Lisa Meyers McClintick, travel writer & photographer

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Best North Shore adventures along Minnesota's Lake Superior

With crystal clear water and a stunning lakeshore, kayaking along Lake Superior can't be topped.

Top 10 things to do in Lutsen and Tofte, Minn. 

Photos & feature by Lisa Meyers McClintick

Looking for one of Minnesota's most scenic spots and best destinations for adventures? Point the car north and buzz up the North Shore along Lake Superior for a guaranteed great getaway.

Crystal clear waters at Bluefin Bay in Tofte 
One of our favorite places to stay is Lutsen and Tofte, only a few miles apart, but with a wide choice of lodging, plenty of outfitters for biking and paddling, the incredible Sawtooth Mountains, beautiful coves on Lake Superior and fantastic dining.

Here are our top picks for things to do and where to go in Lutsen and Tofte.

1. Get out on the water. Even if you've never gone kayaking or consider yourself so-so with a paddle, you can't pass up this opportunity on calm, serene summer days when Lake Superior's so clear, you can see deep down to volcanic ledges and tumbled-smooth boulders that seem to waver and shift with sunlight and shadows.

Temperance River State Park
Tamper down any niggling fears of capsizing and succumbing to hypothermia. There are plenty of guides to make sure you know what you're doing and have all the support you need. If you stay at Bluefin Bay or Lutsen Resort, complimentary kayaking comes with your lodging. You can also arrange paddling trips through Sawtooth Outfitters, which also does trips to the Temperance River, Palisade Head and sea caves, or Split Rock Lighthouse with a chance to paddle across the Madeira shipwreck.

Temperance River State Park
We did a trip starting at Tofte Bay, admiring rugged cliffs, envying those who own private homes tucked into woods and watching for streams spilling into Superior. Here, along this shore where we’ve vacationed for more than four decades, kayaking gave us a new perspective on a familiar and beloved place and a chance to relax with the tick-tock rhythm of paddling. Dip. Pull. Flip. Dip.

If you have young kids with you or the weather looks breezy, guides can take you inland to warmer, easier lakes.

2. Take a hike. Temperance River State Park offers beautiful trails along the mouth of the river and onto the Lake Superior shore, but don’t miss inland hiking along the river’s series of thundering falls that carved dramatic gorges and sculpted giant potholes. Hike back far enough, and you’ll reach its more placid beginnings and a great spot to hop rock to rock across the water.

Bike along the Gitchi-Gami Trail.
The park also connects to the Superior Hiking Trail, which heads north to Carlton Peak. You can also drive up Carlton Peak Road for a short, steep hike that rewards you with a 1,526-foot elevation view of the Sawtooth Mountains. The state park includes more than 50 campsites. 

3. Bike the trail: Tofte offers two paved sections of the Gitchi-Gami State BikeTrail: A three-mile stretch from Tofte that heads south to Schroeder’s Cross River Falls (gorgeous and easy to admire from the Highway). Another section starts on the northern edge of Tofte and runs for 7.3 miles to Ski Hill Road by Lutsen. 

Lake Superior cobblestones
North Shore lupine
4. Massage your muscles: Waves of Superior Spa provides pampering for stressed or achy muscles with massages, gentle acoustic music, a fireplace in the relaxation lounge and light lunches on a patio facing Lake Superior and adjacent Surfside on Superior townhomes. Regional influences include lake-tumbled rocks for hot-stone massage, spruce- or pine-scented massage oils, a ground wild rice body scrub and a blueberry-soy sugar scrub. Spa guests also can use the resort’s pool and whirlpool for the day. 

Surfside on Superior brings a modern look to the shore.
5. Explore history: Just south of Tofte, Schroeder’s Cross River Heritage Center is based in a beautifully rescued 1929 inn and general store. It blends the work of regional artists with historic displays, including a room that recreates the timber-frame style of architect Edwin Lundie. The center hosts an annual tour of Lundie cabins and distinctive vacation homes, as well.

6. Learn about fishing heritage. You can learn about Tofte's nautical roots and how early Scandinavian settlers made a living fishing Lake Superior and its rivers, and then selling or smoking whitefish, trout and salmon. The North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum includes indoor exhibits along with an interpretive boardwalk following the bay.

Surfside on Superior
7. Wake up to Lake Superior views. The lakeside condos at Bluefin Bay in Tofte make it easy to walk to breakfast or dinner, shop or visit the fishing museum. The resort includes the Bluefin Grille restaurant overlooking Superior, an indoor pool and an outdoor pool with a clear enclosure to protect it from lake winds.

Lutsen hiking on Moose Mountain.
South of Tofte, Surfside on Superior resort offers some of the North Shore’s most luxurious lodging with contemporary townhomes facing the lake. Huge picture windows and lofted master bedrooms make the most of the view, while full kitchens with red birch cabinets make it easy to stay put.

Both resorts are run by Bluefin Bay and include complimentary kayak lessons, the use of bikes and some dog-friendly lodging. 

8. Enjoy North Shore cuisine. Start the day with artisan breads, scones, pastries or granola pancakes at Coho CafĂ©. You can sit on the patio on warm days and cool off with creative salads and homemade dressings such as maple Dijon and strawberry rhubarb. Grab smoked fish dip and crackers to go for a lakeside picnic.  Don’t miss their pizzas, which include a Call of the Wild with locally made wild rice sausage.

Lutsen's tram ride is even prettier with fall colors.
9. Ride the Lutsen Mountains gondola. For an eagle-eye view of Lake Superior and surrounding forests, take a ride on the red mountain tram, which picks up visitors near the ski chalet, drifts above the Poplar River and lifts into the Sawtooth Mountains with a final swoop up the rocky ledge of Moose Mountain. Take the loop hike that circles the mountains and threads through shady trees and over craggy rocks. The resort also operates a fun alpine slide during the summer months.


10. Dine in Minnesota's Sawtooth Mountains. If you ride the mountain tram to Summit Chalet, you can grab a meal or just a cold beer (or hot coffee) with one of the best dining views in Minnesota. If you prefer a meal at Papa Charlie’s near the chalet, it hosts live music most weekends. (A bonus for parents: You can find some unique kids' meal items such as potstickers. (1-218-663-7281; www.lutsen.com).
Summit Chalet at Lutsen

Sunburst lichen colors lakeshore rock.
Need more info? Contact the Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder Visitor Information Center, 1-218-663-7804 or Cook County Visitors Bureau.

Visiting in winter? Check out my feature on skiing, dogsledding and a bucket-list sleigh ride along the North Shore.

St. Cloud-based Lisa Meyers McClintick (lisamcclintick.com) wrote Day Trips from the Twin Cities and has been traveling to the North Shore for four decades. 



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