The quintessential scenic Minnesota North Shore weekend roadtrip itinerary

On my travels, I’m often asked to describe my home and what makes it so special. It’s incredibly hard to vocalize the incredible diversity that Minnesota has in one breath. I often think about the state’s seas of cornfields that remind me of my childhood home. Yet, just a few hours away, cliffs tower over Lake Superior in a haunting gothic novel way. These simplistic yet poetic landscapes are just a slice of what the beautiful Land of 10,000 Lakes has to offer. If you’re looking to experience Minnesota’s most secret hidden gems, embark on a Minnesota North Shore weekend roadtrip and explore using this quintessential itinerary. 

At first glance, the North Shore is considered an outdoor enthusiast’s oasis with miles of hiking, numerous waterways for kayaking, acres of neverending wilderness and more wildlife than people. The locals know that the North Shore is a gleaming hot spot for relaxation and a weekend getaway, which is why it’s essential to scout out the off-the-beaten-path locales. Whether you choose to indulge in culture, history or good food, this quintessential weekend itinerary will ensure you experience a quintessential Minnesota getaway. 

Day 1 – Northward Bound

Heading north, Duluth is your first pitstop to your Minnesota North Shore weekend trip. This city is great for a late-night dinner or even for an early-morning breakfast, depending on what time of the day you arrive.

This pitstop can either be a short 1-hour stop or even spend a half-day there. There are so many things that the city has to offer, but here are some of the locals’ favorites:

Daytime activities

If you pull into town and are surviving on fumes of hunger, hit up some of Duluth’s best breakfast spots. Duluth Grill is always a must-eat spot for first-timers. They source local and organic ingredients to whip up into mouthwatering creations. Whenever I’m there, I order a skillet or an omelet. They’re always done to absolute perfection. On the weekends there’s a line out the door of folks waiting to sit down. The best way to beat the crowds is to get early and on a weekday if you can.

After fueling up (on gas and/or food, both are essential to us!), make sure to swing by Duluth’s Canal Park. Canal Park is packed full of good restaurants, bars, gift shops and a stellar view of Lake Superior. Ships often dock and harbor in the canal so you can get a glimpse of the floating giants up close. The lift bridge is Duluth’s iconic landmark so experience a quaint tourist moment and snap a selfie with the industrial beauty. There’s a paved walking path that leads out to the lighthouse so visitors can watch the ships drift in and out of the docks. 

Sweeping views 

You’ll start to be serenaded by Lake Superior’s sweeping vistas as soon as you reach Duluth. This is usually the first jaw-dropping glimpse visitors get of the watery giant as the venture further north. There are a few roadside stops that showcase the picturesque view of Lake Superior, but you similar cannot miss Leif Erickson Park.

Named after the Viking explorer who was the first person to set foot on North America. The park is also named after a Viking ship replica that was named Leif Erickson in honor of the famous Icelander’s voyage nearly a century later. The replica Leif Erickson ship set sail from a small Norwegian village in the spring of 1927. The ship traveled more than 10,000 miles to end its memorial voyage in Duluth in June of that year. 

After its historic voyage, the ship was displayed in Leif Erickson Park. The ship is no longer on display due to a lack of preservation. Currently, organizations are working toward restoring the ship to its former glory and being able to display it safely once again. Leif Erickson park is often frequented by immaculate rose blooms in the main garden overlooking the glittering giant. There is also an amphitheater and numerous walking and biking trails that skirt the shore. 

Nighttime activities

The further north you head, menus begin to consider wild rice a staple. Wild rice grows in the thousands of lakes and rivers that call northern Minnesota home. Wild rice is native to Minnesota and has been a star in Northern Minnesota cooking for centering.

Though, it is important to note that Ojibway Indians have celebrated this native grain far before it became a shining star in Minnesota local cuisine. 

One of my favorite ways to enjoy wild rice is in a wild rice burger. The best wild rice burger I’ve had to date is at the swanky and unforgettable Fitger’s Brewhouse. Minnesota is also famous for its craft brews so make sure to sample a pint or two in the Barrel Room located right across the hall from the restaurant.

There are numerous accommodations you can stay at, including Fitger’s which is also a historic inn, but if you’re like me, and want to sleep in a campsite under the stars, voyage onward. You should be able to reach the first state park on Minnesota’s north shore by sunset. 

Spending the night near Duluth

If you are looking to stay in a hotel, Duluth is the best area to search for lodging. If you’re looking to camp during your North Shore weekend, the first state park north of the city is Gooseberry Falls State Park. Jay Cooke State Park is the closest park and located just south of Duluth. Both have fully-outfitted campgrounds with the works. Gooseberry Falls tend to be busier than Jay Cooke, but either will guarantee you a refreshing sleep. 

Day 2 – Do go chasing waterfalls 

Sorry TLC, but you got it all wrong, you should definitely go chasing waterfalls along Minnesota’s North Shore because they are among the best in the state. Tucked deep into Minnesota’s wilderness are the best waterfalls, which are quiet and not overcrowded. Nothing makes for a more perfect Minnesota North Shore weekend roadtrip.

Even if you are someone who would rather take nature in small doses, the easiest way to see local waterfalls is at Gooseberry Falls State Park. The trails are paved out to the three biggest falls — Upper, Middle and Lower Falls. Fair warning, this is why it’s also a popular favorite with both locals and tourists. 

 

Hit the road north to hit your next destination, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. There are eight miles of paved paths that connect the two making it easy to bike if you so choose. Otherwise, follow the Gitchi-Gami State Trail which is only 2.5 miles.

