Plan the Ultimate North Shore Road Trip through Lake County, MN, this summer and be wowed by its ancient cliffs, hidden beaches, and stunning vistas. It’s home to iconic state parks, quaint towns, and expansive wilderness. It’s where people go to watch the ships and savor a perfect slice of pie. Cozy up in lake-view lodging. Or take off into the woods by foot, bike, or boat. It’s a dream for fishing, hunting, boating, and paddling — from the Boundary Waters to the great Gitchigumi.
This is Lake County. The place to get away, get together, or just get after it. It’s an exhilarating mix of stunning natural beauty and classic up-north charm. Whether it’s for the week, weekend, or just one incredible day to remember. And whether you’re a family, couple, or solo adventurer, we’re here to steer you in the right direction along the highway and off the beaten path.
North Shore Road Trip: Voyageur’s Highway 61
Explore the Town
Founded by loggers and copper miners, this charming former mining town sits along the shoreline of Lake Superior along Scenic Highway 61. Stop and check out Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse for some smoked fish, cheese, and snacks, and head to the Great Lakes Candy Kitchen (Open until mid-December) to indulge in sweet treats – the kids will love the agate lollipops!
Beach & Marina
Visit the Knife River Beach to relax in the sand, picnic, or rockhound for agates. Explore the nearby marina and see the docked sailboats or charter a fishing trip on the big lake for salmon, lake trout, or whitefish.
Knife River Depot
The Knife River Depot, built during the 19th century, offers visitors a glimpse of life along Lake Superior more than 200 years ago.
Just before you get to Two Harbors, the Larsmont area is home to Larsmont Cottages and the Ledge Rock Grille, which specializes in locally-sourced cuisine. Stop at Larsmont Trading Post, which offers a bistro-style menu, hand-crafted food, and gifts for a quick bite. Nearby, the Burton Forge & Gallery features hand-forged ironwork using functional and unique designs.
Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area (Pink Beach)
Named after Iona Lind, who owned Twin Points Resort (formerly occupied the parking area), you’ll find beautiful beach walks, fishing, and photo ops at Iona’s Beach. Kids often enjoy cliff jumping off the small ridge near the beach (Caution: Do not swim if the water is too cold or there are large waves!). Park in the adjacent Twin Points Protected Access (boat launch) and hike a short distance to see the pink rhyolite slabs polished by waves into flat pebbles or “shingles.”
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Gooseberry Falls ranks Minnesota’s most visited state park (almost one million visitors yearly!) and features five spectacular waterfalls. Hike the scenic trail along the Gooseberry River to Lake Superior’s Agate Beach and search for agates.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
One of the most famous spots on the North Shore! Take a tour of Split Rock Lighthouse’s historic grounds and snap a photo of the iconic structure. Long beaches with cart-in camping, waterfalls, and hiking make this state park a must-see destination.
Lake Superior Agate Geological Marker
Find this marker on the lakeside of state highway 61, 2 miles northeast of Two Harbors. Besides a lovely Lake Superior view, you’ll discover the fascinating geology of how agates were formed millions of years ago.
Settled in 1890 by three Norwegian fishermen, Castle Danger’s name origin remains unknown. A seven-mile section of the Superior Hiking Trail leads to Gooseberry Falls. Hike to Wolf’s Rock for gorgeous Lake Superior and Superior National Forest views. Heading north, take a left on Lake Co. Road 106 (West Castle Danger Rd.) and travel about 2.4 miles to find parking and the trailhead.
The oldest settlement on the North Shore, Beaver Bay, features eclectic shops and dining options. Check out the Beaver Bay Agate Shop to explore various agates and gifts, or stop for an ice cream treat at the Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop.
Then head up Lax Lake Road to find the Beaver Bay Wayside, where you can view the Beaver River Falls, or continue a bit further up the road to the new Superior Hiking Trail trailhead. You can take a short hike along the Beaver River. The waterfall drops 300 feet in a series of cascades and falls above the Highway 61 bridge, finally entering Beaver Bay.
One of the most unique beaches along the North Shore, Black Beach earns its name from the fine black sand that resulted from taconite tailings discarded in Lake Superior decades ago. The beach is a popular destination for swimming, picnicking, and relaxing, with gorgeous views of the rugged Lake Superior Shoreline. Nearby, the Black Beach Municipal Campground offers 49 sites on 14.5 acres and is nestled around a wooded landscape with direct access to hiking, biking, and ATV trails.
Play the new Black Beach Mini-Golf Course, which features a cool replica of Split Rock Lighthouse.
Tettegouche State Park
As you continue your North Shore road trip, you’ll discover the spectacular overlooks at Shovel Point; rocky cliffs and inland bluffs, the cascading 60 ft. High Falls of the Baptism River; and the historic Tettegouche Camp, where visitors can stay the night. Tettegouche ranks as a hiker’s paradise with miles of trails that overlook the Sawtooth Mountains and wind down to inland lakes accessible only by foot.
Nature lovers adore this park! Hiking trails along the Baptism River provide views of many falls and cascades.
North Shore Adventure Park
Explore this unique forest adventure park for family fun on the North Shore! It features ten zip lines, six challenge courses, and a “little climbers” park for 3- to 6-year-olds. If you don’t care to climb, you can watch for free. We recommend spending three hours at the park. Tickets can be purchased online at NorthShoreAdventurePark.com.
