My Incredible 3 Day Road Trip in North Shore Minnesota

For over a year, I pondered and planned a road trip to North Shore Minnesota and in September 2021, I finally made it happen.

Despite being only 3 days long, I have never in my life was able to see so much in a region like I did when I went here and in this post, I’d like to share every place I saw, each day that I spent in North Shore Minnesota. To put it mildly, I ended up seeing more in those 3 days than most people would in a week (or more). And this was because of the pace of my trip that allowed me to see and do so much there (as you’ll see).

Now some spots that I’ll be talking about in this post are places I’m going to omit the details of out of respect to locals, but I can tell you that you will be able to find them if you do the research on them (this is what I had to do to find some of the amazing areas there).

North Shore Minnesota

Prelude: How my road trip to North Shore Minnesota came about.

One of the people I follow on Instagram (Everchanginghorizons) posted an image he took from this area and I was stunned by what I saw. It was a picture of one of the many beautiful places in North Shore Minnesota.

After that, I began browsing more places on Instagram for this region and was amazed by the fact that I had never heard of this area before. To me, many of the spots I saw there looked like the Oregon Coast, and even the Washington Coast.

Some places even resembled the Maine and California Coasts too. And in terms of geography, I never knew Minnesota State actually had a coast to begin with!

After learning about this, I decided to share this info with my usual road trip buddy and it just so happened, in 2021, he was moving from NYC to Minnesota. I figured such an event was an opportunity to meet up with him and explore the North Shore.

I was so excited about this trip that beforehand I even wrote a post about the 10 places to see on the Minnesota Coast. In hindsight, I ended up exploring much more (and only in 3 days).

Before I get to the specific spots, let me share a few important details about this area:

What is North Shore Minnesota?

It’s a 140+ mile coastal area of Minnesota State. The body of water you’ll find there is Lake Superior and the entire region presents many opportunities for road trips, hikes, kayaking and many more adventures to explore. It is a popular area and highly worth seeing.

It begins in Duluth City and ends in Grand Portage. Along the way between these 2 spots are many places to see and explore.

About kayaking in North Shore Minnesota (Sea cave info):

kayak north shore minnesota 02

You’ll find sea caves all throughout North Shore, but getting to them is a bit tricky. It requires that:

  • You actually rent them from a nearby location that will actually do it.
  • Find a spot to take them out onto the shore.
  • Make sure the weather conditions are such that it’s even allowed (anything windy is a no go).

There are multiple locations available on North Shore to do this (kayak rentals that is), and for us, the spots we later learned were pretty good for disembarking into the water was:

  • Black Sand Beach.
  • Tettugouche State Park (you’ll find sea caves here).
  • Areas near Palisade Head.
  • Any area where you can literally walk down to a beach (a lot of spots in North Shore are huge cliffs).

So plan ahead and of course accordingly.

About finding northern lights in North Shore Minnesota (It’s not easy):

North Shore Minnesota northern lights

If you didn’t already know, you can literally see the Northern Lights in North Shore and in terms of timing, what I heard was that it’s year round. But you have to still get lucky and for us, that didn’t happen.

What I can tell you is that certain things need to be present:

  1. The northern lights actually have to be there.
  2. The more north you travel to the end of North Shore, the better your chances.
  3. Cloudy weather will prevent that from happening.

In fact, in our case, we did have such an opportunity present itself (which we took), but clouds kept us from seeing anything and it was a bummer. Given that this was my third attempt at seeing the northern lights and failing, it was one of the few disappointments in this road trip.

The first 2 times I attempted to see the Northern Lights were:

  1. In New Foundland when I did my Eastern Canada road trip.
  2. And another in Western Canada, when I traveled across the Canadian Rockies.

About North Shore’s scenic drive (61):

North Shore Minnesota scenic drive 61

North Shore’s main coastal road which is scenic drive 61 is where you’ll find pretty much all the best spots on the coast. The drive itself rarely has any actual scenic views other than the coast, but overall, this will be the main road you take when you go there.

Seeing the fall/autumn colors in North Shore Minnesota:

My research showed that fall bloom in North Shore is somewhere in mid September through early October. Logistically, I was only able to see this area in mid September and had hoped to catch the autumn colors there.

Sadly, this was not the case. Perhaps it was a unique year, or perhaps it wasn’t, but either way, consider late September as being the best time to go here if you wish to see the fall colors.

This 3 day road trip to North Shore Minnesota was actually 10 days long:

While the actual exploration of North Shore was 3 days long, I decided to drive there and being that I live in New York City, it wasn’t going to be a quick trip either.

To reach the North Shore, I would have drive about 1,400 miles and while that would take quite a bit of time, I decided to make the best out of it, leave several days early and explore places along the way.

