A few years back I had heard about a map leading people through all of Minnesota’s waterfalls and was super intrigued. I had grown up splashing around and climbing rocks along the North Shore but was totally unaware of a waterfall treasure hunt! As we explored the falls, we realized just how many amazing hikes and views are available on Minnesota’s North Shore. However, people would tell us our kids “couldn’t make the hike” in certain locations. Since I’m kind of a stubborn pain in the ass so I ignored these comments. But I realized, maybe having a mini guide for parents would be nice. So, after exploring all of the sites and hiking locations, I’ve put together a go-to guide for parents when it comes to planning a trip along the North Shore.
Planning your trip
I’m not much of a planner until it comes to planning our family’s vacations and road trips! That’s why I created a FREE Travel Planner template that you can use to customize your own travel plans! And, if you want to maximize your tips to see more things and still stay on budget, be sure to check out my post all about it!
The waterfall trail along Minnesota’s North Shore can mostly be found right off Hwy 61 which makes things super easy and convenient.
I’m going to break down the waterfalls, hiking spots, and pit-stops that you can take along the way based on the age of kids that you have so you can get a good idea on which spots you can plan on stopping at.
Not sure where to camp? There are plenty of campgrounds along Hwy 61 as well, or you can explore free camping locations too! It’s been about 3 years since we decided to get back to our camping roots and we have really been loving it! See why we ditched our all-inclusive vacations.
Quick stops along the trail
There are a ton of quick stops you can make along your route to stretch your legs and capture some amazing views. So if you aren’t big into hiking or you prefer breaking up the trip, here are some of my favorite places along the way.
Whether you are looking to catch some views, stretch your legs or grab a bite to eat Downtown Duluth just off Lake Street is the place to be!
From here you can walk the pier, see sailboats pass under the lift bridge, try out Duluth’s most well-known restaurant, Grandma’s or grab some quick snacks from different food carts set up all around the pier.
Duluth is super charming and is tied with Minneapolis for my favorite city, for sure!
Great Lakes Candy Kitchen
If you take the scenic route from Duluth to Two Harbors, you’ll pass by the over 100-year-old Great Lakes Candy Kitchen! I have been stopping here ever since I was a kid to choose from some delicious hand-made chocolates. Now, my kids insist on stopping every time too!
Breakwater in Two Harbors
Just off the scenic route is the Breakwater in Two Harbors. This is another frequent stop for our family. There are rocky beaches for kids to run around or skip rocks. You can also take a quick walk down the long pier that guides you far into Lake Superior.
Mini hikes for tikes
If you are traveling with kids about 7 or younger, I’ve compiled some ideas for really easy sight-seeing for you and them. These are beautiful locations where you can stretch your legs, catch some views and avoid too much in-depth hiking! Ideas for screen-free road trips with kids!
Split Rock Lighthouse
The Split Rock Lighthouse is a gorgeous lighthouse on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior. You can get tours here as well as explore some nearby trails. There are easy paved trails to follow and gorgeous sites to take in.
Black Beach in Silver Bay, Minnesota got its name from the black sand lining the beach. Although it is a small stretch, you can easily spend a day here stacking rocks, playing in the water, or even having a picnic together.
Sugarloaf Cove is a perfect place for beginner hikers and little ones alike. This rocky beach has pretty views and a little exploring that you can do safely within the cove.
Now you will definitely have to watch your youngsters during this stop because you will be at the top of a high cliff overlooking Lake Superior, but the views at Palisade Head are undeniably amazing!
Grand Marais pier
Grand Marais in and of itself is somewhere you could easily spend an entire week. This quaint little town reminds me of a seaside town you’d find off the coast of Oregon. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and cafes to choose from with great views of the gorgeous Lake Superior. But, if you’re looking to explore a little with your little ones the Grand Marais pier is a must-see!
Cross River Falls
The Cross River Falls is quite possibly the easiest to get to because it is literally within view of Hwy 61. It’s a quick stop with some gorgeous views. You’ll see the falls on one side and if you cross the road you will find stairs leading down to a better view of the falls!
Temperance River Gorge
This is a top choice for both some waterfalls views and some beginner hiking fun for the whole family! Again, it’s important (as with any waterfall) to keep your kids in range as the gorge is very deep. However, exploring the area is suitable for beginners but offers gorgeous views for everyone.
Newbie friendly trails
Thankfully, most places have easy to get to trails for beginner hikers or for those who don’t want to spend hours trekking through the woods.
Keep in mind a lot of these places offer more advanced trails as well, but I’ll take a moment to cover the easier ones!
Jay Cooke State Park
Jay Cooke State Park, just outside Duluth is a great starter spot for families who are easing into hiking. You can walk across the suspension bridge, enjoy the easy trails, or let your kids do a little “rock climbing.
Gooseberry Falls state park offers a massive amount of easy-to-trek trails alongside several falls and rapids. The first falls is a quick walk and you can choose to continue to explore from there if you wish.
Cascade River State Park
You can do a ton of exploring at the Cascade River State Park. The majority of the trails are unpaved but easy to travel on. There are definitely options for a little off-trail exploration as well as beautiful locations to just sit and relax for a minute.
The Devil’s Kettle at Judge C.R. Magney State Park just might be one of the coolest things Minnesota has to offer. Although, I believe the mystery has been solved as to where the kettle actually leads it’s still a pretty fun thing for anyone to experience, especially kids. You can see in the photo below, the waterfall splits off into two sections, one of which leads to a hole (pot) in the earth AKA The Devil’s Kettle.
Grand Portage waterfall
Grand Portage State Park is the last spot in Minnesota before you cross the border into Canada and it also has Minnesota’s largest waterfall and the hike to it is pretty simple! This is a trip you could easily make with your kiddos and Grand Portage itself has a ton of beautiful views to take in afterward!
“Big kid” hikes
Now for those who have kids with a little more stamina, here are some of the best “advanced” trails that Minnesota has to offer along it’s North Shore.
Of course, you are going to want to make sure that you have some quality hiking boots for these as some of them might get a little rough and muddy.
Cascade River’s Overlook Mountain
This hike at the Cascade River State Park was tough. Maybe it was the sunshine or the backpack on my back with a dog in it, but it was more challenging than we bargained for. Our 8 and 10-year-olds made it just fine and we saw other older kids at the top as well. Even though it’s a more challenging hike, the view is totally worth it!
Almost 300 steps. Let me just start there. For the most part, the hike to the Tettecouche’s High Falls and Two Step Falls can be pretty simple, you can also make it a little more challenging. I’m actually saying this because I’m reading it here. It would appear our family took the long way to the falls. Again..totally worth it. To get really close to the Two-Step Falls and to see the High Falls for its true magnitude was totally worth it!
Middle Falls, Grand Portage State Park
After seeing the High Falls a Grand Portage State Park you can continue on to a more quiet area, The Middle Falls. This is a super peaceful place to just hang out if you make it after the morning and afternoon rush. It’s about a 3 mile hike to the Middle Falls and some of it is a little steep which is why it’s a better bet for older kiddos.
Split Rock Loop
The Split Rock hiking loop is relatively simple, but it is a 4.4-mile loop which might be too much for younger kids. There are pretty falls and rapids along the way and you have to snap a photo with the “famous” Split Rock.
Seeing it all
It’s quite possible that you could see most of these places in a weekend if you don’t do all of the deeper paths, but I always encourage you to slow down a moment, soak in as much as you can and really appreciate all of the sights.