Grand Marais

On our 10th visit to the MN North Shore, we made our first-ever visit in the early spring season. We shied away from this time of the year in the past because spring is usually very wet, but we wanted to snowshoe for one last time before putting our gears away. It was unseasonably warm in the lower part of Minnesota, with no snow left on the ground. We were skeptical about having enough snow in the upper part of the state, even though the DNR site reported certain state parks had more than 10 feet of snow this year. Nevertheless, we proceeded with this trip and stayed at the same Airbnb accommodation we rented in the fall of 2019, right outside Grand Marais.

As we headed north and passed a small town named Askov — about 100 miles north of Twin Cities and 70 miles south of Duluth, we began to see lightly-covered snow in the woods. Even the snow level in Duluth was disappointing. It was worth mentioning that we had already resigned ourselves to the fact that our snowshoeing activities were done for the season. The violent turbulence mercilessly pushed our car around as we continued our drive along the MN North Shore. The recent weather forecast indicated a possible winter storm in this area starting that night, with a possibility of getting more than a foot of snow accumulation in one day. We did a short breezy hike at Shovel Point in Tettegouche State Park, watching the relentless waves crashing on the icy cliffs in awe. After driving for another hour, we arrived at our final destination at 7 PM.

When we woke up the next morning and peered out of the window, we didn’t see much snow on the ground and wondered if the winter storm had barely missed this area. However, the weather worsened as we drove to Grand Portage State Park, which is located by the USA-Canada border. Our car got bashed by pelting ice, and the road quickly turned icy. The winter storm didn’t faze us since we figured we would stick to the main highway because it would generally be plowed sooner than the more minor roads. It snowed steadily by the time we arrived at Grand Portage State Park. We were elated to discover such thick snow on the ground, and we snowshoed for 5 miles in a complete whiteout condition. Unsurprisingly or stupidly enough, we were the only hikers that day. The snowshoe trail also wasn’t packed down in this remote location. Our snowshoes sank a foot into the snow most of the time, but we still managed to complete this tiring hike in 5.5 hours, 15K steps, and 800 feet in elevation gain. It snowed heavily at the end of our trek at 3:30 PM. We decided not to waste time replenishing our energy in the car first. Instead, we carefully drove half the speed back to our accommodation on an unplowed highway while there was still daylight. The snow continued to fall throughout the night, and we called it a night at 9:30 PM.

The following day, we woke up early to prepare for our dog sled adventure in a remote location — about 30 miles from Grand Marais and 15 miles inland from Lake Superior. Due to heavy snowfall from the winter storm aftermath, the owner of the dog sled adventure and us exchanged a barrage of emails before 6 AM on the driving condition. She asked whether we owned a 4WD or AWD vehicle, and we had neither. She initially suggested we park our car at the post office in Hovland, and she would drive us to her place. Half an hour later, we got another email explaining that she had difficulty clearing the 18 inches of sticky snow with her 4WD truck. Unfortunately, she had to cancel our reservation because she wouldn’t have enough time to pack down the trail before our 9 AM adventure. It was her second cancellation in the last 9 years. We agreed to postpone this activity for 2 days even though we were supposed to head home that day. Given this unexpected event change, we chilled out in the morning, hoping the plow trucks would clear the main road before we headed out to Cascade River State Park for a hike. Before this trip, we planned to hike on the frozen Devil’s Track and Kadunce rivers. These rivers are accessible only in the coldest months of the winter to explore the frozen waterfall and hidden gorge. After consulting with the Airbnb owner, we were told these frozen river trails were no longer safe for hiking at this time of the year. Some locals reported a young child recently fell through the ice. Given the faster current and deeper water level due to the melting ice, we hiked the Kadunce River State Wayside trail instead, located along the Kadunce River. At the end of the day, we lost 2 lens caps during the hikes. Our camera of 9 years stopped working due to the humidity. However, we managed to revive it after placing it by the radiator for a few hours at night.

The fourth day was the warmest, and we were greeted by a gorgeous windless sunny day. It felt like we survived the post-apocalyptic winter storm the past several days. Unfortunately, as we headed to Judge C.R. Magney State Park, the park entrance was blocked by the deep snow banks. So instead, we decided to hike to the summit of Mount Josephine in Grand Portage. We hoped the snow banks would be cleared by the time we headed back in the afternoon. Upon arriving at the Mount Josephine trailhead, we immediately realized it would be a strenuous hike. With each step we took with our snowshoes, we sank almost to knee level, and the snow depth swallowed our entire hiking poles. After hiking for less than a mile, we called it quits and headed back to Judge C.R. Magney State Park for a few hours of hike. Although the afternoon was in the high 30Fs, it was hot, and the melting snow gliding down the pine trees sounded like sizzling steaks. We ended our day with delicious meals at Angry Trout Cafe. For us, the trip to Grand Marais would be incomplete without a visit to this fantastic restaurant.

On the supposedly last day of our trip, we woke up at 5:30 AM and checked out from our accommodation before 8 AM. We waited at the post office in Hovland at 8:30 AM, where the owner of the dog sled adventure agreed to drive us to her place due to the possible icy road conditions. As we met her at the post office, she was confident our winter tires would manage the road just fine. So, we followed her truck slowly. Given the “faster” icy trail, 6 Huskies instead of 8 were assigned to pull our sled. Gunflint, Zuli, Castle, Kitsu, Shale, and Dolce… those were the names of our Huskies. Our musher taught us the “3-point-hold” technique when clipping the leash to each dog’s collar. The key was not to lose these dogs who were itching to break free. Every time we guided a dog out from the kennels, the rest of the Huskies howled loudly in jealousy.

We were warned about the expected tip-overs for the musher to fix any tangled lines. That said, we had one incident where the dogs ran so fast on a sharp 90 degrees turn that the entire sled tipped over. Then, the dogs stopped and looked back at us incredulously, like it was our fault. Our 6-mile dog sled run was cut short to a little more than 4 miles due to a downed tree caused by the recent winter storm. After failing to push the tree away with the musher, we turned back around. On our way back, the dogs did another fast turn, and our sled slammed into a tree. We survived. The icy trail condition made it difficult for the musher to control the sled. At the end of the run, we fed the dogs with lard and peanut butter. The dog sledding adventure was fun and memorable, to say the least. After having a late-light lunch in Grand Marais, we continued our drive to Duluth for dinner. Instead of driving another 3.5 hours in terrible evening weather, we spent a night at a secluded resort in a small town named Barnum — about 30 miles south of Duluth — before heading back the next day with the temperature hovering below 0F. We stumbled upon more than 50 deers on this trip along the MN North Shore highway. One possible theory was that the snow melted faster near the lake compared to the inland area, and the deer took the opportunity to graze by the roadsides not covered by thick snow.

The 120-foot High Falls of the Pigeon River — Minnesota’s highest waterfall — in Grand Portage State Park.
Facing the wrath of the winter storm. The highway road between Grand Marais and Grand Portage was not frequently plowed.
Basalt rocks on Lake Superior in Cascade River State Park.
A 2-hour hike on Kadunce River State Wayside trail. The recent winter storm created a truly magical winter wonderland scenery in the woods.
The Hollow Rock in Grand Portage. The hole in the rock was covered by the snow and ice.
Grand Marais
Grand Marais Lighthouse at Artist Point.
The exhilarating 4-hour dog sledding adventure. Given the unexpected turn of events, we were happy to able to check off this activity from our bucket list.
Our road trip covered almost the entire length of Minnesota.

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