So hopefully by now, I’ve convinced you to go to Minneapolis. 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 in Minnesota, and I know just where you should go next.
Note: For one day, this road trip is kind of a beast. If you’re on a time crunch or just like going quickly, starting from and returning to Minneapolis/St. Paul is definitely doable as a day trip. If you want a more relaxed kind of experience, I recommend breaking it up and staying the night (or several) somewhere along the way. In the summer, you’ll probably want to book in advance — especially around holidays like the 4th of July or Labor Day.
From Minneapolis or St. Paul, Duluth is a straight shot up I-35 for 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. 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 harbor from above.
The city center itself is rather compact, more like the main streets of a small town. It’s full of steep hills, old-fashioned buildings, and weathered brick walls.
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.
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.
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.
In addition to the falls, Gooseberry is home to some great walking paths and 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.
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.
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.
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 US-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.