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Lake Superior's greatest hits

This nine-day itinerary gives you the highlights of a Circle Tour.

A cruise boat along Pictured Rocks.

© Beth Gauper

From Munising, cruise boats take tourists to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The Circle Tour of Lake Superior is one of the world's most scenic drives, 1,300 miles of non-stop scenery and attractions.

There's a staggering number of things to do and see around Lake Superior. But if you have only a week's vacation, you can see the highlights on this nine-day, eight-night Circle Tour.

Drive clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on what festivals or events you want to catch. For more, see Planning a Circle Tour.

For an overview of what you'll see, go to Circling Lake Superior.

Duluth to Thunder Bay, 113 miles: Every year, readers of Lake Superior magazine vote Minnesota's North Shore their No. 1 favorite attraction on the big lake.

With Lake Superior rarely out of sight, it's everyone's favorite drive. Stop to watch boats on Duluth's Canal Park (see Duluth stories). See Gooseberry Falls, visit Split Rock Lighthouse and walk the half-mile trail to Shovel Point at Tettegouche State Park (see The near North Shore).

At Lutsen Mountains, go careening down the Alpine Slide. Take a short hike at Cascade River State Park. Stop for lunch in Grand Marais. Visit the re-created fur post at Grand Portage National Monument.

Just short of the Canadian border in Grand Portage State Park, take the half-mile trail to 120-foot High Falls on the Pigeon River. For closer views, including from the top of the waterfall, hike from the Ontario visitors center just across the border.

Ontario is on Eastern time, so you'll lose an hour. In the Port Arthur section of Thunder Bay, the Prince Arthur is dated but has the best location (ask for a top-floor room overlooking the marina).

Next to the marina, have dinner on the patio of Bight Restaurant & Bar.

For more, see Exploring Thunder Bay.

Thunder Bay to Rossport, 116 miles: Have breakfast in the nearby Finnish neighborhood at the Hoito (skip the line and go straight to the counter).

Spend several hours at Fort William Historical Park. Drive to nearby Kakabeka Falls.

On the way to Rossport, stop to see Ouimet Canyon, a provincial park with sheer rock walls.

The pictographs at Agawa Bay.

© Torsten Muller

On the eastern shore, ancient pictographs are preserved on Agawa Rock.

In Rossport, stay at the Willows Inn B&B or Serendipity Gardens Guest House. The Serendity Gardens Cafe is a good place to eat.

This is the real North Shore, and people are catching on.

Rossport to Wawa, 178 miles: Spend the morning kayaking with Superior Outfitters or hiking the Casque Isles Trail.

Stop to see Rainbow Falls and, just short of Terrace Bay, Aguasabon Falls.

In White River, see the Winnie the Pooh statue (for more, see Giants of Lake Superior). Stop at Young's General Store in Wawa.

In Wawa, stay at the Best Northern Motel. It has nice cottages overlooking the Michipicoten River, but its motel rooms are stylish and very well-designed, and there's a sauna, outdoor hot tub, free high-speed Internet and billiards room, plus bike and canoe rentals.

Be sure to eat just up the drive at Kinniwabi Pines, the best restaurant east of Thunder Bay, 705-856-7226.

Rock Island Lodge is on Lake Superior at the mouth of the Michipicoten and has four rooms.

Wawa to Paradise, 210 miles: See the pictographs at Agawa Rock in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

In Sault Ste. Marie, watch the boats go through the Soo Locks and take a Soo Locks cruise on the St. Marys River.

Stop at Point Iroquois Lighthouse on the way to Paradise. If there's time, tour the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum just up the road at Whitefish Point.

Stay right in the museum complex at the crew quarters of the Whitefish Point Light Station, in the restored 1923 Coast Guard Lifeboat Station. There are only five rooms, so reserve early.

It's one of five places where you can stay in Lake Superior lighthouses.

In Paradise, stay at the Paradise Inn if you just want a good place to stay, 906-492-3940. The newer Magnuson Grand Hotel has more amenities, including a beach and indoor pool. 

The light station in Grand Marais.

© Beth Gauper

In Grand Marais, the 1923 east pier light guides pleasure boats into the harbor.

Brown Fisheries Fish House is a good place to eat, or go a little farther west to the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub on Michigan 123.

