Only a hop, skip and a jump from the Canadian border lies kitschy, whimsical Grand Marais, a small, historical town in northeastern Minnesota along a double harbor on Lake Superior. Over the years the town has been used for many things yet recently has become a destination in itself with shopping, art, a few fancy restaurants and hotels and of course, as the jumping off point to the Boundary Waters Wilderness and Canoe area (a remote 1,090,000 acre/4400 km2 wilderness area within the Superior National Forest of northeastern Minnesota).
Per the Grand Marais Tourism Association:
Grand Marais has existed for centuries, although it wasn’t always known by its current name. The Ojibwe called this location Kitchi-Bitobig, meaning “double body of water”, and it was a Native American village for many years before any Europeans arrived. It is the translation from the French trappers’ dialect for this large bite out of Superior’s shore that lives today, “great marsh”. Grand Marais has been a fur trading post, fishing village, lumber town, hay fever haven and sports center, and it is now a destination that welcomes visitors enthralled by Lake Superior’s majesty.
As a child, visiting Grand Marais during a trip to the North Shore, was always a highlight. We’d jump in the station wagon, drive north along highway 61, and forty minutes or so later we were there. It felt like an outpost in the middle of nowhere yet we knew that the Old Trading Post and the Malt Shop were there, waiting for us.
After a delicious malt, we would visit our favorite knickknack shop, the Old Trading Post, which had all sorts of small gifts from “up north”. From homemade maple syrup, to moccasins, agates, toys, Native American dolls and clothing, you could find anything your childish heart desired.
Fast forward thirty years and it was time to bring my children to Grand Marais and check it out. It is funny how after so many years a place can change yet remain the same. The feel of Grand Marais remained untouched and brought back a wave of memories from my eighteen years of traveling there as a child.
Whimsical, kitschy, unusual and trendy all in one small package. Grand Marais has a lot of offer for anyone traveling in that neck of the woods. Here are some of my favorites….
We left Grand Marais just as we did so many years ago. Untouched. Remembered. And in wonderment of such a nostalgic place.