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Kayaking Lake Superior’s Tettegouche State Park

For one of the best day-long kayaking trips on Minnesota’s north shore of Lake Superior, North America’s largest inland sea, visit Tettegouche State Park. The trip begins on the Baptism River, heads out along the open coast of Superior, and brings you up against 200-foot tall palisades and through sea caves. Because of the limited landings, rebounding waves, and cold water, I recommend this trip for experienced sea kayakers only. If you lack experience consider hiring a guide or booking a trip through an experienced sea kayaking company, such as North Shore Expedition’s Tettegouche Kayaking Trip.

The Kayaking Route

Enter Tettegouche State Park and park near the bridge. You’ll need to carry your kayaks and equipment down the stairs to the beach at the river’s mouth. (Sometime in 2010-2011, the state park will open a new easier kayak access in the old MN DOT parking lot.) This is a long carry, so plan extra time. It typically takes 30 minutes to get everything down to the beach.

Launch your sea kayak from the mouth of the Baptism River in Tettegouche State Park. Expect to see sometimes large (overhead) standing waves as you launch out through the mouth. This beach is typically steep, so watch the waves on the lake closely. If they build, you could experience steep dumping waves on your return.

Depending on your whims, head southwest to Palisade Head or northeast to Shovel Point. Both directions bring you along towering palisades popular with rock climbers. Towards Shovel Point, if you hug the shoreline, you’ll pass through a large sea arch. Then you’re off towards the walls of Shovel Point. Be careful in southerly or easterly winds, because rebounding waves will make travel more difficult. After paddling along the cliff face of Shovel Point, swing around the point, which is notorious for large confused waves, and paddle towards Crystal Bay. Once in Crystal Bay, paddle to the northeast end of the beach and pass through a large cave that turns 90 degrees.

The route from Tettegouche State Park to Palisade Head passes along lower cliffs and cobblestone beaches. The walk-in campground at the park is accessible from the beach and offers a pit toilet and a nice place to eat lunch. Once you arrive at the cliffs of Palisade Head paddle along them entering into a few small caves. At the southwestern end of the cliffs, you’ll find a large sea arch and hidden up against the cliffs a narrow slot canyon-like passage.

A third leg of the trip for ambitious day trippers is to head northeast along the coast past Crystal Bay. The shoreline rewards you with sea stacks, rock islands, and two caves–one of which extends about 30 or 40 feet into the rock of the cliff.


Weather changes quickly on Lake Superior. When the unstable weather is combined with the typically cold (under 55F) water, the risk is high. The limited landing sites, steep cliff walls, and land features sticking out into the lake can amplify the waves. Only attempt this trip if you are an experienced paddler or if you are with a local experienced kayaking guide.


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One comment

  • I am glad you are sharing this day trip. As a beginner kayaker it is a great trip.

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