Thursday, October 6, 2022

Fall Hiking Trip


It was August 2020. Des Moines, IA had been hit with a derecho in the midst of a pandemic. We were without power for days and had no idea when it would be restored. All of the local hotels that had power were booked with families in the same boat as us. So, I did what any rational person would do and I cleaned up our down trees, then set off to Duluth, MN with my three kids and pandemic puppy (while Hubs stayed home and worked because he was an essential employee; read about our adventure here). Prior to that date, I had never been to Duluth or the North Shore area. It was love at first sight. We took Hubs to the North Shore one year later (August 2021) and explored. When I saw the school calendar last spring and noticed the four day weekend the minis had at the end of September, I knew instantly we'd be hiking on the North Shore.

Of course, plans rarely work out how we imagine them. While the minis had a four day weekend, they had their evening activities they needed to be there for and Sunday study sessions to be home for. So, we did our annual North Shore hiking trip in two days (including our travel time). It was a whirlwind trip, but so worth it! The North Shore is gorgeous this time of year. We managed to hit it during peak season, hiking along the Canadian border in hues of yellow and orange. 

On our way up from Des Moines to Duluth, we stopped in Banning State Park to do the Wolf Creek Falls trail. The minis and dog got in some good rock scrambling and climbing, while I enjoyed the quiet along the Kettle River. I did get pulled into the creek and river by the dog, but surprisingly the water wasn't freezing cold (yet).

The reflection on that water is ah-mazing!

We got into Duluth before 5 p.m. The minis informed me there was nothing they wanted to do in Duluth, so we drove up the North Shore to Silver Bay to watch the sunset at Black Sand Beach. We made a quick stop at Culver's (in Two Harbors) for a quick dinner and got to the beach to run and play. I can confirm that Lake Superior IS freezing.

We were up bright and early to get a start on our Saturday. We ate a quick breakfast (these cups are perfect for a quick breakfast), checked out of our hotel in Duluth, and then began our North Shore drive. Our first stop was White Pine Market in Two Harbors, MN. They have the best coffee drinks we've ever had. We tried a black coffee, a Seattle, Traverse City, and one Italian soda. Don't skip over this small coffee shop on your way up the highway and do a little shopping in the store while you're at it.

While we sipped our drinks, we went on to our next must stop, Betty's Pies. We each got a slice, calling it an early lunch. I am not a pie person, but the Lakeside pie was the bests pie I've ever had. We made a good call stopping in the morning because we got a parking space and had zero waiting in line for pies. That's unheard of at this place.

Then we made the drive up to Grand Portage for our waterfall hike at the Canadian border. It was a gorgeous drive with fall colors at their peak the further north we went. We stopped at several wayside rest areas, not only for the bathroom facilities, but for the views and numerous hikes down to the lakeside, allowing us to stretch our legs and go on beach walks. This was one of my favorite new-to-us things we did this time around. Now I'm recommending those stops to everyone.

We finally made it to Grand Portage State Park around 1 p.m. and did the short hike (more like a nature walk along a paved trail) to the biggest waterfall in Minnesota. It was a beautiful, albeit a tad more crowded than we prefer.

One of our (many) wayside stops was to see Seven Sisters Islands. I had no idea these existed, but we enjoyed learning about them.

Nothing like a little snack on the trail.

We went off trail for a bit so the kids could rock scramble along the river.

From Grand Portage, we made our way back down the North Shore with a few stops here and there. We stopped in Grand Marais for dinner at The Fisherman's Daughter and quick stops in some of the little shops. We hiked at Cascade Falls State Park and Temperance River State Park. Temperance River was supposed to be our quick stop for the day. As we passed it earlier in the day (on our way up to Grand Portage), Elizabeth noticed a fun bridge from the road that she just had to walk on. We wound up loving this state park for it's unexpected waterfall, bridges, lookout points of Lake Superior and cliffs, and the beach near the campground. We give Temperance River State Park an A++. 

More rock climbing and scrambling at Cascade River.

Our last hike was the Gitchi-Gami State Trail alongside the cliff. Then, we had the (somewhat long) drive home. Luckily, it's an easy five hour drive and the minis were tired from being on the trails all day long. I stocked up on gas station coffees, my playlists, and drove while the rest of the car slept. The hiking trip was much too short, but it was perfect in every other way. I would love to continue the tradition of coming up to the North Shore annually if it works out. The oldest requested a Colorado hiking trip, so we'll see where next fall takes us.