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A Dog-Friendly Winter Weekend at the North Shore’s MN State Parks

Frozen waterfalls, quiet trails, empty parking lots, and no mosquitoes. All of these features make Minnesota’s North Shore a fantastic dog-friendly winter road trip destination.

The North Shore is one of Minnesota’s premier destinations year-round. For those not native to Minnesota, the North Shore is the area of Minnesota that runs from Duluth to Canada along the shores of Lake Superior. There are numerous overlooks, rocky beaches, and cascading rivers accessible from Highway 61, but my personal favorites are the 8 state parks located along the roughly 120 miles from Two Harbors, MN to the Canadian Border.

It would be easy to spend an entire week (or more) exploring these fantastic state parks, but even with just a two-day weekend, the North Shore is worth the drive to explore. We recently visited Grand Portage State Park, Cascade River State Park, Temperance River State Park, and Tettegouche State Park during a late November weekend. The trip was amazing, and we couldn’t wait to share these fantastic dog-friendly destinations with our online friends.

Grand Portage State Park

We started our weekend adventure by driving to the Canadian Border to the North Shores northernmost state park: Grand Portage State Park. The Pigeon River marks the border of Minnesota and Canada in this region. And this lovely river is home to Minnesota’s tallest waterfall.

High Falls is 120 ft tall and the main attraction at Grand Portage State Park. There are three dog-friendly viewing decks that provide Minnesota visitors various vantage points from which to enjoy these tall falls. The viewing platforms are less than a mile from the travel information center, making them easily accessible for most visitors.

In mid-November, High Falls was partially frozen. Framed in ice, the falls were extra was stunning.

But don’t stop after visiting High Falls. There is a lovely 5-mile round-trip hike just waiting for you and your pup to explore. The trip to Middle Falls was a better hike than we expected in this small state park and was our favorite hike of the weekend.

The park warns that the hike to Middle Falls is along a very rugged trail (lots of rocks and roots). Additionally, it traverses several hundred feet of elevation change and provides a more wilderness experience. According to Grand Portage State Park, the average round-trip hiking time for the Middle Falls Trail is at least 3 hours. We didn’t time ourselves, but with all the time we took taking pictures of the amazing scenery, that seems about right.

A unique fun aspect of hiking in Grand Portage State Park was that there were several times when we stood along the banks of the Pigeon River and realized we were just a few wet steps away from Canada. Maybe next time we visit Grand Portage, we will bring our passports and take in the views from the other side of the river.

In the pictures below, you can see Middle Falls. Across the river is a Canadian road.

And if you time your hike right, you can enjoy some lovely sunset views on the return hike from Middle Falls.

A final added bonus for those visiting in the colder weather months, the visitors center which provides a heated lobby and restrooms that are open 24 hours a day.

Judge C.R. Magney State Park

Heading south on Highway 61, the next state park you will encounter is Judge C.R. Magney State Park. We drove past Judge Magney State Park on our way to our hotel for the night. Since we visited in November, it was dark by 5:30, so we weren’t able to stop and hike at this state park on day 1 of our trip. We considered returning the next day, but since part of this park was open for hunting during our weekend trip, we elected to continue driving south.

But for those with more time, this state park is well worth the visit. Judge C.R. Magney invites visitors to “come for the quite, the solitude, and the famous Devil’s Kettle waterfall.” According to the DNR website, the most popular hike heads upstream along the Brule River to the Devil’s Kettle. Here the Brule River splits around a mass of volcanic rock. Half of the river falls 50 feet into a pool, but the rest pours into a huge pothole.

Many have wondered where the water goes after it disappears into this rock pothole. Well, recently, hydrologists think they’ve solved the mystery. The DNR concluded that the water disappears into the rock and reenters the river from underground. Find out more about how this works in this story from MPRnews.org.

If you visit later in the winter than we did, be aware that while this park is open year-round for day use, the parking area and entrance road may not be plowed immediately following a snow event.

Cascade River State Park

From Judge C.R. Magney, we continued south on Highway 61 through Grand Marais to Cascade River State Park. Cascade River State Park is home to the Cascades – a series of five small waterfalls – and Cascade Falls. All of these are visible from the Cascade River Loop. This loop is a mere half-mile hike roundtrip from the highway parking lot located a half-mile west of the park entrance.

You may not have to hike far to enjoy the stunning Cascades, which were also stunning decorated in ice and snow. But for those of us who enjoy a longer hike, there are miles of trails open for hikers. Trails in this park even connect with the Superior Hiking Trail and the North Shore State Trail.

The Cascade River drops a total of 900 feet within the last three miles as it flows to Lake Superior. If you want to enjoy all 900 feet, gear up for the Cascade River Superior Hiking Loop. This 7.8 mile loop is a rugged day hike that leads you up one side of the Cascade River and back along the other side.

We didn’t hike the entire Cascade River Superior Hiking Loop, but after we had taken in the falls, we did hike up to Lookout Mountain. This trail gains 600 feet in elevation and offers fantastic views of Lake Superior, the Cascade River Valley, and the Sawtooth Mountain range.

If you like backpacking, there is a lovely backpacking site with a shelter near the Lookout Mountain overlook.

After we hiked back down, we crossed the highway and took in the moody waves on Lake Superior. If you prefer shorelines to elevation changing hikes, Cascade River also has a 1.5-mile one-way Shoreline Trail.

