Wilderness Adventure

North Shore Scenic Drive

Minnesota’s Highway 61, also known as North Shore Scenic Drive, is a picturesque 150-mile roadway from Duluth to Grand Portage that winds alongside Lake Superior and is a destination unto itself. Here are a few must-visit stops along the way.

• Breweries in Duluth, including Fitger’s Brewhouse, Bent Paddle Brewing Co. and Canal Park Brewing Company.

• Eight state parks, including Gooseberry Falls State Park, George Crosby Manitou State Park and Cascade River State Park.

• Two Harbors Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse in the state.

• Entry to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Grand Marais.

• Grand Portage National Monument, a living history center where you can learn about the area’s Ojibwe Indians.

For more information, visit Superior Scenic Byways (superiorbyways.com), and view an interactive map at North Shore Visitor’s website (northshorevisitor.com).


Wilderness Adventure

by Felicia Schneiderhan
On the desolate northern shore of Lake Superior, Silver Bay, Minnesota, welcomes the outdoor explorer with epic activities and amenities in this naturalist’s dreamscape.
Along the rugged, desolate northern shoreline of Lake Superior, Silver Bay opens its burly arms to wilderness boaters. This historic Minnesota town offers easy access to the upper Midwest’s most breathtaking state parks and public lands, excellent fishing and wildlife viewing, up-close tours of icons like Split Rock Lighthouse, and new attractions like paved biking trails and an outdoor adventure park. A naturalist’s dreamscape, Silver Bay is an ideal jumping off point for outdoor enthusiasts who come by water.   

When seen from a boat, the incredible geologic shoreline around Silver Bay takes precedence. Lake Superior’s North Shore is a mosaic of rock cliffs, promontories and pebble beaches created by the last glacier melting into the big lake. The bedrock coastline, formed from deep basalt lava that erupted more than a billion years ago, is continually sculpted by water, wind and weather. 

A new era 

The Cree, Dakotah and Ojibwe native people have all lived along the North Shore. More recently, Silver Bay has been tied to the processing and shipping of taconite (low-grade iron ore) that arrived by train from Minnesota’s Iron Range. Officially founded in 1954, Silver Bay began as a town to house the thousands of workers who came to work at the local taconite processing plant. The taconite was refined and baked, creating easily transported taconite pellets. As taconite production expanded in the 1960s, so did the town. During this time, Silver Bay became more widely known when it was revealed that the Reserve Corporation was pouring taconite tailings into the lake. In 1972, the company was ordered to stop production and charged with violating the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, which prohibits dumping harmful material into interstate waters. The five-year trial ended in 1977, and the Reserve provided $370 million to reduce its air and water pollution.

Today, the city is establishing a new reputation for its environmental stewardship. The Minnesota DNR and the U.S. Corps of Engineers completed construction of the Silver Bay Marina and harbor of refuge (the first refuge on Lake Superior’s North Shore) 20 years ago, and in 2016 it was designated a Minnesota Clean Marina. The marina is owned by the Minnesota DNR and managed by the city. No matter the size of your vessel, you’ll have no trouble in this expansive marina of 110 slips, which accommodates boats up to 100 feet and offers depths at least 8 feet. In addition to a yacht club and playground, the marina offers an oasis of amenities, including freshwater, electricity, sewer pump-out, gas and diesel, and full private restrooms with showers and laundry. 

A reef at the southwest edge of the marina marks the resting place of the Hesper, a wooden-hulled steamship that sank in 1905. Built in the early 1890s, the double-decker bulk freighter measured 250 feet long and could carry 2,700 tons. In a late spring snowstorm, a 60 mph nor’easter pushed it off course and onto the reef. It was then lifted over the reef by an enormous wave, endured a heck of a beating, broke apart and sank. The captain and 15-person crew remained onboard until the very end, launching two lifeboats minutes before the ship was destroyed. The Hesper lies in about 40 feet of water, popular among divers, and its artifacts are displayed in the lobby of the marina building.

Mother nature 

Taconite still influences the shoreline, as evidenced by Silver Bay’s mythical Black Beach. The soft, black sand at this secluded beach was created by the taconite pilings. Popular among locals, it can be an ideal swimming spot — if you can stand the frigid water! A steep rock structure at the southern end of the beach is known for its stunning views, though climbing up and down can be a little tricky. Visitors were not allowed on the beach until 2015 when the city and state began leasing the land and opened it to the public.

Fishing enthusiasts will happily note a number of charter boats depart from the marina for half- and full-day fishing excursions, in search of big lake salmon and trout. The annual Lake Superior Salmon Classic fishing tournament is held every July. 

Inland, you’ll find all kinds of wildlife to watch, from white-tailed deer, beaver and snowshoe hare to river otter, moose and black bear. Fishers and pine marten lurk beneath northern flying squirrels. You might hear timber wolves at night, and if you’re in the right place at the right time, you could even catch a glimpse of one of these majestic creatures.

This area of Minnesota offers some of the best rare bird watching territories in the country. The diverse habitat, geography and access to the big lake produce ideal conditions for the 140 identified species of birds. Birders can spot kinglets, spruce grouse and northern warblers in the summer, as well as the magnificent hawk migration in September and October.

Less than a 10-minute drive up the shore, Tettegouche State Park presents more noteworthy wildlife and bird watching. The largest Minnesota state park, Tettegouche protects 10,000 acres of mountain-like terrain, inland lakes, rivers, waterfalls, a mile of Lake Superior shoreline and a pristine northern hardwood forest. The park is heaven for hiking enthusiasts, with miles of trails that lead to waterfalls, cascades, high peaks overlooking the Sawtooth Mountains and shoreline cliffs surveying the big lake. 