Paradise to Munising, 99 miles: Tour the shipwreck museum if you haven't already. Heading west, you can see Tahquamenon Falls or climb the Grand Sable Dunes from Grand Marais.

But I'd devote most of the day to hiking from Chapel Basin in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The nine-mile loop from Chapel Falls to the Mosquito River and back is a stunner.

In Munising, stay at the Sunset Motel, facing on the bay. It's friendly and quiet and has places for children to play. If you want a pool, the Holiday Inn Express has one.

The Brownstone Inn, 15 farther west on Michigan 28, may be worth the drive for dinner.

Munising to Copper Harbor, 190 miles: If you didn't have time for the hike along the cliffs, take a Pictured Rocks Boat Cruise or Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tour from Munising.

In Marquette, stop to shop, have lunch and see beautiful Presque Isle Park, a peninsula just north of downtown. 

A saltie waits in Thunder Bay's harbor.

© Beth Gauper

A freighter waits in the harbor off Thunder Bay's Marina Park.

Then, head up the Keweenaw Peninsula. In Houghton, take a stroll along the waterfront trail. In Calumet, see the historic business district and visit Coppertown USA.

Get off U.S. 41 to go to Eagle River. Follow the picturesque lake drive, stopping at the Jampot to buy baked goods from the monks of the Society of St. John.

See the Eagle Harbor Light and take Brockway Mountain Drive into Copper Harbor. If there's time, take the sunset cruise to Copper Harbor Light.

In the hills above Copper Harbor, stay at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, which rents motel rooms and log cabins, many with wood-burning fireplaces but no kitchens.

Eat there or in town at the Harbor Haus, which also has B&B rooms.

Copper Harbor to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, 115 miles: Drive back to Houghton on the east side of the peninsula between Lac La Belle and Gay, using pullouts to explore the beach and pick blueberries from late July to early August (bear sightings are likely).

Drive to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and spend the rest of the day hiking the Escarpment Trail high above Lake of the Clouds. The park has camping as well as four yurts and 19 rustic cabins.

Or, stay just outside the park at Mountain View Lodges, well-equipped cabins right on the lake.

Porcupines to Bayfield, 125 miles: Drive the park's South Boundary Road to the Presque Isle River to see the waterfalls. On the way to Wisconsin, you'll get your hour back. Stop in Ashland to see the downtown murals.

Just west of Ashland, stop at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, which has very interesting exhibits and short films.

In Bayfield, take a cruise to the Apostle Islands or the ferry to Madeline Island if there's time. In the evening, see a show at Big Top Chautauqua.

Stay at the friendly, well-run Seagull Bay Motel, which has organized a free shuttle to the Big Top and offers rooms, some with kitchenette.

A tour boat goes through the Soo Locks.

© Beth Gauper

A tour boat heads through the Soo Locks.

If you can't get a room there, there are many other good places to stay and eat in Bayfield.

Bayfield to Duluth, 80 miles: Explore Bayfield. Continue west through Cornucopia and buy picnic goods at Ehler's Store. Just before Wisconsin 13 rejoins U.S. 2 east of Superior, take County Road U to Amnicon Falls State Park and have a picnic among the rapids.

In Superior, visit the Richard Bong Veterans Historical Center and the S.S. Meteor whaleback museum on Barker's Island.

If you're spending the night in Duluth, reserve far in advance. It's very popular in summer, especially the Canal Park area.

If you have more time

Use extra days sightseeing around Thunder Bay and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, camping at Pukaskwa National Park, hiking and swimming in Lake Superior Provincial Park or taking the Agawa Canyon Tour Train out of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Stay at one of the five yurts in Pancake Bay Provincial Park, on Lake Superior just north of Sault Ste. Marie.

If you want to visit Mackinac Island on Lake Michigan, it's only an hour from Sault Ste. Marie to St. Ignace, from which ferries go to the island. It's a great place to bicycle.

On the south shore of the lake, spend more time hiking or backpacking in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula. In the Apostle Islands, take a kayaking tour or take the ferry to Oak or Stockton Islands and camp.

And if you want to see the Crisp Point and Au Sable lighthouses in Michigan, build in extra time; they're at the end of forest roads, and Au Sable requires a hike.


Last updated on April 13, 2017