Spring on the North Shore
Driving to Minnesota’s North Shore in early June is like turning back time. Because although it’s full-on summer in Iowa, it’s spring up north.
That’s one of about a thousand things I love about northern Minnesota. I love the drive from Ames…once you reach Duluth, it’s like a different world.
My drive up north on June 5 was delightful, as always. I stopped at the Minnesota welcome center, stopped to buy baked goods at Whole Foods in St. Paul, slowed to smell the flowering trees in Duluth, stopped in Two Harbors to top off my gas tank. I watched as the temperature gauge on my car fell, fell, fell from 69 degrees at 7:15 a.m. in Ames to 55 degrees in Duluth to 49 degrees at 3:30 p.m. when I stopped to take a hike at Caribou Wayside, one of several dozen places to stop along Hwy. 61 to hike or view a waterfall or a lighthouse.
Lake Superior was covered with fog as I drove along its shoreline, but I could hear it, and I could smell it. I arrived at Cascade Lodge at 5 o’clock and settled in to Cabin 1, with its smell of wood smoke and its bedspread decorated with moose and salmon.
After I unloaded the car, I sat on the front porch with a glass of wine, listening to the Cascade River rush behind me, and breathing in the wonderfulness that is the North Shore. It was still light outside when I went to bed at 10 p.m. and light again when I awoke at 4-something. It’s not like being in Alaska, where it’s light pretty much all night this time of year, but there’s a lot more daylight here than in Iowa.
I managed to sleep late, even with the sunlight streaming in the cabin windows. Once I was up and dressed, I walked next door to the Cascade Restaurant, home of the best blueberry pancakes in all the world. I always order the short stack (two pancakes) and still can’t eat them all.
Around 10 a.m. I arrived at a Superior Hiking Trailhead just south of Temperance River State Park. This is a nice, easy hike with tons of wildflowers – and mud. It’s been a rainy spring up north. Parts of the trail have boardwalks, but there is boot-sucking mud nonetheless. I used to really try to avoid mud, but now I just plunge right in. It’s worth dirty boots to see the bright green ferns and marsh marigolds.
I hiked for a little more than an hour, then drove back north to Grand Marais, a harbor town and artist colony not all that far from the Canadian border. When I arrived in town there was a classic-car show going on, which meant that parking was a premium and the downtown area was busier than I like it to be, but it was OK because there was music and sunshine and blue water, so who could complain about that? Not even me.
I walked along the harbor and bought myself a sun-blocking hat at the Lake Superior Trading Post. I ate lunch at Gunflint Tavern. I’d never consider taking a trip to the North Shore without eating in this funky bar/restaurant. And then I drove a few miles north for an afternoon hike.
Late in the afternoon I went back to my cabin to read and take a nap. In my younger days, I’d hike all day, but now I just enjoy the relaxation and quiet. I took it easy for a few hours and then drove back to Grand Marais for a wild rice pizza and an Alaskan Amber at Sven & Ole’s, consumed happily in The Pickled Herring, the upstairs bar.
It was a good day.
On Sunday I ate breakfast again at the Cascade Restaurant, packed my car, and hit the road. I stopped twice on the North Shore, once at the Tettegouche State Park visitor center, below (it’s new, and it’s awesome – and Tettegouche is one of the BEST places to hike), and again in Two Harbors to fill my gas tank and buy a cup of coffee for the road. I stopped again in Duluth at the visitor center on the hill for one last look at the lake.
After that, it’s all downhill. The drive is much less fun on the way home. There was construction in St. Paul, and more construction between the Twin Cities and the Iowa border. I had to listen to loud music just to stay awake.