The North Shore

How to rough it on the North Shore (without really roughing it at all).

Campfire on the North Shore, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Photo by Nate Ryan

Northern Comfort

When The Boy was born, I swear the plan was to spend a portion of every summer camping, hiking, fishing, and exploring the North Shore. But then two decades blew by. And The Boy—now a husky 20-year-old with a beard and a sudden interest in “nature”—was sitting in our living room saying, “So, I hear people talk about the North Shore. What’s it like? And where, exactly, is it?”

Oh, the shame. Raising a son in Minnesota whose sense of state geography does not extend beyond the Duluth aquarium is like raising a boy in Green Bay who doesn’t know where Lambeau Field is. So last summer I decided to right this grievous wrong by taking him on a father-son camping trip to the North Shore.

Now, I’ve done enough camping in my life to know that I like the woods, rivers, scenery, campfires, and stars; I do not like sleeping in a tent, cooking meals, cleaning pots and pans, and otherwise pretending that I am at home. Camping is not home. Houses were invented because people got tired of camping. The other problem with camping, in general, is that it does not involve enough golf. So, in planning for our father-son adventure up north, I was presented with three great challenges: how to sleep comfortably, how to avoid cooking, and how to incorporate at least one round of high-quality golf.

Through strategic analysis, I determined that Cascade River State Park was our best bet. It was only 10 miles southwest of Grand Marais, so if a retreat back into civilization became necessary—for, say, dinner—it was only a short jaunt. Also, it was but nine miles north of Superior National Golf Course, which offers some of the most beautiful golf in the country.

As it turns out, however, Cascade River State Park has its own charms, the Cascade River among them. Like many of the rivers that flow into Lake Superior, the Cascade has, over the span of thousands of years, carved several deep, narrow channels through the rock. And the thundering crush of the waterfalls, which are a short hike from the campground, suggests that this violent erosion of stone isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

After setting up camp that first afternoon, The Boy’s thoughts naturally turned to food. On a normal camping trip, this is the point at which most people fire up their Coleman stove. We had a better plan—we hopped in the car and headed to the Angry Trout Café in Grand Marais.

Located on the waterfront, the Angry Trout Café is a beacon of culinary sophistication in the land of burgers and fries. For dinner, The Boy opted for smoked trout fettuccini, while I went for the grilled northern Pacific spot prawns, served with wild rice kicked up a notch with shiitake mushrooms and dried cranberries. The place serves steak and chicken too, but that’s far too close to the sort of thing one might reasonably eat while camping, so no thanks.

The following day I promised The Boy that I’d take him to see some of the scenic hot spots I’d neglected to show him as a child. The Temperance River has always been my favorite place to disappear into the woods, mainly because the “woods” are within earshot of the parking lot. A metal bridge crosses the river about a quarter-mile upstream, and from there one can travel up trails on either side of the river. Like the Cascade, the Temperance is a testament to the sculpting power of water and time. The Boy was impressed, though a little peeved that he had to wait until his 20th year to feel the mist of a North Shore waterfall on his face.

Addiction is a more powerful motivator than nostalgia, however, and I admit there is a special substance I crave whenever I am within 10 miles of the town of Tofte. And, after stomping through the woods for a couple of hours, I needed to get my fix. The miracle of chemistry to which I am addicted is the Coho Club sandwich at Bluefin Bay’s Coho Café and Bakery. The Coho Club may look like a turkey BLT, but when you bite into it, the gentle chewy crunch of toasted bread yields to a layer of chipotle mayo, which explodes in your mouth with a spicy snap of salty, meaty, garden-fresh greatness. Even The Boy admitted that the sandwich was “not bad”—which, coming from him, is high praise indeed.

The following day, having fulfilled my obligation to expose The Boy to some nature, it was time to go play some golf. The great thing about golf is that it’s not camping. At the Superior National at Lutsen course, however, it really does pay to look up from the ball once in a while and glance around. Many of the tee boxes have an unobstructed view of Lake Superior, which, on a clear summer day, can look as beatific as any ocean.

The only other promise I had made to The Boy was that I’d treat him to an authentic North Shore fruit pie. Luckily, there’s a place in Grand Marais that sells excellent pies. It’s called The Pie Place Café, a name I like because it comes right out and says exactly what it is, even though it is also a full-on restaurant. For dinner, we downed a couple of Beargrease Bacon Cheeseburgers and then began perusing the pie menu. We chose a quasi-rhubarb pie made with three different berries—blueberries, raspberries, strawberries—and topped with crumbly streusel munch nuggets. Instead of eating a slice in the restaurant, we elected to buy a whole pie and take it back to our campsite, where we could enjoy its fruity deliciousness under the stars, around the campfire.

The next morning, on the drive back to Minneapolis, as we passed the Lutsen ski resort and golf course, The Boy turned to me and said, “What do you say we stop in and grab a couple of Coho Clubs for the road?

I smiled. Fathers always get blamed for passing their baggage on to their sons. But in this case, I was happy to oblige. I only wish I had started sooner.

—Tad Simons

There's a ton of Shore to explore—jump right in with our list of essential stops, eats, and stays. 

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