7 Northland Winter Wonders You Need to Experience
We are truly lucky to have such an abundance of beauty in the Duluth/Superior area and along the North and South Shores. Winter puts a whole different twist on it all, making for unforgettable scenery. Sadly the cold keeps many people indoors, missing out on these incredible sights. Throw on some thermals, warm boots, a hat, and hit the trail to see these amazing Northland wonders as only you can in the winter months.
You can get there from Duluth/Superior within about an hour, and there's plenty of winter wonder to enjoy once you get there! You've probably visited during the summer months, and you've had to contend with crowds of tourists from around the world to enjoy the waterfalls and trails. The park still offers tons of beautiful scenery in the winter months, and you'll have the park almost to yourself to enjoy.
The waterfalls are a key highlight of the park year-round. Seeing them frozen over is definitely neat. Sometimes (as in the video) you'll still be able to see/hear running water, and others (after extreme cold) you won't be able to hear much. They're beautiful either way, but there's something uniquely special about seeing the falls completely frozen over with limited or no sound of running water offering a silence not often heard near the falls.
The trails along the river are also peaceful and beautiful to hike in winter, and taking a little trip out to the Lake Superior shoreline will give you a different perspective on the park. Just be sure to be careful on the rocks near the shoreline, as they can get very icy from waves splashing onto the shoreline and freezing.
Canal Park is crawling with people in the warm weather months, but when it gets cold out, it quiets down quite a bit. It's still worth check out, even if you have to bundle up first.
My favorite time to go to Canal Park in winter is early in the morning on an especially cold day. The sun rising over the lake, illuminating the mist over the water and glistening off the ice-covered rocks on the shoreline is incredible.
If you're lucky enough to spot a ship coming into port during the winter part of shipping season, it's a real treat. It's not a natural wonder, but it's still really cool to see. Shipping traffic slows down a lot in the winter months (coming to a stop in the middle of winter). Seeing a ship in person slowly unveil itself through the sea smoke on the lake, revealing its ice-clad hull and crew preparing to come into port on the deck gives you a true appreciation for those that work on the Great Lakes.
The Lake Superior shoreline offers so much varied, unique beauty throughout the year. During winter, ice covered rocks and trees offer an other-worldly beauty you can see almost anywhere along the shoreline - even in Duluth (no need to travel far).
One of the cooler sights on a frozen Lake Superior shoreline is something called "ice stacking". It is something that you only see on large bodies of water, so with Lake Superior in our backyard, take advantage of the opportunity on day when there's a layer of ice on the lake and a little breeze to get the sheet of ice moving.
The sheer beauty of the ice caves and the novelty of the fact that they're not accessible every year makes this natural wonder all that much more special.
Only about an hour drive from the Duluth/Superior area, these caves require about a 1 mile walk from the parking area to the caves. The caves require the perfect blend of cold weather an calm lake conditions to allow the ice to freeze and get thick enough for people to walk on. The National Park Service monitors ice conditions every year, opening the caves to the public if they are safe.
Some years there is only a window of a week or two to see the caves if they are open, so take advantage of the opportunity if you have it!
These falls are the furthest journey from the Duluth/Superior area on this list, but they're truly something to behold. The Pigeon River High Falls is the highest waterfall in Minnesota, located in Grand Portage State Park.
While it's a bit of a drive (the Pigeon River serves as the border between Minnesota and Ontario, so it's up there a ways), it's really breathtaking to check them out. The walk to the falls is a relatively easy half-mile hike from the parking area. If you're looking for a road trip, or you happen to be up north, you really need to check this out.
Just minutes outside of the Duluth/Superior area is Jay Cooke State Park, with the rugged scenery carved into the rocks of the area by the St. Louis River. The unique "slanted" rocks that the river pours over offers a unique type of waterfalls in the heart of the park.
While they aren't the tallest falls in the area, the unique nature of the river and rocks, mixed with ice and snow forcing the water to flow in different ways, makes for photo-friendly views and picturesque hiking opportunities. The suspension bridge in the park also makes for an Instagram-friendly photo op while you're there.
True of many of these locations, you'll want to make sure you have appropriate footwear (and probably even ice cleats) for your hiking. The hilly trails become snow-packed and icy over the winter months, and it can be very difficult to get around without the right footwear for the job. Specifically at this park, I have seen a few people fall down, injuring themselves or breaking cameras. Bring the right gear, use some caution, and you'll be able to enjoy the trails without issue.
This is more of a weekend getaway winter fun ideas than simply a single destination, but it's definitely worth the trip in winter. Heavy Lake Superior snow-covered trees meet ice-clad shorelines and steaming water in Grand Marais.
Generally thought of as a quaint summer vacation town, the same attractions are reimagined in winter. Exploring Artist Point or walking the harbor bay shoreline offers picturesque scenes, especially in the morning as the sun comes up over the lake.
The nice thing about Grand Marais is that while there is plenty to enjoy in town, it is also a good home base for exploring the rest of the area. Cascade River State Park is only a handful of minutes south of town, Judge CR Magney State Park (home to Devil's Kettle) is about 20 miles north of town, and Grand Portage State Park (home to the Pigeon River High Falls on this list) is about an hour north of town.