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Has anyone done a tour of the north shore of Lake Superior?

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Has anyone done a tour of the north shore of Lake Superior?

Old 06-28-12, 03:05 PM
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ilkphillybkchks
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Has anyone done a tour of the north shore of Lake Superior?

I was thinking this would be fun and just saw a post somewhere that this was one of top scenic highways in the U.S. Has anyone ridden this road? What about Mosquitoes and black flies? How busy is this road and is it highway or a two lane with nice shoulder? I was thinking of starting in Deluth and heading east.
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Old 06-28-12, 03:57 PM
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Lake Superior generates a lot of wind, so at least for the segments near the shore, you'll have some mosquito relief. July and August can be pretty buggy months up here, though, so just accept that you'll probably have to deal with it.

I'd suggest going north from Duluth, or heading back that way. This is the highlight of the US section of the route, full of dramatic rock walls and rough shoreline. Old 61 is two lane, and keeps you near the lake. Don't accidentally get on the expressway. Sometimes you won't be able to see the shore, but it doesn't take you as far inland as Hwy 2 in Wisconsin and Michigan. I've done parts of both on short tours, and the Minnesota section is definitely nicer.

That being said, the traffic from Duluth to Two Harbours can be bad. Duluth is kinda run down and has nasty streets. There is a wonderful bike trail between the road and the lake, but it's incomplete. Paradoxically, the sections of highway you have to ride on are mostly lacking a decent shoulder, whereas the sections where you have the option of riding the trail instead seem to have a more consistent shoulder. On weekends, the nasty traffic can extend up to Silver Bay. After that, it's pretty quiet. Past Schroeder, it's a wonderful peaceful ride. There are tons of places to pull of, take a walk or swim.

If you take 61 up, you have the option of checking out the Gunflint trail(One way up and down, you'll have to backtrack a lot). Depending on how far north you are going, and how much backtracking you are willing to do, you could turn around, head back towards Silver Bay, and take the National Forest Hwy 1 up into the patchwork of Minnesota State Forests, then make your way back along Hwy2 and various beautiful county roads through the northwoods.


This is a bit far off topic, but... The hwy 61 which is the scenic North Shore Drive in Northern Minnesota, is also a part of the Great River Road in Southern Minnesota Bluff Country. I like the dark, piney woods of the Northern part of the state, but I think the Hwy 61 between Redwing and the Iowa border is even more impressive.
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Old 06-28-12, 04:01 PM
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Originally Posted by ilkphillybkchks View Post
I was thinking this would be fun and just saw a post somewhere that this was one of top scenic highways in the U.S. Has anyone ridden this road? What about Mosquitoes and black flies? How busy is this road and is it highway or a two lane with nice shoulder? I was thinking of starting in Deluth and heading east.
I live in Duluth, so I can answer some of your questions.

First, parts of Highway 61 NE of Duluth have good shoulders, and parts are even paralleled by a separate (and interesting) biking/walking path which is way better than riding on the highway (see https://www.ggta.org/ for information about the Gitchi-Gami Trail). The stretch between Duluth and Two Harbors is really two highways -- MN 61, which is a 4 lane freeway (safe but boring), and Scenic 61, which is the old highway that hugs the lake shore for a lot of the way. Scenic 61 has excellent shoulders and is a nice ride.

Other than the stretch between Duluth and Two Harbors, most of MN 61 is two lanes, though there are a few fairly short 4 lane stretches here and there in towns, and between Two Harbors and Beaver Bay.

However, some key segments of 61 beyond Two Harbors have extremely narrow paved shoulders, or none. For example, MN 61 immediately out of Two Harbors to the NE is awful -- minimal or no paved shoulder, narrow highway, heavy traffic, trucks, RVs, yecch! I will not ride it. Beaver Bay to Silver Bay is another bad stretch. The highway gets somewhat quieter beyond Tettegouche State Park, but it's not what I would call lightly traveled, and some stretches do not have a good shoulder. The stretch from Grand Marais to the border has less traffic than the other stretches of the highway and I think it has a good shoulder.

There are some workarounds that involve a few miles of gravel roads to avoid the really bad sections of 61. These gravel roads are OK for road/touring bikes and are quite pretty. If you want information about that, let me know.

If you are asking about the road in Canada, be aware that most of the road between the border and Thunder Bay is away from the lake. I don't remember the shoulder because I drove that stretch and wasn't paying attention. However, I have heard that east of Thunder Bay, there are long stretches where the road is heavily traveled and has a minimal (or no) paved shoulder.

