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Travel / June 13, 2016

How to visit Highway 61

Written by: Matt Minich

From Duluth, Minnesota’s Hwy 61 stretches 150 miles north along the shore of Lake Superior. The whole drive can be done in about 3 hours.

But there’s a lot to see along Highway 61—enough to justify at least a week on the road. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite sites along the trip below, but we recommend this guidebook for anyone planning to make the drive.

Shoot the Split Rock Lighthouse

Highway 61 Minnesota | Split Rock Lighthouse |

It’s not easy to take a great photo. It demands mastery of complex equipment, expert timing, and a keen understanding of light and shadow. Unless the subject of your photo is a lighthouse, that is. It’s pretty hard to take a bad photo of a lighthouse.

Built in 1909 to warn logging barges away from the Lake Superior shore, the namesake of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is no exception. The structure is so popular among photographers that the local historical society has developed a map of the best locations to shoot it from.

The park also offers lakeside camping and a few great hiking/biking trails. It’s a great place to pick up the 86-mile paved Gitchi-Gami State Trail, which parallels Highway 61. The trail is not open to motorized vehicles of any kind.

Photo by Pete Markham. 

Hike at Grand Portage State Park

Highway 61 Minnesota | Grand Portage State Park |

Minnesota’s Ojibwe Indians were master paddlers, but even they couldn’t send the Pigeon River’s 120-foot High Falls. So they established a 9-mile trail around them. That “Grand Portage” isn’t really necessary for travelers today, but it makes for a nice hike.

The falls, which are the tallest in Minnesota, are the centerpiece of Grand Portage State Park. They can be accessed by an easy 1-mile trail and boardwalk.

For those who want more of a leg stretch, we recommend the 5-mile lollipop loop trail to the smaller Middle Falls. This is a strenuous backcountry trail, and takes most hikers about 3 hours to complete.

Photo by Andy Tinkham. 

See moose and wolves on Isle Royale

Highway 61 Minnesota | moose and wolves on Isle Royale |

Four and a half miles offshore from the end of Highway 61, Isle Royale National Park is one of the wildest places in the Lower 48. With a permanent human population of 0, the island park serves as a refuge for about 200 moose and 30 grey wolves.

Camping on the island is a true wilderness experience. The park’s 36 campgrounds offer all the usual amenities, but they can only be reached by boat or by foot. That makes them some of the darkest, quietest campsites south of Alaska.

Most days, the island can be reached by a ferry from Grand Portage. These trips take about 90 minutes each way and leave passengers on the island for four hours. A one-way ferry trip costs $71 per person.

Photo by Joe Ross.  


about the author

Matt Minich

Matt Minich is Editorial Director for Shoulders of Giants. He has spent more than a decade writing, editing, and curating content about outdoor sports and adventure. As an adventure journalist he has climbed peaks in Patagonia, rappelled waterfalls in Colorado, B.A.S.E. jumped in Moab, and sampled fermented horse milk in Kyrgyzstan.

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