Although Grand Marais, Minnesota is only home to roughly 1,351 residents, it is a favorite vacation spot for people from all over the state and region. Situated on the northwestern shore of Lake Superior in the northeastern section of the state, it is an entry point for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the beginning of the Gunflint Trail. The famous Superior Hiking Trail and Judge C. R. Magney State Park are also both a stone’s throw from the town.
As of late, Grand Marais has been garnering some much-deserved national attention. In a search for “America’s Coolest Small Town 2015” by Budget Travel, Grand Marais snagged the top spot. What’s more, the Matador Network recently named Grand Marais one of “America’s 20 Coolest Outdoor Towns.”
With its “cool factor” on the rise, you may want to book a weekend trip up north to visit this outdoorsy little town on the banks of Gitchie Gumi. We rounded up some of the best activities to hit up in the surrounding area while you’re staying in Grand Marais to make sure you get the full experience.
1. Rock Climbing Tour
Offering equipment rental and instruction, Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais is the place to go for outdoor adventure. Lake Superior’s shoreline cliffs make for some of the best top-rope rock climbing around and that’s not to mention the stunning views you’ll get of the lake. Stone Harbor offers tours of some of the best climbing in the area, including Carlton Peak, a rock mountain with 360-degree views, as well as Shovel Point sea cliffs on the lake. These tours cater to all levels of climber, newbies and veterans alike. The shop also offers a wide variety of tours and outdoors equipment rentals for a wide range of other activities as well, including fly-fishing, kayaking, and sled dog tours in the winter.
2. Cycling Cook County
Cook County is home to over 2,000 miles of bike trails, both on and off road. The paved 88-mile Gitchi Gami State Trail connects Two Harbors and Grand Marais, winding along Lake Superior's North Shore. You can also access singletrack and backcountry roads in the nearby Superior National Forest. If you’re looking for a race in the area, be sure to check out the Lutsen Ninety Niner in June. For a wide variety of trail maps, look to the Superior Cycling Association ’s great online resources.
3. Camping at Cascade River State Park
While there are plenty of places to camp in Northern Minnesota, Cascade River State Park , just 10 miles southwest of Grand Marais, is a great option if you’re visiting the area. Living up to its name, the park features some of the most impressive waterfalls in the state. With forty drive-in campsites and five backpack sites, it’s worth booking your spot early if you plan on staying in the summer months.
4. Trail Running the Superior Hiking Trail
There’s no shortage of trails around Grand Marais. Just north of the town there are a wide variety of unpaved footpaths off the Gunflint Trail, including the Pincushion Mountain hiking trails that offer 15-miles and Devil Track River running and hiking trails with around 10 miles, all of which are a part of the Superior Hiking Trail. If you’re not sure where to start, stop at the Superior National Forest ranger station in Grand Marais for maps and directions or check out the Superior Hiking Trail Association website. For a bit of competition, check out the Superior Trail Races held in both the fall and the spring.
5. Guided Kayak Tour
Located 25-miles south of Grand Marais in Tofte, Sawtooth Outfitters organizes unforgettable kayak tours. These trips give you the chance to paddle down to Temperance River Park to explore the falls that flow into the gorge or go in search of agates along the shores of Lake Superior. You can also paddle into the impressive Taconite Harbor or journey into a serene wilderness lake in Superior National Forest.
6. Outdoors Photography Workshop
Outdoor photography buffs can learn from one of the best in the business at Bryan Hansel’s photography workshops . A mix of classroom instruction and field time spent in stunning outdoors locations, you’ll learn how to take amazing photos of the beautiful landscapes that make the North Shore famous. If you’re relatively new to photography, Hansel can even help you with the basics of how to master camera settings, shooting techniques, and composition.
7. Fishing Charter or Scenic Cruise
Bear Track Outfitting based in Grand Marais offers a wide range of rentals and tours, including fishing charters and cruises on Lake Superior. Whether you’re looking to catch a monster lake trout or simply enjoy a dinner cruise, Bear Track has you covered. If you’re more interested in transportation of the human-powered variety, they also have canoe and sea kayak rentals.
8. Stand Up Paddleboarding Tour
Whether you’re a seasoned paddleboard enthusiast or a complete rookie, Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais can help with rentals, instruction, and directions to the warmer inland lakes. If you’re paddling in the harbor, you may want to also consider renting a wetsuit, as it can be chilly even in the late summer. For those in search of a community event, Stone Harbor will be hosting a weekend of SUP demos in the harbor July 18-19.