Cook County

A weekend in Grand Marais

Grand Marais has been high on my list of Minnesota places to visit for years, and with a birthday to celebrate, we headed there the first weekend of October. Even before we went, I was sure we’d need to plan a weeklong vacation for next summer because there were more restaurants than there were meal opportunities!

Since we took a long time driving to “America’s coolest small town,” the sun was already starting to set when we reached Grand Marais. Immediately went to the public access park to get our first up-close look at Lake Superior:

wavy Lake Superior with a pink sky

Then we turned around and took a short walk down “Main Street” – actually, Wisconsin Street – for dinner at Sven & Ole’s. Their menu isn’t posted on their website, and though you order at a counter, there isn’t a menu board on the wall, so we didn’t know the options. I was nervous that we’d be on the spot with a long line behind us, but both the man taking the order and the people who were waiting were very patient. We settled on the “shicken and vild rice” pizza, which was good – though I didn’t really notice the wild rice. It wasn’t very crowded for a Friday night, though the counter was always busy, often with people who were taking their pizzas to go.

restaurant with local memorabilia on the walls, Twins game on the tv

We then explored the area in the dark, planning what to visit the next day, and reached Pie Place as they were closing; we were able to buy two slices to go. The pie was good and it wasn’t cheap.

We stayed at one of the cabins that are part of the MacArthur House B&B – two bedrooms, living room, and furnished kitchen, a great setup for a long stay (though this time we only stayed two nights).

blue cabin with red trim and green window and door

Saturday morning we noticed the county courthouse, nestled in the neighborhood kitty-corner from the cabins.

Classical Revival style building with eight flagpoles on the southwest corner

Our first breakfast of the weekend was at Blue Water Cafe. It was busy but organized: just when one table would empty, a new group would arrive to take their place, though I never saw anyone waiting. Bill had the fishcake special, which turned out to be a fish-infused pancake, complete with tartar sauce on the side. I enjoyed the “Welcome (Canadian) Neighbours” signs in this restaurant and lots of other places in town, and I really liked the Lake Superior mural on the mall.

restaurant building, closeup of breakfast plate, cash register, wall mural

Since we were just blocks from the lake, we walked out again to take a look at the big waves. Friday and Saturday were very windy.

Lake Superior waves with Artists' Point in the distance

And later we enjoyed a mid-morning snack at World’s Best Donuts – a chocolate glazed donut, a cinnamon sugar donut (I photographed it with the lake in the background, which is apparently the thing to do these days), and a “skizzle” (basically an elephant ear) to save for the next day. They really might be the world’s best.

closeup of the sign, the courtyard with a picture of Cook County map, doughnut

Then it was time for a walk across the breakwater to the lighthouse…

narrow concrete walkway with a rope handrail

…and back to Artists’ Point, made of basalt from ancient lava flows.

rocky shoreline with trees turning colors

I was enjoying watching and filming the big waves at Artists’ Point when one surprised me:

With all the wind, it didn’t take long to dry off as we walked back to go through the shops downtown…

Eight Broadway art gallery, with a mural on the side wall

…including a stop at the famous Joynes Ben Franklin: cribbage boards and other knick-knacks, Gunflint Trail scrapbooking supplies, a wire bookshelf with local and Minnesota books. Good thing we went on Saturday, because we found out the next day that they’re closed Sundays.

There were many outdoor paintings around town, like this one of the America, which sank in Lake Superior in 1928, by Lyle Sathre:

painting with hand-lettered details of the last voyage

I was intrigued by this blacksmith shop, which we later learned opened in 1911, was owned by three generations of Ballys, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s now owned by the Cook County Historical Society, which is in the process of preserving and redeveloping the building and grounds with help of a fundraising campaign and a legacy grant from the Minnesota Historical Society.

false front of Bill Bally Blacksmith & Welding Repairing shop

In the afternoon we headed north on 61 to Naniboujou Lodge for a late lunch, then a hike to the Devil’s Kettle waterfall at Judge Magney State Park (more about the park in a future post).

After a short rest back at the cabin, we decided to walk down the few blocks to the Angry Trout for dinner. I thought that even though it was a Saturday, it probably wouldn’t be too busy because it was so late in the year – but I was wrong. Harbor Grill across the street had a long line, too, so we headed back to grab the car and venture out, and we ended up at My Sister’s Place on the north end of town. There was a line there, too, but we waited for only about 15 minutes.

menu with a cartoon of two fishermen in a boat

South of the Border Cafe menuWe were tired after our long Saturday adventure, so we slept in the next morning and had a late breakfast at South of the Border Cafe, with its charming menus. (Apparently some online reviewers are confused about which border they’re referring to. Grand Marais is only about 50 miles from the Canadian border – so it’s not Mexican food but diner food, cheap.)

The wind was much calmer on Sunday. We took one more trip to the lake, where I collected a few rocks and watched (and listened to) the waves pulling rocks back into the water:

One more walk through town, and we stumbled across an art exhibit showcasing works from the plein air festival at the Johnson Heritage Post art gallery.

