Did you know that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area…
…is made up of 1.1 million acres?
…has approximately 1,175 lakes?
…sees over 250,000 visitors annually?
…has over 1,500 miles of canoe routes?
…boasts the highest point in Minnesota at 2,301 feet (Eagle Mountain)?
….was named one of National Geographic’s “50 Places of a Lifetime”?
…was home to the Paleo-Indian culture 10,000-12,000 years ago?
…contains about 400,000 acres of old growth forest that has never been logged?
…was previously home to Woodland Caribou (predators, deer encroachment, and parasites have led to their disappearance)?
…is home to 2.7 billion-year-old rock, making it some of the oldest rock found in the world!
For years, there were rumors going around that the North Shore was stocked full of gold, copper, and silver which drew settlers from the east. After the second treaty of La Pointe in 1854, when most of the North Shore was ceded to the US Government, planning began for three new town sites along the shore. Although many of these sites never became more than ideas, one of the three that did was named Buchanan.
The plans for Buchanan’s construction were soon laid out and crews began working in late 1856. Before long, a boarding house, hotel, and several saloons popped up in the area and settlers began to swarm in. A dock was even added soon after the construction began to allow boats to come by water. Eventually, it became clear that the promised mineral abundance was not what it was expected to be and the financial crisis of 1858 crippled the town’s population. The town soon became the first ghost town on the North Shore.
Although the town itself no longer exists, a stone marker called the Buchanan Settlement Marker gives visitors the opportunity to feel like they are standing where something could have been. It indicates where the hotel, saloons, and dock lived many years ago. You can find it on Scenic Highway 61, about 1.5 miles south of Knife River.
Located on Good Harbor Bay a few miles south of Grand Marais along Highway 61 is the small Cutface Creek wayside rest. It is not your ordinary rest spot, though! This spot is where the construction of the highway began cutting away into a sandstone bed that was overlaid with lava. You’ll see the unique rock patterns to the southwest of the wayside rest along Highway 61.
Good Harbor Bay is also one of the best places along the North Shore to find beautiful Thomsonite rock. Most of the rocks are now only small pebbles, but the six mile stretch of beach near the wayside rest is the only section of beach where you will find these beautiful pebbles along the North Shore. Folklore states that Queen Victoria was so fascinated with this rock that she sent Native people of the North Shore to collect it for her when it became hard to find along the shores of Scotland.
As for the rest stop itself, the site is very well laid-out with benches, paved walkways, picnic tables, and up-kept bathrooms. Take a break from driving and come explore this unique beach on the North Shore.
The Cutface Creek Wayside Rest and Good Harbor beach are located on Highway 61, 14 miles northeast of Lutsen around mile marker 154.
The Dire Wolf, also known as the fearsome dog, is an extinct species and is perhaps one of the most famous prehistoric carnivores in North America. Its long, sharp fangs and huge body that is considerably larger than a gray wolf make it a unique animal – one that you would not want to mess with! Although the dire wolf is believed to be extinct for almost 10,000 years, when a trucker driving on Highway 61 hit and killed a large-bodied wolf years ago, he couldn’t help but make a call to the DNR to have them check it out.
When the DNR arrived, they found the wolf to be so massive that they called in State Park personnel and naturalists of Gooseberry Falls State Park to take a look. Because the wolf’s size and location (it was found where dire wolves used to roam), they requested that it be mounted in the new interpretative center for all to see. In fact, the wolf was so big that even the taxidermist could not find a mock body to fit what they had discovered. He eventually found an Alaskan wolf body, one of the largest in the world to fit the body.
Today, you can find the wolf displayed at Gooseberry Falls State Park in their interpretative center. Although it’s behind glass, the beautiful creature still gives people a little scare when they realize how enormous the wolves can grow to be.
Along Highway 61 in Schroeder is a green highway sign reading “Father Baraga’s Cross”. It’s a sign that points to a place few people stop to explore. Down
Baraga Cross Road, visitors will find a beautiful slice of shoreline marked with a granite cross reading “Father Baraga 1846”. Father Baraga was a Catholic priest originally from Europe. After hearing there was a need for clergy in the Great Lakes Region, he moved to La Pointe, Michigan with an interest in Ojibwe culture. There he was loved by many Ojibwe, Metis and French Canadians. He stood with many Native groups while they were being perpetrated by the fur trade industry and government. Since he oversaw a large area, much of his time was traveling by foot, canoe, or in the winter, snowshoe to reach and support these groups (he would often travel 100 miles for a baptism).
