Tag Archives: Minnesota Motorcycle Rides

Minnesota Lakes Loop | Favorite Ride

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Skyline Parkway Scenic Byway provides stunning views of downtown Duluth and Lake Superior. Photo by Alyssa Hei.

Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, is ranked 12th among U.S. states in terms of land area but 9th in terms of water within its borders. This favorite ride visits the largest – Lake Superior – and others in a 200-mile loop that starts and ends in Duluth and has Ely at its northernmost point.

This simple day ride has evolved. I’ve ridden it at least once a summer for more than 30 years, starting with a 1978 BMW R100, then a 1981 BMW R80GS, and currently a 2007 BMWR1200R. Just as those bikes have changed, so has the road.

Minnesota Lakes Loop

Scan QR code above to view route on REVER, or click here

It’s not my favorite ride, either. I don’t have a favorite ride, other than the next one. This is because every time I ride, I feel noticeably better. For me, there is nothing like the calming, clarifying effect of self-directed motion, and riding a motorcycle might be the richest delivery system for obtaining this benefit ever devised. So, commute riding to work, or around this loop, it’s all the same. Every ride is my favorite ride.

Check out more of Rider‘s Favorite Rides

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Located at Two Harbors, Split Rock Lighthouse opened in 1909 and sits on a 130-foot cliff overlooking Lake Superior. Photo by Paul Vincent.

Starting from Duluth, at Canal Park, proceed along the North Shore of Lake Superior on State Route 61 to Two Harbors. Turn left and start riding due north on County Road 2. (Alternatively, you can ride farther up the shore, and a few miles past Silver Bay you’ll come to Illgen City, which isn’t actually a city, or even a town or village. It’s just a T-intersection where State Route 1 begins. There you turn left.)

Minnesota Lakes Loop
The largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior covers nearly 32,000 square miles. Riding along its North Shore is a highlight of this route.

The ride is fairly flat along the North Shore, but it climbs as it heads inland, and soon you are surrounded by a second-generation forest of Norway pine, white birch, alder, and spruce. It’s as remote and empty-feeling a forest landscape as you’ll find anywhere in Alaska, Canada, or Siberia.

After heading north for 46 miles, County Road 2 dead-ends at Route 1. Hang a left toward Ely. Wildlife you might encounter includes white-tailed deer, moose, timber wolves, black bears, beavers, racoons, squirrels, loons, blackbirds, bald eagles, and a variety of ducks, geese, grouse, and partridge. Human encounters will be loggers driving big trucks, fishermen carrying rooftop canoes, occasional lumbering motorhomes, and a few Subaru-driving campers and hikers. There’s also a thin smattering of settlers and a couple little roadhouse bars.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
After turning north at Two Harbors, this route enters a vast, empty part of northeastern Minnesota, passing by a few of the state’s 10,000 lakes. County Road 2 is mostly straight, but State Route 1 winds its way gracefully through dense forest that’s home to plenty of wildlife but few people. Keep your wits about you and be prepared for emergencies, because it’s a remote area without many services.
Minnesota Lakes Loop

This old Route 1 has evolved. Back in the 1980s, its asphalt surface was shoulderless, rough, narrow, and already worn out, with plenty of tight 15-25 mph banked and closely linked corners which were fun to try at 30-45 mph. It was like a bumpier, frost-damaged version of the Tail of the Dragon, with enough kinks, tight corners, and expansion heaves to make any hard-ridden bike’s shocks and tires a little warm. Back then, this road was so tight, and for such long stretches, it was a great training area for young riders wanting to improve their skills. The mature forest whizzed by only a few feet from your elbows and knees, greatly adding to the sensation of speed. Boy, was it ever fun. No time to lollygag by looking into narrow clearings flashing by, or across the numerous small lakes, streams, and ponds, hoping to spot exotic wildlife. Nope, I’ve never seen a single moose up there, or a wolf, yet that is where a bunch of them are known to live. Eyes on the road.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Photo by Alyssa Hei

Not much of that fun old stretch of highway remains today. Most of it has been improved and widened to modern standards for the convenience and safety of loggers, fisherman, tourists, and locals. It’s still all scenic and curvy, but now it’s dozens of smoothly linked, higher-speed sweepers, and most of the sides include nice shoulders with decent runoffs. Those unyielding rocks and trees of the primordial forest are now at least 10 to 12 feet away from your elbows. Thanks, MnDOT. Well done. You’ve transformed a hillbilly hooligan-rider’s haven into a delightful sport-touring and touring rider’s experience.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Throughout downtown Ely are 19 different murals, including “The End of An Era,” which celebrates the town’s mining history.

The apogee of this loop is the city of Ely, famous partly for mining but mostly as a jump-off point for canoe trippers wanting to paddle the endless lakes and rivers of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and explore Voyageurs National Park. With a little portaging here and there, you can just about paddle all the way to the Rockies, and in the 1700s lots of hard men did just that to trade with the natives for beaver pelts, which were in great fashion-demand across Europe then.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Ely is a charming little town on the edge of Minnesota’s vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

You can purchase locally handmade moose-hide mukluks, choppers, custom canoe paddles, and all kinds of gallery artwork and camping gear in Ely, so allow some walkabout time. There’s also a park, a theater, camping, motels, and cottages if you are inclined to linger overnight. Delicious sit-down meals are offered at several nice joints. You can choose from two brands of gasoline and even buy the no-ethanol premium most older bikes like best. The vibe is Western ski town without mountains, just an endless, roadless wilderness of lakes and forests as far as you can dream. Or paddle.

Minnesota Lakes Loop
Built in the early 1900s, the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge connects the city of Duluth with Minnesota Point on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Photo by Alyssa Hei.

