4 Day Road Trip Itinerary for North Shore and Grand Marais MN near Lake Superior

Grand Marais MN

Grand Marais MN offers scrumptious seafood options, tons of local coffee shops (sweetened with local maple syrup), hundreds of hikes offering scenic views, canoe and kayak trips with hundreds of lakes to choose from, boat tours, state parks decorated with waterfalls- and did we mention Betty’s Pies? We didn’t? My bad!

All joking aside, it truly is impossible to do it all up there. My family and I have been exploring the North Shore and Grand Marais MN for the past 8 years and we still have new things we discover each time we go. This family-friendly itinerary was created from our latest trip to the North Shore, June of 2022.

We created this itinerary traveling from southern MN (it’s about a 5 hour drive for us), so keep that in mind as well as you plan your own trip.

Don’t forget to explore and pin our Visit the North Shore MN blog posts as well. From where to eat, where to stay, kid-friendly activities and the best views along Highway 61, we got you covered! You can find the additional blog posts at the bottom of the page.

What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Grand Marais MN?

The North Shore is gorgeous no matter what time of year or season you go. It all really depends on your preference and what you are looking forward to do.

Winter:

If you are a winter sports fanatic or someone who loves the idea of being in a warm cabin with snowy views of Lake Superior, winter would be a good time for you to go. However, a lot of the highlights of this itinerary and other blog posts are closed during winter time. Travel is also a concern because Highway 61 gets icy and slick with the snow (and they get A LOT of snow!). Highway 61 also has curves and sharp turns throughout it’s trek to the border of Canada.

Fall:

The majority of North Shore fanatics like to visit during the fall time – especially Grand Marais MN. Mid-September to mid-October is truly the best time of year to go because you get the fall foliage view. It’s the perfect time of year to hike because the bugs (primarily ticks) aren’t as thick as compared to summer time. Most of the activities and places to eat are still open as well. While day time may be in the 60s for weather, early mornings and night time is pretty chilly- especially if you are by Lake Superior. I advise you not to forget your favorite sweater and cozy socks- brace yourself for sweater weather!

Inside tip: For spring & summer, bring clothing for ALL kinds of weather. While it may be very hot during the day, it gets very cold at night and early mornings. Make sure to view my Suggested Packing Lists (there’s a general, kid’s packing and camping list) blog post for more details!

Spring and Summer:

Summer and spring is also a beautiful time, especially late spring/early summer because of the stunning wildflowers. Spring time can still be pretty cold and there will likely be snow in some areas. Summer time is arguably one of the most crowded times of year on the North Shore. With the beautiful weather and the opportunity to escape from humidity, we can’t blame anyone for wanting to go!

Insider Tip: During spring & summer, bring lots of sunscreen and bug spray. Make sure to wear your hair up and tuck your pant legs into your socks to avoid bringing ticks home with you.

Where to Stay Along the North Shore or Grand Marais MN?

One of the first decisions you will need to make for your trip is where you want to stay. Will you be camping, taking an RV, staying at one Airbnb/hotel/hostel or staying at several? This decision made a huge difference while planning our itinerary. Make sure to check out and pin our list of top places to stay on the North Shore!

Insider Tip: During spring & summer, bring lots of sunscreen and bug spray. Make sure to wear your hair up and tuck your pant legs into your socks to avoid bringing ticks home with you.

Every time we visit the North Shore to Grand Marais MN, we make sure to stay a new rental cabin and location for a different experience. We have stayed in cabins in Tofte, Lutsen, Grand Marias and Hovland (right before Grand Portage, very close to the border of Canada).

This time we stayed in a multi-family, lakefront cabin in Schroeder, MN, The Schroeder House. By the AIRBNB up the road and to the left was Cross River Falls. I loved how family friendly (with a washer and dryer- yay!) this cabin was, as well as the location and access to everything you need. Check out the video below and click here for more information.

How to Get to Grand Marais MN

This road trip to Grand Marais MN is centered around traveling through lakeside towns that decorate Lake Superior along Highway 61. If you are coming from out of state and want to fly to Minnesota, you can book a flight to Duluth International Airport or Minneapolis Airport (click on either one to book your flight!).

From there, you would use I-35 North and continue on that until you get to Duluth, then go North on Highway 61 to start your road trip. You can rent at car at the MSP Airport or if you are in flying into Duluth, the Duluth International Airport.

Driving from Two Harbors, MN to Grand Portage, MN will take you an average of 2 hours and 10 minutes. However, plan on your drive being MUCH longer than that with all the amazing stops you will take along the way! I suggest right after exiting Duluth, you take the Scenic Bypass (Old Highway 61) to enrich your experience- but more about that below! Grand Marais MN is about half an hour south of Canada.