In 1846, Father Baraga heard of a possible epidemic in Grand Portage. In order to reach Grand Portage as fast as possible, he and a Native guide attempted to paddle across Lake Superior (as it turns out, walking around Lake Superior takes a long time!). During their voyage, they were caught in a violent storm but managed to paddle through the storm to land. When they reached shore they found themselves at the mouth of the Cross River in present-day Schroeder. Upon their landing, they erected a small wooden cross in thanksgiving.
Since 1846 the wooden cross has been replaced with the granite cross that is at the site today. The Cross River mouth and ledge rock shoreline create a beautiful backdrop for visitors who wish to visit the historic site. A small, protected cobblestone beach is located adjacent to the property for rock-skippers and picnickers alike.
The next time you’re driving through Schroeder (near mile marker 78 on Highway 61), be sure to turn toward Lake Superior on Father Baraga’s Road. You’ll be glad you did!
If you find yourself driving along the North Shore in need of a reprieve, the mouth of the French River is a great place to stop. Not only does it offer quick, easy access to Lake Superior’s shore, and an opportunity to dip your toes in the water on a hot day, it is also home to an adult fish trap used by the French River Cold Water Hatchery (FRCWH).
The trap is used to capture spawning fish (Chinook Salmon, Steelhead, Kamloops and Rainbow Trout) who are then brought indoor to the spawning facility upstream where they spawn and they are released. Though the eggs were historically spawned and hatched at the hatchery, the high costs of keeping the facility running year-round and concern about the disease has the eggs going to the Spire Valley Hatchery in Remer, MN to hatch. After the fish hatch, they are released into Lake Superior tributaries or are returned to FRCWH to grow larger (depending on the species).
Another interesting thing to note about the area: In 1855, the city of French River, or Clifton as it was referred to back then, was the first settlement town on the North Shore. People were drawn to the area by the projection of copper deposits, though later exploratory digs failed to locate anything profitable. In the 1880’s the area was also a hot-spot for the logging industry.
Getting to the Mouth of the French River
From Duluth, take MN-61 northeast out of Duluth for 12 miles. Turn right onto Ryan Road. Drive for .3 miles and turn left onto North Shore Drive. Drive .1 miles and park in the parking lot on the right.
From Two Harbors take MN-61 southwest for 14.3 miles. Turn left onto Ryan Road. Drive for .3 miles and turn left onto North Shore Drive. Drive .1 miles and park in the parking lot on the right.
Getting to the French River Hatchery
The French River Hatchery is located upstream from the river mouth at 5357 N Shore Dr, Duluth. Seasonal tours are offered. Call (218) 302-3288 to make a (required) reservation.
Located on Chicago Bay in the ghost-town of Hovland, MN (19 miles northeast of Grand Marais), is the last remaining vintage commercial dock on Lake Superior. The concrete dock dates back to the early 1900’s when Hovland was a thriving economic hub in the area. Its primary use was a loading and unloading site for passenger and cargo ships traveling between Duluth and Canada.
Today the dock stretches out about a hundred feet into the deep water, with a couple sections disconnected and submerged into Lake Superior. An old bell that was rung in years past to signal the arrival of a boat or ship lives at the base of the dock. Near the bridge are also many old cabins that used to house the longshoremen who were responsible for loading and unloading the cargo on the ships. Though the area has not been kept up and is often referred to as a ghost town, it alludes to a fascinating past that was full of activity.
Fortunately, the dock is easily accessible for photographers and visitors who wish to visit. From Grand Marais, drive on Highway 61 for approximately 18.5 miles. Turn right onto Chicago Bay Road and the dock will be on the right side of the road in 500 feet. There is a small parking area where you can pull-off, park your car, and walk near the dock.
Tucked in a grove of trees near the edge of Beaver Bay, Minnesota, is an Old Chippewa Indian Cemetery where 22 people, including the legendary John Beargrease, were buried beginning in the year 1865.
Most don’t know the legend of John Beargrease and all he did for his surrounding community. Growing up a hunter, fisher, and trapper in Beaver Bay, Minnesota, was not easy, but their family made it work and soon became well known for their mail service. Since the train back then only made it as far as Agate Bay, and other channels of communication were limited, John and his brothers began to pick up the mail and deliver it up the North Shore while making their trips to hunt and trap.
