Minnesota’s North Shore is a Midwest scenic gem. This area of northwest Minnesota runs along the Lake Superior coast from Duluth to the Canadian border. Along this 150 miles of shore you can find quaint beach towns, multiple state parks, towering rock formations, and endless waterfalls. Even better, many of the hikes are short and kid-friendly. Today, Sara Lesire, mom of two and founder of Midwest Nomad Family, shares why you should consider a road trip along the North Shore. Read on to plan the perfect getaway for the whole family using this guide to Minnesota’s North Shore with Kids.

Tips for visiting Minnesota’s North Shore with kids

1. Bring a map

This area of Minnesota is fairly remote. Cell service can be spotty. If you stay on the main highway, it’s difficult to get lost. However, downloading an offline map or bringing a paper map is recommended. This is especially true for following hiking trails, as you may lose connection while using an app. 

2. Pack a picnic

As the towns are small and often spread out, bringing along groceries instead of hunting down a kid-friendly restaurant can be a good option. The restaurants in the area also tend to be pricey. The road is lined with beaches and parks that make perfect picnic stops. 

3. Tips to avoid crowds

Many of the popular state parks along Minnesota’s North Shore, such as Gooseberry Falls, can become very crowded. I recommend hitting the popular parks and trails early in the morning or in the late afternoon to avoid crowds and having to search for a parking spot. Oftentimes, you can find just as good as a park with lower crowds by traveling further north and away from the city day trippers.

4. Use caution with kids

This area of Minnesota has more waterfalls than you can count. Many of the trails are short and can be hiked by kids. However, there are many trails that do not have railings near waterfalls or sheer drop-offs. Carefully check the details of each hike before adventuring, and keep kids close at all times. 

Best time to visit Minnesota’s North Shore with kids

This area of Minnesota is about as far north as you can get. Winter brings bitter cold and heavy snowfall. Spring can be a good time to visit, but can still bring snowstorms and muddy trail conditions. Summer offers the best weather for exploring but also heavier crowds and bugs. Fall along the North Shore is spectacular, with fall weekends also bringing large amounts of leaf-peeping travelers. When traveling with kids, summer and early fall are probably your best bet for family-friendly weather to explore hiking trails and beaches. Just don’t expect Lake Superior water to ever be warm!

Where to stay along the North Shore with kids

With the exception of Duluth at the south end, all other towns along the North Shore are very small. Most of the lodging in the area consists of cabins, small motels, and a few resorts. Many of the state parks along the North Shore also have campgrounds offering amenities and stunning water views. 

If possible, it can be helpful to stay in two different areas to explore both the southern end and the northern areas of the North Shore. We based part of our stay out of a hotel in Silver Bay before moving to a mountain resort at Lutsen. This helped avoid a lot of backtracking, which can eat up time. 

Must-see spots along Minnesota’s North Shore with kids

Minnesota’s North Shore offers a chain of beautiful state parks. Most of these parks are located right along the main highway, making it easy to visit multiple parks in a short time. A daily pass to the state parks is $7, but you can get into any of the state parks that same day. Here are several stops that should be on every North Shore itinerary. 

1. Duluth

Duluth is a great spot to start your North Shore Adventure. Head to Canal Park downtown to view the aerial lift bridge, lighthouse, playground, and Lakewalk. You can get a close-up view of the lake on a Vista Fleet cruise or explore by rail on the North Shore Scenic Railroad. Take a drive over the lift bridge for some beach time at the world’s largest freshwater sandbar at Park Point. Enger Park is another great Duluth park with gardens and a stone tower to climb.

If weather interferes with your outdoor plans, Duluth also has an aquarium, railroad museum, and the free Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center. 

2. Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry Falls is the most popular state park on the North Shore for good reason. Multiple waterfalls can be seen along short hiking trails. The beautiful Visitor Center is a good spot to stop for a restroom visit and to grab a park map. From the Visitor Center, a 1-mile loop trail leads past The Upper, Middle, and Lower falls, with two bridges crossing over the river. A portion of these trails is paved. Use caution near the waterfall overlooks with children as not all have railings. 

Other good hiking trails at Gooseberry Falls include the 2-mile roundtrip hike to Fifth Falls or the 1.25-mile Riverview trail along the river down to the lakeshore. The Gitchi Gami Trail is just over 2 miles and offers Lake Superior views. 

3. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Split Rock Lighthouse is an iconic landmark of the North Shore. The lighthouse was constructed in 1910. Today the lighthouse is managed by the Minnesota Historical Society as a historic site. An additional admission fee is required to visit the lighthouse grounds and tour the inside of the lighthouse. 

