Visit Cook County, Minnesota
Published: Sunday, March 1, 2020
By: Carah Thomas Maskell
At the very Northeastern tip of Minnesota, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, lies Cook County, a destination like no other. Cook County offers endless, year-round recreational opportunities, from arts and culture to history, dining, and outdoor recreation of all kinds.
In Cook County, you can experience Lake Superior—the world’s largest freshwater lake, visit Eagle Mountain—Minnesota’s tallest mountain peak, see the state’s highest waterfall at Grand Portage State Park, ski the largest ski resort in the Midwest at Lutsen Mountains, or drive deep into the wilderness on the Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway.
Artists and artisans thrive on the natural inspiration found throughout Cook County. The rugged northern Minnesota landscape inspires the North Shore art for which the harbor town of Grand Marais and the rest of Cook County are renowned. It also creates a dramatic stage for the region’s lively music and cultural scenes, as well as its burgeoning craft beer and fine dining scenes.
Typically, the history of a region is reserved for museums and history books, but that’s not the case in Cook County, where the local cultural and natural histories are visible, vibrant parts of everyday life. Perhaps that’s why the historic hubs of trading and pioneer life are now centers of commerce, art, and recreation, with museums and galleries just steps away from pristine lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails, and awe-inspiring Lake Superior vistas.
Lake Superior is often called the greatest of the Great Lakes, and with good reason. With a surface area of 31,700 square miles, it is the largest freshwater lake in the world, and holds three quadrillion gallons of water—about ten percent of all the fresh surface water on Earth! And here’s another mindbender: if you drained Lake Superior, it would flood all of North and South America with a foot of water!
It’s one thing to stand on the shore gazing out at Lake Superior. Beautiful? Oh, yes! Breathtaking? Without a doubt! But imagine yourself on a boat, surrounded on all sides by Superior’s pristine grandeur and timeless beauty, and the experience morphs from memorable to magical.
Cook County has two marinas with campgrounds offering boaters easily accessible services and recreational opportunities (no vehicle necessary). In the scenic harbor town of Grand Marais, the 25-slip Municipal Campground & Marina offers two “easy access” guest slips, available by reservation, along with guest moorings generally available in the large, protected harbor. Guest slips in the marina feature 30 and 50 Amp electric, and potable water service. Marina staff monitor VHF Channel 16 and can be reached by phone at 218-387-1712.
Artsy and quirky, Grand Marais has earned the title of America’s Coolest Small Town (Budget Travel magazine), Top 10 Beach Getaways (Outside magazine), and Next Great Adventure Town (National Geographic Adventure magazine), among many other accolades. Nestled between the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Superior, Grand Marais is the perfect springboard for adventure. Once you dock, you’ll quickly discover why so many find inspiration in Grand Marais.
Grand Marais is the perfect town for walking in, so drop your anchor and stay awhile. Grab a bite to eat and watch the sunset over the harbor. As day turns into evening, live music can be found every night of the week.
One of the most popular attractions in Grand Marais is North House Folk School. Located right on the harbor in downtown Grand Marais, and mere steps away from the Municipal Campground and Marina, North House offers year-round classes on everything from boat building to moccasin making, with the focus on traditional northern craft.
Most boat enthusiasts would agree that the must-attend event of the year is North House Folk School’s Wooden Boat Show and Summer Solstice Festival (www.northhouse.org/events/wooden-boat-show), held annually around the summer solstice.
Among Grand Marais’ many charms you find a welcoming atmosphere, biking and hiking trails, quaint shops and galleries, and a rich cultural history. The Cook County Historical Society Museum, once the lighthouse keeper’s residence, offers a glimpse into the past. Delve into the history of this old fishing and logging village before diving deeper into the flourishing art scene.
Since 1947, the Grand Marais Art Colony has been fostering creative exploration in the north. An active artists hub, there are many ways to engage such as taking a class or attending an event. The annual Grand Marais Arts Festival occurs the second weekend in July and attracts artists from around the country.
From the world’s greatest lake to the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, access to water is abundant in Cook County. Local canoe outfitters can arrange trips and transportation to some of the most remote wilderness lakes in the heart of moose country.
In addition to the marina in Grand Marais, Cook County boasts another fine marina facility at the historical settlement of Grand Portage. This 27-slip marina also offers easily accessible services and recreational opportunities (no vehicle necessary) and is centrally located on the North Shore of Lake Superior between Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Grand Marais, MN.
Open May through October, the marina is operated by the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and provides services for fishing and boating, including slip rentals, ramp launching, landing facilities, and gas and tackle sales. It is also the last fueling stop before heading out to Isle Royale National Park, the largest island in Lake Superior.
Grand Portage is an amazing place to visit any time of year. There’s the grand, sparkling, newly renovated Grand Portage Lodge & Casino, historic Grand Portage National Monument, and High Falls at Grand Portage State Park. Additionally, every year on the second weekend in August, Grand Portage holds its annual Rendezvous Days and Traditional Pow Wow, honoring the rich cultural heritage and history of the Grand Portage community. Held on the grounds of Grand Portage National Monument, the Rendezvous features hundreds of reenactors from across the country and Canada who gather to camp and challenge each other to games and skills from our historic past.
As part of this celebration, the Grand Portage Band holds its annual Traditional Pow Wow. Neighboring tribes travel to Grand Portage to join this joyous annual gathering, the community’s biggest and most grand celebration of the year. Visitors can expect a weekend packed with cultural events from the 1800s to 1900s, including dancers, singers, and drumming, as well as chances to try blacksmithing, arts and crafts, Native American cuisine, and recreational activities.
Discover all that Cook County has to offer at www.visitcookcounty.com.
This article first appeared in the Spring Issue (Mar/Apr) 2020 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.