The Circle Tour of Lake Superior is one of the world's most scenic drives, 1,300 miles of non-stop scenery and attractions.
There's a staggering number of things to do and see around Lake Superior. But if you have only a week's vacation, you can see the highlights on this nine-day, eight-night Circle Tour.
Drive clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on what festivals or events you want to catch; see Planning a Circle Tour. For an overview, see Circling Superior.
Duluth to Thunder Bay, 113 miles: Every year, readers of Lake Superior magazine vote Minnesota's North Shore their No. 1 favorite attraction on the big lake.
With Lake Superior rarely out of sight, it's everyone's favorite drive. Stop to watch boats on Duluth's Canal Park (see Duluth stories). See Gooseberry Falls, visit Split Rock Lighthouse and take a run down the Alpine Slide on Lutsen Mountains (see North Shore stories).
At Tettegouche State Park, walk the half-mile trail to Shovel Point. Take a short hike at Cascade River State Park. Stop for lunch in Grand Marais. Visit the re-created fur post at Grand Portage National Monument. Just short of the Canadian border in Grand Portage State Park, take the half-mile trail to 120-foot High Falls on the Pigeon River.
Ontario is on Eastern time, so you'll lose an hour. In the Port Arthur section of Thunder Bay, stay at the Prince Arthur, 800-267-2675; ask for a top-floor room overlooking the marina. Armando Fine Italian Restaurant is across the street and very good, but Bistro One is perhaps the best on the whole route. See Exploring Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay to Rossport, 116 miles: Have breakfast in the nearby Finnish neighborhood at the Hoito (skip the line and go straight to the counter). Spend several hours at Fort William Historical Park. Drive to nearby Kakabeka Falls.
On the way to Rossport, stop to see Ouimet Canyon. In Rossport, stay at the Willows Inn B&B, 877-825-1275, or Serendipity Gardens Guest House, 807-824-2890. The Serendity Gardens Cafe is a good place to eat. Meals at the Rossport Inn are very expensive, but many people like them.
This is the real North Shore, and people are catching on. In Lake Superior magazine's 2009 poll, Ontario's North Shore jumped to No. 2, up from No. 6 in 2008.
Rossport to Wawa, 178 miles: Spend the morning paddling with Superior Outfitters (see Kayaking the Rossport Islands) or hiking the Casque Isles Trail. Stop to see Rainbow Falls and, just short of Terrace Bay, Aguasabon Falls. In White River, see the Winnie the Pooh statue. Stop at Young's General Store in Wawa.
In Wawa, stay at the Best Northern Motel, 800-434-8240. It has nice cottages overlooking the Michipicoten River, $135, but its motel rooms, $75-$89 are stylish and very well-designed, and there's a sauna, outdoor hot tub, free high-speed Internet and billiards room, plus bike and canoe rentals. Be sure to eat just up the drive at Kinniwabi Pines, the best restaurant east of Thunder Bay, 705-856-7226.
Wawa to Paradise, 210 miles: See the pictographs at Agawa Rock. In Sault Ste. Marie, watch the boats go through the Soo Locks and take a Soo Locks cruise on the St. Marys River (See Locking through the Soo).
Stop at Point Iroquois Lighthouse on the way to Paradise. If there's time, tour the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum just up the road at Whitefish Point.
Stay right in the museum complex at the Whitefish Point Light Station inn, the restored 1923 Coast Guard Lifeboat Station crew's quarters. There are only five rooms, so reserve early. It's one of five places where you can stay in Lake Superior lighthouses (see Dwelling in the past).
In Paradise, stay at the Paradise Inn, $77, if you just want a good place to stay, 906-492-3940. The newer Best Western Lakefront Inn has a beach and pool but costs twice as much and is poorly run and designed.
Paradise to Munising, 99 miles: Tour the shipwreck museum if you haven't already. Heading west, you could see Tahquamenon Falls or climb the Grand Sable Dunes from Grand Marais. But I'd devote most of the day to hiking from Chapel Basin in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The nine-mile loop from Chapel Falls to the Mosquito River and back is a stunner (See Michigan's Pictured Rocks).
