Visiting Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior on a Budget

in Ecotourism, Family Vacations, Travel Deals, Trip Locations, Trip Planning

If you’re looking for a cheap, stress-free getaway surrounded by nature, consider a trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

Whether you choose to spend your time dining on the cheap in delicious local eateries, sampling local beers, hiking along the miles of inland trail, kayaking, surfing (no joke!) or simply strolling the shore of Lake Superior, a visit to the North Shore is sure to be a relaxing escape from the realities of everyday life.

How to get there: Duluth, Minnesota (the first big city on the North Shore), is an approximately 3.5 drive from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul (a straight shot up interstate 35W). Duluth does have a regional airport, but flights here are more expensive and fewer than those arriving at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP). I would recommend flying into MSP, spending a night in the Twin Cities, and renting a cheap car for the scenic drive up to the lake.

Lake Superior vacation photo

Enjoy the the natural beauty of the sun setting over Lake Superior.

Where to stay: In addition to hotels, resorts and cabin rentals in all price points along the North Shore, there are several privately owned and state park campgrounds that are perfect for travelers on a budget. Wherever you end up staying, make sure you reserve a spot early, especially if you are planning to visit during the peak tourist months (May- October). If you’re traveling by plane and don’t want to bring a tent, sleeping bags and other gear (fishing or hiking gear, for example) with you on the plane, it’s relatively easy to find places to rent gear in Minneapolis/St. Paul or on the North Shore (in Duluth or Grand Marais). Check at the visitor’s centers in Duluth and Grand Marais for the most recent information on rental spots.

Here are some private, municipal campgrounds that are popular with tourists:

Knife River Campground
This medium-sized campground (30 tent and trailer sites with hookups) is located on the western side of the Knife River.

Penmarallter Campground
This campground is known for its large RV (with hookups) & tent sites. Each site as a fire pit and picnic table. Penmarallter is located midway between Duluth and the city of Two Harbors .

Burlington Bay Campsite
Located in Two Harbors, this campground is located on the shore of Lake Superior. There are 20 tent sites and 93 trailer sites (with hookups). Golfers will enjoy the municipal course across the highway.

Lax Lake Campground
Located near Gooseberry Falls State Park, Lax Lake Campground and resort has sleeping rooms, cottages, cabins, and tent and trailer sites with hookups for rent. The compound also has a spacious lodge with laundry facilities and a game room.

What to do: My favorite things to do along the North Shore include hiking, kayaking, gallery browsing and eating. For more information on hiking the North Shore trails or the famous Gunflint Trail, see There are a variety of spots to rent kayaks in both Duluth and Two Harbors (ask at the visitor’s center in each city for the most recent information). Every August, Two Harbors hosts a kayak festival, which is fun for the whole family

Sivertson’s Gallery has locations in Grand Marais and Duluth. The gallery features a large array of sculptures, paintings, paper goods, jewelry and accessories (silk scarves, etc.) from Minnesota and Wisconsin artists.

Where to eat: There are some great options on the North Shore for frugal foodies. The Angry Trout Café, located in Grand Marais, serves a variety of fresh fish dishes in a casual atmosphere overlooking the lake. The best breakfast on the North Shore can be found at the Duluth Grill. Don’t be fooled by its Denny’s-like exterior, this place is definitely foodie-friendly (be sure to try the red flannel hash — grated and spiced carrots, potatoes and beets).

If you’re looking for a lively nightlife scene, Duluth is your best option. Fitger’s Brewhouse often has live music to be enjoyed along with good food (and beer, of course!) at reasonable prices. Red Star serves up drinks from a full bar and has a nightclub vibe (both are located in the Fitger’s complex). At the other end of town, check out the live music, full bar and reasonably-price wood fired pizzas and tap beers at the Clyde Iron Works Restaurant (located in the renovated Clyde Iron Works factory).

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