Looking for the perfect winter getaway? Look no further than the sleepy Lake Superior town of Grand Marais, Minnesota. Grand Marais is tucked away in the northeast corner of the Minnesota, with some of the best cross country skiing, waterfall hiking, and backcountry snowshoeing in the continental United States.
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In the summer, Grand Marais is a popular getaway destination and the gateway to the Boundary Waters. In the winter, Grand Marais is home to beautiful Lake Superior ice sculptures, and becomes a winter wonderland, reminiscent of a Norwegian Winter.
This winter, I’ve been lucky enough to call this pretty little slice of the Northwoods home, and I’m happy to share my favorite waterfalls, food spots, ski trails, and photography locations in Grand Marais.
Winter Waterfalls of Grand Marias
For me, one of the primary attractions of Minnesota’s North Shore is the waterfalls. I have a whole trail guide dedicated to North Shore Waterfalls in the winter, but did you know Grand Marais is near several of the best waterfalls in the state of Minnesota?
Cascade River State Park
Cascade River State Park is just south of Grand Marias, and especially beautiful in the Winter.
The Cascade River is home to several series of cascades, multiple hiking loops, and great cross country skiing. The small, inner loop (around 1 mile round trip) will take you first over a bridge overlooking the “cascades” themselves, where the Cascade River has cut a beautiful gorge in ancient volcanic rock. From here, the inner loop will take you along the Cascade River Gorge, eventually to Cascade Falls. This is a popular trail so snow will be packed down (no snowshoes necessary), but you may need some type of ice spikes or Yaktrax.
For a more challenging route, strap on snowshoes and travel the Superior Hiking Trial along either bank of the river. There are several hidden falls along this less visited section of the Cascade River. It is also possible to snowshoe in the river bed itself, but this should only be done if ice is thick enough.
Upper Falls & The Devil’s Kettle
Judge CR Magney State Park is home to an easy, two-mile round trip hike out to two beautiful frozen waterfalls. In the winter, Upper Falls ices up beautifully, so you can stand on the ice shelf and watch waterfall mist freeze in your hair. There are also multiple river otter that live on the Brule River, so keep your eyes peeled for some playful wildlife. While this is a short and relatively easy hike, there is a long and steep set of stairs down to reach the falls.
Judge CR Magney State Park is about a half hour north of Grand Marais, MN.
Barrier Falls on the Devil Track River
Just north of Grand Marais with parking along the shoulder of Highway 61, it is a nearly 3-mile round trip snowshoe out to the impressive Barrier Falls on the Devil Track River. The falls on the Devil Track River are often inaccessible, requiring either solid ice or low water season in the summer in order to make it up river, and a true Grand Marais hidden gem.
Watch for deep snow banks from blowing snow, and remember that no ice is safe ice; the Devil Track is a deep river and not one that you want to break through. Stick to established trails, and stay away from the base of waterfalls.
When in doubt, book a guided ski tour with Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply.
High Falls on the Pigeon River
North of Grand Marais in Grand Portage State Park, the High Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Northern Minnesota, especially in the winter. The Pigeon River marks the US-Canadian border, so a hike out to High Falls also gives you some lovely views of Canada. Grand Portage feels out of the way from Grand Marais, but is worth the trip. While you’re up, hike out to Mount Josephine, or Rose Mountain in the Grand Portage National Monument. Photographers flock to Hollow Rock, an island turned sea stack, near the Hollow Rock Resort, one of the most scenic cabin rental locations along the North Shore.
Grand Portage is on Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) Nation Land, and has an intricate and well-preserved history and culture. Today, the Grand Portage Band works with the National Parks Service to run Grand Portage National Monument. You can watch the park’s film here for a more detailed and complete view of the area’s history and culture. I can’t recommend the film enough— it’s just over 20 minutes, with beautiful scenery and a beautiful story. Did I cry? I mean, a little.
Skiing in and Near Grand Marais
Grand Marais is an excellent winter destination for cross country and downhill skiing alike, with snow covered pines and lit trails. Be sure to get your Minnesota Ski Pass before you hit the trails.
For Cross Country Skiing, head up to the Pincushion Mountain Trail system and try the beginner, intermediate, or difficult loops. At night, ski under the lights of the beginner loop and star gaze. George Washington Pines is only a little farther up the Gunflint Trail, and also has groomed ski trails, and the Sugarbush Trail System near Tofte offers some more intense backcountry skiing.
Looking for the best downhill skiing east of the Rockies? Head over to Lutsen Mountains Ski and Summer Resort.
Backcountry Adventures near Grand Marais
Grand Marais, MN is your gateway to the Gunflint Trail, the road providing you direct access into the Boundary Waters. In the summer, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is prime canoe country, with moose, quiet lakes, and the feeling of true wild. In the winter those lakes freeze, and become an excellent spot for ice fishing, snowshoeing, and backcountry country skiing. An overnight backcountry ski trip is a beautiful and unique way to visit the Boundary Waters in the winter.
Permits are NOT required in neither the BWCA nor the Superior National Forest in the winter. Reccomened lakes include Northern Light Lake in the Superior National Forest, Seagull Lake, Lake Saganaga, and Loon Lake. Gear rental and guided backcountry fishing and ski trips are available through Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais, MN. Custom trips into the Boundary Waters are available upon request.
Eating in Grand Marais
In the morning head over to Java Moose for a cup of coffee before you hit the trails. My favorite order is the maple latte, but I’m also partial to the Harbor Fog. For lunch, check out Hungry Hippie Taco for the best hostel tacos you’ll ever have. Grab dinner at the Gunflint Tavern. My favorite order is the cuban sandwich, with a side of potstickers. (Yes, I know they don’t go together. I get hungry!)
My most recent favorite for burgers and sweet potato fries? My Sister’s Place.
A Grand Marais Winter Sunset
One last thing you can’t miss— head down to Artist’s Point and the lighthouse to watch the sun set over the Harbor. Artist’s Point gives you great views of Lake Superior and the opportunity to walk along ancient volcanic rocks. Bring ice spikes or YakTrax! The breakwater can be very slippery in the winter, but it is well worth the views.
Looking for the best hikes, paddles, and hidden gems in the Upper Midwest?
Check out my book, Hidden Gems of the Northern Great Lakes: A Trail and Paddling Guide. Let me help you find not only the best adventures for your skill and comfort level, but also semi-secret photography spots, countless waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Northern Wisconsin, intrepid canoe routes near Traverse City, Michigan, hidden sea caves, and some of the best campsites the region has to offer.