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One of my favorite hiking destinations in Minnesota is the North Shore with numerous state parks and conservation areas hugged the shores of Lake Superior. If you’re looking for immaculate beauty juxtaposed with raw, ruggedness, this is your ideal spot.
As an avid outdoor enthusiast who loves hiking, I can attest that the North Shore is a prime destination for outdoor lovers. I also enjoy gooey s’mores over the campfire and stargazing on my camping trips, and I promise that the North Shore also delivers on all those fronts.
Due to its undeniable beauty, the North Shore is a hotspot for locals and tourists alike. Especially the North Shore’s state parks. Luckily, there are many hidden-gem and off-the-beaten-path destinations to avoid all the crowds.
Minnesota’s North Shore State Parks
When visiting the North Shore, your first pit stop should be the state parks that line the shores of Lake Superior. There are eight state parks north of Duluth to the Canadian border. The parks that are most talked about are Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse and Tettegouche State Park. These are the three parks located closet to Duluth and each offer parks of the quintessential North Shore experience.
Lake Superior Hiking Trail
If you haven’t heard about the Lake Superior Hiking Trail, get ready to be amazed. The 300-plus mile long hiking trail follows the coastline from Canada down into Minnesota. The trail weaves in and out of Minnesota forests, through river valleys, around lakes and hugs the Lake Superior shoreline.
The trail also goes through many of Minnesota’s northern state parks, if you’re feeling adventurous, or just an off-roading junkie, hike part of the trail to see the untouched parts of Minnesota. These trails are often less populated and more authentic to the Minnesota experience.
Waterfalls in Minnesota are hard to come by. Many of the waterfalls are often located in state parks and may require some strenuous hiking to view. When I stumbled across the Caribou Falls I was surprised that the falls were not located in a state park. They were actually located less than a mile off Minnesota’s Scenic Highway 61. Furthermore, the hike out to the falls is very easy making it ideal for all ages to visit. Caribou Falls is one of the stops on the Lake Superior Hiking Trail.
Caribou Falls is now a denoted wayside rest area with a small paved parking making it easy to spot. The falls are located just north of Tettegouche State Park. There is also a sign that denotes the waterfall’s location. New stairs and trails have been added to ensure that the waterfall is easy to get to and that sight-goers do not damage the delicate flora and fauna habitats surrounding the waterfall.
A short half-mile hike to the falls skirts the Caribou River. Though just off the highway, the hike is quiet and peaceful. No traffic can be heard while hiking to the falls or at the falls themselves. The hiking trail is uphill but is not a steep grade. There is a large flight of stairs that leads visitors down to the falls.
This natural wonder is so secluded and magical. The falls cascade between two steel-colored cliffs with forest brush growing along the cliffside. The falls mist into a large pool before cascading down over boulders where the Caribou River flows out to Lake Superior.
Visitors are able to swim in the falls or can just enjoy the view from the platform above. I encourage you to take a dip. The water will be cool, but after a long day of hiking, you’ll appreciate the water’s coolness.
There isn’t any particular time when it’s best to visit Caribou Falls. I’ve visited the waterfall at different times of the day. It’s just as beautiful right before sunset as it is in the bright afternoon sun. Regardless of the time of day, you’ll have the little slice of paradise all to yourself.
The lack of visitors is what makes these falls so pristine. Many do not dare to take a dip in the falls, so visitors are only admiring the falls for a few minutes before hiking back to the parking lot to see the next sight. Pack a picnic and spend a few hours basking in the fall’s beauty. Make sure to always pack out your trash to preserve the falls.
It’s hard to walk around the falls due to the steep terrain so wear water shoes with good grip. The current from the falls is not strong, so no need to worry about being swept downstream.
Day Hill Hike
One of my favorite hikes in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is the Day Hill Hike. The most visited attraction at the state park is the lighthouse, so this hiking trail is relatively desolate. The Day Hill trail is a 2-mile hike that weaves through the lush, green hills and dense forest areas along the coast of Lake Superior. It’s a bit of an incline, so make sure to pack lots of water and take your time.
The view from the top is immaculate. Situated at the top is a large, stone fireplace that was built for a man’s lover. The fireplace was going to be the centerpiece of their humble abode, after her death, he abandoned the project. The fireplace still stands there. It’s a bittersweet backdrop to the spectacular you are faced with. It’s obvious why the gentleman wanted this to be the view from his future home.
If you venture a dozen yards to the right of the fireplace, that’s where you’ll find the most coveted view. Below you’ll see the rugged coastline and the several islands that are covered in conifers.
Bask in this view for hours, after all, you deserve it after all that heart-pumping cardio you did.
Lake Superior Beach at sunrise
If you’re looking for a secluded, romantic place to watch the sun rise over Lake Superior, check out Lake Superior Beach, located right behind the Tettegouche State Park‘s visitor center. The hike is less than 0.5 mile and not strenuous.
In the wee hours of the morning, the beach is unpopulated and wildlife is scarce. There are large boulders that you can camp out on and watch the sky change into a kaleidoscope of colors. The sun will actually be hidden behind the northern coastline, but you can still see the metamorphosis of the skyline turn from twilight purple to blaze orange.
In Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, all the rage is about the lighthouse. Rightfully so, because it is beautiful. But, venture down the path to the old mining establishment that is abandoned. It’s a unique hike in northern Minnesota that isn’t all vistas and trees. The structures are overgrown with green moss and have a certain eerie air to them.
At the end of your hike, you’ll see one of the most impeccable views of the lighthouse. This is another quiet spot to watch the sky illuminate as the sun rises or sets. During my hike, it was starting to storm right before sunset.
When pulling over for the Black Beach viewing area, make sure to head to the handicap access area first. This is the northernmost part of the beach, which is tucked away from the rest of the shoreline. This is not a black sand beach, but a pebble beach. These are the stereotypical shores of Lake Superior.
If you start your hike here, you’ll also climb to the top of many of the rocky cliffs overlooking Lake Superior that are relatively untouched. This landscape offers delicate plants to admire but also the dramatic oversweeping views of the enormous Lake Superior.
You’ll hike will end at the Black Beach with its unique Black Sands. The beach extends to a copper-colored rock formation that visitors can climb and explore. This is definitely a literal off-the-beaten-path experience for explorers due to the lack of unmarked trails.