The west shoreline of Lake Superior touches Minnesota and is known within the state as the North Shore. It's roughly 160 miles (255km) from Duluth to the Canadian border and the whole length is dotted with state parks, state forests, state waysides and other things that show up as little green boxes on the map. Generally these parks feature a lot of waterfalls and some serious uphill hiking if you're headed inland. At the very north end you'll find a lot of things with Grand Portage in their name, including a national monument, a state park, a small village and a casino. There is a small ferry to Isle Royale that leaves from Grand Portage but the times are sporadic and the few that we could fit into our schedule were booked. So our Isle Royale trip left from Michigan's upper peninsula instead.
The most interesting and scenic town along the north shore, in our opinion, is Grand Marais which has a lovely picturesque harbor. Many other towns along the north shore also have lovely picturesque harbors, but generally they also have an ore mining facility on one side of it. Grand Marais is full of nice little cafes and restaurants and at least one very nice brew pub. The Gunflint Trail, which provides access to the eastern side of the Boundary Waters branches off nearby.
Just south of Grand Marais is Cascade River State Park. In a general sense, it features the same things all the parks up here feature - popular and accessible waterfalls near the road, less visited waterfalls inland, rugged trails into the hills that connect with the long distance Superior Hiking Trail, coastal walks along Lake Superior, and park maps that are most decidely not drawn to scale.
Here the Cascade River flows underneath the main road and into Lake Superior. Within a half mile upstream of here there are probably a dozen waterfalls with access trails along both sides. Since we were in the midst of circling Lake Superior we picked out one or two trails at each of these parks (and had a really long day). You could just as easily spend several days in one park if you were backpacking.
Now we've moved on to Temperance River State Park which has a bit more of a canyon than the other parks do. In fact right about here the river disappears completely out of view. The trails here cross open rock face and you can walk right up to the edge of the canyon. Given that rock is prone to crumbling this might not be a good idea.
If you do fall in though, you'll end up down here (eventually) at the outlet. That's hidden falls that can just be seen in this picture. From this point down to the lake the river is relatively quiet with only a few smaller rapids. The canyon around hidden falls is a very short walk inland from the parking area.
One of the more impressive waterfalls along this drive doesn't even merit a whole park. This is the Cross River Wayside. That basically means it is a parking lot with a restroom and an observation point (two in this case).
Next up is Tettegouche State Park which offers some of the best lakeshore hiking. A coastal trail covers pretty much all the terrain that can be seen in this picture, plus there a some beach access points. We should probably mention that as in Ontario, if you purchase a day pass to any one of these parks, you get admission to all of them on the same day which is a great help if you're trying to hike one trail in each of them.
If the Temperance River trail gives you vertigo problems, you might want to skip Tettegouche - or at least the trail out to Shovel Point. The cliffs on the right side of the trail here are generally sheer drops into the lake.
Shovel point is definitely worth the hike as there are good views of the shoreline in both directions. This cove is on the north side of shovel point. We could mention there are also trails inland in Tettegouche to several waterfalls, but that would probably be redundant by now.
Split Rock lighthouse is supposedly the most popular destination on this drive. Judging roughly from parking lot capacity and crowd size, this was probably true on the day we visited. Basically, it's a lighthouse and some associated buildings. We came more out of a sense of obligation than any particular interest. It's probably not worth it unless you actually have some interest in lighthouses, which we generally don't.
If Split Rock isn't the most popular destination, then Gooseberry Falls is. There are actually at least 5 falls in Gooseberry Falls, which start out with names like Lower, Middle, and Upper. Instead of Upperer falls the next one upstream is called Fifth falls. Huh? Well this is Upper Gooseberry Falls which judging from other pictures we saw of it has a pretty good water flow on this particular day.
There are a lot of good possible captions for this picture. See that horizon line just past Melanie? That would be the top of Lower Gooseberry Falls. That leads to the burning question - "Where exactly does this staircase go?" A sign just a few yards up from here says that swimming is "not recommended". I guess we'd have to agree with that. If you look closely in the top right of this picture you can see the river far down below this falls. If you do swim here, bring your base jumping chute.
Here is Middle Gooseberry Falls where swimming is also "not recommended". From Gooseberry Falls to Duluth, the little green squares on the map finally run out. We'd also like to point out that Duluth looks to be a very interesting city with an impressive setting. Since we didn't really spend much time there though, we'll save it for some future trip page.