2nd, the highway is indeed scenic (and sometime spectacular) and gives you access to lots of beautiful places and parks. There are services available all the way to the border. There's a reason that the North Shore of Minnesota is a tourist destination.

3rd, bugs can be an issue, but it depends on the wind and the time of day and time of the year and specific location. Early June I think is the worst time for bugs, and most years it steadily gets better as the summer goes on. By early to mid-August, bugs typically are not a problem. And if you can come after Labor Day, the bugs are largely gone.


I can provide more detailed information if you'd like.

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Old 06-28-12, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Tansy View Post
Lake Superior generates a lot of wind, so at least for the segments near the shore, you'll have some mosquito relief. July and August can be pretty buggy months up here, though, so just accept that you'll probably have to deal with it.

I'd suggest going north from Duluth, or heading back that way. This is the highlight of the US section of the route, full of dramatic rock walls and rough shoreline. Old 61 is two lane, and keeps you near the lake. Don't accidentally get on the expressway. Sometimes you won't be able to see the shore, but it doesn't take you as far inland as Hwy 2 in Wisconsin and Michigan. I've done parts of both on short tours, and the Minnesota section is definitely nicer.

That being said, the traffic from Duluth to Two Harbours can be bad. Duluth is kinda run down and has nasty streets. There is a wonderful bike trail between the road and the lake, but it's incomplete. Paradoxically, the sections of highway you have to ride on are mostly lacking a decent shoulder, whereas the sections where you have the option of riding the trail instead seem to have a more consistent shoulder. On weekends, the nasty traffic can extend up to Silver Bay. After that, it's pretty quiet. Past Schroeder, it's a wonderful peaceful ride. There are tons of places to pull of, take a walk or swim.

If you take 61 up, you have the option of checking out the Gunflint trail(One way up and down, you'll have to backtrack a lot). Depending on how far north you are going, and how much backtracking you are willing to do, you could turn around, head back towards Silver Bay, and take the National Forest Hwy 1 up into the patchwork of Minnesota State Forests, then make your way back along Hwy2 and various beautiful county roads through the northwoods.


This is a bit far off topic, but... The hwy 61 which is the scenic North Shore Drive in Northern Minnesota, is also a part of the Great River Road in Southern Minnesota Bluff Country. I like the dark, piney woods of the Northern part of the state, but I think the Hwy 61 between Redwing and the Iowa border is even more impressive.
I'll have to disagree with a few things here.

First, the traffic from Duluth to Two Harbors usually isn't bad as long as you take Scenic 61, and Scenic 61 has a good shoulder the whole way. There *is* a lot of traffic on MN 61 between Duluth and Two Harbors, but there's no need to ride on the freeway between Duluth and Two Harbors (except for a short stretch just outside of Two Harbors, and that has an adequate shoulder).

Duluth has some run down and industrial areas, but the city isn't run down as a whole. Yes, I do realize it's a subjective call, and yes, I live here, but I think most visitors to the city really like it (and tourism is huge here in the summer).

We have a Lakewalk which extends all the way from downtown to the edge of the city which is a wonderful way to connect with Scenic 61. It goes all the way out to 60th Ave. East, and from there it's a simple matter to hook up with Scenic 61 via 60th Ave. East, London Road, and then Brighton Beach.

I agree that it would be fun to ride in SE Minnesota, very pretty country. And I agree with the suggestion to use some of the other roads in the area to get back to Duluth. Some of those roads are pretty remote (e.g Lake County Highway 2), so you need to have enough water and supplies to last 30-50 miles.

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Old 06-28-12, 04:44 PM
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Disagreements accepted! You live up there. I've not been in the area for three years and I've had time to forget some specifics. Sorry for calling your town run-down - I'm just a bit negative after getting turned around and a bit lost in an area that was pretty icky. Duluth has beautiful public spaces, I'll give it that.
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Old 06-28-12, 04:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Tansy View Post
Disagreements accepted! You live up there. I've not been in the area for three years and I've had time to forget some specifics. Sorry for calling your town run-down - I'm just a bit negative after getting turned around and a bit lost in an area that was pretty icky. Duluth has beautiful public spaces, I'll give it that.
I bet I know the part of town where you got turned around and was icky. Was it the area "west" of downtown near the I-35 freeway?** Much (but not all) of the stretch on the more direct route between the US 2 bridge to Wisconsin and downtown is industrial/vacant and not terribly appealing, and some is indeed run down. Making things worse, the signage can be confusing, and the entrance on the Duluth side to the US 2 bridge is in an obscure place (43rd and Michigan) that is hard to find (the entrance on the Superior side also is in an obscure place).

