A May 2002 trip
to Minnesota by wanderluster
Quote: My goal was to hike 40 miles to celebrate my 40th birthday. I couldn't have picked a better trail! The Superior Hiking Trail surpassed my expectations with beautiful scenery of cascading waterfalls, mountains, gorges, wetlands and fairyland forests. And great lodges near the trails made it a cushy holiday.(Part 3)
It's possible to climb mountains one day, and follow waterfalls the next. Actually, waterfalls are easy as they seem to be on the majority of hikes!
Highlights of Grand Marais area: Grand Marais is a delightful, if a bit touristy, town full of shops right on the shores of Lake Superior. The Boundary Waters are an hour to the west, and Thunder Bay, Canada, is an hour north (definitely the better option of the two).
Best hikes: The only section of the Superior Hiking Trail where you actually walk on the rocky shore of the mighty Lake Superior is the Kadunce River/Lakewalk Trail, just north of Grand Marais. Another beautiful hike that leads to a strange and mysterious cauldron is the Magney State Park section of the Superior Trail, 13 miles north of Grand Marais.
Some of the newer and nicer accommodations along the North Shore are not among the program's 15 participating lodges. We customized our own itinerary independently and saved lots of money ( versus per couple). You can save even more by camping along the trail (sites every five to eight miles).
Hiking season is May to October. Bug season is late May to July for black flies, and early June to August for mosquitoes. We hiked the last two weeks of May. It was perfect: warm but not hot, bug-free and sunny.
. For hikers that wish to complete a thru hike, yet get off the trail to bed in a comfy lodge, there is a shuttle service available in the summer months beginning in June for hikers in need of transport to the trailhead. You simply call a day prior to arrange your transport. In addition, many of the lodges or B and B's (such as where we stayed in Grand Marais, the Old Shore B and B) will provide a shuttle service and a trail lunch for a nominal fee. And, some of the hikes can be done as a loop, eliminating the need for a shuttle (such as Cascade Loop – 15 miles south –described in my Tofte journal).
Hotel | "Old Shore Beach B&B"
If you desire a true sense of what Minnesotans know as the North Shore, come to the Old Shore B&B nestled in a wooded grove along the pebble beach of Lake Superior. The views are marvelous, the setting secluded and the activities romantic.
Relax in Adirondack chairs surrounding a campfire on grassy banks overlooking the beach, or listen to the crashing surf while reading on the cedar deck. Then stroll along the private beach looking for polished stones and agates.
Sign up for an hour long private sauna, and at the appointed time slip into the provided robes and slippers to make your way outside to the sauna. Sit naked in the sauna and breathe deeply until you feel like you're about to explode, then run to shore, disrobe and jump into icy Lake Superior! That's the traditional Finnish sauna, as your hostess will enthusiastically explain. Then warm up with a fire on the beach and roast marshmallows to make s'mores, (all necessities provided). Or grab some home-made cookies and head upstairs to view Saturn through the telescope in the sunroom. Starry skies are incredible from here.
Those are the wonderful activities you can do here. Our hostess was energetic and almost insistent about us trying the traditional Finnish sauna, so of course we signed up. We didn't need an hour in the steamy sauna before we were ready to escape to the beach. How freeing it felt to run naked on the secluded beach under a moonlit sky! It was romantic, fun and adventurous.
This contemporary home was recently built to be a B&B, and thus has a perfect layout. Three bedrooms are upstairs along with a sunroom, and a larger suite on the main floor is adjacent to the great room and dining room. Rooms are tastefully decorated with a Northwoods theme and thankfully absent of any frills, florals or knicknacks. Colors range from hunter green, navy blue to burgundy. Even husbands not normally fond of B&B's will enjoy this one. The great room has a massive stone fireplace and walls of windows overlooking Lake Superior with soft couches for reading the assortment of books on the local hiking trails, flora and fauna. Sliding doors lead to the wrap around deck and sauna, and additional sitting areas scattered throughout the grounds.
Breakfast was served at 8:30am and included homemade muffins, bread, pancakes, sausage, juice and hot chocolate or coffee. The hostess is very organized, and asks you to mark what you want the next morning. She also offers a trail lunch which was much better than our expensive trail lunch from the acclaimed CoHo Bakery in Tofte!
