I not-surprisingly lived up to the whole “you can take the girl out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the girl!!!” phrase a few weekends ago. If you happened to be at around the north shore that day, you woulda seen me climbing on a bunch of rocks in booties with 3-inch heels because fashion. Never have I ever claimed to be outdoorsy but the thought of fall colors and road trips and going up to places I’ve never been tugged at my heart strings so much so that I even wound up booking us a cabin right on Lake Superior.
Besides a couple of random excursions to Omaha in college — wild times, ya know? — I’d never taken a road trip with friends, but we were all joined by one main goal: flooding our Instagram feeds with fall photos.
Off we took semi-not-really-early on a recent Saturday where our first stop brought us to scenic LynLake, Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I had left my wallet at home! Our next stop, just outside of Duluth, was a little better I guess.
⌊ jay cooke state park ⌉
We ventured up north just a week shy of when the colors really peaked but the views were still noticeably ~autumnal~ even in the Duluth area and the weather was immeasurably gorgeous with a bright sun and clear, blue skies.
We ended up here around noon so the sun’s position challenged us a bit as far as photo-taking but I was happy just taking in the sights while also holding my breath and saying a little prayer every time people walked past us on the narrow and wobbly swinging bridge above the St. (?) Louis (?) River (?). I’m not a historian.
What I liked about this stop and a number of others we made over the course of the weekend is that you can hop off the highway, drive a few minutes or sometimes not even more than one, and end up at a view like this.
This photo takes me back to when Erin excitedly saw an animal out of the corner of her eye frolicking around in the river and squealed “RIVER OTTER!” only to then realize it was just a dog. Cute pup though. Great swimmer! This was also near the spot where I saw a teenage boy in a shirt that stated: “Cool story babe now make me a sandwich” standing on a rock in the water and I did restrain myself from pushing him over, thank you very much!
Since this was the first of many planned pit-stops with an ultimate goal to be in Grand Marais by sunset, we kept on movin’.
But first food.
⌊ northern waters smokehaus ⌉
We stopped in Duluth, near Canal Park, for a quick lunch and ended up at Northern Waters Smokehaus — sort of a half deli, half sandwich/salad shop. The menu (here) is fairly overwhelming, especially when you’ve already past the point of hangry and ev-er-y-thing sounds good.
After a bit of a wait to both order and get our food, we sat outside and scarfed down our meal. I chose the Northern Bagel: smoked Atlantic salmon on a toasted Lake Superior Bakehouse bagel with green onion cream cheese. I could have honestly chosen anything and been happy with the result but was pulled in this direction and I have no regrets and am actually thinkin’ about placing an order for some of that salmon online because holy moly.
This photo actually got reposted on Eater’s Instagram account (here) to which some girl stated this looked like they went a bit TOO MUCH on the salmon to which I say hey lady YOU’RE a bit too much.
⌊ palisade head ⌉
After grabbing some chai lattes and super fluffy ginger cookies at a coffee shop that I may also find myself placing an online order for, we headed toward this quick stop-off from the highway.
Again, incredible views for only a bit of a steep-inclined drive (or hike, if you hate yourself I guess). I was the mother hen of our group, letting them all know when I was getting just a little too nervous about where they were standing and how close to the edge they were getting and seriously Jessica PLEASE GET DOWN FROM THERE my heart can’t handle it.
Not sure if you can see it, but there are two people just sorta chillin’ on the edge and there were also rock climbers everywhere which, god bless you if that’s your thing, but it gave me some next-level anxiety.
There’s Alicia, our little north shore mermaid.
⌊ lutsen ⌉
Following that, we trekked up to our home base for the coming evening: Lutsen. In our search for a place to stay, I stumbled upon this cabin very last-minute through VRBO.com and it ended up being the cutest dang place to get away to.
After settling in a bit, we hopped back in the car toward our final scenic destination for the day.
⌊ grand marais ⌉
Just a bit farther up the road, and likely a handful of 90s songs played on Spotify later, we reached Artist’s Point in Grand Marais. We made it with impeccable timing, truly, for not really planning this day out that much at all. We followed a path to the shoreline which was lined with rocks and trees and kept climbing and walking and shooting photos till we got to the very edge.
The lighting was so on point that I couldn’t let a selfie session slip through my fingers. The lake shore looked good on me.
I would have been fine spending the rest of sunset in this spot, but we came to explore, dang it, so we decided to check out the light house area which proved to be worth it.
The foggy effect here makes everything just a bit more majestic-looking, if you ask me.
A pretty serene setting as it got darker and darker and we still hadn’t yet decided on a place for dinner. There were only a few places open after 8 p.m., and after a couple failed attempts — either too long of a wait or y’know, the classic “waitress seats us only to ask if we had a reservation which we didn’t and then asks us to get up from the table and add our name to the wait list” situation — we ended up at a breakfast-all-day cafe. I get that Grand Marais is a small, touristy town but tourists stay up past 8 p.m.! Really. It’s OK to stay open later.
We ended up grabbing some beer at a liquor store which was, luckily, open till 10 p.m. then headed back to our cabin.
[Insert montage of 90s music listening, chocolate-eating, drinking, gossiping, star gazing, and Tinder swiping here.]
We made a pact to wake up for the sunrise the next morning and actually followed through!
It’s sorta incredible how long we waited for the sun to come up, then once it began to, it was suddenly over within a minute or so. The sun tinged everything with this bright red that made everything at least appear a bit more fall-like. After obsessively picking through and filtering our morning photos, we packed up in order to get goin’ since we had a few stops planned for the drive back.
⌊ temperance river ⌉
This is another one of those barely-get-off-the-road-and-stumble-into-something-awesome stops.
⌊ split rock lighthouse ⌉
A classic stop with pretty stellar views. I’ve never been here at golden hour or sunrise/sunset but it’s never disappointed even at “off” prime photo-taking times.
Are you getting tired yet? Because I am just from typing this out, forgetting I actually lived it, too. We were able to pack all of this in little more than 24 hours, including driving and sleeping time. We good.
Topping off our short weekend excursion was a stop at Betty’s Pies where I picked up a couple slices to go that I later ate in bed which is a fairly proper way to enjoy pie. I have no shame in going to popular spots that many people like – it’s generally for a good reason and that pie is no exception.
⌊ in summary and in conclusion ⌉
I think I actually understand “cabin life” or, at the very least, see the appeal of getting out of the city every once awhile to come up for air and realize that there’s more than just your daily life and surroundings out there – and it’s actually pretty fantastic. I’ll likely always remember the dizzying effect of looking up at the sky and seeing zillions of twinkling stars (just like the song says!), the sound of the lake shore crashing right outside of our windows as we slept and all of the scenic spots that are just different than what I see every day. Plus it’s comforting to know that’s all within a few hours’ drive of home whenever I might need some time away.