Keeping loved ones and family members connected through his service, John continued delivering mail for over twenty years. During snowy months, his sled dogs pulled the mail-laden sled, and he then took to the Lake during the warmer months for an easier commute. He made his fastest dogsled trip from Agate Bay to Grand Marais with a load of about 700 pounds of mail in just under 28 hours. Because of his reliable and successful mail delivery, the population along the North Shore grew and the economy stabilized.
John made his last mail delivery on April 26, 1899, but continued his trading business for many more years to come. One day in 1910, John went out in a storm to rescue a mail carrier whose boat was caught in the waves off Tamarack Point near Grand Portage. This selfless act did not go unnoticed, but he soon caught pneumonia and eventually died in his hometown of Beaver Bay. His grave can be seen there today at the Indian Cemetery.
Heading northwest on Highway 61 in Beaver Bay, turn left (or away from the lake) onto Old Town Road (next to Holiday) and follow the road until reaching the stop sign. On the left side of the road (just before the stop sign) look for two log railings and some steps (they may appear overgrown from the road). Follow the stairs/trail to the top of the small hill where you will see a historical marker that lists the names of the people buried there.
If you’re looking for a day to watch ships on Lake Superior but don’t want to deal with the large crowds of tourists in Canal Park of Duluth, look no further. McQuade Small Craft Harbor is the perfect place to enjoy a calm, but interesting day watching small crafts come in and out of the harbor. Although they might not be the biggest vessels, this harbor has seen increased boat traffic for many years.
This public access facility was developed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis County, and the City of Duluth. Combining their resources and knowledge, the Harbor was developed and includes boat and kayak launching areas, both east and west breakwaters to shelter the harbor, and several picnic areas for spectators to enjoy the views. There are also three platforms for fishing from the shore!
Whether you’re looking to put your boat in the water for a day on the lake, picnic with your family and enjoy the views, or just come for a leisurely stroll around the harbor, McQuade Small Craft Harbor is a great place for all those things. There is also plenty of parking and it is very accessible for pedestrians!
Follow Scenic Highway 61 out of Duluth for approximately nine miles, then look for the McQuade Small Craft Harbor sign on your right.
The Ray Berglund State Wayside is located on highway 61 between Tofte and Lutsen and was established in 1951 as a memorial to a businessman and conservationist. It includes a half-mile trail along the Onion River, picnic areas (with excellent views!), and a recently rebuilt sanitation facility.
The restrooms/sanitation facilities were recently rebuilt. In the distance, the stairs mark the beginning of the half-mile hiking trail that is accessible from the parking lot.
There are many great views from the trail, especially from the picnic site that is located about 100 feet from the parking lot. The Onion River
Rocky Taconite is the unique monument that welcomes people to Silver Bay. It’s one of those fun, quirky monuments that makes you want to pull over on the side of the road and snap a photo in front of – one that you see and won’t soon forget.
Rocky is made up of a black spherical head and body (resembling taconite pellets) and holds a pick which is believed to have come from old Sweden. The Swedish pick represents the many Scandinavians who settled in the area.
Built in 1956, Silver Bay was a planned housing community that was built to house workers of the taconite processing plant that was built on the shore of Lake Superior. The location was chosen for its port and a large amount of water that was available. The Rocky Taconite monument was built to represent Silver Bay and the surrounding area, whose culture has been built around the taconite industry. The monument was dedicated in 1964.
Turn toward Silver Bay (away from Lake Superior) onto County Road 5 off of Highway 61 four miles northeast of Beaver Bay. Drive one block and the monument can be found on the right side of the road.
The Susie Islands are a group of 13 islands off the North Shore of Lake Superior near Grand Portage. The three major islands: Susie, Francis, and Lucille were all named after a member of the Falconer family who once lived in Susie and mined its copper ore in the early 1900’s. Though copper ore is no longer mined from the islands, they still have much to give: an environment for growing rare flora and a breathtaking view from the roadside overlook along Highway 61.
The islands are all home to unique and unusual flora due to their location. Because the islands are offshore, they experience colder, harsher weather conditions than inland Minnesota and Canada. And, since the islands are isolated from the mainland, they rarely experience forest fires. These conditions create the ideal environment for some of Minnesota’s rarest plants. Susie Island, the largest of the thirteen islands at 145 acres, is home to the uncommon Alpine Bistort and Slender Hairgrass. Other unique plants found on the islands range from the Norwegian Whitlow Grass (endangered in Minnesota) to Pearlwort, Arctic Lupine, Sphagnum Moss, and more!