This gracious hostess will also willingly transport you to a trailhead within a ten mile radius, so that you can complete a thru hike instead of backtrack. She is full of ideas and recommendations.
A great place, highly recommended! Definitely our favorite B&B along the North Shore!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 14, 2002
Royal Goan Beach Club at Benaulim
Hotel | "East Bay Hotel"
I loved the location because it was perfect for strolling the beach and walking to the shops in town. In fact across the street is the Famous Donut Shop, Sven & Ole's Pizza, Beth's Fudge, and an assortment of novelty shops, jewelry, bookstores, taverns, restaurants and the Trading Post, an awesome store with a fantastic range of outdoor clothing, equipment, maps, etc.
Hotel rooms are reasonable priced, spacious, and clean but lack charm as the walls are completely void of decoration. Pretty standard as far as hotel rooms go, but the views and access to Lake Superior are great. Rates vary according to season and amenities. We paid $72 for our room which had 2 queen beds, table and chairs, and a walk out door to a deck overlooking the pebble beach. There is a restaurant on the premises which serves a full menu for all meals, highlighting fresh fish of course.
Massages are available from 8am-8pm Monday through Saturday, and a multi-person hot tub is open daily till 11pm. One word of caution: they do accept pets in some rooms so inquire prior to booking. Our neighbor had a large dog that kept us annoyed much of the time with noisy running, barking, and pooping around our door.
Check out the web site for rates and additional information.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 14, 2002
Inn At The Opera
333 FULTON ST
San Francisco, California 94102
Hotel | "Sea Wall Motel"
It was Memorial Day Weekend, and we were ditching our accommodations at the Gunflint Lodge in the Boundary Waters looking for a heated room in the freezing cold–beginning to snow–weather on a late Friday night. (Yes, the end of May it can still snow and our cabin had no fireplace, space heater or warm water. Plus, after spending an afternoon canoeing in the once pristine wilderness and finding the forest largely logged and destroyed by windstorms, we had our fill of the rather drab, lifeless scenery and decided to substitute the weekend for an extended exploration of Thunder Bay, Ontario...the best decision of our trip, and a wonderful highlight!)
We just needed a simple one night stay before getting an early start to Canada, and this motel was just the ticket. The owner, who lives in the white home which houses the office, came out promptly and had no qualms about renting out a room for just one night over the holiday weekend. Unlike the B&B's, hotels or resorts in the area.
It was perfect for what we needed. Quiet, restful, warm and clean. Slept great. We drove to Sven & Ole's for late night pizza (interesting choices including lutefisk for those hardy Norwegians) and noticed the majority of the local people eating there finished off their pizza with ice cream cones while wearing winter coats. ("Ya, sure. Ice cream. Year round." Those crazy Scandinavians...guess my love of ice cream comes naturally.)
It was a fine place to stay for a decent night's sleep in a very comfortable bed. No noisy neighbors, and no traffic noise despite the proximity to the highway.
For $56 we slept in a comfortable bed in a heated room styled with orange shag carpet, panelled walls and hanging lamps from the 70's. A fridge (oddly enough most accommodations seem to have them up north) and TV with HBO were nice little perks. A picture window looked out over the bay, across the highway, and provided a view of sailboats and fishing boats.
Within a few blocks are several shops and restaurants.
Westin Mission Hills Resort and Spa
71333 Dinah Shore Drive
Rancho Mirage, California 92270
The attractive restaurant sits on the protected bay of Lake Superior in Grand Marais along Highway 61. We entered the trout decorated door to find a glass walled room housing maybe 20 tables. We squeezed past other patrons and sat at a corner table with a view of the water. There were additional tables outside on the deck–empty on this cold windy night. The interior felt cramped and tiny, and was quite noisy as you could hear conversations all around you.
The menu offered fish, but all entrees were fried except the fresh fish of the day. FRIED? That really surprised me. Entrees were all around $20 or more, and included a side salad and your choice of new potatoes or wild rice.
