Kyle Kotajarvi

Lake Superior North Shore (Part II)

 You know when you go back to a place and it looks so different that you barely recognize it? Well, that's what happened on my most recent excursion to the North Shore, which is why I felt this experience was deserving of a completely separate post. 

As we left Saint Paul on Friday night, the sun was shining and it was about 82 degrees.   It was a typical early-fall heatwave kind of day.  The drive from Saint Paul to Duluth is a bit over two hours long, so we kicked back, turned on the Twin's game on the radio, and just drove.  We were expecting the conditions to be a bit different in Duluth, as we had a bit of forewarning from my sister who resides there, but there was no way I could have expected such a drastic change.

About 30 miles south of Duluth we noticed that the temperature had dropped nearly 25 degrees since we had left Minneapolis.   Almost 10 miles later, and we drove into some of the thickest fog I had ever seen.   It was like "The Mist", but without the aliens.  I'm a huge fan of fog , you know, because I'm in love with the Pacific Northwest, so it was a nice departure from the weather we usually have in Minnesota.

We crashed at my sister's apartment that night with plans to watch the sunrise the following morning.  The forecast for Saturday was a high of 65 and partly cloudy,  so I thought we were in for just a normal day on the shore, I couldn't have been more wrong. 


We awoke on Saturday morning at 5:15 ready for adventure.  It was still insanely foggy out, but the forecast called for the fog to clear right before sunrise, which sounded visually amazing to me.  After picking up some hash browns from McDonald's, we headed north on Highway 61 towards Split Rock Lighthouse.  My first time at Split Rock had been spoiled by some very harsh mid-day light, so I was excited to get another chance to shoot it at daybreak.  The further north we went, the fog grew denser and denser.  I had never seen anything like it.  Usually, we you're driving on 61, you can see the lake for a good amount of the trip between Duluth and Silver Bay, but we couldn't see the lake whatsoever.  Everything beyond 100 yards away was disappearing into nothingness. 

We arrived at Split Rock shortly after six, and after paying for a day pass, we drove down to the trail center and hiked the short distance to the shoreline.   The crisp morningair was exactly what I needed and hit me with a wave of nostalgia about the PNW.    As we emerged from the woods onto the rocky shore of Lake Superior, we could see the lighthouse in the distance; sitting on top of the sheer cliff, she was almost completely shrouded in fog, but it was a sight to see.  As sunrise came and past, it never really got brighter out.  Instead, the dim morning glow just seemed to hover for the remainder of the morning.

We spent nearly almost two hours on the shoreline watching the fog roll in before heading back to the car.  We didn't really have a solid plan for the rest of the day, so we just decided to keep heading north towards Palisade Head.  On the way to Palisade Head, we passed over the Beaver River, which is a spot that I've wanted to check out for awhile, but it's one of those spots that comes and goes so quickly that I always driven right past it.  This time, I hastily pulled a u-turn and parked in the little lot off of the highway.  

It must have rained pretty hard here in the past few days because the river was raging.  Such a cool little mini-stop and the views are just off the charts. 

After our mini stop at the Beaver River, we made our way to Palisade Head.  I've been to Palisade Head a few times before and it's definitely one of my favorite spots on the shore.  The views are just incredible from there.   My experience at Palisade this time was drastically different. 

As we drove up the service road to the mini parking lot for the overlook, the fog just keep getting thicker and thicker.  We got out of the car and walked to edge of the cliff and we couldn't see the water.  The fog had gotten so thick that you couldn't see the lake when standing on top of the 200 foot cliff-face.  It was insane.  

After waiting around for a while, the fog cleared enough, so that Sydney could get a better idea of how high up we were.  Unfortunately, the views of the shoreline weren't there, but it definitely was a unique experience. 

Following our little jaunt to Palisade Head, Sydney and I were ready for an actual hike.  While the little quick stops are fun, having to put in some work to get somewhere is so much more fulfilling.  We decided we were going to hike to High Falls via the Superior Hiking Trail in Tettegouche State Park.  I had never been on the Superior Trail before, but I was immediately hooked.  I think that doing a through hike of the trail is definitely in my future...

Anyways, High Falls is the tallest waterfall located entirely in the state of Minnesota (there's waterfall in Grand Portage that sits on the Canadian border that's taller.) It's a bit farther inland than I expected it to be, but it's surrounded by some of the tallest hills and most beautiful trees I've seen in the Midwest.  Honestly, it felt so out of place when I think about it, but in the best of ways.    

We stayed in Tettegouche State Park after finishing our hike to High Falls and visited some of my favorite spots on Shovel Point.  I could never get sick of these views!  I feel like I've gotten really unlucky and lucky at the same time on my past few North Shore visits.  Visually, I've had two drastically different days lighting-wise, but the lake has been so calm each time as well, which seems really odd for Lake Superior.   

We were completely spent after leaving Tettegouche late in the afternoon.  It had been such a long, beautiful day and we were ready to start making our way back towards Minneapolis.  As it had been dark when we got into Duluth the previous evening, I decided that we needed to stop in Canal Park, so that Sydney could see the Lift Bridge and Visitor's Center.  It was equally as foggy in Duluth as it had been further north (surprise, surprise), but I'm not complaining.  

We explored the Visitor's Center for a while, which was such a nostalgic experience for me since my parents had taken me there many times when I was younger.  We were also lucky enough to see ship come through the Canal! It was the first one that had come through all day.  

The ship was a 250 foot long Coast Guard Ice Breaker.  Pretty cool stuff.