22 Best Things to Do with Kids on the North Shore
22 Best Things to Do with Kids on the North Shore
Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior has long time been a popular destination for travelers. And, it’s clear why! The stunning natural beauty mixed with cultural activities and fascinating marine history attracts families from near and far. You may be asking, “what are the best things to do with kids on the North Shore, MN?”
There are so many things to do on the North Shore with kids it may be hard to narrow them all down! From hiking and zip-lining to exploring rocky shores and lighthouses, you’ll never hear “I’m bored” on the North Shore! Use this list to help you decide what fun things to add to your North Shore itinerary with kids.
Fun Things to Do with Kids in Duluth
Start your North Shore adventure in Duluth! As the largest city on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior, there are many amazing things to do in Duluth with kids. In this article, we are highlighting two fun things to do for families in Duluth, both make excellent stops whether you are staying in Duluth or continuing your journey up the Shore.
No visit to Duluth is complete without visiting Canal Park. Nestled along the port in Duluth, this popular area for tourists and locals alike boasts an array of restaurants, shops, and more. In particular, kids will adore walking down to the area where ships come into port. Here, they can marvel at huge waves as they crash against the shore, toss rocks into the lake, watch for ships, and walk out to the small lighthouse.
Don’t miss watching the Aerial Lift Bridge go up and down as it lets ships pass in and out of the harbor! Afterward, families can continue their stroll along the paved Lakewalk that flanks Canal Park and Lake Superior. Alternatively, head back into the shopping area for a little ice cream or a meal. Finally, during the summer season, families can also hire a horse and carriage to take them on a tour of Canal Park.
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
Looking for something truly unique to do in Duluth with kids? Head up the hill to Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory. Open all year round, families can embark along 4 miles of rocky, uneven hiking trails and enjoy scenic overlooks. Have kids pay attention to each of their senses while exploring. What do they see, hear, and smell?
Plan your trip for the fall and your family can witness the infamous bird migration (generally, mid-August through November). Those hoping to observe one of the “big days” where tens of thousands of hawks fly overhead should plan for mid-September. Additionally, bald and golden eagles, rough-legged hawks, red-tailed hawks, and other bird species migrate through this corridor of Minnesota. During migration days, naturalists are also around to help kids identify birds and answer any questions they may have. Note, there are no buildings and everything is outdoors here (dress for the weather!).
Fun Things to Do with Kids in the Two Harbors Area
Further up the Shore, Two Harbors is another great area to explore for families. Not only will you find some of the best things to do with kids on the North Shore here, but you’ll also find a variety of camping and accommodations options, restaurants, and charming shops.
Watch the Ships Come Into Agate Bay
One of the best things to do with kids in Two Harbors is to walk out on the breakwater and watch ships come into the ore docks. Smaller and less crowded than Canal Park in Duluth, Agate Bay is an outstanding place to watch large ships come into dock. Along the break wall, families can get a sense of the sheer enormity of each ship that passes by. Kids will be amazed by how easily these huge ships maneuver around in the bay. From here, you can also admire the Breakwater Lighthouse and the original, historic Two Harbors Lighthouse.
When ships aren’t passing through, families can enjoy the views of Lake Superior from the rocky shore and let kids skip rocks into the lake. Finally, lucky kids may even find the beach’s namesake while exploring, an agate!
Two Harbors Lighthouse Museum
Families exploring Two Harbors can’t miss popping into the historic Two Harbors Lighthouse Museum. First lit in 1892, it is the longest, continuously run lighthouse on the North Shore. And, it is still in operation today, maintained by a group of volunteer Light Keepers.
Families can take a self-guided tour to explore the grounds and open buildings, including the original fog signal building. While the lantern gallery isn’t open to the public, you can still see a few of the other lighthouse workstations. Challenge kids to imagine what life would have been like as one of the original Light Keepers. What might have been some of the opportunities or challenges of this role? From the beautiful grounds, you can even see the ore docks and get a great view of Lake Superior. Certainly, this is one of the best things to do with kids on the North Shore!
