The red-framed windows tucked into weathered wood siding only hinted at what lay inside Naniboujou Lodge on Minnesota’s North Shore. I creaked open the screen doors to enter the 1927 dining room. Vibrantly colored Cree designs exploded across the room, arcing from floor to ceiling.
“People walk in and are kind of stunned,” said Tyler Dean, Naniboujou’s manager. “You don’t see many places like this in the world.”
I inwardly kicked myself for taking almost five decades to see this wonder along Lake Superior and the Brule River, northeast of Grand Marais.
As unique as it is, the resort — built to lure wealthy members until the Great Depression quashed the plan — is only one of many singular delights along Superior-hugging Hwy. 61. The entire 142-mile stretch of the iconic roadway known as the North Shore Scenic Drive is full of places to tempt drivers to cut their engines. Which are worth the stop?
From a cheery candy shop, to a top-notch hike and a Superior sail on a wooden schooner, here is a list of must-experience North Shore favorites, listed by miles from Duluth’s Canal Park, where the drive begins, heading northeast out of town — and into summer bliss.
Mile 20 (on Old Hwy. 61): Savor treats in Knife River
Great Lakes Candy Kitchen in the tiny town of Knife River lures customers with its red-trimmed cottage and temptations ranging from hand-dipped ice cream bars and housemade gooey, nutty caramel turtles to buttery brittle and air crunch candy. Photos of the owners’ family, which started Canelake’s Candies in Virginia, Minn., more than a century ago, add to its sweet charm (greatlakescandy.com).
A Knife River must: Sampling sugar-cured smoked salmon, trout and Lake Superior whitefish from Russ Kendall’s Smoke House, which has perfected the tradition through four generations (RussKendalls on Facebook).
Mile 27: Check out Two Harbors’ history
Two Harbors’ Agate Bay waterfront offers more than a pretty stroll along Lake Superior; it also highlights the history — and present-day embodiment — of the North Shore’s shipping, railroad and mining industries. Visitors walk along the breakwater wall, watch 1,000-foot-long “lakers” load at the ore docks and pose by hulking locomotives and ore railcars. They belong to the Depot Museum, in the 1907 building that was once the headquarters of the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad. The 1892 Two Harbors Light Station, Minnesota’s oldest operating lighthouse, tells tales of keeping ships safe with tours of a pilot house, light tower and fog signal building. (Find information on both the museum and the light station at lakecountyhistoricalsociety.org.)
Even cooler: Watch the sun or moon rise above Lake Superior while staying at the Historic Lighthouse B&B. Three rooms with quilt-covered queen beds are tucked into redbrick Keeper’s Quarters with an additional Skiff House room. Proceeds help fund restorations of this Two Harbors landmark (lighthousebb.org).
Mile 51: Listen to pink rocks chatter
Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area tinkles with a distinctive symphony of nature. Lake Superior tumbles pink rhyolite from the nearby cliffs into flattened shingle-like rocks that make a distinctive clinking and clattering as waves wash over them and then recede. Park at the Twin Points public boat access, next to this rosy beach (tinyurl.com/y7f95ldt).
Mile 58: Top a cliff, watch climbers
For toe-tingling views — of Lake Superior and daring climbers — head to Tettegouche State Park’s steep cliffs at Shovel Point, or find equally heady views from Palisade Head (use extreme caution at both). These coveted climbing locations could send your heart racing — or your body rappelling and bouldering (tinyurl.com/y7zshsv2).
Mile 56: Mingle at a marina
Marinas and safe harbors for boaters and paddlers dot the North Shore, but they can serve road-trippers, too. The Silver Bay Marina offers a nice perch — along the breakwater that stretches toward Pellet Island — for spying scuba divers investigating the Hesper. That ill-fated vessel sunk in 1905 amid a springtime snowstorm. Another reason to stop: finding a charter boat for Lake Superior fishing and bringing home dinner (silverbay-marina.com).