I opted for the herring, since it is a local specialty brought in daily by the fishermen. My salad had a bunch of shredded carrots, red onions and a lone strawberry atop the iceberg lettuce. The dressing was a tomato basil that tasted more like ketchup. Served with the salad were fried breadsticks, hard as rocks, and olive oil. The herring was heavily breaded (where's the fish?) and very crunchy. Not my idea of a healthy, tasty or gourmet meal.
Neither one of us cared for our meals and actually left hungry after picking at our plates for what seemed to be two hours. Our waitress for the most part ignored us, perhaps because we were so far away in the corner sandwiched in between a graduation party, reunion party and a large table of locals discussing politics. She never checked on our dinners, offered refills on our drinks or gave us the bill until we successfully waved her down after many attempts.
We're usually pretty easy to please, but have to say in this case that we were dissatisfied customers both in the food and service. We left and drove around until we spotted a chalkboard outside the Gunflint Tavern advertising two unusual soups which we just had to go in and try...so glad we did! They were absolutely yummy, and the menu was amazingly varied, inexpensive and creative.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on October 14, 2002
Located in the heart of quaint Grand Marais overlooking Lake Superior, the Gunflint Tavern is a small pub, with a cluster of wooden tables, iron chairs and beer barrel stools. This non-smoking restaurant offers a full menu with daily specials written on a chalkboard. Families are welcome.
Appetizers ranged from pickled eggs (.50), hot pretzels ($1.99) to hummus and dip assortment with pita bread ($6.95) with lots more options in between. Soups vary by day, whatever the chef happens to create. Tonight were Dahli Lama meets Idaho (a spicy curry soup which was delicious) and smoked herring and wild rice in a creamy sauce (also very nice). Both were served with thick slices of soft warm oatmeal bread and creamy butter (oh, so wonderful).
Salads were creative–spring greens tossed with sunflower seeds, kiwi, strawberry, grapes, raspberries, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli. (Thankfully a far cry from the "gourmet" iceberg lettuce salad topped with onion and shredded carrots served at the Angry Trout) Dressings served in squeeze bottles were brought to the table and casually shared among the patrons. All were tasty, but my favorite was the parmesan herbed ranch.
Sandwiches and main entrees included selections and unusual combinations of Greek, Italian, Scandinavian, Mexican and American dishes all reasonably priced. For example, my husband's tuna steak was served with a jerk sauce. Fresh ingredients and organic foods were widely used and appreciated.
For breakfast the following morning, we returned to sample a Mexican platter of scrambled eggs with spicy salsa and black beans, refried beans with cheese, sausage, fruit, salad and juice for around $6; and a local favorite waffled french toast with ligonberry yogurt sauce, sausage and fruit. Both were delicious and different.
Staff is friendly, laid back but a little slow in taking your money. Guess they're encouraging the patrons to hang out in this comfortable place. Clearly the locals do. And that's always a good sign.
Live jazz and blues play on the summer weekends, with Improv on Wednesday nights. To view their eclectic food menu and microbrews check out the Gunflint Tavern on the Lake website.
Don't waste your time looking elsewhere because this place has the best food in Grand Marais, hands down. Try it once and you'll keep coming back and back and back.
This historic lodge was built in 1928 as an ultra-exclusive private club for Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and other filthy rich and famous charter members. Plans to build horse stables, a golf course and pool were thwarted when the stock market crashed. By the mid-30s the mortgage was foreclosed and the club was sold.
Today the lodge reflects it's original style. Vivid colors of yellow, orange, cobalt blue, red and green decorate the ceiling and walls in bright Cree Indian designs of zigzags, geometrics and faces. Large yellow lanterns hand from the high ceiling in the 30x80 Great Hall. A massive stone fireplace takes up much of one wall, and tables covered in blue tablecloths offer seating for around 100 people.
Sunday brunch is a popular time to dine, although the buffet was too carb heavy for our taste. There was one egg casserole, but the remainder of items were carbs–muffins, fruit, crackers, bread and dessert. So we ordered off the menu, which apparently deviated from the norm judging from slow service. It took 15 minutes after seated to get menus, another 15 minutes for the waitress to return to our table, and another 45 to get our meals. And it wasn't even busy.