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Road Trip Along Grand Marais MN North Shore Near Lake Superior

Day 1: Arrive in Two Harbors

Stop 1: Carlton – Jay Cooke State Park

We drive I-35 North to get to the North Shore and we pass a variety of wonderful state parks on the way up. We decided to stop at Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton (about 10 minutes south of Duluth). This park has a lot of beautiful trails, picnic areas and it’s landmark, the swinging bridge. It was a great place for us to stop, stretch our legs and let the kids run around after being in the car for 3 hours. Jay Cooke State Park is the perfect stop on your road trip along Lake Superior to Grand Marais MN.

Other state parks you could substitute are Wild River State Park by the St. Croix River, St. Croix State Park in Hinckley and Banning State Park in Sandstone, MN.

If you are looking for other great Minnesota hikes, check out this post!

Grand Marais MN

Stop 2: Two Harbors – Betty’s Pies

An entire homemade pie is $20. We bought the turtle coconut creme pie.

Two Harbors is one of the larger towns along Highway 61 and has plenty to do, about an hour south of Grand Marais MN! We chose to stop at Betty’s Pies for a delicious pick-me-up and some pie of course! If interested, Kelsey’s Beach is across from Betty’s Pies, so this is a neat place to walk alongside the Lake Superior shores. (Note- there is currently construction being done in front of Betty’s Pies, but it is still open!).

Are you looking for other food options along the North Shore near Grand Marais MN? Check out this post!

Grand Marais MN

Stop 3: Two Harbors – Split Rock Lighthouse and Madeira Pull- Out

Split Rock Lighthouse is certainly one of the most iconic points of the North Shore. We have visited it countless times, so this time we decided to view it from afar, at the Madeira pull-out along side Highway 61. It made for a beautiful picture and new perspective.

Stop 4: Schroeder – Father Baragas Cross Near Lake Superior

Our Lutsen Airbnb was nestled right along the shores of Lake Superior and beside the Cross River, with waterfalls a 2 minute walk from our place. Our kids had the opportunity to throw rocks into the lake from 2 different shorelines and we had rocks that were an easy climb. A stroll away was the Father Baraga Cross, which is another landmark of the North Shore. We were very blessed to have such a wonderful, central location. It helped us to save time and experience more at the North Shore.

Stop 5: Beaver Bay – Caribou Trail and Water Fall

If you want to go up North to chase hidden waterfalls, Caribou Falls should be on your list! If you are traveling northbound up Highway 61, a paved parking lot marked Caribou Trail will be to your left. You will see what starts off as a paved trail which goes along the river. This is a .5 mile hike to the falls.

Next, there will be steep inclines and towards the end, a stair case down that will take you to Caribou Falls. Follow this down and it leads directly to the falls. The view was stunning and it was so quiet- we were the only ones there! We spent a chunk of time here just taking in how beautiful this area is.

Day 2: Explore the Grand Marais through Grand Portage Areas

Stop 6: Downtown Grand Marais, Artist’s Point and Food Places

Grand Marias lighthouse and break wall.

We started off our morning in downtown Grand Marais, grabbing a cup of coffee on the Java Moose patio. The line can get long at Java Moose, so keep that in mind! I bought a Maple Latte, hot cocoa for the kids and breakfast sandwiches.

We walked alongside the harbor for awhile and watched the boats come in. I love this area, because I can just feel the Scandinavian roots here.

Afterwards, we celebrated National Donut Day with some of the World’s Best Donuts. The kids chose the Donut Kabobs of course!

We decided to walk to Grand Marais Break wall to the light house. It gives a new perspective of Grand Marais and a 360 view of Lake Superior.

Downtown Lake Superior offers a variety of places to shop. We checked out the Beaver House, Sweetwater Co. (brand new store- I HIGHLY recommend!) and Fudge & Gift Shop.

Are you looking for more amazing ways to experience Grand Marais? Check out this post!

Grand Marais MN

Stop 7: Colvill – Kadunce Creek at Colvill Paradise Beach

Colvill Paradise Beach and Kadunce Creek Wayside are very close to one another. I can actually see the abandoned house on Colvill Beach from Kadunce Creek. Both are beautiful places to pull over and just enjoy the vastness of Lake Superior. Kadunce Creek is neat because there is an easy trail to hike that goes along the creek. It’s also fun to see where the river rushes out to join Lake Superior & how the Lake Superior waves push the water back towards the creek. This is also my favorite spot to sit and journal, meditate or take pictures.

Stop 8: Grand Portage – Susie Islands Overlook

There are two options for the Susie Islands Overlook. If you are heading north on Highway 61, we prefer the second paved pull out area because of the view it gives (it’s a couple of minutes before you meet the Canadian border). The view leaves you speechless. For us, it’s the most beautiful part of the North Shore.

Stop 9: Grand Portage – State Park and High Rise Falls

The falls were very full from the storms during the previous days. We were actually pretty soaked from all the mist and spraying from the falls! It’s a good idea to wear rain gear and boots if you are visiting after stormy days.

