Lake Superior Adventures: Part I -The Road North

Introduction: The start of my travelogue of a ‘superior’ adventure from Minnesota to Wisconsin…Lake Superior and more!

Last year I fell in love with Lake Michigan after a week long adventure from Door County, WI to Indiana Dunes National Park and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park…I grew up two hours from the Atlantic Ocean and have seen many large lakes in my travels across the U.S…but there is nothing quite as magical and dynamic as a Great Lake.

The vastness of these five massive lakes cannot be summed up in words…the best expression is ‘A Third Coast’ – My Lake Michigan trip left an indelible mark on my – the beauty of clear – almost Caribbean like waters contrasted by the deep rough waters, with bluffs lined with lighthouses protecting the centuries old sailors and ‘seaman’ who traverse the waters.

Formed thousands of years ago by receding glaciers, there are five ‘Great Lakes’: Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and Lake Huron.

*Fun fact: interestingly enough Lake Champlain in VT/NY was given the same protections as the main Great Lakes under Pres. Clinton)

There are other large lakes in the US, but the Great Lakes are in another category. Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. Combined the five Great Lakes account for 20% of the world’s fresh water.

The enchantment of Lake Michigan ignited a fire in my heart to explore each of The Great Lakes in the next five years.

This year I’m heading north to Lake Superior – the grandest of the lakes in size and scope – bordered by Canada and the US and stretching across three states – Lake Superior accounts for more than fifty percent of all the water in The Great Lakes. It is so deep The Empire State building can sink beneath its waters.

Given the size and scope of Lake Superior, in plotting out my trip I wanted to be mindful of time and ensure I covered the most ground without compromising lake relaxation mode (aka the wonderful peace of doing nothing but staring into the serenity of a lake and letting worry melt away).

I have a book of state park photography and I noticed the awe-inspiring beauty of Minnesota’s Lake Superior parks, including The Split Rock Lighthouse. I love lighthouses and I knew I had to make the pilgrimage to this iconic light.

The Journey Starts:

September 14th, 2022: Fueled by coffee and adventure I boarded a 6:25 a.m. ET flight from Raleigh (RDU) to Minneapolis. I flew Delta this time and I have to admit it was a superior experience compared to my last flight on another competitor. Easy check in and out.

I arrived in Minneapolis-St. Paul just after 8 a.m. CT and picked up my rental car and began the two hour drive north on I-35 towards Duluth.

I didn’t get much sleep so halfway through the journey I was in serious need of a caffeine boost. I noticed a roadside sign in the town of Hinckley MN for Caribou Coffee – but I was treated to so much more!!!

Hinckley is halfway between Minneapolis and Duluth. The community of around 1400, is surrounded by natural scenery, including nearby St. Croix River State Park.

Tobies in Hinckley is a Minnesota tradition…This bakery and restaurant serves pure ‘SOTA’ with delicious breads, sweets and homemade meals.

I have celiac disease so I assumed I’d have to pass on the pastries – but Tobies offers an entire Gluten Free selection of cookies, muffins, cakes and more.

Always up for a scenic detour – I followed the roadside state park signs and drove the fifteen miles to St. Croix State Park. The park follows the shore of the St. Croix River for twenty-one miles and the last seven miles of the Kettle River.

When I arrived at the park I discovered the visitor center was closed and unfortunately given my timeline, I wouldn’t be able to see much of the park. I was however treated to several gorgeous views of woodland forest and waterways.

When visiting St. Croix plan ahead by going to their official website. At 33,895 acres it is the largest Minnesota state park. Like many of parks in the US it has its roots in the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps and WPA worked to make recreation accessible from cabins to dams and beyond.

Rangers recommend the following activities while in St. Croix State Park

Take a scenic drive and climb the fire tower. ♦ Park at the St. Croix Lodge and Hike the 1-mile loop from the River’s Edge Trail to the River Bluff Trail. ♦ Explore the Visitor Center. ♦ Take the Sundance Self-Guided Trail. Pick up a self-guiding brochure and learn about park history, wildlife and habitats along a gently rolling 1-mile trail.

I will return to this state park again when I have more time to hike and enjoy the view.

As I returned to Hinckley I noticed a fire memorial.

Hinckley is a testament to Midwest Spirit…It 1894 a devastating fire destroyed the town and left over 400 dead. Over a century later the past still echoes and the people of Hinckley remember the dead and their triumph in trial. Learn more about the fire here.

After taking a moment to pause and reflect in silence, I hit the road again.

I put in Jay Cooke State Park into my GPS expecting the Google App to get me back on I-35 then north to this popular Duluth area park…

But GPS likes to keep us on our toes and I left Hinckley through.a series of scenic Minnesota backroads – north towards Duluth…

It seemed fitting that Rod Stewards ‘You Wear it Well’ came on Spotify – ‘I’ve been meaning to phone you from Minnesota…”

Next entry we’ll explore Jay Cooke State Park and continue north to Lake Superior

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