My omelet was huge and full of onions and peppers. My husband's turkey sandwich consisted of deli-styled processed meat on thick hard bread that "hurt to eat"and was served with coleslaw. The meals were pretty standard fare compared to our expectations after viewing their cookbook and dinner menu options, which looked much more creative and flavorful.
Afternoon tea is offered daily from 3-5pm during the summer beginning June 1 in the light filled sunroom adjacent to the colorful Cree dining room.
The restaurant is open daily for all three meals mid-May to mid-October, and dinner only during the winter on Friday and Saturdays. The lodge is located 15 miles north of Grand Marais, close to Magney State Park where you can hike to see the mysterious Devil's Kettle waterfalls.
Lodging is available in Naniboujou during the summer months for $75 to $95 double occupancy. The 24 rooms are nicely decorated in muted shades like soft green with textured touches and Indian artwork. In the winter the lodge is only available as a weekend package. Rates range from $325 to $385 (with fireplace) double occupancy for two night's lodging, two breakfasts, a trail lunch, and two dinners. The lodge is also open the week between Christmas and New Year's with a special caroled dinner two of those evenings.
It is a interesting place to see. Come for dinner and enjoy the unusual atmosphere. I also think it would be a great place to spend the night en route to Thunder Bay after a busy day in Grand Marais.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 14, 2002
An easy dirt trail rambles through the woods under a shaded canopy of fir, aspen, birch and pine trees alongside a rushing river. The path is wide and generally flat although there are a total of 224 wooden stairs to descend (and climb up on your return) to access the waterfalls. Round trip the trail is just 2.5 miles, easily obtainable for any age or fitness level.
Hikers are rewarded with views of Brule River from the trail. Platforms to see the Lower Falls, Upper Falls and Devil's Kettle are provided along the way. It's a fast river in the spring and popular to kayak.
But kayakers beware! Know your route prior to take off. The scenic Brule River can be a scary ride. Mysterious Devil's Kettle is a vast hole in the water, and should you be unfortunate enough not to scamper to the east side of the river, you may disappear forever! Complete Volkswagons have been known to disappear into this caldron and never surfaced again according to local legend. University students and scientists have experimented with paintballs, dyes and objects but cannot explain where the colored water and objects went, as they never surfaced below the falls.
Above the falls a jutting rock divides the river into two separate falls–the eastern side falls 50 feet into a deep gorge and pool, whereas the falls on the western side plummet down a churning bottomless caldron.
The trail begins and ends at Judge Magney State Park on Highway 61, 14 miles north of Grand Marais. Part of the Superior Hiking Trail, it continues past the falls up the river for another mile, then dead-ends at private property. This section is planned for further expansion and construction will begin at a later date. As of 2002, it had not been started.
A rustic campground with 33 sites and picnic grounds are on the property for those who wish to camp and don't mind using outhouses.
Although the trail is not part of the Superior Hiking Trail, it is a worthy stop to walk along the wide paved path and boardwalk to view Minnesota's highest waterfalls. The scenic deep gorge is surrounded by high bluffs and pine trees.
There are many viewing platforms to watch the 120 feet High Falls of the Pigeon River. These falls are the reason that 17th century fur traders were forced to detour their route as they could not cross the whitewater en route to Lake Superior. Thus the Grand Portage Trail was formed leading to the National Monument a bit further south on the east side of Highway 61.
The falls are magnificent. The whitewater contrasts beautifully against the basalt rocks, green pines and blue sky. The trail is easy and wheelchair accessible, just one mile round trip!
A moderate to strenuous 6 mile trail leads to the Middle Falls, although at the time of our visit was blocked off. When we enquired at the Visitor Center, a DOC Indian woman boasted that it was blocked off because it is considered too difficult for outsiders to hike. She told us a story of a ranger who insisted that he could handle it, but came back hours and hours at dusk completely bushed.
The small Visitor Center sells Native American books and souvenirs.
If you miss the turn off Highway 61, 5 miles NE of the Grand Portage National Monument at the International Border, you can observe the falls in a park on the Canadian side. No worries. It's very easy to cross the border unless you have a dog without his rabies tag.