The connection between the Munger Trail and the rest of the City is another sore spot. There *should* be a good, direct route between the Munger Trail and downtown/the Lakewalk, but there isn't (yet). You really have to know your way around to pick a pleasant route between the Lakewalk and the Munger Trail. But there are plans afoot and we have an excellent Mayor who "gets it" and supports complete streets, bicycle facilities etc. So there is hope!



** West is in quotes because West Duluth actually is SW of downtown, while East Duluth is NE of downtown. But everyone in Duluth uses "east" and "west".

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Old 06-28-12, 05:53 PM
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Originally Posted by OldZephyr View Post
The connection between the Munger Trail and the rest of the City is another sore spot. There *should* be a good, direct route between the Munger Trail and downtown/the Lakewalk, but there isn't (yet). You really have to know your way around to pick a pleasant route between the Lakewalk and the Munger Trail. But there are plans afoot and we have an excellent Mayor who "gets it" and supports complete streets, bicycle facilities etc. So there is hope!
OldZephyr, I know what you are talking about. My girlfriend and I left Duluth via Munger on our bike tour last year. The Munger Trail was great (minus a bit of construction they were doing) but the connection from the trail to downtown was lacking. We used the "official" route to get to the Munger. I found the directional signs to the trail to be fairly adequate, but it was quite a circuitous route using some streets that given the choice, I would not want to ride on. And the conditions of some of those streets, yuck.

We really enjoyed our time in Duluth and will be back. We thought it was a cool town. But it wasn't exactly the greatest of send-offs.
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Old 06-28-12, 06:35 PM
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I read an excellent article in the Adventure Cyclist magazine, July 2011 issue, that described a ride on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior and some of the other rides in Northern Minnesota. Ever since I read that article, I’ve wanted to head up there but I have some other rides to do before then. You might want to check that article out. Have fun!!
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Old 06-28-12, 07:20 PM
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Originally Posted by OldZephyr View Post
The connection between the Munger Trail and the rest of the City is another sore spot.
That's the spot.
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Old 06-28-12, 08:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Tansy View Post
That's the spot.
Yep. Kind of pisses me off every time I'm there. Here you have a great trail, then it just . . . stops . . . with no real bike connection to the rest of the city. Your choices are (1) to go on busy Grand Ave. for a few blocks (almost no shoulder and not even a sidewalk, just a dirt path in the grass at best) and then go east of Fremont Street, with a lousy crossing of a railroad on a broken up sidewalk (and then wending your way on bumpy 63rd Ave. W until you can get on some smoother streets), or (2) ride along the (poorly marked) Western Waterfront Trail (gravel) for 3/4 mile to 63rd Ave. W. and ride north until you can get on some smoother streets.

There are ways to avoid the bumpiest streets (except that stretch of 63rd Ave. West) and to even go through some pleasant neighborhoods, but it is a little bit longer than the most direct route. Usually I end up taking the longer but more pleasant route. Or sometimes I drive to the trailhead. Or sometimes I take the city bus to the trailhead.

When they build interstate highways, they don't end the interstate at something like an unmarked gravel road. They are tied in, as seamlessly as possible, to the rest of the road network. But here, the end of the Munger Trail isn't tied in with anything well, except for the parking lot.
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Old 06-30-12, 02:32 PM
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Thanks so much for all the info. If I do this I will post my route and all the darts and laurels of the adventure. The U.S. section sounds nice. I'd like to hear more about the Canadian section. It looks like 17 is the only road that runs through this area so I'd imagine it would have all the traffic. But so long it is not solid flow and the scenery is nice I think I could enjoy it. I didn't do the math yet; but on my first few tours I rode 60 or 70 miles a day and usually did 600 to 700 miles total. From Duluth to Sault Ste. Marie looks roughly like around 800 miles, very feasible.
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Old 06-30-12, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by ilkphillybkchks View Post
Thanks so much for all the info. If I do this I will post my route and all the darts and laurels of the adventure. The U.S. section sounds nice. I'd like to hear more about the Canadian section. It looks like 17 is the only road that runs through this area so I'd imagine it would have all the traffic. But so long it is not solid flow and the scenery is nice I think I could enjoy it. I didn't do the math yet; but on my first few tours I rode 60 or 70 miles a day and usually did 600 to 700 miles total. From Duluth to Sault Ste. Marie looks roughly like around 800 miles, very feasible.
With respect to the Canadian portion of the trip, consider doing a series of searches on https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/ -- plug in names of towns along the way such as Nipigon, Schreiber, etc. Some of the results I came up with were not terribly encouraging about the hghway from Thunder Bay to Nipigon, echoing what I have heard from other sources. Google street view is another way to see the nature of the shoulder/road.