My buddy (the Minnesota resident) would meet me “halfway” and we would then explore North Shore for whatever days we had left, I would drop him off back home, and then drive home myself (while exploring other spots on the way).

And so, this is what ended up happening:

The 10 day road trip to and back from North Shore itinerary:

Day 1: I explored Finger Lakes as well as Letchworth State Park and stayed in Erie Pennsylvania.

Day 2: I explored Ohio (Cuyahoga Valley National Park) and made my way to Traverse City Michigan (my friend flew out from Minnesota to meet me there).

Day 3: We explored many areas of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan state such as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Day 4: We finally reached the North Shore, and explored a few places there.

Day 5: We explored most of the North Shore in Minnesota and stayed in a Casino close to the border there.

Day 6: We worked our way back to the start of North Shore (Duluth city) and stayed the night there.

Day 7: We drove back to my buddy’s place in Minnesota and explored pieces of Wisconsin State.

Day 8: Explored a bit of Minnesota’s Rochester area.

Day 9: The drive back home began and I drove for 12 hours to reach Columbus, Ohio.

Day 10: I explored Hocking Hills State Park (in Ohio), and then proceeded to drive for 8 hours back home to New York to conclude this trip.

Now 3 of those days were spent in North Shore and while I saw so much in that time, I have to also admit I saw a ton of other things throughout the other regions I crossed. I’ll be making separate articles and linking them here (or throughout my site) so you can see.

But let’s focus on the 3 specific days I spent in North North Minnesota and what I saw (It was a lot).

My 3 day road trip itinerary in North Shore Minnesota:

I’ll be covering each day and the locations I explored. I won’t include all of the pictures (there’s literally 100s), but I’ll keep it to the best ones I was able to take.

Day 1: 4 North Shore locations explored.

We reached Duluth in the afternoon hours and started exploring whatever we could before the day ran out.

1) First we checked out Two Harbors and explored the train museum there.

The town was nice, the museum was pretty cool, but for us, the nearby park and marina with the giant boat harbor was what truly shined here.

2) Then we checked out and hiked through Gooseberry Falls State Park.

North Shore Minnesota gooseberry falls state park 03

Gooseberry Falls was amazing. We did a lot of hiking, some impromptu hiking and got a lot of pictures.

3) We then explored Split Rock Lighthouse.

North Shore Minnesota split rock lighthouse 02

Split Rock Lighthouse was one of the major places I wanted to explore in North Shore and we got our chance to do it on the first day we were there! The area is beautiful to explore, and the hike to the shore is pretty easy to reach. Overall, this is a very picturesque place to explore and enjoy.

4) With 2 hours before sundown, we explored Black Beach:

North Shore Minnesota black sand beach

We were told Black Beach was a fun place to check out and while the beach itself was not too exciting (the sand was more like dark grey than anything), there was a giant hill we climbed up to the top of right by that beach. The climb itself was an incredible (and a bit dangerous) experience, but that was an awesome way to finish up the day!

We then decided to drive back south to Duluth City to stay the night at an awesome Holiday Inn Express hotel.

Day 2: 6 North Shore locations explored.

Usually every day that my buddy and I are on a road trip, we’ll wake up very early because the distance we need to cover is vast (usually 500+ miles a day if not over 1,000). But in this case, being that the North Shore is pretty small in length, we decided to take our time.

We woke up around 8, got breakfast nearby and took our time traveling.

1) Split Rock State Park (not the lighthouse):

While Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the jewels in this region, we decided to explore the park itself and there is a ton to see there. There are many waterfalls, gorges and trails to check out, which we did. A few miles of hiking was done here.

2) Palisade Head:

North Shore Minnesota palisade head

Palisade Head is a giant overlook region you can drive to the top of. In fact, I think it’s one of the highest points in all of North Shore. Up there, you not only get great views of the surrounding area as well as Lake Superior, but you also can hike a bit and see gorges, crevices in the rocks and more.

3) Tettegouche State Park (they have sea caves for kayaking):

Only 10 minutes away from Palisade Head is this awesome state park. It’s gigantic, and like Split Rock State Park, has a coastal hike, and in shore park to explore with waterfalls, trails and a lot of beautiful sights.

My buddy and I first explored the High Falls trail of this park and while he turned back to go to the car, I did a bigger 5 mile loop that day. When I returned to the parking lot, we decided to explore the shoreline of this park.

One thing to note about this park is that it has sea caves and if you can find a decent rental area (for a good price that is), there are places near there where you can take the kayak and do some shoreline exploration. For us, that particular day was a miss because it was very windy and no rental companies wanted to risk it.

We did however do the “Shovel Point” trail which was a pretty nice walk around the edge of this park on the coast.

4) Sugarloaf Cove:

This was the next spot we explored and honestly, we didn’t stay long because the views weren’t that amazing. It’s a nice spot to potentially kayak from though.