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Just north of Two Harbors, families can’t miss Gooseberry Falls State Park. As one of eight state parks along the North Shore, Gooseberry Falls is a lovely place to explore.
One of the most popular hikes here is Fifth Falls Trail Loop, where you can catch views of nearby Lake Superior. This 3.1-mile loop trail is rated as easy and should take families about 75 – 90 minutes to complete (depending on little legs and the number of snack breaks!). Along the hike, kids can count the five gorgeous waterfalls!
Alternatively, biking enthusiasts can embark on 2.5 miles of paved trail connected to the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. Then, if you’re visiting in the winter, there are areas to cross-country ski and snowshoe here too. Finally, families will also find ample picnic areas for summer bites, as well as a warming house near the visitor center in the winter.
There are also two accessible paths where those using a wheelchair or mobility device (or bicycle) can get a view of Gooseberry’s Upper Falls. See the blog post Wheelchair Accessible Waterfalls on the North Shore for more information.
Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area (Minnesota’s Pink Beach)
Did you know that Minnesota has a pink beach? Tucked away along the North Shore Scenic Drive (Minnesota’s Hwy 61), Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area is a great place for families to take a car break if they’re headed further up the Shore. Take the 0.6-mile out-and-back trail from the parking lot to get to the pink beach.
Once you arrive, you will immediately see how this beach received its nickname. Across the beach, you will only see pinkish/reddish stones, which are all smooth and round. They get their rosy hue from the local cliff they fall from. Due to the nature of the protected bay and lake currents here, the fallen rocks all collect along the same stretch of beach. Encourage kids to listen carefully as the waves crash along the shore. You can hear the rocks “sing” as the water moves around them and the rocks resettle.
Fun Things to Do Near Beaver Bay/Silver Bay with Kids
Beaver Bay and Silver Bay are about halfway up the North Shore Scenic Drive. As Hwy 61 opens up to gorgeous views of Lake Superior, exposing large rocky cliffs and huge waves along the shore, you may be itching to get out of the car and stretch your legs – or you may have reached your final destination! Either way, here are three fun things to do with kids near Beaver Bay and Silver Bay that we want to highlight.
Split Rock Lighthouse
The North Shore is dotted with lighthouses, but perhaps none are more famous or photographed than Split Rock Lighthouse. As one of the best things to do with kids on the North Shore, there are many ways to enjoy this historic site!
Start your visit by exploring the beautiful grounds and learning something new through the interactive exhibits. Take a guided tour with a costumed interpreter to hear more stories about the importance of this lighthouse. Families may also wonder about the grounds on a self-guided tour.
Families looking for a quick hike and a stunning view of the lighthouse can head to the Lake Superior shore inside Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Admire the many views of Split Rock Lighthouse and Lake Superior from Pebble Beach, and enjoy scenic hiking trails. Let kids dip their toes into the Lake Superior water.
North Shore Adventure Park
Families seeking a thrilling adventure along the North Shore will delight in dashing across the ropes courses and ziplines at North Shore Adventure Park. Located along the North Shore Scenic Drive in Silver Bay (about halfway between Duluth and Grand Marais), you are sure to have an epic time exploring this adventure park together!
Littles, aged 3-6, have their own cozy park to keep them entertained under adult supervision. Older kids and adults have access to a series of treetop ropes courses and zip-lines with varying difficulty. In fact, there are 5 levels of difficulty, each with multiple runs. One course even features twin zip-lines, where you can race each other down the lines!
Then, those 12 and up can also try their arm at axe throwing. Finally, there are picnic tables throughout the park when you’re ready to take a break. A small concession area offers Gatorade and nut packs to refuel your adventurers.
One of the most unique places in Minnesota, Black Beach in Silver Bay is certainly worth a quick stop or a few hours of exploring. From the parking lot, you’ll take a short walk along a wooded trail to reach the beach. Once the trees open up you will be amazed by a beach filled with small black pebbles in a protected bay along Lake Superior. While this phenomenon doesn’t occur naturally, it is still a sight to behold!