The state park surrounding the lighthouse requires standard state park admission. The park is long and narrow, tucked between the highway and the lakeshore. The Little Two Harbors Trail offers a flat gravel path with views of the lighthouse and pebble beach along its 0.75-mile trail length. The 1.5-mile Corundum Point Overlook Trail is another trail with great views of the lake and lighthouse. If you want to take a scenic bike ride, the paved Gitchi-Gami State Trail travels through the park and continues to Gooseberry Falls 8 miles south. 

4. Black Beach

Located in Silver Bay, Black Beach’s rich color comes from taconite. This low-grade iron ore was dumped in the lake by mining companies. It mixed with rocks and sand to form the only black beach in Minnesota. 

This beach is beautiful, with rugged rocks and shallow water. There are nearby restrooms and picnic tables, making this a great road trip stop. 

5.  Palisade Head

Palisade Head is a stop I recommend with caution. A curvy and narrow road leads to a small parking area at the top with amazing views. This is one of the best views you can get without a long hike. However, there is only one small section of rock railing and very sheer drop-offs. This is a site best explored with older kids or kids small enough to be in a carrier. 

6. Tettegouche State Park

Tettegouche is another Minnesota North Shore state park full of lake views and waterfalls. This park has a great and large visitor center to start your adventure. Right behind the visitor center is the 1.2-mile Shovel Point Trail. This trail offers sweeping lake views from atop the bluffs. There are 300 stairs and boardwalks on this trail. Use caution with children and keep them back from any cliff edges. 

Another popular family hike is the Cascades Falls Trail. This 1.5-mile round-trip hike follows rocky terrain along the river to Cascade Falls. There are quite a few stairs, but no steep drop-offs along this trail. If you are up for a longer waterfall trek, take the 3-mile loop to towering High Falls. 

7. Temperance River State Park

Another gem of a state park, Temperance River is full of deep gorges and waterfalls. On the northwest side of the highway, a short and paved path leads to an overlook of hidden falls. This is a great trail for little ones, as there are no drop-offs. 

On the other side of the highway, stairs, and bridges cross over the river as it rushes through a rocky gorge toward the lake. Continue on the path down to the beautiful beach near the lower campground to explore the rocks and sand. This is a lovely spot for sunrise or sunset views. 

8. Oberg Mountain

The Oberg Mountain hike is one of the best trails we have hiked anywhere. This 2.5-mile loop starts off with a moderate climb as it switchbacks up the mountain. At the top, enjoy panoramic views as the trail circles the top. While most of the trail stays well back from cliff edges, there are a few overlooks with steep drop-offs. Keep kids close by while on the upper portion of the trail. 

9. Lutsen Mountain

Lutsen Mountain is located just off the main highway but is worth the detour. This mountain resort offers traditional winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. During the summer, the resort offers a gondola and alpine slide. Both of these attractions are not cheap, but the views from atop Lutsen mountain are amazing!

10. Cascade River State Park

You can find another short hike with waterfall views at this state park. The 0.5-mile Cascade River Lower Loop passes multiple cascading waterfalls. Keep an eye on kids, as some areas of the trail do not have railings. 

11. Grand Portage National Monument

This free national park site is a must-see attraction. The site preserves the history of the Grand Portage Anishinaabe tribe as well as the North American fur trade. The 8.5-mile portage trail was used by Native Americans and explorers to bypass high waterfalls and gorges. 

Today, the site consists of a museum and a reconstructed fur trading fort. Interpreters do a wonderful job explaining the various buildings and what life was like during the 1700s. The M Be sure to ask for junior ranger booklets so kids can earn their park ranger badges.

12. Grand Portage State Park

The furthest north must-see stop on a North Shore vacation is Grand Portage State Park. This free state park features a paved and boardwalk 1-mile loop to three overlook platforms of High Falls, Minnesota’s highest waterfall. The waterfall is located on the border between Minnesota and Canada. The overlook platforms have railings making them safe for all ages. 

Visiting Minnesota’s North Shore with kids

Hopefully, this travel guide has inspired you to journey north and view the rugged beauty of the North Shore. The endless waterfalls, family-friendly hikes, and Lake Superior views provide a family adventure of memories waiting to be made. 

Have you ever explored Minnesota’s North Shore?

About the author

Sara Lesire has been married to her high school sweetheart for 17 years, and together they have two children. Sara spent many childhood hours outside on her grandparents’ farm and strives for her kids to have similar carefree kid adventures. Based in the St. Louis area, she loves to share on her blog and social media all the scenic and fun places to explore around the St. Louis area and beyond. Hiking is the most popular activity for her whole family, followed by hitting up the best local playgrounds. Photography is also a passion of Sara’s, and she continues to be amazed at the natural beauty and wonder of God’s creation. When she is not hitting the trail, Sara works as a civil engineer.

You can find more from Sara online in the following locations:
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