Mile 56: Discover Black Beach
This eerie, one-of-a-kind black-sand beach first opened to the public in 2015. The picturesque shoreline lies just past Cliffs Natural Resources taconite processing at Silver Bay and near the AmericInn (look for the sign to Black Beach). The access road ambles past three beaches. The final one offers the best surprise: Orange sunburst lichens carpet a rocky outcrop that towers above the blue lake. Fine black sand stretches along the shoreline on either side of that outcropping. Sandy beaches along Minnesota’s section of Superior can be rare, so families flock here to sunbathe, wade into the water, settle at picnic tables or take on the challenge of climbing the rock for one-of-kind views (tinyurl.com/ya5gkk6m).
Mile 73: Explore a reclaimed cove
At Sugarloaf Cove Natural and Scientific Area south of Schroeder, interpretive trails wind through the restored former paper company site to point out remnant boom logs, ancient lava flows and one of the shore’s best collections of colorful cobblestones in a cove encircled by a tombolo and Sugarloaf Point (sugarloafnorthshore.org).
Mile 83: Pick up a paddle
Kayaking offers a way to appreciate not only Lake Superior’s clear waters and giant rocks but a new perspective on coastal scenery when seen from the water. Many outfitters and resorts offer guided paddles. I headed out onto Superior with an expert guide at Bluefin Bay (bluefinbay.com).
Mile 88: Loop around Oberg
Oberg Mountain trail, at roughly the midway point of the North Shore Scenic Drive, is the perfectly placed leg-stretcher. More reasons it’s a winner: The 2.6-mile loop brings hikers deep into the woods without wearing them out, and offers a stellar view of Oberg Lake. Reach the trailhead by turning off Hwy. 61 at Forest Road 336 (Onion River Road) and going 2.2 miles to a parking lot on the left side of road (tinyurl.com/ycbcuzhv).
Mile 92: Take a gondola to lunch
Good luck paying attention to your food when dining at Summit Chalet on Moose Mountain, a casual eatery with 100-mile views of the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior. Half the fun is getting there via Lutsen Mountains’ new gondola. Board at Lutsen’s base area, dip into the valley above the rumbling Poplar River and rise to reach the 1,000-foot summit. Enjoy a burger or walleye sandwich, share poutine or cool off with ice cream and cold drinks (lutsen.com).
Mile 110: Find DIY inspiration
Stop by Grand Marais’ newly expanded North House Folk School, where the gift shop is full of inspirational DIY books with Northern themes. On Saturdays, the school offers campus tours through buildings humming with the sound of hammers, clack of looms or clang of a forge. Classes in basketry, baking, outdoor skills and more run throughout the year. Visitors also can join festivals, such as the Wooden Boat Show and Summer Solstice Festival (June 22-24) or book a Lake Superior sail on the Hjordis, a 50-foot traditional schooner (northhouse.org).
Mile 125: Naniboujou Lodge
Everyone should see the eye-popping dining room here. It stopped me in my tracks, but not for long. Its vast lawn led me to a rocky beach, perfect for skipping stones. The Great Depression conspired to close Naniboujou for a while, but it eventually reopened to the public with a timeless vibe much like America’s cherished national park lodges; simple rooms; isolation from cell towers and TVs; a scenic and tranquil setting; and an ability to awe with artistry and architecture. Plus, the dining room is open to everyone, not just overnight guests (naniboujou.com).
Mile 145: Appreciate the portage
Near the Canadian border, the state’s highest waterfall, 120-foot High Falls, spills throughout the summer at Grand Portage State Park (tinyurl.com/y7nllwed). Even before you reach the park, though, Grand Portage National Monument delves into the area’s once-thriving fur trade, when European voyageurs and Native American people lived side-by-side. Entrance to the monument is free, including the interactive visitor center and replicated 1700s fort. Do not skip the short film at the visitor center; it’s an informative, intriguing gem (nps.gov/grpo).
That story of mingling cultures can be continued across the border at Thunder Bay, Ontario’s Fort William Historic Park (one of Canada’s top 10 attractions) with a side trip to the 131-foot Kakabeka Falls. Each offers a strong argument to drive the entire North Shore Scenic Drive — with stops along the way.
St. Cloud-based travel writer Lisa Meyers McClintick (lisamcclintick.com) wrote “Day Trips From the Twin Cities” and “The Dakotas Off the Beaten Path.”