10 Best Ways to Embrace Winter on America’s North Coast
The Lake Superior shoreline — dubbed America’s North Coast — beckons travelers with craggy cliffs, scenic coves and adrenaline-pumping adventures. Anyone willing to bundle up and brave the most frigid months can find some of the Midwest’s best winter experiences and unique sights.
Photo By: Per Breiehagen
Photo By: Lisa McClintick
Photo By: Lisa McClintick
Photo By: Lisa McClintick
Take a Fat-Tire Tour
Biking on snow? You betcha. Minnesota’s Surly Bikes led the charge in manufacturing fat-tire bikes, also known as fat bikes with four- to five-inch tires and enough all-terrain traction to handle slippery and snowy conditions. Duluth Experience Tours helps first-timers and intermediate riders get onto the city’s more than 85 miles of winter trails. An average snowfall of 80 inches covers the city’s 120-plus parks, multiple creeks and rivers, and its elevation of up to 600 feet above the shore guarantees great Lake Superior or St. Louis River views. Additional trails can be found in North Shore state parks.
Dog-Sled Through Minnesota Forests
If most dogs go into overdrive at the thought of a walk or a ride, imagine the cacophony and commotion of a dogsled team impatient for each one to get harnessed and to hit the forest trails. With a simple command, they fall silent, intent on the joyous surge forward as the sled gains momentum and snow-flocked pine trees spool past. The North Shore has several dog-sled guides who offer half-day, full-day or weekend rides or lessons in driving your own sled team. An off-the-grid bed-and-sled operation also offers a canine twist on a B&B. Many teams compete in the North Shore’s famed John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, which follows the coast as the longest sled-dog race in the lower 48 states.
Hike or Snowshoe to Frozen Falls
Eight state parks plus waysides and city parks along the North Shore protect and preserve the rivers that cascade down cliffs and gentle terraces on their way to Lake Superior. In the winter, the falls freeze in layers, creating a stalactite-like look in hues of blue, green and white, usually with the sound of still-tumbling water beneath it all. Trails are open to hiking or snowshoeing. Find the most dramatic (and easy-to-reach) vistas at Gooseberry Falls, Temperance River and Grand Portage state parks and the Cross River State Wayside right on Highway 61 in Schroeder. Grand Portage, on the border of the U.S. and Canada, boasts the tallest waterfall in the state.
Downhill Ski With Great Lake Views
Head 92 miles north of Duluth to ride the high-speed gondola or chair lifts to Lutsen Mountains, considered Mid-America’s highest and largest ski resort. The 95 daylight-only runs include one that plunges 1,000 feet and another stretching for two miles into Minnesota’s Sawtooth Mountains and Superior National Forest. Some areas, including the Summit Chalet where the gondola stops, include views of Lake Superior’s blue waters. Accommodations from hotel rooms to townhomes edge the mountains, which also include a terrain park and Nordic skiing. For a more urban setting and night skiing, Duluth’s Spirit Mountain has 22 runs, along with fat-bike trails, an expansive terrain park, Nordic skiing and tubing hill.
Sleep in a Lighthouse
For a historic experience and great views, Two Harbors’ 1892 red brick Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast has four rooms on a hill above the town’s Burlington Bay and Agate Bay. While the shipping season usually comes to a halt until early spring, it’s possible to see the retired trains and the iron ore docks where ships are filled in warmer weather for journeys across the Great Lakes. Lighthouse fans should also check out Split Rock Lighthouse. While the grounds and historic buildings are closed for the winter, the visitor center with its introductory film and exhibits on shipwrecks stays open. Photographers can find several scenic views of the lighthouse from the state park beaches nearby.
Hone New Skills in Grand Marais
Take a class in everything from crafting your own skis or building your own casket to knitting Nordic mittens and learning to colorfully paint Lake Superior in the artsy village of Grand Marais, two hours north of Duluth. A favorite in Outside Magazine’s top town contests, the community is known for its North House Folk School, Grand Marais Art Colony, galleries and scenic inspiration with sunset mirrored across an iced-over harbor or a sunrise walk onto ruggedly rocky Artist’s Point.
Hug the Lake Superior Shore for Hygge
For those who wish to skip adrenaline adventures and would rather practice hygge, a Scandinavian tradition of cozying up in the winter, cabins or rooms overlooking the lake offer views of sun dogs and moon dogs (halos created by ice crystals), the Milky Way and northern lights, sea smoke each morning when the sun warms the water, and shoreline scenery such as cobblestones perfectly glazed in ice or rocky outcrops sculpted by icy waves. Some standout shoreline lodges include Duluth’s Canal Park hotels, Grand Superior Lodge and Cove Point Lodge between Two Harbors and Beaver Bay, Surfside on Superior near Tofte, and East Bay Suites in Grand Marais.
Snowmobile the Ridgeline
For explorers who favor motors and speed, the C.J. Ramstad/North Shore State Trail runs 146 miles between Duluth and Grand Marais, zipping through boreal forests along the ridgeline above Lake Superior and across rivers and creeks. Parking areas and entry points can be found all along the shore.
Ice Fish on Inland Lakes
Lake Superior’s immensity and power makes it iffy for winter safety, but anglers and guides have plenty of inland lakes that are good for winter ice fishing — either the old-school simple way sitting atop a five-gallon plastic bucket with a hole augered through the ice or with cozy pop-up shelters or heated fish houses that keep the experience comfy and quiet. Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais offers guided ice-fishing trips. Other options for adventurers: ice climbing or winter camping.
Cross-Country Ski the Gunflint Trail
Nordic ski lovers can find trails covering hundreds of kilometers along the 57-mile Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway corridor west of Grand Marais. They roll through fir-and-birch boreal forests and across frozen lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Bearskin and Golden Eagle Lodges offer some lighted trails, and there are additional lit kilometers among Grand Marais’s Pincushion Trails. Boundary Country Trekking arranges lodge-to-lodge or yurt-to-yurt ski options. Check www.skinnyski.com for trail conditions and remember to keep an eye out for moose or wolf tracks.