5) Secret Gorge Waterfall trail:

north shore minnesota secret waterfall hike 04

Not every area I wanted to explore in North Shore was publicly known and this particular area is an example of that. I can only say it’s between Grand Marais and Grand Portage and takes time to find, but it’s a trail that is literally in the water which you take upstream.

You’ll cross 2 waterfalls, both are small, but it’s the region they are located in that makes this all so majestic.

The first waterfall gorge is beautiful, but not quite so stunning. You have to continue walking upstream before the gorge gets tight and at the end of it lies one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen in my life.

It’s also a waterfall, but it has a cave and the views are something else folks. It’s incredible to think that the parking area that leads to this river is so simple and hardly anyone could think it would lead to such an amazing spot, but we are happy we found it (I did hours of research to get here).

This place looked like Oneonta Gorge that you can find in Columbia River Gorge. And no I will not be saying the exact location of this place out of respect to locals.

Note: You will get wet here. Wear good hiking shoes and water proof socks too. In my case:

6) Judge CR Magney State Park (Devils Kettle Falls):

North Shore Minnesota Judge CR Magney State Park devils kettle falls

I was on cloud 9 after the gorge waterfall because the payoff for finding it was massive (and the views were incredible). But we had a few hours left before sundown and decided to make the best of it.

We visited this next state park and did a 1-2 mile hike up to see Devils Kettle Falls. It’s a beautiful 2 sided waterfall which goes into a cave. We got very close to it and really enjoyed the views. Being that it was getting close to sundown, no one else was there and it was awesome to have this park to ourselves.

From there, we traveled to Grand Portage and stayed at the Casino there (that wasn’t exactly a grand experience, but we had no choice).

Day 3: 8 North Shore locations explored.

We woke up pretty early, had breakfast at the casino and swiftly left. We continued as far north as possible to reach the border (but not cross it).

1) Grand Portage State Park:

North Shore Minnesota grand portage state park waterfall

This was a cool park to start the day. There’s a river there that divides Canada and the U.S and besides that, there is a pretty beautiful trail there to a “High Falls on Pigeon River” available. It’s large and quite scenic.

However, because we had to make it all the way back down to Duluth that day, we couldn’t stay long. Plus certain limitations on where and how we could hike here made us leave pretty quickly.

2) Grand Portage National Monument:

North Shore Minnesota grand portage national monument 03

A cool little spot we found heading south on 64 (the scenic drive in North Shore). It’s an old museum of colonial houses and more. I rarely explore these things, but in this case, it was a nice area to check out. It’s right by the shore and on a good day, you can even look out into Lake Superior and see Isle Royale National Park (we didn’t see it that day).

3) A small Easter egg (Hollow Rock):

This is a natural bridge you’ll find off the North Shore, but it’s hard to spot unless you actually stop there and look. For us, we drove past it, but later realized what it is.

4) Return to the secret gorge waterfall:

I wanted to do some video filming in this area and did a quick hike through this gorge again. I rarely am so enthralled by a location that I keep coming back to it, but I don’t know when I’ll actually be able to see this place again, so why waste it? I re explored it again and it was certainly worth it!

5) Manitou River Falls (the only North Shore coastal waterfall):

One of the “secret locations” I wanted to find was this place and I literally looked through all of North Shore on a satellite map to do it. I saw tons of people posting pictures of this area and basically here is what you need to know:

It’s a waterfall that goes into Lake Superior, and the only one of it’s kind. To get there, you can either kayak (find nearby spots to do it), or you can try to ask locals if you can visit the roads nearby to hike there.

A lot of this area is private land and there were no trespassing signs all around. We couldn’t get in and it was a bummer, but I included annorth shore minnesota Cascade River State Park 02 Instagram post to it in case you ever get there.

Next time I go there, I’ll do my best to make it but not only is it the actual waterfall, but also there are sea caves to explore there too.

6) Cascade River State Park:

This was a park we missed on Day 2’s trip and decided to make up for today. It’s a beautiful park with scenic waterfalls, gorges and tons a lot to hike through and see. Highly recommended.

7) Temperance River State Park:

This was the last spot we explored before heading to Duluth. It’s a beautiful park with a nice gorge and bridge crossing it (road 64) that you can hike under. Additionally, if you go further upriver, you’ll find more waterfalls, hikes and places to check out.

For us, we had done so much hiking that by that point it was enough. We had enough of a good time seeing the gorge and coastal area here to be satisfied with what we saw.

Here is a picture from this area:

north shore minnesota Temperance River State Park 01

8) Cross River Falls:north shore minnesota cross river falls 04

This area felt like a better version of Temperance River (and it’s close by too).

It’s another bridges with huge waterfall underneath and it’s even bigger than the one in Temperate River.