Your first stop at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is the lighthouse itself, which is also considered a historical site. Make sure to embark on the guided tour that will tell you about the lighthouse’s significance in the early 1900s. You’ll also tour the lightkeeper’s house decorated in the traditional 1910s style.

Last stop 

The third and final state park of this Minnesota weekend itinerary is Tettegouche State Park. This is where the brightest gems of Minnesota’s North Shore are buried. Most weekenders get hung up close to Duluth so Tettegouche is rather untouched by mass tourist traffic. 

For budget travelers, nearby Finland State Forest is the cheapest, but also the most ideal camping spot for when you’re exploring the North Shore. With admittedly more rustic digs, Finland State Forest camping costs a fraction of the cost of state park camping. 

 

Day 3 – Gearing up for the post-trip blues 

Tettegouche State Park is one of my favorite Minnesota state parks. The sweeping expansive views of Lake Superior are enough to make you swoon. The Shovel Point trail is well-deserving of all the praise it receives by locals. This hike has hundreds of stairs (literally), but the sore legs will be well worth it. Even when conditions are less than ideal. 

In the cool early mornings, dense fog tends to hug the cliffs as the sun wakes them from their nightly slumber. They scurry away as the earth starts to warm from the sun’s rays. Even in the harsh afternoon sun, the glimmering Lake Superior dazzles visitors. It’s immense magnitude even more amplified as a dreaded rainstorm rolls in. 

There are numerous viewpoints along the Shovel Point trail, so relax for a while and simply admire the stark and magnificent landscape. 

Tettegouche is also a popular spot for rock climbers. During the afternoon hours, you’ll spot them carabining the rugged faces of the cliffs. 

If you dare touch the cool hypothermic-feeling waters of Lake Superior — this is the spot. This is a pebble beach, so water shoes are ideal. Local teenagers will be jumping into the pool nearby and shouting in fear as the cold water shocks their systems. Even on the hottest of days, Lake Superiors threatens to permanently decimate your nerve endings. 

The extended stay

Whenever I need relaxation, Tettegouche State Park is where I go. I pitch a tent in the Finland State Forest and make sure that I focus only on the important things: cooking damn-good campfire meals, finding a quiet hidden gem where I can reflect, and make sure to admire the stars.

So hopefully, you’re rolling out of your tent like a well-rested bear and ready to fuel up on an ultimate campfire breakfast: pancakes, bacon, eggs, toast and freshly brewed coffee. 

Better yet, if you’re an early riser, you can enjoy a sunrise on the beach to watch the sky erupt into a watercolor painting. Watching the colors blend themselves into a shade of blue is best done with a fresh cup of campfire coffee. Trust me, it’s a memorable experience

Lake Superior waters are off-limits this early in the morning so this is an ideal time to either do the Shovel Point hike or hike out to Tettegouche State Park’s High Falls.

It’s a great place to have an afternoon picnic. Just made sure that you hike out all your trash and leave no remanents of your lunch behind. 

 

Short and sweet visit 

If you’re strapped for time, or just need to seek out civilization again, the abridged Tettegouche tour includes tour short hikes to the pebbled beach and a quick drive for a killer view. 

Lake Superior is a watery giant that is mesmerizing to look at it. At water level, the effect is even more potent. Tettegouche’s Pebble Beach gets your tantalizingly close. 

Then drive out to Palisade Head for breathtaking views that required absolutely no leg work. 

This park can easily be squeezed in an hour or two in the morning. 

Betty’s Pies

It’s a wholesome tradition for most locals. Pie is a Minnesota classic, especially fruit pies. Betty’s Pies has the classic and then some. A wide variety that will wow those of all ages. Who doesn’t like a sweet treat and some homegrown cooking? 

For those with a sweet tooth is more in the mood for chocolate or butterscotch can also be appeased. Betty’s Pies also has pie shakes in delectable flavored like silk pie, cheesecake and even peanut butter. 

Duluth rest stop if needed

If you weren’t able to stop in Duluth on your first day, you could sneak in a quick stop before heading back to the Twin Cities. Otherwise, I always love to make a quick stop in Duluth to experience its blossoming culinary scene.

Minnesota classics

Spending a weekend on Minnesota’s north shore is all about comfort ease and going with the flow. A great local hot spot for a quick grab and to sample Minnesota’s fish is at Northern Waters Smokehaus which has some of the tastiest sandwiches and fish in the area. Grab your sandwiches to go and admire Canal Park from afar at Brighton Beach. Careful of the seagulls! 

If you’re looking for more of an upscale restaurant to dine at in town, Grandma’s is a Canal Park classic. The restaurant packs a flavorful punch and doesn’t stray far from the good traditional Minnesota classics. 

After this last stop, you have completed the quintessential Minnesota North Shore weekend road trip itinerary. You’ve experienced a bit of Minnesota’s history, culture and even witnessed a few natural miracles during your relaxing getaway.

Uff da, what a weekend! 

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8 thoughts on “The quintessential scenic Minnesota North Shore weekend roadtrip itinerary

  1. I have another blogging friend from Minnesota, so I keep being blown away by how amazing all the hiking is there! You lucky Minnesotans! Tettegouche State Park looks goooorgeous. I can see why it is your go-to for a place to relax.

    Plus I am totally up for trying one of Betty’s pies!

  2. The Minnesota Noth Shore looks like a great place to just be outside and enjoy the fresh air! I think we’d all appreciate some of that right now.

  3. These views are gorgeous! Sounds like a place I would really enjoy. Especially if you guys are known for pie. 🙂

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