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.

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The Mystery Caves of Minnesota

There are two cave systems in southern MN’s rocky bluff country: the privately owned “Niagara Cave,” named for an underground waterfall, and the state-owned cave system “Mystery Caves.” The latter of the two has 13 miles of developed tunnels, but may span up to 50 miles or more. The cave system is operated by Forestville-Mystery Caves State Park under the Department of Natural Resources, and there are several different difficulty level tours available.

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Top 10 Waterfalls in Minnesota

Every nature lover enjoys a good waterfall.  It’s a fact.  Minnesota has a nice selection of them, especially on the North Shore and the Duluth area.  But there are others too. Lots of them.  I could have easily went to the top 20 with this list, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll keep it short and simple.  Per usual, it was a tough call, but here are the top 10 most distinct and alluring waterfalls in Minnesota.

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Quarry Park & Nature Preserve, Waite Park, MN

This week at Highway Highlights we like Quarry Park and Nature Preserve in Waite Park, MN, just outside of St. Cloud. This place seems to be one of those spots you would never know anything about unless you lived in St. Cloud.  There aren’t really many signs for it, and it’s not advertised much.  But it’s a fantastic place to get out of the city a bit and enjoy nature.DSC_0053

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Kensington Runestone, Alexandria, MN

One of the most interesting and controversial curiosities in Minnesota’s history was found on a farm outside of Kensington, MN in 1898. Allegedly a farmer unearthed a rock slab that was tangled in some tree roots and after cleaning it off, discovered ancient runic carvings. The writing, Scandinavian in nature, revealed that explorers had been over here long before Columbus, and had gotten as far as Minnesota.

Unfortunately, there is a sharp divide as to who considers it authentic vs. a hoax.  It seems no notable scholars truly agree that it is real, and most Minnesotans are too stubborn to accept that answer. So, the jury is still out.  The real Runestone is somewhere being studied in Washington currently, but there is a replica at the Minnesota History Museum in St Paul, MN (pictured below).

The Runestone Museum is in Alexandria, MN where you can learn all about the detailed history of this artifact, as well as buy all sorts of trinkets relating to the Viking lore. It sits right next to Big Ole and the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum as well.

While in the area:  Downtown Alexandria has a lot of antique and other cool shops, and there are walking paths around the lakes right in town.