Destination of the week: Lake Superior's North Shore
Head to this neck of Minnesota for scenery, outdoor fun and a progressive vibe.
Mon, Nov 01, 2010 at 09:06 AM
Lake Superior is the world’s largest body of fresh water. With its sometimes rough waters and rugged shoreline, it is more akin to a sea than a lake. Ocean-going vessels can navigate on Superior after making their way up the St. Lawrence Seaway and through the chain of smaller Great Lakes. Though the lake has shoreline in several states and Canada, Minnesota’s North Shore is, arguably, the place to find the most scenic spots.
The North Shore stretches from the port city of Duluth, two hours north of the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, to the Canadian border. The region is characterized by rocky coastal areas, scenic forests, and streams that tumble from the interior highlands to the lake.
The scenery, as well as Minnesota’s trademark laid-back user-friendliness, make this a popular summer and fall destination for Midwesterners, as well as other domestic and international tourists. Duluth and the coastline to its north offer plenty of nature-themed sights and activities, but it is the progressive attitude about conservation and the environment that makes this a destination for environmentally conscious travelers.
The North Shore has everything from eco-friendly, high-end hotels to rustic campsites that can be reached only on foot.
On the high end of the sleeping scene is the Inn on Lake Superior. The hotel has lakeview rooms and offers easy access to Duluth’s Canal Park, a nightlife, restaurant and tourist hotspot. This hotel is not shy about publicizing its impressive eco-friendly practices. Waste hot water is re-used by being circulated through a system that heats the hotel’s fresh water. This feature is used to heat the inn’s pools, spas and tap water. The hotel has other green traits, including chemical-free lawns, a recycling program and local buying practices.
On the other end of the accommodation spectrum is camping. There are state parks at regular intervals between Duluth and the Canadian border. Like most Minnesota state parks, each has a large campground with sites big enough for a tent, campfire and car. Some of these parks also have walk-in campsites. Campers have to pay a fee to enter the park and another fee to reserve their campsite. However, all the parks have extensive trail systems and lakefront views. For those who want a small scale sleeping experience, there are plenty of bed and breakfasts in the art-and-crafts-happy town of Grand Marais and the nearby ski area of Lutsen (an hour from the Canadian border).
There is a small but vibrant locally grown and organic scene in Duluth. During the summer and fall (until the end of October), the Duluth Farmers Market is where local farmers and gardeners sell their products to the public. Because of the relatively short growing season, the market reaches its height in August and September.
The Duluth Grill is one the better green-minded restaurants in the city. The menu features dishes made with organic ingredients. Vegetables are bought from local producers and there are vegetarian and gluten-free options on the menu.
Grand Marias is home to the Angry Trout Cafe. The owners of this restaurant have not only created a culture of sustainability and environmental friendliness within the restaurant and its kitchen; they have published a book on the methods and benefits of building an Earth-friendly business. Unfortunately, the cafe is open only during the warmer months of the year (May through October).
Go green and see green
There have been rumors of a rail line connecting Duluth with Minneapolis and St. Paul, but for now, the only viable way to reach and explore the North Shore is by car, unless you have a bike and a little ambition. Bicycling along sections of the lakeside is possible, especially for mountain bike riders. The ambitious Gitchi Gami Trail project seeks to connect Two Harbors (not far from Duluth) with Grand Marais, over 80 miles to the north. Parts of the trail have already been completed.
There are no fewer than eight state parks along the North Shore. Gooseberry State Park and Temperance State Park feature fast-moving rivers and waterfalls. Hiking and biking are possible at all eight parks. Naturalist-led educational events and programs are also part of the goings-on during the summer.
Lake cruises are a popular tourist pastime, but motorized boats are not the only option. Superior’s often windy conditions are excellent for sailing. Cruises, charter boats and access points for serious sailors with their own vessels make it easy to get out on the water during the warmer part of the year. Sea kayaking is a more strenuous way to take to the lake. There are access points all along the North Shore.
The North Shore is attractive for nature lovers and scenery junkies. The area also has a series of impressive green features that make it an ideal location for a lakeside getaway.
Related on MNN: Visit our other destinations of the week.
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