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Lake Superior Day Trip – Grand Marais to Fall River and Beyond

A lighthouse, a natural harbor, a horizon filled with water, throw in a fun rocky shoreline and you have a nice day trip. Grand Marais, MN is a small artist’s community on the exposed north coast of Lake Superior and is within striking distance of all of Minnesota’s best Lake Superior paddling. But don’t let the draw of the Suzie Island or Shovel Point carry you away from a great day trip that leaves right from the Grand Marais Harbor. The short paddle from Grand Marais to the Fall River (4.5 mile round trip) makes for a great short outing and the paddle from the harbor to Terrace Point (10 mile round trip) adds some distance to your trip.


061108-03The best place to put in is at the campground boat ramp. There is plenty of parking, a rocky beach, and it is usually a less hectic area than the cement ramp near the Coast Guard building.

Heading Out

After putting in, head out of the harbor and turn west. Follow the shoreline until you get to the Fall River. This trip can take longer than you’d think, because you’ll be tempted to weave around rocks and near the small cliffs that palisade against the lake. If there are waves, be prepared for some confused waves reflecting off of the cliffs.

Fall River

The Fall River landing is one of the campsites that make up the Lake Superior Water Trail, which runs from the Canadian border to Duluth. The camping is free, but primitive and it’s close to the road, so expect traffic noise if you camp. The highlight of the landing is the waterfall at the campsite. This waterfall is one of the most scenic along the shore, and the best part is not very many people know about it.

Just a short paddle to the west from the campsite is a surf break. When the waves are coming from the south and southwest, they’ll break on the shallows and eventually deposit you and hopefully your kayak back into deeper water after you go for a ride. Waves from the other directions tend to break directly onto the beach, but leave enough room in a small and maneuverable boat to make the break fun.

On to Terrace Point


If you choose to head on to Terrace Point, there is still plenty of fun along the shore, but I’d recommend heading straight for the line of rocky islands a half a mile offshore where you’ll be paddling over about 100 feet of water until you reach the island, which abruptly rise from the depths. These low island end up awash in storms, but are fun to paddle out to, plus you’ll save some distance because you won’t have to paddle the shoreline of Good Harbor Bay.

Once you pass the islands, head to Terrace Point and marvel at some of the most unique condos along the shore. Acclaimed architect John H. Howe, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the organic concept for Terrace Point. The vision was to integrate the buildings into the natural setting of Lake Superior’s North Shore. You can be the judge as you paddle past on the way to your turn around at a Sea Cave. Once at the Sea Cave, paddle through, and if the day is calm, look in the shallows for Thomsonite, because you’ll be paddling in one of the few locations on Lake Superior or in the world where gem quality Thomsonite can be found.


Back to Harbor


You can high tail it back to Grand Marais by paddling a bee line to the breakwall or spend more time along the shore playing next to the rock walls, paddling around rocks or ducking into crevasses in the cliffs. Once back to harbor, you may want to paddle around Artist’s point which is the strip of land east of the lighthouse. Artist’s Point is named so, because it inspires artist of all kinds to sit and walk along the rock shore and produce a dazzling array of masterpieces.


You can shorten the day trip with a car parked at the Cutface Creek Rest Area, which is in Good Harbor Bay. If you take this route, you may want to consider paddling a mile past Terrace Point to reach the Butterwort Cliffs State Natural Area. This SNA protects a cool moist microclimate that provides habitat for rare arctic-alpine plants.


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