Grand Portage State Park borders Canada and is one of the easier places to hike, with the trails well maintained and not as rugged as many others we have hiked at the North Shore. The main trail is pretty short, and ends with a few stairs to climb. This view is worth the walk as this leads you to High Rise Falls. There are three outlook areas to give you a different perspective of the falls and the gorge.

Stop 10: Grand Marais – Anggry Trout & Sydeny’s Frozen Custard

The view from Angry Trout flaunts the Scandinavian roots of this wonderful town.

On our way back to Schroeder from Grand Portage, we stopped a second time in Grand Marais to eat at Angry Trout. It’s one of our favorite places to eat in town! Then, we followed up our late lunch with Sydney’s Frozen Custard (there is also a pizza shop attached to the ice cream store). We decided to grill out for our supper during our first and second days & eat by the lake.

Stop 11: Silver Bay – Palisade Head

Another opportunity for a stunning view way up high is Palisade Head, also off of Highway 61. You will pull into a small parking lot, then notice a narrow, paved road leading up the cliffs. This is your way up to Palisade Head. Take this narrow road (go VERY slow), and it will take you to a parking lot at the very top. If you have little ones along, keep them in hand and be very careful- you will be very high up! We noticed some dare devils who were rock climbing and taking pictures near the edge when we went. This is another one of my favorite views at the North Shore.

Stop 12: Beaver Bay – Sugarloaf Cove

Sugarloaf Cove is a place I had never stopped before this trip. It is a very underrated spot along Highway 61. We loved how many places we were able to explore. There’s the nature center, Loop Trail, the shore side and you can also hike to the little Sugarloaf island, which offers panoramic views once you are on the other side. We spent quite a bit of our time here.

Stop 13: Schroeder – Taconite Harbor

Taconite Harbor actually used to be it’s own town until the 1950’s, when it died out due to lack of job opportunities. When you enter the harbor, you can still see the pavement with grass growing over it, and a lone street light. It’s a perfect place for a sunrise! It’s also worth noting Taconite Harbor is not too far from Sugarloaf Cove, so it’s convenient to do one right after the other.

Day 3: Road trip to Ely, MN

Stop 14: Lutsen – Fika Coffee

Fika Coffee is always a stop along my way to Grand Marais. This time, it was just a 10 minute drive from our AIRBNB, so we grabbed some of their steeped coffee, which comes with a complimentary coffee. They also have World’s Best Donuts if you are not making your way to Grand Marais. Fika Coffee has an amazing story behind it. Find out more about their shop HERE!

Stop 15: Tofte – Coho Cafe and Bakery

COHO Café and Bakery serves a variety of delicious pastries and coffees. We were OBSESSED with the chocolate chip twist and Cheese Plait. I have never had anything like either- you can tell they are freshly made! We also enjoyed the breakfast and lunch they offer. The best way I can describe their food is comfort food- with a “North Shore” twist. If the weather is nice, you can also sit on their beautiful, wrap around patio.

Stop 16: Ely – North American Bear Center

We were able to visit the North American Bear Center on our road trip to Ely, MN. We took Little Marais Road to Finland and that took us to Ely- about an hour and 40 minute drive. The drive was absolutely beautiful- driving through the forest was like driving through a fairy tale.

Finally, we arrived an hour after the North American Bear Center was opening at 11 am (they open 10 am to 5 pm in the summer). We were able to catch the surprise critter show (we saw a snake), then got to meet two out of the four bears up close. Afterwards, you can observe the bears swimming in their home from the indoor seated area or outside on the Bear Viewing Deck. We loved our time here!

If interested, you can find out more information, view the live cam and buy tickets by clicking here (kids under 3 are free)!

Stop 18: Ely – International Wolf Center

The International Wolf Center’s summer hours are 9 am to 5 pm in the summer time. They are located a short drive away from the North American bear center, so it is easy to do both in one day. We were able to attend the wolf presentation while observing the wolves in their home through an indoor seated area. Next, they took us outside to see the wolf pups up close and personal, which our kids loved!

If you would like to plan a trip to the International Wolf Center, you can do so by clicking here (three and under are free).

Stop 18: Ely – Kawishiwi Trail and Waterfall

Kawishiwi Trails and Falls is located in Ely, only a few minutes out of town. It is one of the more rugged trails we did during our trip, with a lot of tree roots, rocks, swampy areas and inclines. The pictures take show you some of what I mean when I say this. You also have to climb a few rocks to get a good vantage point of the waterfall. However, it is worth it for the view. We hiked not just for the waterfall- but to explore the woods in general! There were some unique trees wrapping their roots over rocks, interesting branches and a neat sight of the river.