There is a less official path here and it’s less known about like the others, but I am glad my buddy and I stopped here to check it out.

It was a nice way to end the day’s trip.

Overall, in a matter of 3 days, we saw nearly 20 iconic spots on Minnesota’s North Shore and explore one or more spots within those regions.

This certainly made for an eventual road trip, being that so many of these spots were so close to one another.

And it’s a trip I look forward to doing again in the future!

Finishing up our road trip to North Shore:

On our way back, we did find another area which I can’t disclose because it’s on private land, but we only saw it on the satellite map, which is basically the same image I found from that Instagram guy I told you about that originally brought me to this place.

I can’t disclose where it is (only include an Instagram post), but it is possible to kayak there.

Staying in Duluth (again):north shore minnesota duluth city 07

Duluth itself has some really nice spots worth checking out. At night though, I’d be a little more careful though, but other than that, there’s cool restaurants, pretty good food and bars to explore there.

Concluding the trip:

The next day we excited Duluth and continued home to my buddy’s place as the above itinerary showed. Overall, the 3 day trip I had in North Shore was very satisfying and frankly speaking, out of all the road trips I’ve done, this is the one where I managed to see and do pretty much most of what I had intended to (with a few extra surprises).

That itself made the trip well worth it and possibly something I’ll redo in the future.

And yes, I am fully aware that North Shore has many more spots to explore, both on the coast and further west with the many lakes there were, but given the tight schedule we were on, I think what we accomplished in 3 days was pretty extraordinary and completely satisfying to say the least.

Thanks so much for reading this road trip post on North Shore Minnesota and I hope it helps you explore this area if you decide to go there too!

8 thoughts on “My Incredible 3 Day Road Trip in North Shore Minnesota”

  1. Wow! North Shore Minnesota is a beautiful area! Especially by looking at your trips photos. I must definitely go visit there very soon. I want to see splitrock lighthouse in person and the beautiful hidden waterfalls. Love to find those hidden locations. What would you recommend a person must pack with on their trip to North Shore Minnesota?

    Reply
    • Unless you’re looking to camp out on the North Shore, you don’t really need to pack much, only for simple day hikes (water, energy bars, ect…). In our case, we just jumped from spot to spot using my car, and hiked the other areas.

      Reply
  2. Oh my goodness! Those falls are absolutely beautiful. I have never been to North Shore, so I have no experience to share. However…some of the photos do remind me of the Maine Coast. One of these days, I will need to leave the desert and visit this beautiful place in MN. It looks like a peaceful place where you can relax, but it also has a lot of nature to explore.

    Reply
    • The Maine Coast is very familiar to me Kelly and it is indeed a beautiful region to visit, particularly Acadia National Park. You will find a lot of similarities in the Minnesota Coast to Maine. 

      Reply
  3. Thank you for sharing your adventures and your love of nature with us. Your site and your energy and willingness to travel so many miles in few days are very inspirational. 

    My friend and me have a plan to visit another friend in US, Minneapolis, next spring, and would like to see some places around. You helped us to decide which one, and hope that we will have more luck than you and  will see northern lights. 

    But we worry if some places such as Grand Portage state park and Devil Kettle falls will be reachable for us, since we would like to hike, but not heavy distances. Are they easy or heavy to reach? I know that it is relative thing, depend on who hikes, but what is your opinion?

    Reply
    • Grand Portage State Park is easy to reach and the hike to the waterfall there is pretty short (1/4 mile). 

      As for Devils Kettle, the trail to get to it is about 1 mile, and pretty easy in my opinion too. 

      Most of the destinations in North Shore have similar difficulties and unless you have injuries preventing you from doing that, you should be good to go. If not, I would stick to the shoreline destinations as they require much less hiking in most of those places. Hope this helps! 

      Reply
  4. Wow! This sounds like an amazing trip and you saw so much in such a short time. I gather that you are both very fit guys and love your hiking but the pictures of that gorge were amazing and I bet it was really tranquil. What a great way to see so much and I can tell that you did a lot of research before setting out. One of the things I love to do is find these special places that even some of the locals don’t know about and sneak in for a peak.

    You really found some lovely places on your trip, the photos were wonderful.

    Reply
    • Hi Lily, I did a ton of research on this place, and it certainly helped, but I made the mistake of missing a lot of places along my trip to the Minnesota Coast. For instance, a huge chunk of area I passed was the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I had only recorded 2 places to see there before going, thinking that there wouldn’t be much. 

      But I was wrong and in hindsight, I wish I spent an extra day there to see at least 5 other spots. So while I do recommend researching spots, always be prepared to explore new areas and ask locals about what else there is to, because sometimes, impromptu locations can pop up out of nowhere and lead to some amazing adventures!

      Reply

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