THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN GRAND MARAIS, MINNESOTA

River and blue skies with green and light fall foilage near Grand Marais MN

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Where is Grand Marais?

Grand Marais is located on the North Shore of Lake Superior in the Northern part of Minnesota in Cook County. It’s truly gorgeous year round! Right on Lake Superior this harbor town is remote enough to enjoy some solitude while close enough to Duluth, MN at the same time. The sunsets out over Lake Superior can’t be beat!

Grand Marais is a perfect retreat for those who love to hike and just soak in some gorgeous views and solitude while being surrounded by so much natural beauty. The lakes, hiking trails and views are abundant!

The sunset out over Lake Superior in Grand Marais, MN featuring the lighthouse in the distance
Lake Superior & the light house in Grand Marais during sunset in September

How to get there

Depending on where you’re coming from you will need a car. Driving is usually the best bet as there isn’t public transportation in this part of the state. Even if you decide to fly into Duluth airport, you will need a car to drive up the North Shore to Grand Marais.

Grand Marais MN is a little over a 4 hour drive (if there isn’t traffic) from Minneapolis and about 4 and a half hours from MSP (Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport). If you’re flying into MSP, definitely spend some time in the metro area grabbing some juicy lucy burgers and some great craft beer.

Where to stay

There are many different places in Grand Marais to stay. From roughing it and camping or renting a cabin to comfortable and relaxing resorts, there is a place to stay for any type of experience and budget.

The BEST Things to do in Grand Marais, MN

The best thing to do in Grand Marais, MN is enjoy the scenery. Spending time outdoors in Grand Marais is, in my opinion, the best way to spend your time here. Whether you get out and hike, curl up with a good book while looking out at the lake getting in some much needed R&R, Grand Marais MN is a great place to do all of these things. You can’t forget, enjoying the local food and drink because that’s half of the fun in traveling and exploring.

Hiking

The Superior Hiking Trail can be used as a day hike by breaking up many routes along the trail or a full overnight backpacking trip spanning many days. The Superior Hiking trail is over 300 miles so hiking the whole trail requires significant planning and endurance. There are several sections of the trail from Lutsen to Grand Marais or Grand Marais to they 270 degree overlook. Some of the hiking along the SHT goes through state parks along the North Shore.

Pincushion Mountain Overlook is an easy trail with little elevation but a large reward! You can visit by hiking or driving along the Gunflint Trail. This is the perfect trail to view gorgeous fall colors along.

There are an abundance of state parks nearby with many trails for hiking. You will need more than one trip here to explore them all.

State Parks Nearby

There are many State Parks along the north shore, but the ones closest to Grand Marais are listed below.

Judge C.R. Magney State Park

Within this state park, is a waterfall that is quite the phenomenon. Coined “The Devils Kettle” you have to checkout the unique waterfall while in Grand Marais, MN. The trail is a few miles long and boasts views of the river and forest so it’s definitely worth the effort.

Cascade River State Park

Even if you don’t have a lot of time to visit, you can fit Cascade River State Park into your plans of what to do while you’re in Grand Marais, MN! the cascades that include five small waterfalls on the lower loop is only a half mile hike. Add onto that, Lake Superior’s Shoreline Trail than spans a mile near the lake.

Camping

Grand Marais Recreation Area is a full service RV & tent campground located right on Lake Superior next to the harbor.

If you’re looking for a more remote experience, you can hike in the Superior National Forest and camp at East Bearskin Lake which is on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). There are a lot of different camping opportunities that are available in the Superior National Forest close to Grand Marais but in nearby towns.

For a comprehensive list of campgrounds on the North Shore of Lake Superior check out the details here.

Eating & Drinking

Of course, eating and drinking has to be on the what to do list for Grand Marais, MN! Eating and drinking is a lot of the fun of getting away from home and your ordinary routine.

Start your day by enjoying some donuts from World’s Best Donuts. While it’s not normally my go to, definitely get the cake donuts as this is their specialty! My favorites were the cinnamon sugar & coconut cake donuts. There will be a line, so be sure to get there early.

To fuel the rest of your adventures, caffeine is needed so head to the Java Moose! The best local coffee shop offering standard coffee drinks as well as fun specialty lattes. The last time I was there I had a maple almond milk latte. It was so tasty!

Latte from java moose in grand marais mn in the car

Post hike or relaxing day on the lake/water make your way to Voyageur Brewing Company for happy hour! Their expansive patio is dog friendly and they also serve food. What’s better than capping a great day on the North Shore in Grand Marais by having a pint and admiring the view out over Lake Superior?

glass of beer on the patio looking out over the sunset on Lake Superior
Voyageur Brewing company at sunset

Another great place to grab a bite to eat when exploring Grand Marais is My Sister’s Place. Offering many different burgers as well as other American fare you’re sure to satisfy a hungry appetite. Be sure to try some Minnesota local specialties including dishes with wild rice in them.

Exploring

Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA)

The Boundary Waters is a vast wilderness area in northern Minnesota where wildlife is abundant and many people seek solitude. There are several entry areas via permit into this remote solitude and a lot of regulations surrounding motors on boats in this area. Outfitters in the area can help plan your trip into this area. Grand Marais is a great place to enjoy a day or two before or after your BWCA adventure.

Isle Royal National Park

Isle Royale is an island located in Lake Superior. One of the ways to get to this island (there are three ways) is from Grand Marais, MN via seaplane. You also can get there via ferry from Grand Portage, MN as well as from Michigan. Technically Isle Royale National Park is part of Michigan. It is extremely remote and there aren’t vehicles on the island at all. You can only visit seasonally so be sure to check opening dates.

Artists Point

Located in the downtown area of Grand Marais, Artist’s Point is an enjoyable walk out near Lake Superior. The point gets its name due to the fact that it’s a really scenic location, you will find many artists sketching or painting the beautiful scenery from Artists Point.

Gunflint Trail

The Gunflint Trail is something fun to do for the whole family in Grand Marais. It’s a scenic byway spanning 57 miles where you can drive up to Pincushion Mountain to the overlook to see the gorgeous views of Grand Marais and Lake Superior. There are several stops along the trail, however it’s definitely a gorgeous drive year round. You can plan to stop and shop, Poplar Lake and Gunflint Lake toward the end of the trail.

More MN North Shore Travel Information:

State Parks on Minnesota’s North Shore

What to do in Duluth, MN

Craft Beer in Duluth, MN

State of Minnesota Travel Guide

Published by WanderLust in Real Life

I'm a 30 something living in the Midwest of the United States that loves every aspect of travel. Researching, planning, & of course actually going on adventures whether near or far.

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