MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Scenic byways

Escape to Minnesota's North Shore

For stressed-out city folks, the shore of Lake Superior is hallowed ground.

Ten thousand years ago, the melting of Minnesota’s last glacier transformed a placid beach into a rugged coast.

It’s a 150-mile stretch of wild beauty, lined by piles of jagged black basalt, cobblestone beaches and the mouths of dozens of rivers, tumbling down from the old beaches of Glacial Lake Duluth.

Seven state parks follow their winding gorges, marked by rapids and waterfalls, and the Superior Hiking Trail crosses them on its way from Duluth to the Canadian border.

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Digging the Keweenaw

On Lake Superior, an isolated peninsula yields up all sorts of riches.

On Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, distance is both curse and blessing.

Jutting deep into Lake Superior, it's far from big cities — for Detroit residents, Nashville and Washington, D.C., are closer than the Keweenaw (pronounced KEY-win-awe).

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A spin around Lake Pepin

On the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin, a favorite driving route leads to some real treats.

Along the shores of Lake Pepin, villages like to play a game called “Tempt the Tourist.’’

The tourists think they’re going to go for a drive and see some scenery. But the villages give them so many places to indulge themselves, they end up mostly eating and shopping — not that anyone’s complaining.

The highway around Lake Pepin is a gantlet of temptations — bakeries, bistros, wine bars and gift shops. Some people never make it beyond Stockholm in Wisconsin or Red Wing in Minnesota, just an hour from the Twin Cities.

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The near North Shore

From Gooseberry Falls, a single stretch of highway is packed with Nature's spectacles.

In one 19-mile stretch of Minnesota's North Shore, Nature presents a one-two-three punch of incomparable beauty.

Just half an hour north of Duluth, Gooseberry Falls State Park presents an eye-popping spectacle of waterfalls, lumpy beds of ancient lava and twisted cedar clinging to rock outcroppings.

Six miles farther, Split Rock Lighthouse sits picturesquely on its cliff, a tourist attraction since 1924, when people could get to it on the newly completed Minnesota 61.

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Waters of the dancing sky

In far northern Minnesota, a scenic byway is a showcase for the outdoors.

Exploring the Minnesota landscape on a scenic byway, you'd expect to see some singular features.

But Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway turns up a whole new face.

This is a burly part of the state, a scratchy-wool, buffalo-plaid kind of place that might seem Bunyanesque in nature but actually was the stomping grounds of a real-life legend, the shorter but tougher voyageur.

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Minnesota's scenic 61

The old stretch of highway to Two Harbors is a rustic remnant of the old North Shore.

Thanks to a four-lane stretch of Minnesota 61, tourists can zoom up to Two Harbors from Duluth in 15 minutes flat.

The question is, why would anyone want to?

There's much more to see along this 19-mile stretch of old 61, a part of the North Shore that has changed little in the last few decades. It's not the fanciest part, but it may be the most genuine.

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North Shore by the mile

Planning a trip to this beloved part of Minnesota? Start at 0.0.

If you don’t know much about Minnesota’s North Shore, trip-planning can be confusing.

For one thing, it’s really the west shore of Lake Superior. People in Ontario don’t get confused because they live on the real north shore. Chicagoans do because they call their northern suburbs the North Shore.

This pointy corner of Minnesota also is called the Arrowhead Region. Some people call its roads by their names — Sawbill and Caribou — and some by their numbers — County Road 2 and County Road 4. Some people heading north along the shore say they’re heading east, and they’re right.

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Wisconsin's Rustic Roads

On quiet lanes, motorists ramble into the heart of the countryside.

In Wisconsin, people build whole trips around the roads less traveled.

Their destination? Nowhere. And on one of the state's lovely Rustic Roads, nowhere usually is enough.

Across the state, brown-and-yellow signs point to lightly traveled roads that preserve remnants of the past — piebald llamas (Rustic Road 92, south of River Falls), an 1870 lighthouse (Rustic Road 38 in Door County), Amish farms (Rustic Road 56, south of Ontario).

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River with a past

On the lush Minnesota, beautiful scenery comes with harsh history.

Around the world, people know Minnesota for its waters — source of the Mississippi, land of lakes.

But those are not the waters for which it's named. Those waters belong to a river whose cloudiness led the Dakota to call it "waters reflecting the skies" — the Minnesota.

It was more than a mile across at the end of the last ice age, when it drained glacial Lake Agassiz, the largest lake that ever existed.

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Seeking the old North Shore

On Minnesota's beloved vacation spot, change is coming fast.

On the northeast tip of Minnesota is a coastline of uncommon beauty, lined by sheer basalt cliffs, cobblestone beaches and the mouths of dozens of rivers rushing into Lake Superior through narrow, winding gorges.

This is where Minnesotans go to breathe.

Since 1924, when the first highway opened, the North Shore has been a refuge for city folk tired of congestion, for farmers tired of flat fields, for blue-collar workers tired of the grind.

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Following a wine trail

On winery tours, sample fruits of the harvest.

Across the Upper Midwest, vineyards are being planted and wine trails formed.

Vineyards tend to be in very scenic areas, and wine trails allow buyers to meander along pretty country roads, stopping here and there to quaff a glass of wine or have a picnic.

Of all the states, Iowa has been most active in forming wine trails. And why not? There are a lot of farmers in Iowa.

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Duluth's Skyline Parkway

High above Lake Superior, a scenic boulevard was the city's first playground.

It's a hot Saturday in Duluth, and it seems as if every tourist in town is on Canal Park.

But a few have found their way to a quieter spot, on Amity Creek above downtown.

Just off Skyline Parkway, some 10-year-olds are having a great time climbing rocks and splashing in a pool beside a waterfall, thanks to a mother who went to college in Duluth. She's brought her daughter's soccer team to play and cool off between tournament games.

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Minnesota's scenic byways

Hit the road for a glimpse of the state's most engaging spots.

The corner of Third Avenue and U.S. 2 in Grand Rapids doesn’t exactly look like the edge of the wilderness.

The Blandin Co. paper mill is across the highway, its smokestacks sending plumes of white smoke into the air. Trucks rumble past, en route to North Dakota or Duluth.

But this corner is the beginning of the Edge of the Wilderness drive, Minnesota’s first National Scenic Byway.

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Outdoors in Door County

Beaches, bays and forests are keys to this lovely peninsula.

Fish boils, cherry pie, chic shops and a nonstop stream of tourists.

Yes, that’s Door County, all right. But so is this:

Secluded beaches of fine white sand. Estuaries lined with herons. Hiking and bicycle trails winding through sun-dappled cedar forests.

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