Let kids dip their toes in the water, or climb along the large rocks flanking one side of the bay. While kids enjoy the water and play on the beach, parents can admire the incredible views of red jagged cliffs, splashing water, (hopefully) clear blue skies, and black sand around the bay. Additionally, there are several picnic tables available for a road trip snack or packed lunch on the beach.
Fun Things to Do Near Schroeder-Tofte-Lutsen with Kids
Along this stretch of the North Shore Scenic Drive, families will discover three cozy towns, Shroeder, Tofte, and Lutsen. Closely linked together, this is a popular spot for families to vacation due to its rustic charm and the huge array of outdoor activities. In this area, you will also find several fun things to do with kids on the North Shore, from hiking to alpine slides!
Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center
In Shroeder, Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center offers an intimate nature center with interactive stations, naturalists who can answer questions, and kid-friendly hiking. First, head inside the nature center. Here, kids can discover more about local wildlife and plant life. Plus, they can also touch bones and pelts, making the learning process even more engaging and fun!
Back outside, the nature center is surrounded by several bird feeders, allowing families the chance to easily watch local birds dine and fly about. Grab an identification book to see how many birds kids can name! Afterward, take the 1.3-mile loop trail that winds through the woods and along the shore of Lake Superior.
Kids will love wading in the water and climbing on the large rock outcroppings. The loop is well-known for spring wildflowers and fall foliage. Finally, check the events calendar beforehand to see if there is anything fun happening!
Note: the nature center is not open during the winter.
Oberg Mountain Trail
If you are seeking a kid-friendly hike filled with great views no matter the season, Oberg Mountain Trail is the one you want! Oberg Mountain is about a 3-mile, moderate loop trail. It will take most families about 90 minutes to complete, depending on snack breaks and the speed of your little hikers.
The first and last part of the hike is a steep incline. After that, the trail is otherwise flat, but uneven as it makes its way around the “mountain top”. As one of the highest points in Minnesota, you’ll be about 1,000 feet above sea level at the top. You will also be able to take in picturesque views from nine outlook areas. You can even catch sight of Lake Superior and Moose Lake! Keep kids close, however, as there are very few guardrails. Winter hiking here is best done with ice cleats.
Cascade River State Park
Travelers flock to the North Shore every spring to see the many waterfalls engorged with the spring snowmelt. Regardless of when you visit, however, Cascade River State Park is a great option for those seeking a waterfall hike on the North Shore with kids.
Those only interested in seeing the falls can take a quick trek up to the viewing area. If you’re looking for a longer hike, though, take the moderate Lookout Moutain Loop, a 3.2-mile double loop hike. This trail will take you to a great view from Lookout Mountain.
Along the hike, keep an eye out for the sign that explains why the waterfall may look like rootbeer! Kids will get a kick out of learning this fun fact. Fee day use parking is available at the Hwy 61 wayside. A Minnesota State Park pass is required to drive into the park.
Alpine Slide at Lutsen Mountains
Take an exhilarating ride down Lutsen Mountains’ Eagle Mountain on an alpine slide! Twisting and turning down the mountain, kids will buzz with excitement as they journey down the track. Summer and fall visitors can take a ski lift up the mountain to reach the start of the twin alpine slides. At the top, carry your sled to the start of the track and hop on. Wait for the light to turn green…and go!
You can manually slow down or brake based on your comfort (or need for speed!). Since the two tracks are parallel, daring individuals can also race down the snakelike tracks. Families can get tickets for one ride down, or an unlimited pass for the day (trust us, you’re going to want to go more than once!). Nearby, you will also find on-mountain restaurants, a scenic gondola, hiking trails, and more.
Fun Things to Do in Grand Marais with Kids
Almost at the end of the North Shore, Grand Marais is nestled along Lake Superior and draws travelers from around the world with its charm and stunning lake views. Here, you will find a variety of enchanting shops, delicious restaurants, and plenty of fun things to do with kids on the North Shore!
