Marine News from the Great Lakes

Autumn Is Naturally Unforgettable In Cook County, Minnesota

Published: Saturday, September 1, 2018

There’s nowhere in the world quite like “Gitchi Gami.” The beautiful north shore of the great Lake Superior has a unique quality that’s hard to describe. The dramatic coastline stretches as far as the eye can see — hundreds of miles of agate beaches, rocky cliffs, and the thick canopy of the Superior National Forest. But, it’s the lake itself that fills the north shore region with a sense of awe and wonder.

It’s one thing to look at Lake Superior and appreciate its beauty. It’s another thing entirely to navigate the waters yourself. Whether you’re paddling, sailing, or motorboating, being on the water is the best way to experience the true character of the lake and the region.

Cook County makes up the northeastern tip of Minnesota, with wonderful small towns tucked into picturesque bays of Lake Superior’s north shore. The region also stretches along the Canadian border, dividing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) from Quetico Provincial Park. Both areas are peppered with elongated lakes, carved into the landscape eons ago by retreating glaciers.

Today, Cook County is a destination you have to see to believe. The lake, the wilderness, and the locals who call it home welcome visitors all year round. The communities of Grand Portage, Grand Marais, and Lutsen, Tofte, and Schroeder are coastal cities, while the Gunflint Trail sits inland, serving as Cook County’s entry to the BWCAW and the Sawtooth Mountains.

The quiet region is about as far north as you can get in the Midwest, but it’s easy to find and access. Just head north. Once you hit Duluth, keep going on scenic Highway 61 – the North Shore Scenic Byway. Once you hit Schroeder, your Cook County adventure begins.

Lutsen, Tofte, and Schroeder

These three small communities are the southern gateway to Cook County. This region is the perfect place to kick off a fall vacation. Find public boat launches at Tofte Town Park in Tofte, Taconite Harbor, and the Schroeder Town Launch near Father Baraga’s Cross.

The stories say that in the mid 1800s, Father Baraga, a Roman Catholic missionary, erected a wooden cross at the site after a particularly treacherous canoe voyage on Lake Superior. Today, a granite cross stands proudly on the shore, reminding us all of the great lake’s power and tumultuous spirit.

Grand Marais

Further up the shore lies Grand Marais, a quaint harbor village that is grounded in art. Musicians, artists, photographers, and all types of artisans journey to Grand Marais seeking inspiration, and they always find it in the most unexpected places. Whether visitors find inspiration in the creativity of local artists, the delectable fine dining, or just the proximity to nature, they always leave the city feeling rejuvenated, body and soul.

The Grand Marais Harbor and Marina is the perfect place to get out on the water and explore Lake Superior. Rent a vessel or launch your own and explore the nearby coastline. As you head east, you’ll soon see Five Mile Rock. This mysteriously massive rock formation lies about ¾ of a mile from the shore, approximately five miles from Grand Marais. It’s a common resting place for migratory birds and has puzzled sailors for ages. We may not know its origins but seeing this large natural rock formation will leave you in awe.

Gunflint Trail and BWCAW

For a change of pace, head north, up the Gunflint Trail. But, just because Superior is out of sight doesn’t mean you’ve left water behind. Not by a long shot. Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes, but that’s a humble estimate. It’s actually closer to 12,000. The Gunflint Trail is a little quieter, a little more rustic than the rest of the communities in Cook County. It’s off the beaten path – you’ll find more gravel roads, small lakes and streams and wildlife than just about anywhere else in the world.

The Gunflint Trail is an excellent launching point for BWCAW excursions. Local outfitters will supply everything you need, from canoes and paddles to meals and cookware. Paddling these pristine lakes is a surefire way to connect with nature — and fall BWCAW trips are some of the best. The weather is cooler, the bugs have all but vanished, and wildlife is on the move. The fishing is spot on. Check with an outfitter before you venture out — they’ll divulge the best fishing spots on your planned route.

Grand Portage

Grand Portage is a place of enduring tradition and vibrant culture. It sits at the easternmost tip of Minnesota and is home to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. As one of the earliest Ojibwe settlements in Minnesota, Grand Portage has been a legendary meeting place for centuries. It’s also home to the famed Witch Tree. It’s been growing on the shoreline in solitude for over 300 years and is sacred to the Ojibwe people. View it from the water or ask for an escort from a band member at the Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center.

There’s so much to see and do in and around Grand Portage. On your way up from Grand Marais, you’ll find public boat launches in Hovland and Grand Portage. Take a break at Blueberry and Pancake Island on your way up from Grand Marais. Explore the Grand Portage Bay, Hat Point and the Witch Tree. Grand Portage State Park lies right on the Canadian border and is considered a hidden gem by all who visit. A short hike along the Pigeon River will take you to High Falls, Minnesota’s tallest waterfall. At 120-feet, it’s known as “Minnesota’s Niagara,” and it never disappoints.

Make this Fall Naturally Unforgettable

As the temperatures drop and the fall foliage hits its peak, Cook County becomes a relaxing fall retreat. The waters remain calm until the Gales of November pick up, making autumn an excellent time to navigate Cook County’s shoreline. So slow down, relax, and savor every Naturally Unforgettable moment.

Plan your trip today at

This article first appeared in the Fall Issue (Sept/Oct) 2018 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Destination, Lake Superior

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