I woke up one Saturday morning in mid-October with high hopes of participating in a day adventure to embrace the heart of fall while it lasted. I remember I excitedly laid out my hiking gear and headed upstairs to make a much-needed coffee before trying to properly function as a human being. Unfortunately, when I stepped up on the main floor and turned the corner towards the kitchen I was met with grey skies, clouds, and a dreary looking day. Feeling defeated, I grabbed my coffee and sat on the couch looking out into nothing promising of a day filled with adventures. Although everyone loves a good rainy day here and there, it was not what I wanted on my Saturday where I usually find myself on a hiking trail or lookout in the region.
Feeling defeated yet determined to achieve a great day even in the rain and gloom, I texted my fellow adventure seeker and cousin to see if she had any ideas. She responded with something I didn’t expect but absolutely loved – “let’s go for a road trip to Grand Marais, this is the perfect day for the drive, good food, and shopping.” I hopped up in excitement after responding with a definite “Yes!” and went downstairs to swap the hiking gear with my passport, comfortable car clothes, and the ultimate road trip playlist.
I had been to Grand Marais before, but usually while passing through on my way to another destination. Grand Marais is a small, beautiful community along the shores of Lake Superior located in Northern Minnesota. As we are located in Nipigon, Ontario at the very top of Lake Superior we packed up our stuff, hopped in the truck, and headed West on Highway 17 towards Thunder Bay, which would eventually lead us to our final destination Grand Marais, Minnesota.
This trip is one that is taken frequently by locals from Nipigon as it’s the perfect distance to feel like a true road trip. Fortunately for us, the trip was possible to do in a day with a lot of time to spare to explore the area. Although it doesn’t matter which route you are taking around the Lake this is definitely a must-see while on your tour. One thing that is extremely important to remember is the border crossing information from Canada into the USA or vice versa. We ensured our passports were up to date and correct for everyone in the vehicle. We made sure to approach the border slowly and cautiously and then rolled down all windows for our faces to be visible when greeted by the Border Services Officer. Once we went through appropriately, we were ready to take on the United States for the day and pulled off less than a mile from the border to one of our favorite stops… the Ryden’s Border Store. There you can exchange any money you brought with you for shopping, access duty-free goods, and browse through their amazing stock of souvenirs, clothes, snacks and so much more. I personally recommend the beef jerky and it is usually requested as a care package for my family back home in Nipigon.
As we were making this a full day adventure, our next stop was Pigeon River Travel Information Center in Pigeon River State Park, which is just North of Ryden’s with trails to the stunning Pigeon River Falls (High Falls). There, you will find a large parking lot where you can park without any fees and it’s within a short walking distance of the information center and trails. The center comes fully equipped with restrooms for the public and a gift shop. Many of the trails are paved or on nicely built boardwalks where there are many benches to sit and handrails to use if needed.
After exploring High Falls and ensuring we had enough photos to last us a year’s worth of Instagram posts, we headed back on the road towards our ultimate destination Grand Marais.
The drive from Pigeon River to Grand Marais is quite stunning in the fall, you’ll notice the lush green forests that are on fire with autumn oranges and fire engine reds and is approximately 37 miles of driving next to the shores of Lake Superior.
When we finally arrived in the quaint little town it was lunchtime and we headed to the best pizza joint on Superior, Sven & Ole’s. Not only can you look forward to amazing pizza, but Grand Marais is also home to the “World’s Best Donuts” and many other amazing cafes, restaurants, and shops. After eating we explored the city which entailed getting coffees at Java Moose Coffee Shop – a part of the Lake Superior Java Journey. Next, we set out to shop until we dropped (literally dropped onto the comfy window seats in my all-time favourite bookstore.)
The Drury Lane bookstore in Grand Marais is one of the prettiest and most peaceful places to sit down and listen to the sound of the waves while browsing through pages and losing yourself in many new and old favourites. After basically being forced out of the bookstore by my family, we ventured onto the lakefront where we took pictures and enjoyed running from the waves with the thrill of potentially getting soaked throughout the process.
We ended the day with a little more shopping and in the spur of the moment took a quick drive up to the Lutsen Mountains to see if we’d still be able to ride the gondolas through the rain and fog. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the weather, but this is still a noteworthy attraction that you should add to your Lake Superior Circle Tour bucket list. With ski slopes that will get your adrenaline pumping, stunning views from the Gondola, and fun activities such as the alpine slides, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. We didn’t let the bad weather ruin our spontaneity and stopped off at Temperance River State Park to enjoy the 5ft waves crashing over the rocks, where we again got our daily dose of exercise running from the waves. We weren’t as fast this time and some of the most fun I’ve had is almost keeling over in a fit of laughter as my cousins and I got completely soaked from head to toe from an oncoming wave.
Now soaking wet, and cold, we threw our jackets in the back seat, cranked the heat and our road trip playlist, and headed back out on the highway towards home. It was the perfect day, the adventure I needed, and was even epic without the sun.
Never underestimate a grey day especially when completing the Lake Superior Circle Tour.