My wife and I just returned from a four-day trip to the North Shore that got me back to Grand Marais for the first time in six years (and my wife’s first ever) and got us both (for the first time) to Cascade River State Park near Lutsen.
This is part 2 of my repot, which covers wrapping up the camping portion through our departure from Grand Marais back to Minneapolis.
Friday, Sept. 13: Well, we knew it would be cold overnight in the tent and it was. But we managed, and started to pack up early – by about 6:30 a.m. The plan was to cheat again and load our car on the shoulder, which was still some work but at least not two trips back to the car 1.2 miles away. So while my wife (with plenty of time) lugged gear to the roadside, I grabbed our garbage and headed to the car, which was parked in a lot with a recycling and garbage disposal area.
We hadn’t see a ton of wildlife so far, which was not a huge surprise considering the location of the campsite near the highway. But on this walk – with nothing to wield but a bag of garbage – I encountered the first wolf I have ever seen in the wild. The trail at that point was grass and 6 feet across. About 50 yards ahead of me out of the brush strolls a wolf. Solid black coat, making it even eerier.
So the wolf stops right in the middle of the trail and turns his head and looks at me. I stop. He keeps walking to the other side of the trail. Which makes me wonder all kinds of city-boy thoughts. “Where are the rest of them?” “Can I keep going in that direction?” I decided to keep walking. Deep down I figured he wanted as little to do with me as I him. But it was a little spooky walking past the area where he had stood. But also kind of cool to have seen a wolf that close up.
Got to the car, went and picked up the gear and my wife, and returned to the park to hit the shower on the main campground. Yeah yeah, cheating right? But we were heading to Grand Marais and check-in was confirmed to be no earlier than 3. And I’m not smelling like this all day. A shower would allow us to treat the day as if we were already checked in.
Nice shower facility. Warm water for cold bodies. And clean clothes out of the non-camping bag. What a relief. The adventurey portion of the trip down. Time for some relaxation and comfort. Back in the car, and 12 minutes later we’re in Grand Marais. And my wife is swooning over the shops and scenery.
Being that my wife is a coffee junkie, I knew we had to head immediately to Java Moose to curb her cravings and get her real coffee that was not made over a campfire with instant crystals.
She was not disappointed. Morning weather was gorgeous. Sun out, low 60s. And we sat in the wooden chairs on the deck of Java Moose and just did nothing. Perfect start to relaxation phase.
Our only two two-do’s were to check in at the Best Western Superior Shores at 3 and to make our appointment at 11 at the North House Folk School to sail aboard the schooner Hjordis.
Being that it was only 8:45, we enjoyed coffee and headed over for DONUTS! World’s best donuts, to be exact. Maple donuts! Pretty good. Not sure about world’s best, but it was a great experience for a guy who never gets donuts.
Then we wandered a few shops, strolled the lakeshore and headed over to watch a guy carve bowls before signing in for the 11 a.m. sail. Full vessel at 11, we’re told. So we rushed over to be the first aboard to choose our seats.
For those who don’t know, the Hjordis (50-foot schooner) sails every few hours out of the harbor if weather permits. Great two-hour tour. Nice information on the physics of sailing and the maritime history of the town as well as Lake Superior.
Good shipmates and crew. Decent weather. And I got to raise and lower those beautiful maroon sails. And we met a couple from the Twin Cities whom we ran into 3-4 more times the rest of the trip, which was a hoot.
After the sail, we needed lunch. And a bloody mary. So we headed to one of the few spots in town with a full bar. Gunflint Tavern. Good place for a warmup, because it was cool out on the water. Had a nice lunch there and were ready for some photo-taking and strolling. Visited Ben Franklin, all of the art galleries and a few other spots. And soon we noticed it was time to check in.
I usually stay more budget, but I decided to splurge (for us) a bit to get us a nice room with a vew at the Superior Shores. Mainly I was sold on the beautiful shower the rooms have. After camping, my wife needed it. The view of the East Bay (NOT the Grand Marais harbor) was really nice too.
We dumped our stuff and headed out for a few more shop stops and a beer or two at the Raven’s Nest (Summit on tap!). Finally stopped for dinner at Crooked Spoon and got a bottle of wine and two very good meals. Nice cozy spot for a date. Wonderful service. Food was very good. A little spendy, but many places are in Grand Marais.
After that we headed to the spot I had been aching to hit since we walked by earlier. The American Legion! $3 beers and great conversation. Stayed for a few hours before heading back to the hotel for a nightcap and some very comfortable sleep.
End of day 3.
Saturday, Sept. 14: Got up around 7 (we have 2 kids, so even on vacation we can’t sleep in) and took advantage of the continental breakfast. I think the eggs were powdered eggs, kinda rubbery. Oatmeal and yogurt and some OJ and we were out the door with the camera. Back in the car, headed up Highway 61 toward the prettiest part of the drive: the approach to Grand Portage State Park.
I was there a long time ago. Wife, never. So I wanted to take the quick 35-mile cruise up 61 so she could see the High Falls and Wauswaugoning Bay, and the sweet overlooks on the way down toward the border. For me, by far the prettiest part of the drive all weekend.
We only walked to the High Falls. We debated the hike to the Middle Falls but decided we’d rather have the time in Grand Marais. And the goal anyway was to see the rest of Highway 61 and the high falls. That was done.
Back to Grand Marais. Shower, change of clothes and off to lunch at Blue Water Café. Meh, it was OK. Service was fine. I don’t really care about service being slow or frantic or whetever, as long as it’s friendly and helpful. And it was. Food was just OK, though. Not bad. Just not great like the rest of our dining that weekend.
After that we walked out to Artists’ Point for photos and to watch the swells crash on the rocks. A particularly windy day meant good action on that front. Got some good vantage points for photos of the rocks and lighthouse. Ran into our Hjordis friends. And the Hjordis captain, who was free for the day bc of high winds. Then visited the Trading Post. Then headed over to the hotel for a change of clothes to something warmer and better for dinner.
After that, it was off to the Gunflint Tavern again. This time over to the Raven for cribbage and cocktails. Struck up a conversation with some folks from Onamia about ice fishing. Then headed over to the North House Folk School again to watch the auction of some arts and crafts and watch more carving. By the way, the Unplugged Festival was going on there but we didn’t go. Probably should have but didn’t want to feel too tied to any plans.
Dinner was at The Angry Trout. Cold night so most people were inside. So it was packed, of course. We put our names in and then wandered a bit. At 8:30 we heard our name. First time there for me. I was impressed. With all the hype, I was expecting a letdown and so my high rating came hard won. Very impressive dinner plate with fish fresh from the waters we had been staring at the last few days. Nice wild rice side and fantastic salad. Very impressed.
Strolled toward the hotel with a quick stop at the Pie Place for munching in the room. In bed by 11:30. Prepared for an early trek out to beat the traffic onto Highway 61 for a smooth ride home. And it worked.