Less than four hours away from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, lay hundreds of opportunities to explore pure and relatively untouched nature. Extending for 150 miles along the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior from Duluth to Canada, the North Shore is a place of unspoiled beauty and pristine nature. Home to a multitude of scenic waterfalls, rivers, state parks and the 310-mile long Superior Hiking Trail, it is a hikers paradise and offers a treasure trove of opportunities to explore wild, relatively untouched nature.
The North Shore has been a special place all my life. Every fall since I was a baby, my parents would pack up our old station wagon and do the drive north to spend a weekend enjoying the splendid fall colors and hiking the wonderful trails. This tradition started before I could walk and ended when I left for college at the age of 18. Fast forward several years, the North Shore has once again become a place I visit often with my own family and our family hikes have continued.
For the past four years, we have been visiting with my children and have discovered the very best hikes that the entire family will enjoy. This list of my top five favorites is a great start to creating family memories of your own. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.
1. Gooseberry Falls
Description: Gooseberry Falls is a beautiful hike along the Gooseberry River which affords stunning views of waterfalls and lovely forest. There is a nice easy hike along the falls for all abilities and more moderate hiking if you prefer to go further. It can be slippery when wet.
Location: 12 miles northeast of Two Harbors along highway 61
Length of Hike: About five miles roundtrip (however entire park has around 18 miles of trails if you want to go further).
Highlights: The best part of this hike is exploring the cascading waterfalls and stopping to enjoy the fascinating roots of the tree trunks and forest flowers along the trail. It is a nice place to also bring along a picnic.
Tip: The trail alongside Gooseberry Falls is relatively easy and somewhat kid-friendly given the steps (but remember no guard rails or safety fences!). If you want to really explore this fabulous park, there are footpaths for miles on end on the other side following the river upstream.
2. Oberg Mountain
Description: A lovely short hike through forest to the top with views of the surrounding hills and Lake Superior.
Location: A few miles northeast of Tofte.
Length of Hike: A short 45 minute round trip (2.25 mile loop). If you want to make a longer hike, do neighboring Leveaux Mountain (3.4 mile loop).
Highlights: Once on top, you get a stunning 360 view of the forest and Lake Superior shoreline. It is especially amazing to be there in the fall when all the leaves are turning shades of yellow, orange, and red.
3. Carlton Peak
Description: A walk through the boardwalks and the forest up to Carlton Peak. Part of the Superior Hiking Trail, you will see gorgeous views of Lake Superior and the Temperance River Valley.
Location: Near Tofte, you can find the trailhead between the Temperance River and Britton Peak trailheads.
Length of hike: 3-miles roundtrip.
Highlights: I especially love all the wildflowers along this trail if you time it right (usually late Spring through early summer). If you want to extend the hike, you can add on Britton Peak as well. It is a short yet steep 15 minute hike.
4. Grand Portage State Park
Description: A short hike to one of Minnesota’s most beautiful waterfalls. A nice visitor center as well for the kids.
Location: Grand Portage State Park is located roughly 36 miles north of Grand Marais next to the U.S./Canadian border. It is a stunning drive along Highway 61 affording sweeping views of Lake Superior and the rugged coastline.
Along the drive there on Highway 61, you can make a quick stop at the Susie Islands Overlook. The overlook is perched 400 feet above Lake Superior where you can see the Susie Islands, an archipelago of thirteen islands off the North Shore in Lake Superior.
Length of Hike: The park has two options for seeing the waterfalls. You can hike the 5-mile round trip to Middle Falls along a rugged trail or you can simply take the shorter half-mile hike along a paved path to the High Falls.
Highlights: The incredible view of the waterfall is in itself reason enough to make the drive and do the hike. It is absolutely spectacular! There is also a nice welcome center that has pictures of the waterfall year round so you can see it as it freezes and comes back to life again in the spring.
5. Eagle Mountain
While Eagle Mountain isn’t exactly along the north shore, it is within the vicinity and is by far the best hike in the entire state. The hike in itself is quite an adventure as you walk through incredible woodland terrain affording epic views of pristine lakes and unparalleled nature. If you are lucky, you may even see a moose along the drive to reach the start of the hike. If you are looking into creating lifelong family memories, than this hike is for you.
Description: Experience a taste of the Boundary Waters with this epic 6-mile roundtrip hike to Minnesota’s highest point.
Location: Northwest of Grand Marais, in the Superior National Forest bordering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Length of hike: 6 miles roundtrip through rugged, rocky path. Hike is difficult for young kids however I began doing this hike when I was a toddler (I did have to be carried a bit of the way). As long as you take plenty of breaks, young children can handle the hike. Plan on at least four to five hours with young children. We’ve made it in under three hours roundtrip with our kids age 11 and 13.
Highlights: If you want experience the raw untouched beauty of the Boundary Waters than this is the hike for you! It is a gorgeous hike and it is fun to stop along the way especially at the lake for a snack and some photos and enjoy a picnic lunch on top for the stunning views below.
Honorable mentions include: Cascade River State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
Want more information on planning your trip? Check out the North Shore Visitor with tips on state parks, lodging, attractions and more. www.northshorevistor.com.