If you are thinking of a circle trip around Lake Superior, Google Wisconsin Bicycle Map and Michigan Bicycle Map and you will get links to some helpful sites. I'm not a big fan of US 2 across the top of Wisconsin, most of it has a fair amount of traffic and a minimal shoulder, but a lot of people ride it because it is direct and "easy" and requires no navigation. I much prefer the less traveled side roads to US 2 in Wisconsin.

And again, if you would like some information about ways to avoid the worst sections of MN 61, please let me know. The bad sections really are worth avoiding if you can.

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Old 07-30-12, 07:11 PM
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Stick a fork in it.
I completed the trip last week. It took me about eight days riding and one day off in Terrace Bay, nice spot for a break. It came after one of the two days of climbing. Most of the ride was flat and beautiful. Only had little rain on the last day. If I can figure this out I'll post a few pictures.
The traffic wasn't too bad; but trucks blowing by at 90 km ph are never nice. I did see a few others touring the Trans Canadian Highway. One couple were going coast to coast. And I met one man who was riding around the whole lake; he had just turned 70yrs. old.
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Old 07-30-12, 07:14 PM
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Old 07-30-12, 07:35 PM
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These are just a smattering of the shots I took. And for every shot there were lots more to be taken; but I had to spend some time peddling.

One other thing; I came about as close to getting hit on this trip as I ever have. I was crossing over the center of the highway to look at a cave on the far side of the highway. It was late in the day and traffic was almost non-existent. when I looked behind me I saw a car coming. My first thought was to finish crossing; but then I noticed they were swinging wide to go around me. I was almost in the center of the road and they weren't slowing down. I am not sure what I did next; but I was waiting to feel the impact. When I didn't feel anything and heard the tires squeal and I expected to see the car roll. It didn't; but it came to a stop about 50 yards past me and just sat there. I yelled to them to ask if they were all right. They just sat part way on the road and part off. I think we both dodged the bullet on this one. I can't say that I wasn't partly to blame. There was a dip in the road and traffic was light; I may have not been as cautious as I should have been. Just passing this on. I bought a mirror and was extra cautious for the rest of the trip. Ride safe.
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Old 07-31-12, 08:47 AM
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Excellent info. I'll be cycling from Two Harbors to Cascade River State Park and back starting this Saturday.
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Old 07-31-12, 09:11 AM
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Originally Posted by MrPolak View Post
Excellent info. I'll be cycling from Two Harbors to Cascade River State Park and back starting this Saturday.
Hope you enjoy the ride! If you are going to take 61 out of Two Harbors, I'd suggest you leave on the early side to avoid the weekend traffic, especially for the first stretch immediately out of Two Harbors, which doesn't have much of a shoulder.

The pie at the Rustic Inn at Castle Danger is well worthwhile (far better than the pie at Betty's Pies, in my view).

The trail that parallels 61 between Gooseberry Falls State Park and Beaver Bay is a blast.
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Old 07-31-12, 09:13 AM
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Originally Posted by ilkphillybkchks View Post
I completed the trip last week. It took me about eight days riding and one day off in Terrace Bay, nice spot for a break. It came after one of the two days of climbing. Most of the ride was flat and beautiful. Only had little rain on the last day.
Glad to hear you had a good time. What was your view of 61 and the Trans-Canada?
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Old 07-31-12, 03:01 PM
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They were both decent. I think I had less traffic on 61 but can't swear to it.
The speed limit on Trans Canada 90km and most people did 100 or better. Most of it had good paved shoulder; but some was narrow. If your using a mountian bike going into the gravel on some of the shoulders isn't a problem. I did some test rides into the gravel with my 700c 32 tires on my road bike and it was OK. Traffic was moderate. I'd have several cars and trucks go by and then wouldn't have any for 10 minutes or so. Some of the truck traffic was a bit unnerving. Some got a little close. Actual road conditions were nice all the way around. ALWAYS BE ALERT!
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Old 07-31-12, 08:00 PM
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Everyone I talked to was hyped up about the north shore and Tetaguchi (sp). I didn't ride there and I'm glad I chose not to. The traffic and crowds were terrible.
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