Escape to the Minnesota North Shore | A Family-Friendly Itinerary
Last summer we invested in a popup camper and since that purchase, we have traveled all over the Midwest. Just recently our family made a trip to the Minnesota North Shore and I cannot believe this piece of the United States is right here in the Midwest. Only about 6 hours from the Des Moines, Iowa area! If you are looking to escape, take in the beautiful scenery, enjoy nature, and learn some fun history, I highly recommend an escape to the Minnesota North Shore.
I am sharing a fun family-friendly itinerary to hit all the spots. The order of attractions is South to North, so depending on where you stay along the North Shore Scenic Drive you can alter the order you visit these fun spots.
Where to Stay
Where to stay!? This truly depends on where you want to end up on the North Shore Scenic Drive. There are several small towns along this drive that offer small hotels and campgrounds. Our family camped in Silver Bay, Minnesota at Black Beach Campground. Silver Bay is about 60 minutes north of Duluth and about 90 minutes south of Grand Portage (near the Canada border). I found Silver Bay to be the perfect sweet spot! Black Beach Campground was also a great campground which is newer and offered a nice shower/bathroom facility and near the famous Black Beach.
Duluth, Minnesota is a beautiful city located right along Lake Superior’s North Shore and most known for being a seaport. If you have younger children they will LOVE to see all the boats and large ships come in and out of the port. Along, with seeing all the boats there are several fun attractions to visit.
Canal Park is the hub of fun restaurants and attractions in Duluth. If you are looking to get close to the water and see all the ships head to The Duluth Lakewalk & Boardwalk. We enjoyed following this loop which also included very large rocks to climb on, benches along the way, the lift bridge, memorials, and more.
Lake Superior Maritime Museum
The Lake Superior Maritime Museum is located on the Duluth Lakewalk and is free! This museum offers several exhibits and programs, replicas of cabins and pilothouses from ships, interactive displays (the kids loved!), and tons of history of the Duluth Ship Canal.
William A. Irvin Floating Ship Museum
This was such a fun museum and tour! The William A. Irvin Floating Ship Museum tour is self-guided with several stops on the way where you can ask questions and take in history from guides. It was fun to board onto a large ship, take a look on the inside, and learn how crews worked years ago. Tours last about 45 minutes and it is a paid attraction.
Vista Fleet Boat Tours
If you are looking to get on Lake Superior and experience going through the Duluth Ship Canal, book a Vista Fleet Boat Tour. They offer several tours some that include dinner. We chose the 1 hour 45-minute Sight Seeing Tour which was perfect for our entire family. Vista Fleet offers snacks and drinks on the ship. I would recommend packing your own snacks as the line gets super long for drinks and snacks. Get there early to stand in line so you can get a good spot when you board the boat.
Duluth offers so many great restaurants and if you are planning to spend the day there you will probably need a good restaurant recommendation. These are some popular ones!
- Canal Park Brewing Company
- Grandma’s Salloon & Grill
- Vitta Pizza
- Betty’s Pies (not located in Duluth, but on the scenic drive. It’s a must stop!)
Split Rock Lighthouse
Split Rock Lighthouse is a must-visit while visiting the Minnesota North Shore. This attraction is located in Twin Harbors just north of Duluth. This is a fun place to learn how a lighthouse works, why a lighthouse was important, and what the jobs of the workers were. The visitor center offers fun interactive displays that the kids enjoyed, an opportunity to climb to the top of the lighthouse, and tours through old historic buildings. Pack your hiking shoes, because there is a trail to the bottom of the lighthouse which has tons of rocks to climb and play on!
Gooseberry Falls State Park offers several waterfalls and hiking trails to explore. There are trails for all capabilities including paved, wheelchair accessible, and hiking. This park does tend to fill up and get busy. Make sure you plan to arrive early!
Black Beach located in Silver Bay, Minnesota used to be a private beach. Just a few years ago they opened this one-of-a-kind Midwest beach to the public and it is a must. The black sand is what makes this beach so unique, but the rocks and views are worth it too. Make sure you wear your swimsuit. Although the lake was super cold, our kids did not care and enjoyed jumping and splashing in the water.
Tettegouche State Park
Pack your swimsuits and head to Tettegouche State Park along the Minnesota North Shore. You will not want to miss Below High Falls. The hike to the waterfall is moderately difficult and if you have young kids I would recommend paying the small fee to park closer to the falls to cut the hiking length. The trail is fun and includes beautiful views above the falls and a suspension bridge to cross. Once you get to the bottom of the falls you will not want to leave. Pack a picnic and spend time swimming and climbing the rocks.
Superior National Forest
You will enter the Superior National Forest once you head north of Tettegouche State Park along the North Shore Scenic Drive. If your family loves to collect National Passport Stamps, make sure you grab this one. You will drive by a couple of visitors centers that you can stop to get your stamp. There are also several hiking trailheads too. Make a stop and do some exploring!
Grand Marais was my favorite spot along the Minnesota North Shore. I quickly fell in love with this small town, its food, and its views. Our main reason for the visit was a hike on Artist’s Point which is the name of the small peninsula that forms the double harbor. While walking the path be very careful as it is very narrow and there are no railings. The kids could have spent hours there climbing the rocks and the views are breathtaking.
Grand Portage State Park
Grand Portage State Park is located on the United States and Canada border. There is a one-half-mile trail to Minnesota’s highest waterfall. It is paved with very gentle elevation changes. Take some time to put your feet in The Pigeon River which serves as the border between the United States and Canada.