One of the very best day trips from the Twin Cities is the beautiful drive up to Minnesota’s North Shore.
Minnesota’s Scenic Highway 61 weaves along the Great Lake Superior shoreline, and along the way, this trip is packed full of beautiful water views, Minnesota timber land, and… plenty of awesome stops!
From Minneapolis to the Canadian border is just over a 5 hours drive. Thankfully though, there’s no need to make that drive in one sitting.
Today’s article highlights our 19 favorite stops and things to do along the North Shore in Minnesota. From the most popular state parks to the best hidden beaches, we’re sharing all our favorite finds from our many, many trips through this beautiful part of our state.
Map of Attractions and Things To Do on Minnesota’s North Shore
1. Tobies Bakery (Hinckley, MN)
Since 1948, Tobies has expanded from a cozy bakery into what’s essentially now a massive rest stop. That’s why it’s the prefect place to fuel up, both for your car and yourself!
Located just over an hour outside the Twin Cities, “Minnesota’s Famous Halfway stop” is always our first stop before a long drive up Minnesota’s North Shore.
Here, you can find Tobies famous baked goods. We’re total suckers for their cardamom bread, but we also can’t help from grabbing a quick donut for the road, too! For us, their glazed are some of the best anywhere, but Tobies also has a loyal following of their apple fritters and fried cinnamon rolls.
For those needing a longer break, Tobies also has a full restaurant, tavern, car wash, and convenience store.
- Distance from The Cities: 80 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
- Website: Tobies
2. Banning State Park (Sandstone, MN)
Banning State Park is the first of many state parks along Minnesota’s North Shore. This park is a popular favorite among kayakers, hikers, and campers. Highlights of Banning include river rapids and historic buildings, leftover from the days when the park was a sandstone quarry.
- Distance from The Cities: 90 miles (1 hour 25 minutes)
- Website: Banning State Park
3. The City of Duluth (Duluth, MN)
Duluth has long been a popular tourist destination for Twin Cities residents. This blue-collar shipping town sits at the southernmost tip of the great Lake Superior. With rolling river bluffs and long shorelines, Duluth is a beautiful clash between scenic nature and rustic engineering.
While the town isn’t the same booming shipping port it once was, it’s still an active shipping center that’s experienced a modern revitalization. Today, not only can travelers watch huge barges float underneath the picturesque Aerial Lift Bridge, but the city also offers tons of other things to do, including:
- Breweries & Distilleries: Duluth features Vikre Distillery, Bent Paddle, Fitger’s, Black List, Duluth Cider, Hoops Brewing, Ursa Minor Brewing, and Canal Park Brewing. If that’s not enough, a 5 minute drive across the bridge to Superior, WI uncovers Earth Rider Brewing and Thirty Pagan Brewing.
- Culture: The Glensheen Mansion, Duluth Rose Garden, Duluth Children’s Musem, Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Great Lakes Aquarium, Lake Superior Zoo, and the S.S. William A. Irvin Ore Boat Museum.
- Outdoor Activities: The Duluth Lakewalk, Brighton Beach, Enger Park and Tower, and Spirit Mountain.
There’s enough things to do in Duluth that many of our Northern excursions have ended right there. But for the true North Shore traveler, Duluth is a fantastic halfway point that’s worth spending a night or two.
- Distance from The Cities: 155 miles (2 hours 20 minutes)
4. Castle Danger Brewery (Two Harbors, MN)
Castle Danger is one of the most popular breweries in Minnesota, so no North Shore excursion would be complete without a stop for one of their signature Cream Ales!
- Distance from the Cities: 180 miles (2 hours 50 minutes)
- Website: Castle Danger
5. Pie Country (Two Harbors, MN)
Okay, we totally made that name up. But we think it’s pretty fitting, considering that for whatever reason, Two Harbors boasts some of the best pie restaurants you can find anywhere.
The most popular, by far, is Betty’s Pies. Betty’s delicious pies are a huge tourist draw, but we’ll let you in on an insider’s tip. For our personal favorite pies, head a few miles up the road to the Rustic Inn Cafe, and then order their “North Shore Berry Crumb” pie ASAP. You will thank us later.
- Distance from the Cities: 185 miles (3 hours)
6. Gooseberry Falls State Park (Two Harbors, MN)
Gooseberry Falls is Minnesota’s most popular state park outside of the Twin Cities. Each year, over 600,000 visitors head to the beautiful cascading waterfalls of the Gooseberry River.
Accessing the falls is easy. The park maintains a well-developed visitor’s center, and the main attraction, the Middle and Upper Falls, can be reached with a short 30-40 minute, ADA accessible “Waterfalls Walk.” There’s also a longer route with stairs, known as the “Falls View Loop” which takes 45-90 minutes and lets you see the Lower Falls, too.