All structures are decorated with historic furnishings, and costumed volunteers explain what life was like for the fur traders. A short audiovisual presentation in the Great Hall provides an overview of the site. Hours are 8-5 daily from mid-May to mid-October. Admission is $2 for adults and free for those under 16.
There are two festivals held here the second weekend in August.
Rendezvous Days Powwow: The Grand Portage Band of the Chippewa Tribe hosts traditional dancing with drum groups on outdoor powwow grounds where spectators can watch from nearby bleachers. Dancing lasts from 1-9pm, and observers may join in the celebratory dancing if so desired. Food booths sell American Indian food such as fry bread and Indian tacos. Admission is free for both festivals.
Voyageur Rendezvous Festival is held in conjunction with the Powwow in the reconstructed fort near Lake Superior, where fur traders met halfway between Montreal and the NW Territory to exchange goods. Costumed voyageurs, trappers, traders, and Indian guides roam the Great Hall and ground of the fort amid singing, dancing, trading and other scheduled activities throughout the weekend.
Location of the Monument and reconstructed fort is north on Highway 61 in northern Minnesota, just 7 miles shy of the Canadian border. Look for the signs on the east side of the highway. A little further north on the west side of the highway is the Grand Portage State Park which has the highest waterfalls in Minnesota.
Kids will enjoy seeing the furs, teepee and costumed people wandering about the buildings. But if they enjoy this fairly small fort, they would love visiting the much larger and all day tourist attraction Old Fort William in Thunder Bay, Ontario just an hour north. This is the world's largest reconstruction of an early 1800s fur trading post, and includes 42 buildings, a huge wharf and canoe landing, native camp and working farm complete with all the animals.
Thompsonite is a semi-precious gemstone with radiating bands of pink and sometimes pistachio green that can be found peeking out of basalt rocks along the Lake Superior. The rarer pieces with "eyes" are the prized gemstones.
Other than Grand Marais, the only other place that it can be found is in Scotland! Formed like agates through water perculating into petrified bubbles, the basalt emerges from the Terrace Point basalt lava flow from the Sawtooth Mountains.
The only public place to search for this semi-precious gemstone here in the US is a wayside stop 4 miles south of Grand Marais on Good Harbor Bay, called Cutface. Park your car and search your heart out along the scenic pebble beach.
Whole nodules of this pastel zeolite are extremely rare to find as most have to be carefully extracted from the basalt (a difficult process as the pink stone is softer and tends to crush in the extraction). You will see just bits and pieces of the pink peeking from the black basalt, and once you know what you are looking for, will begin to find several pieces.
It's easier to see the radiating pink lines in the water, so look closely at every black rock you spot near the shoreline. And take off your sunglasses.
It was an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two walking the beautiful shoreline of the curved bay looking for Thompsonite or Lake Superior agates. Actually, we got hooked and returned to this lonely stretch of beach whenever we had some extra time, just for fun. Each time we returned to our car with pockets full of rocks to take home in assorted sizes from thumbnail to fist.
We collected several pieces of Thompsonite, including three with "eyes." All were embedded within thick basalt. They make great paperweights.
A half mile to the south is Thompsonite Beach Inn where amazing specimens are housed in a mini-museum adjacent to a large assortment of polished jewelry for sale. Thompsonite earrings started at $15 per pair for simple pink round stones. Necklaces, pendants, keychains, penholders, belt buckles and more earrings were displayed in glass cases as were an assortment of polished gemstones ($30-$100)–all for sale.
Another great place to purchase finished products is in a little shop called Northern Lights in Grand Marais. They have some pretty earrings and necklaces, a bit more feminine than the Thompsonite Beach Inn. But then everybody has different tastes.
Serious rockhounds may like to know that guests of the Thompsonite Beach Inn are welcome to scour their private beach where Thompsonite is most prolific. Another place to find the gemstone is while hiking the Cascade River Loop Trail (8 miles) just 15 miles south in Lutsen. It's not public land, so you can't take it with you, but it's everywhere! (Pssst...especially the Hidden Waterfall.)