Minnesota’s North Shore

Earlier this week we packed up the car for the two and a half hour drive to Duluth, MN, on the shores of the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior. We weren’t expecting much from Duluth as we’ve come to realize that even though a city is the largest of that state, it may not be THAT large a town.

As we approached, we motored past all the typical strip malls, Best Buys, Targets and Holiday gas stations we could stand. We’d driven past the Duluth sign and we were afraid we’d already passed through the city center.

But, this city has a little surprise. The town is built upon a beautiful tree lined hill and overlooks a beautiful dark bay. Very reminiscent of San Francisco, as your excitement builds as you reach the top and peer down at the historic buildings below. We quickly found a place to park near the lake front and started walking.

The area nearest the lake is very quaint with artsy shops and locally-owned restaurants. Not only did we window shop, but we actually popped in a few stores to look around.

As we continued down the incline towards the bay, we saw the city’s most interesting feature, and perhaps its most famous sight – the Aerial Lift Bridge. This unique bridge is designed to carry pedestrians, bikers and autos across the bay, but to avoid disrupting Duluth Channel flow, the main platform rises to accommodate approaching boats below. We waited for such an event and captured the short video below to share – which should be posted shortly (if it’s not down there already!) The bridge is only one of a dozen or so in the United States, so we have to admit we’ve never seen one operate.

Next, we walked along the channel to the town’s light house. Duluth has definitely invested in their lakefront; and the view, beaches and bike trails are amazing. They have a plank walkway or boardwalk for visitors to enjoy, but also have paved trail for runners and bikers. We truly enjoyed our walk down by the lake and were surprised by just how big (and clean) Lake Superior is.

We then made our way downtown doing some more window shopping and browsing; even stopping for a while at the famous “Electric Fetus” which has been described as the preeminent indie music store in Minnesota. Then, we hopped in our car, rolled down the windows and prepared ourselves for a scenic drive up the lake coast. The wind coming through the windows was the classic cool lake breeze I remember growing up near Lake Erie and was a refreshing break from a humid month.

As seems to always be the case, this lazy, relaxing two-hour drive was the highlight of our visit to Minnesota. From our Volvo, we were able to ride comfortably along enjoying the views. But our casual perspective and lack of timeline also gave us a chance to stop off once in a while to breath in the crowned majesty of the bluffs, the rustling activity of the trees and the rock lined inlets that captured the lake as brief pools and puddles and offered ample space for soaking in the sun.

Once we hit Two Harbors, we were so excited about our destination – Gooseberry Falls, that we didn’t spend the $3 for the lighthouse tour though I’m sure it would have been very interesting. We did stop to snap a few pictures and grab a couple souvenirs, but then we were on our way.

After a few dynamite-blown tunnels and several more “photo ops,” we pulled into our destination – Gooseberry Falls State Park. We had heard from our new Viking friend Steinarr that this was the best part of the North Shore, and unlike some of his other tall tales, this story didn’t disappoint.

These falls are truly breathtakingly beautiful. Gooseberry Falls is made up of one major set of falls that meander down to many thinner and smaller falls below. The platforms below each capture only a minimal amount of the water allowing for up close exploration of the falls, the pools and the people, many of whom had already stripped down to their bathing suits and were hopping into the chilly waters.

We eventually found a nice sport to dip our feet and relax in the sun. It was a fitting end to a beautiful day in Duluth and Lake Superior. (For this story’s sake we’ll just ignore the three-hour trek back.)