Sawmill Dome & Kennedy Cliffs
It is located along the Superior Hiking trail near Silver Bay. Travel north on HWY 61, turn at HWY 1, and the Spur Trail trailhead is less than a mile up the road. Take a moderate 3.7-mile trek along the trail to discover a cluster of unique boulders and the Kennedy Cliffs.
Caribou Falls State Wayside
Heading north on 61, just north of Little Marais, sits the Caribou Falls Wayside. This hidden North Shore gem can get easily overlooked; however, it ranks as one of the locals’ favorites.
The moderate to easy 1.5-mile hike starts along the Superior Hiking Trail and Caribou River. The trail rolls with mild inclines and declines, giving way to scenic views of the Caribou River and gorge before arriving at wooden stairs leading down to the base of the falls. Follow the stairs down to the water, where you can capture beautiful photos of Caribou Falls.
Continue back up the stairs and hike along the Superior Hiking Trail for views of Crystal Creek, or head back towards the parking lot.
North Shore Road Trip: Scenic Highway 1
Superior Hiking Trail to Fantasia Overlook
As you continue your north shore road trip, stop to see this fantastic scenic overlook. Along the Silver Bay to Caribou Falls section of the Superior Hiking Trail (there’s a parking lot along Highway 1 on the left where you access the trail (overnight parking is permitted). Cross the street, head north a bit, and you’ll see the SHT sign. This sub-section totals nearly 7 miles to HWY 6. However, if you hike for one mile, you’ll find a half-mile spur trail leading to the Fantasia Overlook, offering beautiful vistas of Lake Superior and a beaver pond.
Directions to the SHT Highway 1 Trailhead: At Hwy. 61 milepost 59.3, turn left on Hwy. 1 and drive 0.8 miles to the trailhead and parking lot on the left.
Illgen Falls & Trailhead
In a section of the Tettegouche State Park along the Baptism River and just a short drive up HWY 1, you can find the Illgen Falls. Parking is on the side of the road, where you’ll see a small marker. You’ll find yourself at the top of the 10-foot waterfall with only a short walk. Take a trail to the bottom, where you can dip into a little swimming hole!
From MN-61, just over 8 miles north on HWY 1, you’ll find the community of Finland, Minnesota, nestled in the Baptism River Valley and surrounded by rugged hills and cliffs known as the Sawtooth Mountains. Its rugged isolation made it one of the last areas of Minnesota to be settled. It wasn’t until the late 1890′s that the first Finns and other Scandinavians began to file for homesteads in this remote section of Lake County.
Out and about early? Our Place in “downtown” Finland makes an excellent breakfast and serves lunch or dinner, homemade soups, coffee, and cocktails.
Additionally, every Thursday between June 16 and October 6, 2022, the Claire Nelson Community Center hosts the Finland Farmers Market every Thursday. Stop in for local goods, produce, and treats. The community center is located on HWY 7, just a short detour north of HWY 1.
Before you arrive in Finland, you may want to stop for a beverage or bite at the Four Seasons Supper Club, with plentiful outdoor seating and a full menu.
Finnish Historical Site & St. Urho Statue
Finnish Historical Site
The Finland MN Historical Society, founded in 1986, has preserved the John Pine Homestead, creating the Finland Heritage Site. Many area locals remember stories of grandparents and great-grandparents living in houses much like the John Pine House, bathing in a sauna much like the Rousku Sauna, living on small farms and homesteads that probably looked a lot the way the Finland Heritage Site does now, and using tools and other items similar (or even the very ones) to those preserved at the homestead.
The Finland Heritage Site is located at 5653 Little Marais Rd, Finland, MN 55603
St. Urho’s Statue
St. Urho was a Finn with a big voice who chased away the grasshoppers to save the grape crop by shouting, “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” (translation: “Grasshopper, Grasshopper, go away!”).
Alongside Minnesota Highway 1, at the intersection with Lake County Hwy 7, stands a statue of St. Urho carved from a tree. The carving was done in 1982 by Don Osborn, who used a chainsaw to sculpt the wood.
As you continue to drive 20 miles along Highway 1 from Finland, you’ll reach Isabella’s small, unincorporated community. Surrounded by the Superior National Forest with scattered lakes and streams, Isabella provides a large wildlife population to photograph or hunt. In addition, its many lakes and streams offer excellent fishing coupled with the US Forest Service campgrounds and resort businesses, attracting many outdoor enthusiasts.
As you continue north, you may want to pull into the Knotted Pine Inn & Tavern to top off your tank or stop in for lunch or a beverage.
Halfway Range Station
As you continue north on scenic HWY 1 through the forest-lined curves and turns, you’ll finally strike a hidden gem near Ely, MN: the Halfway Ranger Station. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the historical site in 1934. Rich with a long research history, the Halfway Ranger Station has globally impacted wolf and fire research.
Within the Superior National Forest near Ely, Minnesota, in Fall Lake Township, the Kawishiwi Falls (pronounced “KAH-WISH-IH-WAY”) flows from the dammed Garden Lake into Fall Lake. Parking for this waterfall is located six miles east of Ely on the north side of Fernberg Road. To get to the falls from the parking area, take just short of a one-mile loop trail through the woods.
The Kawishiwi River is known for kayaking and hiking along the Kawiwishi Trail.
We hope you find the Ultimate North Shore Roadtrip guide helpful on your Lake County, MN journey.