- Distance from the Cities: 195 miles (3 hours)
- Website: Gooseberry Falls State Park
7. Red Sand Beaches at Iona’s Beach (Two Harbors, MN)
You’ve heard of white sand beaches, you’ve heard of black sand beaches (some of which you can find later on this North Shoe road trip) but have you heard of red sand beaches? That’s what you can find at Iona’s Beach.
This stop isn’t well marked, but it’s worth the 10 minute exploration. To get to this hiddem gem, turn into the Iona’s Beach and Boat Landing area, and then follow the paths into the woods. Depending on the path you take, you’ll eventually come onto a small beach covered in smooth pink rocks. Walk 2 minutes past that beach and you’ll uncover the much larger, half-mile long Lona’s Beach.
- Distance from the Cities: 200 miles (3 hours 5 minutes)
8. Split Rock Lighthouse (Two Harbors, MN)
Split Rock Lighthouse is a Minnesota classic, and definitely one of the North Shore’s most defining features.
As the legend goes, Split Rock earned its nickname thanks to its rocky coastline, which juts out from the land and had a tendency to split ships right in two! After a single storm in 1905 damaged nearly thirty ships, the U.S. Lighthouse service installed the lighthouse and fog siren to warn oncoming boats.
Today, the lighthouse is considered one of the most picturesque lighthouses in the country. To see it for yourself, you have a couple options:
- The Split Rock Scenic Overlook – This stop along Highway 61 is the easiest option for a perfect photo opportunity.
- Split Rock State Park – To see the lighthouse up close (or even climb the stairs inside to the top!) purchase admission to the state park.
- Pebble Beach – For a dramatic view looking up at the Lighthouse, drive down the Split Rock Lighthouse road until you reach parking for Pebble Beach.
- Distance from the Cities: 205 miles (3 hours 10 minutes)
- Website: Split Rock Lighthouse
9. Black Beach (Silver Bay, MN)
This is one of our favorite stops along the North Shore!
Black Beach is a super unique beach located in Silver Bay, but its appearance might have you thinking you’re on another planet!
As you can probably tell from the name, the sand here is made up of fine, black pebbles that feel oh-so-nice on the feet. What you might not be able to tell from the name is that black beach is not one, but two beaches! The sand here is framed by stunning red rock formations that create two inlets, and the result is a beautiful double coastline that looks like something otherworldly.
Unfortunately, the trademark black sand is actually the result of Taconite mining. For decades, miners dumped taconite waste into Lake Superior, which eventually got washed ashore by the waves. After the fisherman started complaining, the miners stopped dumping.
Thankfully, the fish eventually returned, and today Black Beach is a popular hangout for sun tanners and picnic goers. You don’t want to miss this one!
- Distance from the Cities: 210 miles (3 hours 20 minutes)
10. Palisade Head (Beaver Bay Township, MN)
If it’s jaw dropping views you’re after, Palisade Head overlook may have the most dramatic Lake Superior Views on the entire North Shore.
Palisade Head is technically located inside Tettegouche State Park, but it’s really more of a scenic overlook than a formal park. You don’t need a park pass to visit – just look for the marker off the highway. A few minutes after navigating this slow, steep, and narrow drive, you’ll find yourself at a small parking lot perched on top of dramatic lakeside cliffs.
The cliffs themselves were formed by lava flows, over 1.1 billion years ago. The result? Absolutely stunning views!
If you’re feeling brave, go ahead and peek over the 90+ degree sheer cliffs, and try not to get dizzy while making out the shoreline, over 300 feet below. Be warned – there’s no guard rails here. If you prefer to lie on your stomach and carefully crawl towards the edge like a baby… we won’t blame you!
Don’t miss our complete guide to Palisade Head!
- Distance from the Cities: 215 miles (3 hours 25 minutes)
11. Tettegouche State Park
At over 9,000 acres, Tettegouche State Park is the largest state park along the Minnesota North Shore. The park features over a mile of Lake Superior shoreline, endless hiking trails, multiple waterfalls, a few lakes, and several campsites.
The most popular hikes here are the Tettegouche State Park Trail (1.6 miles) Baptism River Trail (2.9 miles) and Shovel Point (1.2 miles).
- Distance from the Cities: 215 miles (2 hours 25 minutes)
- Website: Tettegouche State Park
12. Temperance River Gorge
Temperance River Gorge, located in the Temperance River State Park, might be one of the most popular hikes along the North Shore. And for good reason! This hike brings fantastic scenery, with a trailhead that’s literally on the highway.
The hike starts with a dramatic view of the river gorge, before climbing rocky steps and are greeted with an aerial view of waterfalls and natural potholes from the perfectly placed pedestrian bridge. From there, the hike continues upwards for even more gorge views before the ecology shifts towards a peaceful river with a wooded forest.
This hike really has it all, and Lily and I both agreed it may be our favorite overall hike along the North Shore. You can check out our full guide to the hike here.
