pukaskwa National Park, we continued southwest, back into the U.S. to continue to explore Lake Superior along Minnesota’s North Shore.  There is so much to see and do that it was difficult to decide which attractions to see this time, and which ones to leave for a future visit.  We are sure that anyone reading this post who has been to the area will at some point scream, “I can’t believe you skipped ________.”  If you are one of those people, leave us a comment letting us know what fantastic things we missed so we can be sure to hit them next time!

Unfortunately, the weather for our visit hasn’t been the best.  We have had a fair amount of rain, lots of fog, and near constant clouds.  Every time the sun would make an appearance, no matter how brief, we high-tailed it out the door to squeeze in as much sight-seeing as we could while the weather lasted.  It is a beautiful place, though, even if the weather isn’t perfect, unless of course, everything more than a few dozen feet in front of you is obscured in fog…

The North Shore in Minnesota stretches for over 150 miles, so we opted to split our stay between two different state parks: Judge C.R. Magney State Park in the north and Gooseberry Falls State Park to the south.  Both campgrounds were adequate, but we enjoyed Gooseberry Falls more.  Judge C.R. Magney State Park  was much smaller and less developed.  It reminded us more of a forest service campground than a state park, and there were SO MANY MOSQUITOS.  You all know that we spent last summer in Alaska, and the amount of mosquitos at this state park easily rivaled any place we visited in Alaska.  It was pretty awful!  For that reason alone we would probably opt for a different campground if back in the area.  Gooseberry Falls State Park, on the other hand, had more to do within walking distance (waterfalls, visitor center, beach), the campground facilities themselves were nicer, and there were way less mosquitos! 

Now for the fun we had while visiting! 

We may have enjoyed our campground in the north less, but we think we enjoyed the activities in the area more!  We visited two different waterfalls: Devil’s Kettle and High Falls.  To get to Devil’s Kettle, it was a two mile round trip hike right from our campground, and while we wouldn’t say it was the most spectacular waterfall we have ever seen, it was worth the hike!  There was way more water flowing over it during our visit than in any of the photos we have seen, so that was pretty exciting.  High Falls, on the other hand was truly spectacular!  We had to drive to get to it, but it was a very short walk from the parking lot to several different viewing platforms.  This waterfall is on the Pigeon River which serves as the border between Canada and the United States so it was fun to be able to look across the falls and the river and see an entirely different country.  The waterfall, itself, was amazing and wide.  The size caught us by surprise and we were in awe!  Our eyes never knew quite where to look because so much water was flowing in every direction! 

We also enjoyed visiting the small town of Grand Marais.  We actually enjoyed it so much that we visited twice!  Along the Superior shore of Grand Marais is a lighthouse that you can walk out to along a somewhat scary breakwall.  Well, scary for Heather, anyway.  Jeff didn’t seem to be bothered by it.  It was solid and not really dangerous, but it was narrow and didn’t have railings, so when passing someone going the opposite direction you had to get close to the edge, which Heather, who is mildly afraid of heights, didn’t love.   When we started out, it was pretty foggy but as we neared the lighthouse the fog lifted a bit for some really cool views of the lighthouse.  On our second visit, we spent most of our time near the marina on the other side of Grand Marais.  It was a really windy day that we visited and we loved watching the waves crash against the rocks just outside the harbor.

We also visited Grand Portage National Monument.  This place is historically significant as the inland headquarters of the North West Company (the most profitable fur trade operation on the Great Lakes) from 1784 to 1803.  We aren’t going to go into a ton of history and details about the place because you can find all that information more eloquently worded on the park’s website, but we do want to say that we found the place to be much more interesting than we thought we would.  It started out as one of those, “we’re here so we might as well stop by” kind of stops for us, but we ended up staying way longer than we anticipated and really enjoyed learning a good amount about the fur trade in general, and this place specifically.  We do recommend checking out the exhibits in the visitor center and especially watching the park film before you venture over to the depot.  Knowing a little about what you are seeing will make it so much more meaningful.

Now, moving along to our explorations in the southern areas of The North Shore:

We will start with Gooseberry Falls State Park, where we were staying.  Here are three falls along the Gooseberry River with really nice paved paths to see them all.  We found Upper and Middle Falls to be the most impressive, but by the time we got to Lower Falls rain was imminent, so we didn’t stick around much there to explore. 

Split Rock Lighthouse

If you do any research on The North Shore, you are sure to find information about Split Rock Lighthouse.  It is one of the areas most famous attractions, so we headed over to the state park there to see.  We were disappointed to learn that the lighthouse itself is not run by the state park, but by the Minnesota Historical Society which charges a $15 general admission fee to get anywhere near the lighthouse.  That seemed a bit high to us for a photo op, so we instead drove to a beach area in the state park where we could at least get a distant view.  While it was a long way away and the photos are thus not the greatest, we liked that we could see it from below and understand just how close it sits to the cliff’s edge.

Iona’s Beach

The stop in this area that Heather loved the most was Iona’s Beach, also known as the Pink Beach.  The rocks that make up this beach come from the nearby rhyolite cliffs, which cause the whole beach to look pink.  The best part, though, was the sound!  The small rhyolite stones that wash in and out with the waves bump into and roll over each other making the most lovely tinkling sound.  It was so relaxing to just be still for a bit and listen!

Finally, we drove into Two Harbors and visited Agate Bay there.  In this area is the historic Two Harbors Lighthouse that is the oldest operating lighthouse in Minnesota.  Again, we chose not to pay the admission to go inside the gates, but were able to view it from a distance.  There is also a nice rocky shoreline we explored and a breakwall with a lighthouse at the end you can walk to, very similar to the one in Grand Marais.  There are also docks located in the bay where the freighters dock to be loaded with iron ore.  There was a freighter anchored just outside the bay and one at one of the docks, so we were really hoping to see one of them coming or going, but neither of them moved during our visit.  It would be amazing to stand at the end of the breakwall under the lighthouse to watch one of the giants coming in or going out!

Searching for Agates

You cannot come to Lake Superior without at least attempting to find an agate, and that is just what we did.  Attempted.  We were unsuccessful in our search for agates, but did find lots of really interesting rocks and some glass pieces worn smooth by tumbling in the surf.  This is a pass-time that we have enjoyed every time we have visited this great lake, and a treasure hunt is always fun!  Maybe next time!

Overall, we had a very successful visit in Minnesota.  The weather could have been better, but at least it wasn’t a complete wash-out!  We are thankful for the breaks we got in the rain and fog so we were able to get out and see some of this gorgeous area!  Will we be back?  To Lake Superior, definitely!  We really love the south shore along Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, though, so it is likely that our next visit will be there.

Until next time!

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