Grand Marais

Voted America’s coolest small town, this is arguably the number one destination on the North Shore.

At over 2,300 feet, Eagle Mountain, a Minnesota State Historic Site, is the highest natural point in Minnesota!  It is located within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, northwest of Grand Marais. Coincidentally, it is located only 15 miles from Minnesota’s lowest elevation point, Lake Superior. The peak can be climbed during any season, however, be cautious during the winter months as it can be somewhat slippery.

Although most of the hike to the summit is straightforward and uncomplicated, the occasionally rocky and rough terrain make some people categorize it as a strenuous hike. The first two miles have little elevation gain, but soon the area becomes full of lowland bogs accompanied by wooden plank walkways for your convenience. Following the first two miles, Eagle Mountain Trail passes along the southern and western shore of Whale Lake, making for a perfect rest and photo stop.

At the top of the 2,300-foot climb, you will be greeted by a large commemorative plaque placed on a rock that geologists presume to be over one billion years old. Bust out that lunch you packed and enjoy. Stop and take a look around – You will be witnessing one of the greatest views in Minnesota!

The Sawtooth Mountain Range stretches from the west side of Tofte to the east side of Grand Marais. It is made up of a number of peaks, with the highest one reaching 900 feet over Lake Superior. While these peaks don’t rival other mountain ranges in height, the Sawtooth Mountain Range has a noteworthy silhouette. Looking at it from a distance, the peaks resemble the teeth of a saw with their uniform size, height, and angles (hence the name Sawtooth Mountains).

The range was created by a combination of volcanic activity and erosion over the past billion years. Peaks include Carlton Peak, Leveaux Mountain, Oberg Mountain, Moose Mountain, Eagle Mountain, Murphy Mountain and Sawtooth Bluff.

There is little information available about the original native residents of Chippewa, a town that used to stand just east of Grand Marais. All that is left to hint at what life was like back when the town was alive are letters and photographs taken by European Settlers who made observations of the area. The only building that remains and serves as a stark reminder of what was once there, is the St. Francis Xavier Church.

Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, this church was built under the direction of Father Specht in 1895 on land donated by Antoine and Antoinette Fillison. The community raised money by hand weaving baskets, filing them with baked goods, and selling them to fellow community members. Often times lumberjacks were the high bidders!

The church served as the only Catholic Church in Grand Marais from 1895-1916 until the opening of St. Johns. As the population of Chippewa City began to decline, so did the attendance and use of the church. It held its final mass on Christmas in 1936. To this day, the church stands tall and is the only physical remnant of what used to be a vibrant community. To visit, call the museum at (218) 387-2883 and ask about opportunities.

Getting There
One-half mile north of Grand Marais, look for the Chippewa City church’s brown historical marker and you’ll see an old white church on your right.

What started as an eight-week summer course has now prospered into the longest-lived art colony in Minnesota. Since 1947, the Grand Marais Art Colony has been living up to its motto of “Nurturing Creativity on the North Shore.” Cultivating a relationship between outdoor inspiration and artistic pursuit, the art colony lets artists, experienced or not, step outside their comfort zone to create art that’s inspired by the wilderness on the North Shore and Lake Superior.

The art colony features year-round art classes including hands-on activities, artist talks and demonstrations, high-quality studio access, and outstanding events and exhibits. The facilities offered include visual arts, clay, glass, and printmaking studios. Several different instructors provide skills and expertise to make time with them meaningful, while also providing a unique souvenir to bring home and show off to friends and family.

Classes are offered year-round to any person of interest.  A list of upcoming events can be found on the Grand Marais Art Colony website.

What looks just like a bunch of rocks in the middle of the water is actually one of Grand Marais’ best attractions! What spurred the development of the Breakwall and the Lighthouse you might ask? Well, in 1881 the Schooner Stranger wrecked just outside of the Grand Marais Harbor and all of the crewmen were killed. The people knew something had to be done to make it more safe.

In 1882, the development of the first breakwater and lighthouse began. The breakwall was to be stretched around 300 feet full of rocks of all sizes to protect vessels in search of shelter. It was completed in 1883, and during a storm the following year, eleven vessels sought shelter in the harbor with the protection of the breakwall. Take a walk out onto the breakwall and enjoy the breathtaking view of the Sawtooth Mountains in the background.

Getting There
When in Grand Marais, turn toward Lake Superior on Broadway Avenue. Park in the Coast Guard parking lot at the end of the road and walk south along the shore to the breakwall.

The lighthouse that sits in Grand Marais has become a destination for many visitors in the area. If you’ve been to Grand Marais, it’s likely you’ve walked along the breakwall to visit the square pyramidal structure, but do you know the history behind it?

The Grand Marais lighthouse was built in 1885 on the eastern end of the harbor breakwater. In the year or two prior, construction was completed on the piers that guarded the harbor entry. These new piers required a light and fog signal to guide mariners through the opening, so congress allotted just over $9,500 for a set to be installed. Charles E. L. B. David, who was the Eleventh District Engineer Captain at the time, created the construction plans that used surplus parts in order to reduce building costs.

In 1902 a second light was added to the west end of the harbor using a cast iron post with a small area for oil storage. After the lights were installed, many major repairs were made, especially to the original light on the east pier. Various lighting systems were used over the years until they were both automated in 1937. At that time, a light keeper was no longer needed.

Today, the lighthouse is managed by the Cook County Historical Society. The keeper’s dwelling, which was later built in 1896, still stands on the shore near the lighthouse and is currently being operated as a museum. The museum is open to the public during the summer months.

Check out this 360 video walk out to the Grand Marais Lighthouse along the breakwall. This is a 360 video so you can control which way the camera looks by clicking on the video, holding down, and moving the view around. Enjoy!

More than 30 years ago, a gentleman by the name of Mark Hansen moved to the North Shore to build birch bark canoes. Once he arrived, a connection was made to the area, magic happened and Hansen stayed to build one of the most vibrant non-profit organizations in Minnesota: North House Folk School.

Traditionally speaking, a folk school is a place where people come to learn new skills or expand the knowledge they have on a certain trade or concept.

On the local level, North House Folk School brings instructors from around the world to teach traditional northern crafts on the shore of Lake Superior. Started by Mark and a collection of other local and regional residents, the concept of a folk school was brought to the attention of the community and received many positive responses. During the time that has passed since North House came to life in the late 1970s, many changes have come its way. Namely, it has expanded, become widely popular and impacted the lives of thousands of people.

The school’s campus is located in the Grand Marais Harbor. Students and instructors come from all over the world to teach, learn, talk, share and create. The choice of classes is endless: basketry, blacksmithing, knitting, sailing, woodcarving, yurt-building, sausage-making, crafting jewelry with local stones and the list goes. In a typical year, North House hosts about 350 different classes, all of them led by more than 100 regional artists who work as instructors at the Folk School. They also host many events throughout the year that spur from the wide range of classes they offer.

As a direct connect to your upcoming stay, North House Folk School students receive a 10-percent discount at most Cascade Vacation Rentals homes during their class stay.

North House Folk School is located at 500 Highway 61 in Grand Marais.