- Distance from the Cities: 235 miles (3 hours 45 minutes)
- Website: Temperance River State Park
13. North Shore Winery (Lutsen, MN)
The only winery on Minnesota’s North Shore is aptly named! North Shore Winery sits on a beautiful piece of land in Lutsen, MN. Located halfway from the shoreline to the base of Lutsen Mountains, this higher elevation outdoor space allows you to just barely sneak views of Lake Superior off in the distance.
But funny enough, it’s not the views that keep us coming back. It’s the relaxing vibe from a quiet, peaceful patio. (Bonus points for being dog friendly.) On a recent visit, they even let us take a hike around the the ground’s newly made trails!
- Distance from the Cities: 245 miles (4 hours)
- Website: North Shore Winery
14. The Town of Grand Marais (Grand Marais, MN)
Grand Marais is the type of place where as soon as you arrive, you can feel all your problems melt away.
Somehow, this town is able to perfectly balance that line between tourist convenience and authentic local village. Sure, there’s the heavily marketed Sven and Ole’s Pizza and the boldly named World’s Best Donuts, but instead of being tourist traps, both are actually pretty darn good. Not to mention, there’s also a legitimate collection of local art galleries, freshly caught seafood, and of course, the beautiful, picturesque lighthouse, just begging for a sunset stroll each night.
This is the kind of place you can easily spend a weekend lounging around, only to wish you had an excuse to seriously extend your stay.
- Distance from the Cities: 265 miles (4 hours 20 minutes)
15. Devil’s Kettle at Judge C.R. Magney State Park
Located inside Judge C.R. Magney State park is a mysterious waterfall that’s has been puzzling scientists and visitors for decades. Inside this park, the Brule River splits into two waterfalls. The waterfall on the right spills over a rocks, just like you’d expect. The one on the left? It pours into a giant hole and seems to disappear.
For decades, studies trying to solve the mystery have ended in nothing more than lost ping pong balls, GPS trackers, and (allegedly) a whole car. People speculated the hole may lead to a giant underground river or a sepearate outlook to Lake Superior, but even these explanations didn’t quite add up, for various geological reasons.
Finally, in 2016, hydrologist Jeff Green thinks he found the answer by measuring the river’s flow. His data suggests the hole leads back to the river, and to that we say… “Quit ruining our fun mystery, man!”
In any case, the 2 mile roundtrip hike to Devil’s Kettle is still a unique adventure, and one of our favorite things to do along the North Shore of Minnesota!
- Distance from the Cities: 280 miles (4 hours 35 minutes)
- Website: Judge C.R. Magney State Park
16. Wayswaugoing Bay Overlook (Grand Portage, MN)
This scenic overlook gives you one of the most memorable Lake Superior views on the entire North Shore. From 400 feet up, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of Wayswaugoing Bay and Lake Superior’s Susie Islands. (Which is why it’s also commonly referred to as “The Susie Islands Overlook.”)
Aside from the beautiful observation deck, this overlook also includes several picnic tables. We love grabbing a picnic lunch from Grand Marais and stopping to eat it here!
- Distance from the Cities: 300 miles (5 hours)
17. Grand Portage National Monument (Grand Portage, MN)
Located in the town of Grand Portage, this National Monument serves as a tribute to the history of the Anishinaabeg Ojibwe people and the region’s fur trading past.
The monument includes several interesting galleries along with volunteers and park staff who dress in period attire and explain life during the 18th century.
- Distance from the Cities: 300 miles (5 hours)
- Website: Grand Portage National Monument
18. Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)
Isyle Royale is a fascinating hidden gem in the U.S. National Park System. One of the five least visited National Parks in the country, this island is only open May to September. Isle Royale is completely roadless and accessible only by boat or seaplane.
For North Shore visitors, the easiest way to get there is by taking the Voyageur II ferry. This ferry usually departs from Grand Marais every two days, and then takes the scenic route for a full view of the island. Once arrived, you step foot onto one of the most remote and undeveloped pieces of land in the country. (Isle Royale might be most famous for their wolf and moose population studies, since the secluded location provides the perfect research environment.)
- Distance from the Cities: 300 miles + A Ferry Ride
- Website: Isle Royale National Park
19. Grand Portage State Park (Grand Portage, MN)
My first trip to Grand Portage State Park, I felt like I was driving to the end of the earth! As you continue your journey towards the end of Minnesota’s North Shore, the road gets less traveled, the land gets queieter, and eventually, you’ll reach the US/Canadian border crossing and right next to it, Grand Portage State Park.
This small little state park is one of my personal favorites. Step out of the car and you’re greeted with… silence. From there, you can hike to Minnesota’s highest waterfall – The High Falls.
This 120 foot tall waterfall is certainly worth the easy 1 mile, fully paved hike to get there. There’s also a certain sense of accomplishment from knowing you’ve officially reached the end of Minnesota’s North Shore!
- Distance from the Cities: 305 miles (5 hours 5 minutes)
- Website: Grand Portage State Park