In Munising, stay at the Sunset Motel, facing on the bay, $76-$84. It's friendly and quiet and has places for children to play, 906-387-4574.
Munising to Copper Harbor, 190 miles: If you didn't have time for the hike along the cliffs, take a Pictured Rock Boat Cruise or Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tour from Munising. Stop to shop and have lunch in Marquette. Take a stroll along the waterfront trail in Houghton. In Calumet, see the historic business district and visit Coppertown USA.
Get off U.S. 41 to go to Eagle River. Follow the picturesque lake drive, stopping at the Jampot to buy baked goods from the monks of the Society of St. John. See the Eagle Harbor Light and take Brockway Mountain Drive into Copper Harbor. If there's time, take the sunset cruise to Copper Harbor Light (see Copper Harbor refuge).
In the hills above Copper Harbor, stay at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, which rents motel rooms, $95, and log cabins, many with wood-burning fireplaces but no kitchens, $129-$165. 888-685-6343.
However, the best place to stay on the Keweenaw is the 1859 Lake Breeze Hotel in Eagle Harbor, run by Marcia Raley and Chris Kvale of Minneapolis, 906-289-4514. If you can get a room — there are only 10, and the hotel is open only from early July to mid-August — stay there instead of Copper Harbor (see Digging the Keweenaw).
Copper Harbor to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, 115 miles: Drive back to Houghton on the east side of the peninsula between Lac La Belle and Gay, using pullouts to explore the beach and pick blueberries from late July (bear sightings are likely).
Drive to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and spend the rest of the day hiking the Escarpment Trail high above Lake of the Clouds (see Afoot in the Porkies ).
Stay just outside the park at Mountain View Lodges, 906-885-5256. The park has camping as well as three yurts and 19 rustic cabins, 906-885-5275. They're usually reserved far in advance, 800-447-2757, www.midnrreservations.com.
Porcupines to Bayfield, 125 miles: Drive the park's South Boundary Road to the Presque Isle River to see the waterfalls. On the way to Wisconsin, you'll get your hour back. Stop in Ashland to see the downtown murals. Just west of Ashland, stop at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, which has very interesting exhibits and short films (see City on the bay).
In Bayfield, take a cruise to the Apostle Islands or the ferry to Madeline Island if there's time (see Madeline's magnetism). In the evening, see a show at Big Top Chautauqua.
Stay at the friendly, well-run Seagull Bay Motel, which has organized a free shuttle to the Big Top and offers rooms for $70-$80, $90 with kitchenette, 715-779-5558. If you can't get a room there, there are many other good places in Bayfield (see Beloved Bayfield).
Bayfield to Duluth, 80 miles: Explore Bayfield. Continue west through Cornucopia and buy picnic goods at Ehler's Store. Just before Wisconsin 13 rejoins U.S. 2 east of Superior, take County Road U to Amnicon Falls State Park and have a picnic among the rapids.
In Superior, visit the Richard Bong World War II Heritage Center and the S.S. Meteor whaleback museum on Barker's Island. Take a Vista Fleet cruise or a kayak spin around the harbor or bike the Osaugie Trail; the Deco Bay gift shop sells tickets and rents kayaks and bicycles (See Plainly Superior).
If you're spending the night, stay in West Duluth at the Willard Munger Inn, where rooms in summer start at $56 for two and include breakfast and use of bikes and canoes. It's at the trailheads of the Munger State Trail and Western Waterfront Trail and very close to the Superior Hiking Trail and Lake Superior & Mississippi excursion railroad, 800-982-2453. It also operates the Indian Point Campground.
If you have more time: Use extra days sightseeing around Thunder Bay, camping at Pukaskwa National Park, hiking and swimming in Lake Superior Provincial Park, taking the Agawa Canyon tour train out of Sault Ste. Marie or exploring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Keweenaw Peninsula and the Apostle Islands.
If you want to visit Mackinac Island on Lake Michigan, it's only an hour from Sault Ste. Marie to St. Ignace, from which ferries go to the island. And if you want to see the Crisp Point and Au Sable lighthouses in Michigan, build in extra time; they're at the end of forest roads, and Au Sable requires a hike.