Cascade Lodge

And if you are visiting Cascade River State Park in the winter, you might be interested in some nearby dog-friendly lodging. Cascade Lodge is a perfect solution.

According to their website, the Cascade Lodge property has been enticing visitors since the 1920s. The North Shore come onto the tourist radar in the middle of the 19th century. This was when wealthy socialites began to arrive in the summers. The original Cascade Lodge and three adjacent structures were built to accommodate wealthy Duluthians on their weekend jaunts.

Ninety years later, Cascade Lodge is still welcoming guests. And happily, our four-legged companions are included on the guest list. While dogs are not allowed in the main lodge, the Basecamp rooms and Cabins allow dogs with minimal restrictions.

We stayed in the Basecamp unit pictured below. The second picture is taken from right off the front porch.

A $15/night per pet fee is added charged in all cabins and basecamp units. Additionally, no more than 2 pets are allowed in any of the units. Cascade Lodge also requests that pets are kept off of the furniture. And if pets are on the furniture, they request that you use a sheet to cover the furniture first.

We brought a blanket to cover the bed with, but we were also pleasantly surprised to be greeted with a pet gift bag when we arrived. This bag included a doggy waste bag, a sheet to cover the bed with, and a dog treat for the pups to enjoy.

An added benefit of staying at Cascade Lodge, is that hiking trails connect the Lodge property to the miles of hiking trails at Cascade River State Park. So you can walk right out of your cabin and hit the trails.

Temperance River State Park

Like Cascade River State Park, Temperance River State Park offers stunning waterfall views within a mile of Highway 61. The Temperance River Gorge Trail is only 0.25 miles one-way and offers a paved trail to a deck with a view of Hidden Falls. The trail then transitions to gravel and rock stairs as you climb to the clifftops above the gorge.

But don’t stop after the first quarter mile. Take your dog deeper into this state park by hiking the Hiking Club loop (which we did) or hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail to Upper Falls or Carlton Peak. During November, all of these trails are lightly populated (just make sure to be aware of when hunting is allowed and take care to avoid trails open to hunters.)

George Crosby Manitou State Park

George Crosby Manitou State Park is the only state park on Minnesota’s North Shore whose entrance is not directly located off of highway 61. But don’t worry, you still don’t have to drive too far to experience this slightly more remote state park.

While we did not visit this state park on our November weekend, we will be back in the spring to explore. With several backcountry campsites right along the Manitou River and another cascading waterfall to enjoy, this park is likely to be just as amazing as the other 7 state parks along the North Shore.

Be aware, if you are visiting in the winter, only the parking lot by the registration kiosk will be open.

Tettegouche State Park

Tettegouche State Park, the next state park as you drive south, has something for everyone. From rocky beaches to steep cliffs to the highest waterfall completely contained inside of Minnesota, outdoor enthusiasts have a lot to discover.

During our November trip to the North Shore, Tettegouche State Park was one of our last stops with the dogs. We took the short hike from the visitors center (which is very modern and even includes an electric car charging station) to Shovel Point. The views of cliffs along the Lake Superior shoreline were fantastic.

But next time we visit, a trip to the rocky beach of Lake Superior is definitely called for. And of course, a hike to High Falls on the Baptism River will be a requirement.

This was the busiest state park that we visited this weekend. We actually passed two different groups of hikers on the short journey to Shovel Point. However, the further away from the visitors center you hike, the fewer people you are likely to encounter.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

While the historic lighthouse is a big draw for many tourists, this Split Rock Lighthouse State Park also contains miles of dog-friendly hiking trails. In fact, one of the first North Shore hikes Glia and I ever completed was the Split Rock River Loop. It is an amazing hike with plenty of river views and two waterfalls.

The park states that a bridge is currently out on the Split Rock River Loop, so, unfortunately, you won’t be able to hike the 4.5-mile loop in its entirety. Personally, it is still worth it to hike the side with waterfalls. While I have yet to see them frozen, they are stunning in the summer.

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry Falls State Park is the closest North Shore state park to Duluth. As a result, it receives a large amount of summer traffic. Visiting this park in late fall can be an excellent option to reduce the number of tourists you have to share your waterfall views with.

Be aware, that later in the winter, many of Gooseberry’s trails are closed to hikers and dogs, as they are groomed for cross-country skiing. Thankfully all of the waterfall view trails are designated for hikers year-round. And I am sure these falls look fantastic frozen.

The pictures included below are of the falls in the summer, when we hiked this section of the Superior Hiking Trail. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop to visit the falls half-frozen in November. After visiting Grand Portage, Cascade River, Temperance River, and Tettegouche State Parks we ran out of time to revisit Gooseberry.

Late Fall/Early Winter on the North Shore

The North Shore of Minnesota is a fantastic dog-friendly destination year-round. But we found the peace and quiet of late fall/early winter to be extra special. There is something special about having most of the trails to yourselves that improves any hiking experience. And the half-frozen waterfalls created such stunning natural beauty.

Although we had to obtain lodging overnight rather than backpacking on the trails, we were happy to find several dog-friendly hotel/lodge options. An added benefit of the cooler weather was that we were able to leave the dogs in the car briefly in order to run into stores or restaurants, something that isn’t possible during a warm MN summer day.

Just remember, if you visit in November, pack something blaze orange. November is hunting season in Minnesota and many of the state parks have sections open to hunters.

Other than that, what are you waiting for! Go ahead and plan a dog-friendly winter vacation to the North Shore of Minnesota.

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