Road Trip: North Shore Scenic Drive

Circumstances with some electrical work at Luke’s place in Menomonie prompted me to get out of the house for the day on Thursday. I decided to do a little road trip to check out the fall scenery on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. I had recently heard about the magnificent view at Lutsen Mountain of the fall foliage so I planned a trip with that point of interest in mind.

Gooseberry Falls

I hit the road around 7:30 AM and drove 3 ½ hours to my first stop of the day, Gooseberry Falls State Park. The parking lot was surprisingly full for a Thursday so I was a little worried how much I would enjoy the experience. Luckily, a short hike down the trail from the visitors center brought me to the Middle Falls section of the Gooseberry River where there were a handful of people, most of which were polite and accommodating to my photo snapping. After taking some initial photos on the observation deck, I hiked down the path a bit to the entrance to the rocky area that surrounds the river. With plenty of rocks to climb up and around, I was able to try several different angles and vantage points to capture the falls and surrounding area. After trying every spot that looked appealing, I decided to head back to the car and move along to the next spot on my itinerary.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

I made my way north via Highway 61 toward Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. On my way there, I had spotted a good vantage point for a photo of the lighthouse out of the corner of my eye and realized that would be the best spot to get the pictures I wanted, especially after I got to the park and realized that there would be a fee to access the lighthouse. Seeing as I didn’t really have an interest in going inside, I turned around and headed back to the wayside to snap some photos from there. The fall coloring throughout the foliage also added a nice framing to the sight with Lake Superior in the background. I also enjoyed the space more since I managed to get the whole area to myself for a bit, a steep contrast to all the cars and people back at the park.

Silver Bay

After getting the photos I wanted of Split Rock Lighthouse, I made a quick detour from my planned route to check out the marina at Silver Bay. I briefly walked around a bit checking out the view from the various piers, snapping photos of the boats, shoreline, and other items of interest. I couldn’t help but notice how clear the water was and some small tiny fish gathered in a group under and around one of the piers.

Palisade Head

After my brief stop in Silver Bay, I hopped back on Highway 61 and kept making my way north until I spotted the sign for Palisade Head. I turned right into the initial entrance and then followed a narrow paved road up a steep, winding, hillside through lush vegetation, full of colorful leaves. Once I arrived at the parking lot, high above Lake Superior, I parked my car and gathered my photo equipment. A woman walking angrily away from the lot down the narrow road caught my attention. I heard a car reverse out of a parking spot erratically and watched it drive out after her. I heard a man yelling out at her to get in the car and something about 45-miles from such and such. I’m guessing either where they lived or where they were headed. Either way, the woman was having no part of it and did not get in the car. The man got angrier and eventually seemed to give up and peel out, screeching his tires, as the woman yelled something angrily at him. It all seemed a bit dangerous considering I just drove up that narrow road and had a car been coming toward me that fast around one of those bends, a crash would have been likely. I guess timing is everything and I’m lucky to have arrived when I did and I’m thankful no one else was making their way up the hill when the guy sped off. Trying to get a bit of the peace back that I was looking for, I walked over to the end of the lot and started taking some photos of the shoreline. The view was fantastic and it was really nice to lose myself in the moment. I walked a bit south of the lot and climbed around on some of the rocks, seeing if I could get a good vantage point to shoot toward the south shoreline but alas, I found no such spot. It was time to move on yet again.

Tettegouche State Park

I wasn’t sure what I would find at Tettegouche State Park, just north of my last stop. Quickly losing daylight hours in the day, I decided to cut my time short and settled for taking some photos from the bridge, looking toward Lake Superior. There was a steep ravine visible from the bridge that the Baptism River flowed through, making its way past a beach that seemed to somehow float above the lake in the background. I would have liked to explore the park in more depth but I didn’t want to run out of time to explore the main attraction, Lutsen Mountains, something I am guilty of doing far too often in the past. I hopped back in the car and decided to cut all other stops out and go straight to my final destination.

Lutsen Mountain

I wasn’t quite sure where to go to access the gondola that would take me to the top of the mountain but it didn’t take too many wrong turns to find the right spot. I secured a good parking spot which came in handy because the first time I made my way to the gondola entrance, I had forgotten my mask in the car which was required to go inside the gift shop, where I thought I would be able to purchase a ticket. I ran back to my car, got my mask, walked back to the shop and found out that tickets were actually available for purchase back by my car. So, I made my way back once again, purchased my tickets, and then made my way back to the gondola deck. A man motioned for me to get into one of the enclosures which was slowly making its way around the bend and circling back toward the upper part of the mountain. Once inside, I was a bit panicked to find that there was seemingly no way to shut the door. Fearing that I was about to make my way up the mountain, terrified of heights, with an open door, I readied myself to quickly hop back out. The man overseeing the operation advised that the doors would shut automatically shortly. So, I nervously sat down and waited for that to happen. Once the doors shut, the enclosure quickly took off and started heading up, up, and more up into the sky. A brief panic that expressed itself as me verbally shouting out loud to no one, “what did I do, what I do?!?” I closed my eyes and tried my best not to fall apart. After the gondola stopped swaying and steadied more as it slowly climbed toward the mountaintop, I was able to open my eyes and enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to get any good photos from inside since the windows were scratched and dirty. I opted instead to take video with my photo and capture the experience that way. The view was fantastic all the way to the top and I was so grateful for the courage to take the ride. Once at the top, 1000-feet above Lake Superior, I started to explore the different areas of the mountain by foot and get photos of all the brilliant colors in every direction. It was a very peaceful place and I enjoyed walking around for about an hour or so before making my way back to my car. The ride down was a lot easier for me and I was surprised how quickly I acclimated to the whole experience, given my great fear of heights. Once back on solid ground, I made my way to my car and started the 4 ½ hour drive back to Menomonie.

The drive home was mostly uneventful. There was a slight unplanned detour to make the connection to I-535 from Highway 61. Once I figured out how to make that connection despite the closed ramp, it was mostly smooth sailing. The daylight was quickly fading as I made my way through some isolated country roads and was delighted with the sighting of a few deer in a field. I stopped to take a quick video before continuing on my way. Several miles later, I was shocked when an owl flew out into the road suddenly and nearly missed my windshield while crossing over to the other side. That definitely gave me the jolt of adrenaline I needed to snap out of my tiredness and get back to Luke’s house wide awake. All in all it was a really nice trip and I’m thankful for the prompt that got me out to make it happen.

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