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Where is the MN North Shore?
The North Shore and the state parks located along the shore of Lake Superior is truly a special place in Minnesota. The North Shore of Minnesota is located from the town of Duluth all the way along the shore line of Lake Superior to near Grand Portage State Park and Canada.
Lake Superior is the most northernmost of all of the Great Lakes of North America. It is a large massive body of freshwater. Because of its size, Lake Superior borders Canada as well as three states in the United States (Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin). As you look out upon the lake it has the appearance of an ocean as you can’t see the other side of the lake. It’s truly a special place in Minnesota.
Planning your visits to North Shore State Parks
When spending time in state parks on the North Shore and all over the state of Minnesota be prepared by having a state parks pass or vehicle permit upon arrival. Purchasing a year round pass you pay one fee and can visit any of the 75 state parks across the state an unlimited amount of times. You can purchase your pass in advance online, from a station at one of the state parks or via the self service kiosks within most parks. If you plan on visiting at least 5 state parks throughout the year, the yearly pass is definitely worth it for you. even if you’re just visiting all of the state parks along the North Shore it would be a good idea!
Places to Stay along the North Shore
Many people stay in Duluth, MN and use it as a base for North Shore State Park day adventures. However, keep in mind that you will be doing more driving depending on how many state parks you want to visit and what your specific plans are. For example, Duluth to Grand Portage State Park is 150 miles so around 2 hours 45 min drive one way.
Located just 27 miles north of Duluth is the town of Two Harbors. So by driving 30 mins along the shore of Lake Superior will bring you to Two Harbors.
55 miles north of Duluth is the town of Silver Bay. Silver Bay or Tofte are good “mid way” up the North Shore locations to stay. Silvery Bay is very close to Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse & Tettegouche if those state parks are slotted into your Minnesota North Shore adventures.
In my opinion, Lutsen is the very best location in the whole state of Minnesota for skiing and snowboarding. Lutsen is located about 93 miles from Duluth along the shoreline of Lake Superior. (While on some of the ski hills, you have an awesome vantage point out over Lake Superior.) They have a number of places to stay and activities year round beyond just winter sports.
If I had to pick my favorite place to stay along the North Shore, it would definitely be Grand Marais. At over 100 miles from Duluth, making the trek from the Twin Cities is a bit of a drive but so worth it! Its definitely easier to make it up to the northern state parks along the North Shore while also making your way back toward Duluth.
Minnesota State Parks on the North Shore
These state parks are listed from south of Duluth to all the way to the tip of Minnesota (near the Canadian border.)
Jay Cooke State Park
Jay Cooke State Park is located 10 miles southwest of Duluth, MN in Carlton, MN. One of the main attractions here is the iconic swinging bridge crossing over the St. Louis River. There are over 50 miles of hiking trails and spring or fall are fantastic times to visit! There are a lot of beautiful scenic views along many of the trails.
Typically, visiting Jay Cooke is either the first or last state park along the North Shore that you should spend time at. After hiking or exploring, nearby a seasonal favorite to eat at is Gordy’s Hi Hat in Cloquet, MN. A seasonal classic drive through specializing in shakes and burgers. It was even featured on the TV show Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives!
Gooseberry Falls State Park
True to its namesake, Gooseberry falls has beautiful hiking trails with waterfalls as well as scenic views of Lake Superior. The proximity of this state park to the city of Duluth while having gorgeous waterfalls and trails that are very family friendly make this one of the most popular state parks along the North Shore of Minnesota.
Fall and spring are really popular times to visit Gooseberry falls. In the spring, with the snow melting and the falls rushing with water. Then again in the fall when the tree foilage is gorgeous and changing colors. Be sure to plan ahead well in advance for these seasons as they tend to get really busy and acommodations book out way in advance.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Split Rock Lighthouse is likely one of the most photographed spots along the North Shore Lake Superior shoreline. The rugged rocky cliffs with the light house standing out amongst the nearby cliffs with trees and overlooks.
One bit of advice: If you want the iconic picture of Lake Superior with the backdrop being the lighthouse, do not actually navigate to Split Rock Lighthouse. Enter the park, but take a right toward the campground located there. Park your vehicle at the trail center. Then go left past the building to Little Two Harbors Trail. Continue walking (it’s a short distance) and you will have the best view of the lighthouse off in the distance.
Tettegouche State Park
Tettegouche State Park is one of my favorites in the whole state of Minnesota. It combines so many great things: the view of Lake Superior, great hiking trails & waterfalls. Like most of the North Shore, if you’re waterfall chasing spring is ideal but nothing can beat the fall when the leaves are changing and the air is starting to get crisp.
If you’re a waterfall lover (or chaser), Gooseberry Falls & Tettegouche are must stops for you!
Temperance River State Park
This state park isn’t open year round, but it has some of the best views of Lake Superior. You can reserve camping in advance and even some same day reservations can be available if they’re not already at capacity. Temperance River State Park is a great location to take in gorgeous lake and river views while exploring the North Shore of Minnesota.
Cascade River State Park
Another great Minnesota state park along the North Shore! The location is rocky and rough where the Cascade river meets with Lake Superior. You can hike through birch and spruce wooded areas to explore the falls.
Judge C.R. Magney State Park
Judge C.R. Magney is most known for the waterfall located within the park known as “The Devil’s Kettle“. The hike isn’t particularly long in terms of miles but there is about a 400ft. elevation gain so it’s a somewhat moderate hike. The stairs along the hike can be steep at times. Definitely worth it to witness the unique waterfall!
Grand Portage State Park
Grand Portage State Park is located right before the Canadian border within Minnesota. Their claim to fame is the highest waterfall in the whole state. The best part is that it’s an easily accessible one mile hike/walk along a paved trail to the waterfall making it an easy and fun spot to visit with the whole family.
In the 17th century, Grand Portage played a large part in the fur trade. It was there where many people started a journey along the fur trade route.