Bonus: A Beautiful Drive and Moose Sighting

During our drive back to Schroeder, we were blessed with an unexpected stop on our trip- a moose sighting near Finland! She was very beautiful- trying to attempt to cross the road. Once she got back onto the grass, she was very calm, casually eating and shaking her head, making her ears slap together. This is something we will talk about for years!

Stop 19: Ely- Evergreen Restaurant

We were so hungry after our hike and wildlife adventures- so we picked a restaurant close to Kawashiwi Trail. We picked Evergreen, a restaurant located in a hotel, because we knew it had something for everyone on the menu. It was a very kid-friendly place, with a beautiful balcony you could access to get an amazing view of Shagawa Lake.

Stop 20: Lutsen- North Shore Winery

Our family decided to visit the North Shore Winery and order not only a flight of wine (5 tastings for $10-15) as well as a flight of chocolate truffles (because who doesn’t love the chocolate and wine combo?!). Most of their wines are dry wines, but they do have a flight called White Wines which are sweet (My favorite was Temperance!). We tried sitting outside at first, but the bugs do get bad at dusk, so we moved inside. The staff are so helpful and kind. This was a great opportunity for us to unwind after a busy day. Tours are available as well.

If you are interested in scheduling your visit to the North Shore Winery, click here!

Day 4: Relax and Enjoy Nearby Attractions

Stop 21: Cross River Falls, Vintage Store and Beaver Bay Agate Shop

Before we left Schroeder, we parked at the pull out along Highway 61 and walked to the bridge overlooking Cross River Falls. A short walk over is the North 61 Vintage Shop. There were a lot of neat things to explore, and this store has been in the family for years, with the original owner being from Grand Marais.

We drove to Beaver Bay to visit the Agate shop, and found an array of crystals, agates and necklaces. The stonework there is incredible. Even if you do not purchase anything- it’s work a look!

Bonus: The Big Chairs Near Lutsen MN

After Silver Bay, there are two, huge white chairs alongside the highway. Hopefully seeing how tiny the kiddos look in the chair gives you some kind of perspective on the size! My kids were adamant that we stop for a photo op. It was a lot of fun though- and makes for great memories!

Stop 22: Old Scenic Highway 61 – Mocha Moose

If you are driving to the North Shore, you are missing A LOT if you do not take the scenic, Old Highway 61. Not only is the drive beautiful, but it’s littered with pop up gift shops (in the summer), small restaurants and cafes, and gift shops. Best of all- you won’t be back tracking at all because the old highway runs right along side the new one.

If you are traveling North bound, you will see a turn right as you leave Duluth to the right labeled Scenic Drive, Old Highway 61. Take this and drive it until the end (by Two Harbors), where it merges back with the new Highway 61.

Our favorite stop was Mocha Moose. They have a lot of coffee options that are completely different from other places and a small, but delicious food menu. What makes this place unique is it is set up for you to take your time. They have tons of games, a piano and wonderful books to read.

Step 23: Buchanan Historical Marker Near Lake Superior

Next we stopped at the Buchanan Historical Marker. If you are a history buff, this is a necessary and beautiful stop. It makes for a beautiful photo-op and even has a stair case leading down to the Lake Superior. Since this stop is closer to Duluth, we were able to see a lot of ships and boats in this area.

BONUS: JACKSON’S JARS

We discovered Jackson’s Jars at Mocha Moose amongst the many handmade items sold from local artists and small businesses. After being diagnosed with Autism, Jackson’s mother discovered making soaps and gel candles as a passion for Jackson. His hobby has turned into his own small business.

He has a Facebook page, Jackson’s Jars, that feature all his homemade goods. I was so impressed and touched by how amazing he is. We bought his soaps and candles as gifts for others. We also bought a gel candle that smells EXACTLY like a campfire! You can learn more about his small business by clicking here!

Also, I have to say I LOVED my insulated jacket I purchased from BackCountry.com. For full disclosure, I am an affiliate, meaning anyone who clicks on the following link to make a purchase also gives me a small commission. Even if I was not though, I’d still suggest this jacket. It was lightweight, insulated and water proof (which was helpful during the drizzle and when we visited High Falls), with pockets that zip up. Check out other great options at the link below!

Shop Backcountry’s Massive Selection of Gear, Clothing, and Outerwear on Sale!

Share in the comments which stop you are most excited about!

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Comments +

  1. Steve Genrich says:

    This is beautiful…and very well pit together. I would be happy to send folks looking for ideas the link. I have some spelling errors I would like to point out… There are many instances of Grand MARIAS instead of Marais. It should be Kadunce instead of KADUENCE. Beaver Bay not BAY BEAVE. Please consider adding The Dorothy Molter Cabin and Museum in Ely. Dorothy lived alone in the Boundary Waters Wilderness for many years and was well known for her homemade root beer. There’s a book about it called Root Beer Lady. Follow her death her cabin was moved to Ely and is now a popular museum.

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