Road Trip — Duluth and North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota

Road Trip -- Duluth and North Shore, Minnesota

So hopefully by now, I’ve convinced you to go to my US hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In which case: hey, fantastic! Way to go, me (and you too, I guess). I hope you’ll love it.

But why stop there? There’s plenty more to see outside the city, and I know just where you should go next: Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive, which begins in the northern port city of Duluth and ends 150 miles later, at the US-Canadian border.

We did this trip from Minneapolis to Duluth and part of the North Shore as a day trip, and it was kind of a beast. Even doing only a small piece of the drive still meant we covered more than 400 miles (640km) in a single day. If you prefer to take it easy (or you want to see the entire North Shore), I recommend splitting it up over at least 2-3 days. You’ll probably want to book accommodation ahead of time during the summer — especially around holidays like the 4th of July or Labor Day.

Lookout point over the harbor in Duluth, Minnesota

Here’s a glimpse at some of the sights to see and things to do on Minnesota’s North Shore.

Minneapolis to Duluth

From the Twin Cities, Duluth is straight shot up I-35 for about 150 miles (240 km). With a population of 86,000, it’s the fourth-largest city in Minnesota, thus ensuring you’ve never heard of it unless you’ve been there, or know someone who has. (*Waves.*)

What makes Duluth especially noteworthy is its location on the edge of Lake Superior, the largest lake in North America. Aside from Minnesota, Superior has shores in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada. Basically: it’s big. It’s so big that if you don’t know any better, it’s very easy to mistake it for the sea.

Make sure to pull off at the rest stop just before you enter the city proper; you’ll get a fantastic view of the Duluth harbor from above.

Overview of Duluth city and harbor, Minnesota

Rest stop with a view in Duluth, Minnesota

The city center of Duluth is rather compact, and looks more like the main streets of a small town. It’s full of steep hills, old-fashioned buildings, and weathered brick walls.

Downtown Duluth, a northern port city in Minnesota, USA

Sunny day in Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth, Minnesota

Just a few steps away from downtown is a charming and popular neighborhood known as Canal Park. There, you’ll find shops, restaurants, and the famous (well, for Duluth) Aerial Lift Bridge. Hang around for a bit, and you might get a chance to see the bridge raised to let in a ship.

Into maritime history? Visit the marine museum (free admission), admire the iconic black-and-white lighthouse, and check out the old anchors and naval artifacts lined up along the water.

Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota

Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth's Canal Park

Canal Park, Duluth

Anchors aweigh: a piece of maritime history in Duluth, Minnesota

North Shore Scenic Drive

After you’ve had your fill of Duluth, hop onto the North Shore Scenic Drive and make your way north. This highway winds for 150 miles (241 kilometers) along the edge of Lake Superior, and showcases some of the most beautiful landscapes and scenery in the Midwest — including rocky shorelines, clear blue waters, high jagged cliffs, and dense forests.

Forest of Gooseberry Falls State Park in northern Minnesota, USA

You might assume spring and season are the only good seasons to explore northern Minnesota (and I can’t say I blame you), but that’s not necessarily true. Autumn might actually be more stunning, as the trees turn vivid hues of gold and crimson; and if you’re up for cross-country skiing, frozen waterfalls, or snowy hiking, it’s even worth visiting in the winter. (Of course, make sure to bundle up and check weather conditions regularly — Minnesota isn’t exactly known for its temperate winter climate.)

Gooseberry Falls State Park

About 40 miles (64 km) from Duluth, you’ll arrive at Gooseberry Falls State Park, one of Minnesota’s 67 state parks and recreation centers. The park’s eponymous waterfalls are broken up into Upper, Middle, and Lower sections and surrounded by forest.

Goosberry Falls State Park, Minnesota

Gooseberry Falls State Park in northern Minnesota, USA

In addition to the falls, Gooseberry offers (or is a part of) some great walking paths, including the Superior Hiking Trail. It’s also home to a range of iconic Northern Minnesotan wildlife — from bears and wolves to heaps of different birds and fish. Stop by the visitor center to find out more about the animals, and learn how the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed the campgrounds and hiking trails back in the 1930s.

Exploring Gooseberry Falls State Park in northern Minnesota

Split Rock Lighthouse

Just a few more miles up the road from Gooseberry Falls, you’ll come to Split Rock Lighthouse and State Park.

Here, you’ve got a couple of options. You can enter the historic site and tour the lighthouse up close and personal; alternatively, you can take a short walk to the lakeshore, and see it perched atop a rugged cliff in the distance. If you ask me, a lighthouse is the kind of thing that should be seen from afar.

Split Rock Lighthouse -- North Shore, Minnesota

By the time we got to Split Rock, it was early evening, and the sun was just dipping below the tops of the trees. No one else was around; the world was covered in golden light; and the only noises we could hear were the small waves splashing against the rocks and a few birds chirping in the forest.

It was the picture of serenity — and the perfect way to finish our day.

North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota

Looking out across Lake Superior, the largest lake in North America

Split Rock Lighthouse -- North Shore, Minnesota

Going Farther on the North Shore

Since we wanted to make it back to the Twin Cities that evening, we turned around after Split Rock; but the fun hardly stops there. The North Shore Scenic Drive goes on for an additional 100 miles, all the way up to the Canadian border, and there’s plenty more to see along the way. (See North Shore Visitor’s mile-by-mile breakdown for more ideas.)

However, no matter what happens, you shouldn’t let anyone pressure you into going to Wisconsin. Just Say No.

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Beginning in the charming port city of Duluth and ending at the US-Canada border, Minnesota's North Shore is home to some of the best scenery in the Midwest USA. Click through for a Minnesotan's suggestions for a road trip, including Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock lighthouse. | #Minnesota

The North Shore Scenic Drive makes a great road trip from Minneapolis or St. Paul, whether for a day, a weekend, or even longer. Check out these suggestions for things to see and do in Duluth, Gooseberry Falls, and more. | #Minnesota #USA

Beginning in the charming port city of Duluth and ending at the US-Canada border, Minnesota's North Shore is home to some of the best scenery in the Midwest USA. Click through for a Minnesotan's suggestions for a road trip, including Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock lighthouse. | #Minnesota

Beginning in the charming port city of Duluth and ending at the US-Canada border, Minnesota's North Shore is home to some of the best scenery in the Midwest USA. Click through for a Minnesotan's suggestions for a road trip, including Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock lighthouse. | #Minnesota

Beginning in the charming port city of Duluth and ending at the US-Canada border, Minnesota's North Shore is home to some of the best scenery in the Midwest USA. Click through for a Minnesotan's suggestions for a road trip, including Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock lighthouse. | #Minnesota