Nicknamed America’s Coolest Small Town, it’s easy to envision Grand Marais as a seaside village in the Northeast or Pacific Northwest. Instead, the picturesque town calls Minnesota’s North Shore home. Hugging Lake Superior, the community of about 1,400 people is a must for nature lovers, art enthusiasts, and anyone interested in postcard-style views.
Grand Marais is a very walkable town. Park your car and enjoy a walk along the main drag, with shops, galleries, and eateries, and then venture toward the lake and its attractions.
Plan a long weekend when visiting Grand Marais, Minnesota, as you’ll want to check out all the town has to offer.
Things To Do In Grand Marais
Explore Artist’s Point And Walk To The Lighthouse
This is a must-see when visiting Grand Marais. As you approach Lake Superior from the Coast Guard station, you can turn left to explore the scenic Artist’s Point, a peninsula near the lake.
On the opposite end, located at the end of the seawall in Grand Marais’ bay, walking to the lighthouse is among the most popular things to do in town. Built in 1922, the lighthouse is still used for boaters in Lake Superior. The walk along the two-block-long concrete and volcanic basalt stone path offers majestic views of Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains to the south, as well as the town. The lighthouse is a popular spot for selfies and family photos. Walking along the seawall is safe, with a wire fence running alongside if you feel the need to steady yourself. While the walk is paved, it has a few rough spots and is not recommended for people who need assistance walking, nor is it wheelchair accessible. The seawall is a busy spot where you’ll also find artists standing on the rocks creating paintings of the landscape and lake view.
Kayak Lake Superior
From the days when the Ojibwe Native Americans traveled along the waters to the French fur traders looking to trade with local tribes, Lake Superior has been a major transportation route for more than 500 years. Today, it’s a popular destination for tourists to explore via kayak or canoe, with several tour companies offering guided outings. You can even explore by yourself by renting equipment from local outfitters. As you paddle your way from local beaches to the bluffs and small islands located in the area, you’ll enjoy special views from the water level that you won’t see from the shore. Explore rocks along the coast, catch glimpses of wildlife and waterfowl in their natural habitat, and take in the wooded bluffs hugging Lake Superior.
Explore The Local Art Scene
Between Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains, and the cityscape, Grand Marais is an artist’s dream. It’s common to find en plein air artists painting along the shoreline. The city is even the site of an annual Plein Air Grand Marais festival, which attracts hundreds of artists from around the country. With nearly a dozen art galleries and studios in Grand Marais, you’ll find a variety of paintings and photographs to enjoy. Each gallery and studio is within walking distance of each other, so you can make a day of just taking in art. For almost 25 years, North House Folk School has offered courses on traditional crafts, such as basket making, fiber art, and even boat building.
Check Out The Beaver House
You don’t need to be a fishing enthusiast to enjoy a stop at Beaver House. With a giant walleye head sticking out from the side of the building, Beaver House has been the go-to place for fishing lures, rods, and more since the mid-1960s, when Bill Cronberg opened its doors. Today, his son Tyson runs the store, sharing fishing stories with anyone eager to chat. The Cronberg family has invented lures, such as the Beaver Flick, invented by Bill’s son Marty when he was 17. The special design is said to be good for catching any type of fish in summertime or when ice fishing. The store is swamped with all kinds of lures and other items, such as tourist T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Hike The Superior Trail
With more than 50 miles of trails available, the Superior Trail offers an opportunity to explore the North Shore’s forests and mountains. With waterfalls, hills, rivers, creeks, and more awaiting you, exploring the Superior Hiking Trail can take you through a variety of areas, including Pincushion Mountain Trailhead just outside Grand Marais. The nearly 5-mile trail takes you along a canyon above the Devil Track River before descending into a gorge along the river. The Pincushion Mountain summit does include a steep spur that ends with a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
Drive The Gunflint Trail
A 57-mile loop, the Gunflint Trail takes you from Grand Marais to the Boundary Waters, where you can see Canada from across the northernmost lake. While at Ham Lake, listen for the sound of a moose call, as they roam across the area. Along the way, you’ll take in beautiful views of the Superior National Forest and a variety of lakes, with most featuring hiking trails that allow you to explore the area. You can canoe or kayak the lakes, as well. You’ll want to plan on spending at least half a day exploring the Gunflint Trail, as attractions along the way will tempt you to stop and explore. Each stop seems to offer something different, from shoreline hikes to hilly adventures.
While it’s only a mile long, Honeymoon Bluff is a must-hike trail along Gunflint. A steep climb with built-in steps near the start of the trail, Honeymoon Bluff takes you through the woods, where you may see deer or other wildlife. Once at the top, you’ll appreciate the cardio workout on the way up as you take in views of Hungry Jack Lake, with forests surrounding the clean, blue water, where you can see for miles and miles.
During your drive, plan to stop for lunch at one of the roadside diners, where you can enjoy freshly-cooked entrees, such as burgers or fish. They’re also good breaks to stretch your legs and spend a few minutes relaxing.
On the return trip to Grand Marais, stop at the overlook just above Grand Marais, where you can enjoy the view of the town and Lake Superior below you.
Best Restaurants In Grand Marais
When you name your bakery World’s Best Donuts, you better know what you’re doing. For more than 50 years, people have lined up around the block to try the donut of the day or order standards, such as the powdered sugar cake donut, glazed cake donut, and the banana cream-filled Bismarck with chocolate frosting.
Located in a former fishing shanty, Angry Trout Cafe features a casual menu with items such as fish tacos, fried fish, bison tenderloin, and grilled chicken. The indoor/outdoor restaurant operates on a seasonal basis, closing for the winter and reopening each spring.
Forget the jokes, Sven and Ole’s serves delicious hand-tossed pizza. Starting with a cheese foundation, you can add favorite toppings, such as pepperoni, Italian sausage, shrimp, and grilled chicken. Toss in fresh vegetables, and you’re set for an impressive dining experience. If pizza isn’t your thing, the restaurant also offers appetizers and hoagie sandwiches. Sven and Ole’s has served the Grand Marais area for more than three decades.
Where To Shop In Grand Marais
With a name like Upstate Minnesota, you know you must check it out. With artisan-made products -- scarves, tote bags, purses, T-shirts, key chains, and jewelry -- you’ll understand why the store’s products reflect the northern landscape.
With all types of clothing and accessories, as well as handmade pottery, Scandinavian gifts, cookbooks, and books about the region, Lake Superior Trading Post needs to be on your must-visit list. The second-generation business started as a trading post, featuring northern items before expanding to more tourist-centric products.
It may be impossible to go home without picking up some goodies from Gunflint Mercantile and Candy Company. From specially flavored coffee, such as banana nut bread and chocolate almond, to jams, dressings, soup mixes, and, of course, handmade chocolates, you’ll find something tasty to take home as gifts (or for yourself). Gunflint Mercantile also sells T-shirts, mugs, and other items.
Best Hotels In Grand Marais
The Mayhew Inn
With an amazing view of Lake Superior, The Mayhew Inn provides a special experience as Grand Marais’s lone boutique hotel. With only six rooms, each features a contemporary modular design. You can relax and enjoy a drink near the fireplace in the lobby or on the hotel’s patio.
Mangy Moose Motel
With the feel of a lodge, the Mangy Moose Motel offers a rustic stay with the comforts of home. Your room will make you think of staying at a cabin deep in the woods, but the Keurig coffeemaker, cable TV, and hairdryer will remind you that your motel is not far from the wilderness surrounding Grand Marais.