Anyone who has fallen for Minnesota’s North Shore knows the magnetic pull of Lake Superior, the meditative practice of palming perfectly rounded stones and the inhale-exhale rhythm of waves.
Favorite state parks, small towns, coves and even the bustling Canal Park lure visitors back again and again with seasonal scenery and a feast for the senses.
So here’s a challenge for 2017: Discover someplace new. Hike higher. Drive farther. Stay longer.
Locals and state park experts helped compile this list of places that can join longtime favorites whether you crave a day in the woods or being king of the mountain, or seek tranquil shorelines to soak in the Big Lake’s scenery.
Most take a little more digging to find maps and go beyond well-trod state park trails. For example, instead of taking a three-quarter-mile loop to see waterfalls at Cascade River State Park north of Lutsen, set aside a couple of hours to tackle the 3-mile round-trip Lookout Mountain hike, said David Clute, assistant manager at Cascade and Judge C.R. Magney state parks.
The trail climbs 600 feet in elevation for a dramatic view of the entire Cascade River basin.
“You can see about 50 miles pretty easily,” Clute said.
Spirit Mountain Coaster? Try Lester Park Trail
Fans of the Duluth’s Spirit Mountain Coaster and mountain bike trails should enjoy following the Lester River as it rushes toward Lake Superior on the city’s east side. More than 9 miles of trails flank the river starting at Skyline Parkway and Seven Bridges Road, and flowing downhill to Lester Park near 60th Avenue East and Superior Street. Trails, which frame up views of the Great Lake, connect to Duluth Traverse, an ever-growing, multiuse trail system that includes world-class mountain biking. (duluthtrails.com/lester-park).
Canal Park? Try Park Point Trail
Trade the bustle of Canal Park for a quieter view of Lake Superior and harbor areas with a trip across the Aerial Lift Bridge to the tip of Park Point, the longest freshwater barrier beach in the world (7 miles in Minnesota, 3 in Wisconsin). Park at the Sky Harbor Regional Airport and follow a path that runs parallel to the runway before it enters Minnesota Point Pine Forest Scientific and Natural Area. Tamarack, Norway and white pines populate this old-growth forest dotted with remnant foundations of early settlement cabins. For birders, it’s a popular stop for migrating songbirds, gulls, shorebirds and waterfowl (bit.ly/duluthparks).
Grand Portage Trail? Try Middle Falls Trail
If you’ve ticked seeing Minnesota’s highest falls (plunging 120 feet) off your sightseeing checklist, take a different trail at Grand Portage State Park for a 4 ½-mile backcountry trek along the Middle Falls Trail. The middle falls drops about 40 feet across rocks while riverside ledges offer a great place to rest and almost touch Canada across the water. On a clear day, it’s possible to see Isle Royale from a 400-foot overlook on a spur trail. Have a passport and more time? Drive less than an hour north for the stunning Kakabeka Falls west of Thunder Bay, Ontario. (1-218-475-2360; bit.ly/grandport).
Devil’s Kettle? Try Devil’s Track trail
If you’ve already hiked to J. R. Magney State Park’s mysteriously forked falls with one side disappearing into the ground, tackle a longer trail. Turn onto Lindskog Road/County Road 58 from Hwy. 61 north of Grand Marais, and park at the Superior Hiking Trail parking area. The trail follows Devil’s Track River through red pines. It’s about 1 ½ miles (one way) to the river’s gorge, 2 ½ miles to the footbridge crossing it, or 5 miles to make the climb up Pincushion Mountain that towers above Grand Marais with views of Lake Superior. (shta.org)
Oberg Mountain? Try Border Route Trail
If you enjoy the views from Oberg Mountain between Tofte and Lutsen, keep heading north of Grand Marais to the Arrowhead Trail/County Road 16 and head inland to Jackson Lake Road. It intersects with the last stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail before it joins the 65-mile Border Route Trail that parallels Canada. (shta.org)
“The last 1 ½ mile is awesome,” said Travis Novitsky, operations supervisor at Grand Portage State Park. “At the 270 Overlook, you have almost a 360-degree view of the Swamp River and Pigeon River valleys. It’s phenomenal.”
Lisa Meyers McClintick is a St. Cloud-based freelance writer and author of “Day Trips from the Twin Cities” and “The Dakotas Off the Beaten Path.”