Duluth to Grand Portage: 10 Icons of Minnesota’s North Shore

Highway 61, one of Minnesota’s most storied and classic byways, spans the length of the state from north to south along the eastern border. And the northern leg of the thoroughfare, a 150-mile stretch from Duluth up to Grand Portage, follows the rocky, rugged cliffs that hug Lake Superior. There is a lot of history and beauty along this jaunt, and here are ten of the most iconic sites present today.

DSC_007310. Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth – Most likely Duluth’s most notable landmark, the Aerial Lift Bridge has stood in the harbor since 1905, raising up and down daily to let tall ships, freighters, ferries, and other large vessels through. Originally designed as a transporter bridge with a gondola, the bridge was remodeled in 1929 to a lifting structure. The bridge is a popular tourist attraction in Canal Park and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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9. Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel – The 1,344-foot tunnel through Silver Creek Cliff was completed as recently as 1994. The tunnel allows vehicles on Highway 61 to pass through the mountain as opposed to formerly following a narrow, treacherous 2-lane road around the edge, which was the primary route since the 1920’s. Prior to that, the road detoured several miles inland. Construction took three years of dynamite blasting to remove 500,000 cubic yards of rock.

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8. Gooseberry Falls – This staple of the North Shore  is the most visited Minnesota State Park with over half a million annual visitors each year.  A multiple-level falls formation thunders through a beautiful river gorge and flows out to Lake Superior in a truly amazing setting. It’s impossible to go to the North Shore and not stop and take in this site. And it’s especially beautiful in winter (above).

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7. Split Rock Lighthouse – Emblematic of the coastal-like beauty of the rugged shores of Lake Superior, the Split Rock Lighthouse is a postcard-worthy Minnesota attraction. It has stood since 1910 and was decommissioned in 1961. It’s now in a Minnesota State Park and is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. More here.

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6. Palisade Head – A large rock formation jutting several hundred feet above Lake Superior, Palisade Head is often missed while passing though the area. Technically part of Tettegouche State Park, it’s actually located a few miles outside of the park boundaries, found via a small access road with a parking area on the top, just off Highway 61. Breathtaking view and amazing geological history dating back millions of years ago.

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5. Naniboujou Lodge – One of the most historic and overlooked locations on the North Shore is the Naniboujou Lodge and Resort. Named after Nanabozho, an Ojibwe Indian legend, the lodge’s dining room décor features an intricate design of Native American and Art Deco influences. Its roots go back to the 1920’s, where it was opened as an exclusive club type of setup, with members included celebrities Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey.  The Great Depression hit it hard, stalling many of the original plans. It changed hands several times but continues to operate as a resort to this day and is still as incredible as it was then.DSC_0618
4. Artist’s Point – A peninsula of rock and trees in Grand Marais, called Artist’s Point, is a picturesque location to observe the surrounding beauty and hike out along the shore. Named so due to the endless possibilities to photograph, paint, create, daydream, relax, or find inspiration, this peaceful and scenic area is perfect after exploring the touristy town of Grand Marais.  Bonus points for finding the names carved into the rocks which date back over a hundred years. DSC_0674 3. Devil’s Kettle – The Devil’s Kettle in Judge C.R. Magney State Park is a real geological anomoly. The Brule river splits here into two falls – the waterfall on the right drops fifty feet into a pool and makes its way out to Superior. The falls on the left drop into a sinkhole and disappears, according to legend, forever. Apparently geologists have dropped brightly colored dyes and other objects into it and have no idea where they end up.

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2. Witch Tree – Known by the local Ojibwe as “Little Spirit Cedar Tree,” this evergreen conifer on the rocky shoreline outside of Grand Portage is a very curious site.  Its existence dates back to 1731, when a french explorer commented on its maturity. The Indians who control the land on which it sits consider it sacred and leave offerings for safe travel. The tree is technically off limits to visitors unless accompanied by a guide. Read our full report here.

DSC_08401.Grand Portage National Monument – One of only two National Monuments in the state, Grand Portage National Monument is a place rich with history of where the area’s first explorers once congregated. Pictured above, the Great Hall, is the reconstruction of a trading post where Voyageurs and Indians did business as far back as the 1700′s. Grand Portage National Monument falls entirely in the confines of the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, and the site was designated a National Monument in 1958. It sits just a few miles shy of the end of the road, where Minnesota borders Ontario, and is the end (or beginning) of the magnificent Highway 61.

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