Explore Downtown Grand Marais + the Harbor
Downtown Grand Marais is postcard perfect, featuring an array of locally-owned shops selling everything from books and art to homemade fudge and adventure gear, scrumptious restaurants, and, of course, the beautiful harbor! From the harbor, you can get a 360-degree view of everything from the Grand Marais Harbor Lighthouse to the enchanting downtown area.
On the beach, let kids dip their toes in the water, skip rocks, or race down the shore. Picnic tables around the beach provide great places to meet for coffee and donuts in the morning, or lunch in the afternoon. Kids can spend hours here exploring every nook and cranny of the beach and tossing rocks in the water.
When you’re ready to take your exploring into the independent shops, boutiques, and galleries, simply stroll around and explore the unique and artistic treasures. Finally, be sure to check the calendar for festivals and events happening here, especially festivals and live music during the summer.
Artists’ Point + the Grand Marais Harbor Lighthouse
When in Grand Marais, you can’t miss Artists’ Point and the Grand Marais Harbor Lighthouse. Centrally located within the town, this historic harbor is a popular meeting place, as well as a great spot to spend time outdoors with kids.
For a little hike in town, make your way through the brush area near the Coast Guard buildings to the marked trailhead. Go left when you get to the break wall. Here, you will find a 0.8-mile out-and-back trail. This trail leads hikers through a wooded area that winds around large rocks and trees.
Back at the break wall, head in the opposite direction to explore the area around the lighthouse. If you’re lucky, you may even see a busy beaver at work here! This is one of the best places to see the sunrise (over Artists’ Point) or the sunset (over the lighthouse) on the North Shore.
Drury Lane Books
Next on our list of the best things to do with kids on the North Shore is Drury Lane Books. Perched near the edge of the downtown area in Grand Marais, along the shore of Lake Superior, this charming, locally-owned bookstore offers a lovely stop with kids.
Not only is the staff very knowledgeable, but there is a lovely children’s book section. One of the best things about Drury Lane Books is the Children’s Story Hour. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, kids can listen to Kevin, one of the co-owners, read an amazing array of children’s books on Saturday mornings at 11:00 am. The seating area is set up just outside the shop (on the lake side). Kevin is an animated and entertaining reader. Kids will be enthralled by his active storytelling and humor! Bring a blanket to sit on and enjoy!
Fun Things to Do Along the Gunflint Trail with Kids
Heading away from the shores of Lake Superior and northwest of Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail is a haven for outdoor adventure, remote accommodations, and wildlife spottings (think moose, deer, and foxes). Certainly, one of the most serene, and often secluded, places on the North Shore, the Gunflint Trail offers lovely hiking trails for families, as well as an educational nature center.
Moose Viewing Trail
One of the most kid-friendly hikes along the Gunflint Trail is Moose Viewing Trail. After parking in the small parking lot, head to the right up the wide trail. Follow it up the hill to the trailhead for Moose Viewing Trail. This 0.7-mile out-and-back trail will impress kids (even if you don’t get to see a moose!). A
long the heavily wooded trail, kids can keep an eye out for local wildlife and birds on the way to the viewing platform. Task kids with finding the old car resting in the woods along the trail. They will delight in discovering it! Once you reach the viewing platform, everyone can enjoy the outstanding view of the lake and try to spot more wildlife.
During the winter, this trail is particularly magical with fresh snow. It’s a great option for winter hiking or snowshoeing, as well as summer visits.
Note: there are no facilities here.
Magnetic Rock Trail
If you are up for a full-day adventure, Magnetic Rock Trail is a great option. About an hour from Grand Marais, this trail is located near the end of the Gunflint Trail. It’s worth the drive, however, as you will encounter a true scientific marvel!
This moderate 4.3-mile out-and-back trail is best with older kids, experienced tiny trekkers, or with littles in a carrier. The trail is very uneven, twisting and turning around large boulders, streams, ancient lava flows, and other fun finds. Spring hikers will be rewarded with swaths of wildflowers, while fall hikers can appreciate vast vistas of colorful foliage. In fact, there are several outlooks that will impress everyone in your family! The piece de resistance of this hike, though, is the 60-foot monolith at the end of the trail. Pack a magnet and a compass to see how they react to the magnetic stone.
Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center
The Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is a great place to take kids when visiting the Gunflint Trail. Little ones will love learning more about the history of the area, going on nature hikes, playing in the play area, and much more.
For a more educational experience, the museum offers programs about the history and culture of the Ojibwe people. Kids will be introduced to the natural world at this museum, which will make them excited about learning. Then, they can explore and burn off some energy at the nature center!
Kids who want a hands-on excursion can also participate in the Junior Ranger program. This program teaches kids about ecology and conservation. In the winter, the nature center has a sledding hill and cross-country ski trails.
Fun Things to Do near Grand Portage with Kids
At the end of the North Shore Scenic Drive, before you reach the Canadian border, you’ll find Grand Portage. While Grand Portage may feel like a trek compared to the other locations on this list, it’s definitely worth a visit for these amazing things to do with kids on the North Shore! Additionally, Grand Portage is well-known for its passenger ferries to Isle Royale National Park, the highest waterfall in Minnesota, and its thriving indigenous community.
Devil’s Kettle (Judge C. R. Magney State Park)
Along the stretch of Hwy 61 between Grand Marais and Grand Portage, you’ll find Judge C. R. Magney State Park, home to Devil’s Kettle. To reach yet another of the North Shore’s scientific feats, embark on a moderate 2.0-mile out-and-back trail.
Cross the Brule River, traverse the winding trail, and climb down about 190 stairs to reach Devil’s Kettle, a twin waterfall that has long-kept a secret from outdoor enthusiasts and scientists. One cascade goes over the falls, while the other disappears into the rocks.
Challenge kids to figure out where it goes! Only in the past few years have scientists agreed on an answer. The cascade disappears into the rocks, enters a deep hole, and flows along until it rises to rejoin the river from underground. As part of the Minnesota State Park system, an entrance fee or state park pass is required here.
Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center
Honoring the history, peoples, and cultures of this area, Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center is also one of the best things to do with kids on the North Shore. The best place to start your visit is at the heritage center. Then, families can engage in histories and stories related to the local fur trade at the reconstructed fur trade depot, the original site of the Revendeous of the late 18th Century.
Additionally, you can also see a recreation of an Anishinaabe village to learn more about the history of this still thriving local indigenous community. Kids will love learning through these interactive experiences! Families wishing to learn more about Anishinaabe culture will find a variety of informative exhibit galleries, a bookstore, and multi-media programs.
Park Rangers and costumed interpreters lead guided tours throughout the grounds. Finally, after learning more about this area’s history, you can also explore a variety of hiking trails to observe its flora and fauna.
Grand Portage State Park
The last state park on the North Shore, Grand Portage State Park boasts one of the best places to hike with kids. Walk through the welcome center to access the viewing decks and trails. Inside, you will find a lovely painted turtle on the floor, an ode to the Ojibwe creation and migration stories. Plus, kids will marvel at the four life-sized murals.
Outside, take the 1.1-mile out-and-back High Falls Trail along the boardwalk to see the largest waterfall in Minnesota. The trail is easily accessible with a stroller or wheelchair, though there are stairs to reach one of the waterfall viewing platforms. Several benches are available throughout the trail for resting, snacks, and reflection.
As part of the Minnesota State Park system, an entrance fee or state park pass is required. Notably, Grand Portage State Park is the only state park in Minnesota on Tribally owned land.
Have Fun on the North Shore with Kids!
Lake Superior’s North Shore of Minnesota is a magical place to explore with kids. Filled with thrilling outdoor adventures, charming towns, and enchanting views of Lake Superior, the North Shore is sure to impress everyone in your family. Hopefully, this article featuring the best things to do with kids on the North Shore helps you plan an amazing vacation with your family. Have a great time exploring the North Shore with kids!
Antonia Grant is a Minnesota mom and writer who loves adventuring with her family near and far. While she calls Minneapolis home, there is a special place in her heart for the North Shore, where she has spent endless hours admiring Lake Superior and exploring the many hiking trails. Find more from her family adventures on Instagram at @knead.to.roam.
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