There are many reasons folks flock to Lake Superior’s North Shore in the summertime: With four majestic state parks, three lighthouses, numerous waterfalls, the scenic Superior Hiking Trail, and picturesque beaches, a visit to Lake County can fulfill a considerable portion of your Minnesota Summer Bucket List. Be sure to add these adventures when visiting the North Shore:
Take a Sail on Lake Superior
Sailing remains a popular activity on Lake Superior. In Duluth, you can catch sailboat races every Wednesday during the summer. However, why watch from the shoreline when you can create your own adventure?
Amicus Adventure Sailing out of Knife River, MN, provides a memorable guided sailing experience for whether you’re a beginner or an advanced deckhand. Mark and Katya Gordon, two lifelong sailing experts, lead various types of expeditions, from two-hour trips to 10-day excursions.
Charter a Lake Superior Fishing Excursion
You don’t need to travel to the coast to experience an ocean-like fishing adventure. Let the North Shore’s seasoned fishing guides give you a day to remember while possibly snagging a monster lake trout! Anglers can target multiple species, including Lake Superior lake trout, splake, salmon, whitefish, sturgeon, and other fish found in MN lakes.
Skip rocks at Iona’s Beach, A.K.A “Pink Beach”
Named after Iona Lind – she owned the Twin Ports Resort, which used to occupy the now parking lot area, Iona’s Beach is a hidden gem. The pink beach ranks as one of the most unique scenic beaches in Lake County. The pink rocks that line the shore are rhyolite; when the wind’s just right, you can hear the beach “sing.”
Take a Panoramic Photo at Palisade Head
The striking view from the high cliffs at Palisade Head (part of Tettegouche State Park) remains one of the best Lake Superior scenic views of the North Shore. Gaze for miles in either direction, or set up your camera for a panoramic capture.
This spot can be pretty crowded on the weekends during the summer months. Additionally, you may want to avoid it with small children as there are no railings along the cliff.
Kayak to the Crystal Bay Sea Caves
This beautiful location can often get overlooked as folks travel north on Highway 61. However, the hidden caves of Crystal Bay Beach are some of the largest on Lake Superior! You can access the pebble beach near mile marker 60 off Highway 61; the trail is quite steep and rough, so be cautious. After you launch from the shoreline, you can paddle, explore the caves, and capture Instagram-worthy photos.
Hike to Bean and Bear Lakes
Bean and Bear Lakes sometimes referred to as “The Twin Lakes,” are the subject of many fall foliage photos and can be viewed by hiking a spur trail along the Superior Hiking Trail. The hike is challenging and strenuous, but the trek is worth the rewarding view. The path can be busy during fall weekends.
Walk the Two Harbors Break Wall to the Lighthouse
The Two Harbors Break Wall and Lighthouse make a fantastic spot to watch lake freighters get loaded with iron ore at the massive Ore Docks. Stroll the wide concrete walkway to get up close and personal quickly. A large parking lot also provides access to The Two Harbors Lighthouse Museum and B&B.
Tour the Lighthouse Museum, operated by the Lake County Historical Society, or stay at night in the Bed and Breakfast for a full lighthouse bucket list experience.
Take the Keeper’s Tour of Split Rock Lighthouse
Touring Split Rock Lighthouse is a must-do on your North Shore Summer Bucket List. Although it’s one of the most photographed lighthouses on Lake Superior – usually from the state park’s pebble beach – very few have explored the nooks and crannies from within.
The Keeper’s Tour – offered Saturdays from May-October – gives guests a guided tour of the historic grounds and lighthouse. The cost is $25, or $20 for MNHS members.
Hike from Fifth Falls to Agate Beach at Gooseberry Falls State Park
Most who’ve visited the North Shore can identify Gooseberry’s famous Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. The Fifth Falls can be viewed by taking the Fifth Falls Trail Loop north of the main falls area. The 2 mi (3.2 km) trek leads you along the Gooseberry River, where you can capture a great view of the river, surrounding forest, and the Fifth Falls Bridge.
Follow the trail along the Gooseberry River, which will take you past the main falls area, and eventually, you’ll reach Agate Beach and the picnic flow, where the river mouth empties into Lake Superior.
Bike from Gooseberry to Split Rock on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail
The Gitchi-Gami State Trail features a paved, non-motorized biking and walking trail along the North Shore of Lake Superior that’s perfect for a family adventure. Once completed, the route will stretch 89 miles between Two Harbors and Grand Marais.
The longest segment stretches 17.2 miles connecting Gooseberry State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Beaver Bay, and Silver Bay. Hikers, joggers, inline skaters, and bikers can enjoy riding a safe route near Lake Superior.
See the Highest Waterfall Contained in Minnesota
One of the most notable waterfalls in the midwest, the High Falls of Tettegouche State Park should be on everyone’s waterfall bucket list!
The High Falls flows from the Baptism River and ranks as the highest waterfall entirely contained in Minnesota. The Pigeon River High Falls at Grand Portage State Park – with an impressive 120-foot drop is technically the highest, but it shares the border with Canada.
You can hike easily to the top of the falls for an aerial view; however, to see the falls from the bottom, you’ll need to tackle the 83 stairs down and back. It’s a haul – but worth the trek!
Soak Up the Sun at Black Beach
Black Beach in Silver Bay, MN, ranks as one of the most unique beaches on the North Shore. It earned its name from the fine black sand created from taconite tailings discarded in Lake Superior many ago. Black Beach is a top destination for swimming, picnicking, and relaxing, with incredible views of the rugged Lake Superior Shoreline. Nearby, the Black Beach Municipal Campground holds 49 sites on 14.5 acres and is surrounded by a wooded landscape with direct access to hiking, biking, and ATV trails.
See the Manitou Falls at George-Crosby Manitou State Park
This state park doesn’t get the attention it deserves; however, it’s a local favorite due to its lush forests, serene beauty, and far fewer crowds!
The hike to see the cascading falls of the Manitou River can be challenging but rewarding as you stand in awe of the cascading falls of the Manitou River.
Additionally, the pristine inland Benson Lake makes a great choice to launch a kayak or canoe and paddle with the peace and quiet of the North Shore wilderness.
Camp & Paddle in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Lake County stretches from Lake Superior’s North Shore to the Canadian Border. Just east of Ely, MN you’ll find Fall Lake Township, which features a significant area of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness – one of North America’s most pristine wilderness areas.
Virtually untouched by humans, the BWCAW allows outdoor adventure enthusiasts to reconnect with family and friends without today’s distractions from screens, texts, and social media. When you paddle the crystal clear waters, you can expect a spiritual experience that will give you serenity and peace to refresh your soul. Fish, canoe, hike, and camp completely off the grid.
How many North Shore Bucket List experiences have you checked off your list?
While nearly every region in Minnesota features beautiful landscapes, the natural wonders of northeastern Minnesota and Lake Superior are sure to rank at the top. We hope you’ll find this guide helpful as you explore the Wild, Rugged North of Lake County.