The Nature Conservancy purchased the southern portion of Susie Island in 1971 and the remainder of it in the 1980’s from various private parties. In 2016 the organization began the process of transferring ownership of the island to the Grand Portage Band of the Chippewa Tribe, who owns the remaining twelve islands. The tribe will continue to oversee the health of all of the islands, ensuring that only recreational activity and no development take place.
Experience the islands for yourself – you won’t regret it! To view the islands (and nearby Mount Josephine) from the Susie Island Overlook, follow Highway 61 north from Grand Marais until you enter Grand Portage State Park. Look for signs that are labeled “Susie Islands”.
If you hope to visit the islands by boat, you must first obtain permission from the Grand Portage Reservation.
Taconite Harbor is a safe harbor located near Schroeder, MN. The harbor originally opened in 1957 and was built using two natural islands that were located near the shore. The breakwaters built from these islands were built large enough for massive ore boats to enter and leave the harbor. While in the harbor, the boats were filled with low-grade taconite pellets that came by rail from Hoyt Lakes 75 miles away. The harbor closed in 2001 after the steel industry declined.
Now the harbor is used as a public water access site and a safe harbor. On the far side of the harbor stands a coal powered electrical generating facility that ceased operation in 2016.
Taconite Harbor is located 12 miles northeast of Little Marais (2.5 miles southwest of Schroeder) just off Highway 61. A short road leads drivers from Highway 61 directly to the harbor. One of the most interesting parts of the short drive is the ghost town that lines the side of the road. In its prime, the town was made up of 24 pre-fabricated homes for employees of Hoyt Lakes. What can be seen today is an empty, open space where the homes used to rest, some old streetlights and remnants of the city streets. Near the harbor rest pieces of heavy equipment that were used in prior years for shipping, including a large scoop, a tire from a massive dump truck (that stands 8 feet high), and two anchors.
Zip Line Adventure Park
Looking for an adventure on your next trip to northern Minnesota? Want to do something a little out of the ordinary? Fly high with the thrill-seeking Towering Pines Canopy Tour located on the Gunflint Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area!The Towering Pines Canopy Tour takes “eagle-eye view” to a new level. The tour features eight high-speed zip lines that take you through the boreal forest canopy with spectacular views of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area as your backdrop. Cruise among and even onto platforms high in the old-growth white pines. Along the way, you will see Lonely Lake, Gunflint Lake, and the Canadian shores.Guests are equipped with secure harnesses, helmets, gloves, and a braking glove that allows riders to control their speeds on the zip lines. The tour starts with a quick drive up the rocky trails behind Gunflint Lodge. Your first taste of adventure is a shorter, easy zip from ground level to a towering man-made structure. From there you climb several flights of stairs until you are at eye level with the 200-year-old white pine trees that dot the area. The zip lines get faster and longer from here, with the longest line being over 700 feet as you soar across the sky onto a small platform high in the trees.
The whole tour takes about two hours and can include up to 10 guests. Two well-trained guides ensure safety and give hand signals to help guide guests along the zip line, giving information on the area and surrounding nature as you go. Come alone or take the adventure with the whole family! Guests must be at least 10 years old and weigh between 75 and 204 lbs, and be in good health (no major health conditions, including pregnancy). Otherwise, the course requires no special strength or skills so kids, grandparents, and all ages in-between can enjoy the tour together.
Towering Pines Canopy Tour is located and managed by the Gunflint Lodge and is open to the public. Book your tour by contacting The Gunflint Lodge.
Peter Wolf Toth is a well-known American Sculptor known in Minnesota for his impressive statue built in Two Harbors. He built and erected this sculpture in 1977, but was drawn back to it when he heard it needed repair. Spending weeks camped out next to the statue, Peter was unpaid and basically unnoticed, but was determined to give the previous inhabitants back what he had once been so proud of.
The statue is part of a larger collection known as The Trail of Whispering Giants. The 71 statues that make up the collection are cataloged by the Smithsonian and can be found all over the US and in various Canadian Provinces. Although it is an ongoing project, Peter has been recognized all over the country for his incredible artistry. He always donates the sculptures to the community he makes it in, and never charges a fee for his time.
The statue itself in Two Harbors stands around 30 feet tall and is made of pine. It is located along Highway 61 near the Visitor Center in Two Harbors and has many picnic tables and open spaces nearby. There is also an original Civilian Conservation Corps cabin next to the statue that is filled with maps and brochures for visitors to enjoy.