Early afternoon on Sunday was a much easier time to get into Angry Trout Cafe – no waiting.

empty deck chairs in front of the restaurant

As we were leaving, we picked up smoked trout to go at Dockside Fish Market next door.

Though our vacation was coming to an end, we weren’t quite ready to leave yet, so we spontaneously started driving the Gunflint Trail…

curve in the road next to the Grand Marais / Gunflint Trail water tower

…and stopped at the scenic overlook.

pine trees and yellow trees in the foreground, sparkling Lake Superior and Grand Marais in the distance

And then it was time to head back to the Cities. Here’s my favorite picture of the weekend, showing the lake and the town and the hill.

buildings next to big rocks along the shore, lake in the foreground, mountain with fall trees in the background


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On the way to Grand Marais

The first weekend in October we took a road trip to Grand Marais. It’s just over four hours by car, though that assumes no stops (which is never a safe assumption with me in the car). Here are some of the things we saw on the drive.

We were delayed briefly in road construction on 35 near Hinckley, so we enjoyed the colorful trees.

trees starting to change color - mostly green but some yellow and orange

Lunch in Duluth, with a quick glimpse at the lift bridge as we sped past.

lift bridge between the arena and the aquarium

On the north end of Duluth, we got our first clear look at Lake Superior.

the lake out to the horizon, with the highway guardrail in the foreground

We took the Highway 61 expressway to Two Harbors rather than the scenic drive along the shore. Of course we had to take one brief turn off the highway to see Pierre the Voyageur. He used to be at the Voyageur Motel in Two Harbors, but now he’s a greeter just before you reach the town. He looks like he has no pants, although his new owners have said he’s wearing tights. (I didn’t get close enough to verify.)

statue of a man holding a canoe paddle

A sign of autumn: pumpkins for sale in Two Harbors.

signs for sweet corn and pumpkins under a white tent

The tunnel that’s a familiar milestone to everyone heading north on Highway 61.

cars driving into and out of Silver Creek Cliff tunnel

My in-motion photo of the brief glimpse of Split Rock Lighthouse from 61 was so blurry that I deleted it. We then made a spontaneous stop at Gooseberry State Park for a short hike out to the falls. The rest area at Gooseberry is one of the few locations in Minnesota state parks where a parking permit is not necessary (though we have one anyway). It was late afternoon on Friday and the parking lot was packed; cars were even circling to grab a space when others were leaving. I bet it was even busier the next day.

the top of middle falls on the left side

Finally entering Cook County!

Highway 61 with a Cook County sign

We’d been advised that a tram ride at Lutsen Mountains is always fun but essentially required in autumn – and we were lucky enough to hit a peak weekend for fall color. We were there in late afternoon with the sun just starting to set behind the mountain…

tram near the top of Lutsen Mountains

…but looking the other direction, a gorgeous autumn view!

hundreds of trees, mostly orange and yellow with some green pines

The charming trams, whose days are numbered…

three cars that look like red apples

…because a new tram system is about to be launched.

new tram mechanism at the top of the mountain

A view of Lake Superior in the distance on the way back down the mountain.

a sliver of the lake in the distance, with lots of pines in the foreground

Our tram’s shadow in the orange trees.

The second day we were in Grand Marais, we ventured north to Naniboujou Lodge for a late lunch. I had a ridiculously delicious turkey club sandwich with cranberry and mustard, which seems like a strange combination but worked. I also had their famous french onion soup and burned my mouth because I couldn’t wait until it cooled.

side view of the building, with lots of windows in the cedar shake siding

Everyone takes pictures of the ceiling inside the lodge’s restaurant, and it’s easy to see why.

a hanging light fixture underneath a multicolor, patterned ceiling

Of course we also visited the state park (Magney) that’s across the street from the lodge. More about that will be in a future post. (So will Grand Marais itself.)

We stopped at a public beach in Colvill on the way back to Grand Marais. I was mesmerized by the Lake Superior’s giant waves all weekend.

On the way back to the Cities on Sunday afternoon, we made a quick detour in Silver Bay to see Rocky Taconite.

statue that looks like two large taconite balls with arms and legs

A short stop in Two Harbors to see the grand Lake County courthouse. We had stumbled across it on a cloudy day in August and wanted to see it again on a nicer day.

four columns on a Beaux Arts building with a dome

Even a rest stop is beautiful in autumn. We pulled over at this one just outside Knife River because a sign advertised a historical marker, which noted that the four-lane divided part of Highway 61 is called the Arthur V. Rohweder Memorial Highway.

red maples at the Knife River rest stop

It was at this point that Bill decided to take over the driving responsibility. I think he had had enough “detours” – though we had already planned to stop in Knife River anyway for the Great Lakes Candy Company. We picked up caramels, chocolate-covered toffee, and sponge candy.

Only in Minnesota: a sign advertising a fishcake supper.

sandwich board sign along the highway

We took the scenic half of highway 61 after Knife River. There are many pulloff areas for viewing Lake Superior. Just north of Duluth, we saw a barge.

Our last stop of the trip was at the Thomson Hill Information Center, a rest stop on the south end of Duluth, where we saw the barge heading toward the lift bridge.

lift bridge in the distance, colorful trees in the foreground

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