Baptism River trails wind among waterfalls and cascades, leading to the 60-foot High Falls. Lakeside cliff trails to the end of Shovel Point provide spectacular views of the lake. It’s also an ideal place for experienced rock climbers who want a breathtaking chance to climb over the lake. A drive to the top of Palisade Head gives spectators a jaw-dropping view of the lake. Some of the most dramatic illustrations of the ancient lava flows are found at Shovel Point and Palisade Head, where you’ll find a lighter volcanic rock called rhyolite, contrasting the dark basalt of most of the shoreline. 

Heading back down Highway 61 (see sidebar), one of Lake Superior’s icons, Split Rock Lighthouse, is located about a 10-minute drive south of Silver Bay. The lighthouse was built after a 1905 November gale wrecked almost 30 ships. It became an instant celebrity as one of the state’s most-loved destinations — often photographed from a roadside stop just to the south. The comprehensive Visitor Center is full of historical and cultural education. You can tour the lighthouse, the keeper’s house, the oil house, the fog signal building, and mingle with the staff dressed in period costume who perform tasks of the early 20th century.

A little farther south along the shore, you’ll come to another brilliant example of Minnesota public land: Gooseberry Falls State Park. Revered for its waterfalls, river gorges and wildlife, this natural paradise also offers up-close views of dramatic geological history, with ancient lava flows of dark basalt. Rock hunters might get lucky finding agates, as these basalt lava flows created the semi-precious stones. 

The Gooseberry River appeared on European explorers’ maps as early as 1670. Two hundred years later, the area supported sport and commercial fishermen, and in the 1890s, logging became a primary industry. Tourism rose in the 1920s, and when people worried that the area would only be accessible to the wealthy, the state legislature protected the area as public land. Arriving in 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked to cultivate the park, staying in camps until 1941. They built stone and log buildings, the 300-foot-long castle-like retaining wall, and designed the campground, picnic areas and extensive trail system. Their historic and cultural influence remains strong in the park today.

Get active  

From Gooseberry, biking enthusiasts can pedal back to Silver Bay via the newly-built 17-mile segment of the paved Gitchi-Gami State Trail. The entire trail, when completed, will extend along Lake Superior’s North Shore all the way from Two Harbors to Grand Marais. This paved, non-motorized trail is open to the public and is helping spread the word about the first-class bicycling opportunities in this area, including wide shoulders on Highway 61 and the paved back-country roads. Touring cyclists will note that the Minnesota Department of Transportation recently established the state’s second United State Bicycle Route; the “North Star Route” follows trails and roads from the state capital all the way through Silver Bay and up to the Canadian border. 

The area is also gaining notoriety among gravel cyclists, due in large part to the grassroots race series “Heck of the North.” This autumn race series follows routes of 20, 55 or 100 miles of gravel cycling. It has inspired “Le Grand du Nord,” a gravel cycling classic of 20-, 54- or 110-mile routes in May, and the “Heck Epic,” which takes gravel cyclists on a strenuous two-day, 225-mile route in July.

With the wealth of wilderness in this area, it’s no surprise that one of the leading environmental learning centers in the nation — Wolf Ridge — is located about a half-hour drive from Silver Bay. The Center provides one of the top graduate-level naturalist training programs in the world. They also offer camps and wilderness programs for younger students and serve more than 15,000 school-age children, teachers and chaperones during the academic year. Wolf Ridge summer camps, family programs and wilderness trips attract thousands more for the extensive outdoor experiences. Drop-in visitors are welcome, too. Stop by the front office to learn about events, trails, organic farm and other programs.

If you’re up for more hiking, the Superior Hiking Trail winds its way for more than 300 miles along the North Shore. Silver Bay provides access points to the trail, which is maintained by more than 5,000 volunteers. Day hikers and backpackers hike sections of the trail — or all of the trail over time — through the Superior National Forest, along the shoreline, over the Sawtooth Mountains, through city parks and towns (and sometimes folks’ backyards). It can feel like a pilgrimage to set foot on this epic trail. 


When you’re ready to give your knees a rest, a 40-minute drive up the shore to the renowned Lutsen Resort will give you the views without all the effort. Known primarily as an outstanding winter ski resort, Lutsen’s warm weather activities are not to be missed. The Summit Express Gondola gives an aerial view of the big lake and the Sawtooth Mountains (and maybe even a moose or a timber wolf), as it ascends to the top of Moose Mountain, 1,000 feet above Lake Superior. At the summit chalet, you can lounge and enjoy a picnic, find another hiking trail (of course), or eat lunch at the Summit Chalet restaurant. If you’re up for a different kind of adventure, you can try the Alpine Slide; a chair lift takes you to the Eagle Mountain summit, and from there you ride your own sled at your own pace for a half-mile twisting route to the bottom. If staying on the level is more your speed, the Voyageur Canoe Tour lets you paddle your way to the Poplar River headwaters in a 10-person Voyageur canoe as the early fur traders did.  

If non-motorized boats call to you, you’ll definitely want to head back to Silver Bay to explore the Lake Superior Water Trail, popular with canoeists and kayakers, offering a whole other view of the towering, rocky shoreline. 

Finally, in a landscape that celebrates wilderness in so many ways, one of the newest attractions is the Adventure Park of the North Shore, which opened in May this year. Designed by Swiss alpine mountaineers, these eco-friendly courses honor our natural world while giving you the thrill of swinging, climbing and jumping between platforms high in the trees (in a harness, of course). At night, climbers traverse the ropes by moonlight and stringed lights. The park offers courses for all skill levels, which means if you’re bursting to get out of your comfort zone, this is the place to try it.

At the end of the day, return to the peace and solitude of the Silver Bay Marina for a good night’s sleep — you’ll need it for the next day of wilderness adventure.  

South Shore JUN17
South Shore JUN17