To get back to Duluth, ride west through Ely on Route 1, turn left (south) on S. Central Avenue (County Road 21), and ride about 30 miles to the town of Embarrass. Just to the west, turn south again on State Route 135. Follow signs for Aurora via CSAH (County State Aid Highway) 100, and continue to County Road 4, known as the Vermilion Trail, which was first cut as an overland pack-horse wagon trail into this canoe country. At intervals are several worn little iron-mining towns, a scattering of hardscrabble survival settlers, and a few more always-welcoming taverns. Before you know it, you’re back in the mini metropolis of Duluth.

The post Minnesota Lakes Loop | Favorite Ride first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Great Lakes Getaway: Touring Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan

Great Lakes Getaway
The number of double-track dirt roads in the Great Lakes area is countless, tempting travelers off the snaky paved highways with their promise of adventure. (Photos by the author)

I arrive in Duluth, Minnesota, in the middle of the night, welcomed by a cleansing wind blowing off Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. The West had been ablaze for weeks when I’d departed California two days before, and smoke from those massive fires had gathered, unasked, across the Plains to form a thick, murky blanket. My eyes and throat are still burning as I hobble, ass whipped, from my BMW R 1200 GS to my waiting hotel room.

Great Lakes Getaway

Scan QR code to view route on REVER, or click here

I’ve just started on a 6-week ride and my first official stop is a visit to the Aerostich factory to catch up with my old friend, Andy Goldfine. Andy and I go back to the mid-80s when we were starting in the motorcycle industry, him as the founder of Aerostich and me as an associate editor at Rider. I zipped up my first Roadcrafter the day we met and have since appreciated no gear – or friendship in the business – more.

Listen to our interview with Andy Goldfine on the Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Great Lakes Getaway
A meet-up with Aerostich founder Andy Goldfine and his riding buddy, John Grinsel.

Duluth has always charmed me with its terraced streets and historic port town vibe. Spending a day off the bike here is a joy. I’m able to hang out at Aerostich and watch as suits are cut and stitched. Some would call this a factory, but it’s much more like a workshop where skilled technicians craft riding apparel.

After enjoying a classic biker breakfast the next morning at the Duluth Grill with Andy and his “most curmudgeonly riding friend” John Grinsel, an 80-something-year-old character who rides up to 20,000 miles each year with a pipe in his mouth and a tiny pup named Moose poking out of his top box, I’m back in the saddle of the GS heading north around the edge of the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Great Lakes Getaway
We’ve all seen the occasional pup as co-pilot, but none as adorable as John Grinsel’s 3-lb dog, Moose, who pops his head out of a modified Givi top case when he wants to check out the view.

The Greatest Lake

Behaving more like an inland sea than a lake, Superior is massive, holding 10% of the world’s fresh surface water. It and the other Great Lakes to the east are so dynamic they create their own weather patterns. Today, I’m riding through a Scotch mist I’m not sure I can blame on the lake, and it’s giving my finger squeegee a workout.

I’m riding a loaner R 1200 GS Rallye edition I’ve had for seven months. I’ll never get enough of the GS bikes, and over three decades I’ve used them to explore five continents. Having been one of BMW’s flagship models for four decades, the “big” GS was legitimately the first travel bike to be truly versatile, but what I find most endearing is the way the chatty boxer Twin feels like an old friend every time I fire one up. It’s a pleasant bike to ride anywhere, including roads like Minnesota’s super scenic State Route 61 along the North Shore.

Great Lakes Getaway
If there’s one thing that’s undeniable about these Midwestern states, especially their more rural areas, it’s how genuinely nice the people are. Everywhere you go.

By the time I reach Grand Marais, it’s clearly storming hard to the north, and I retreat back down the highway, ducking into the famous Betty’s Pies for a slice and a coffee. I love this place, and if I weren’t on a bike, in the rain, I’d take an entire 5 Layer Chocolate Cream Pie to go.

Great Lakes Getaway
I ate my slice of 5 Layer Chocolate Cream Pie so fast Betty’s Pies had to send me a photo.

Early the next morning, the sun is out and I’m in Wisconsin exploring the bottom edge of Superior. While I’d traveled to the top of the lake a few years back, the southern section was a mystery. I throttle the GS up Wisconsin’s Lake Superior Scenic Byway, State Route 13, connecting fishing villages to waterfalls to sandy beaches and orchards.

Great Lakes Getaway
Exploring Northern Michigan on the venerable R 1200 GS was a delight. The people, the scenery, the roads, but also the intriguing history of spots like the town of Ironwood and the famous Leg’s Inn, which waits at the top of M-119, aka the Tunnel of Trees.

The Road to Pictured Rocks

I want to shoot up Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula to Copper Harbor on U.S. Route 41, and not just because the road looks amazing on the map. I’ve heard there are monks who bake delicious treats and sell preserves they make from local fruit at The Jampot bakery. But I’m short on time and even shorter on tires. The Continental TKC80s I opted for seven months back now have more than 6,500 miles on them and my replacements are waiting at a dealership 700 miles away, which means limiting side trips.

Great Lakes Getaway
The pristine beaches near Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore were empty and an ideal rest stop.

So, I head from Ashland, Wisconsin, straight for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the recommendation to ride County Road H-58. And wow, what a sweet road. I hear it was even more fun to ride before it was fully paved in 2010, but today the 69 miles of smooth shaded corners and flowing undulations ride like a song. And for the other senses? The beautiful lake up here is edged by colorful sandstone cliffs and unspoiled sandy coves.

When you’re on an adventure bike, another thing to love about Michigan is its more than 3,100 miles of off-road vehicle trails, proudly documented and promoted on the state government’s website, and on Pure Michigan, a site sponsored by Michigan’s lead economic development agency. How civilized for these Midwestern states to celebrate their off-roading opportunities instead of quashing them.

Great Lakes Getaway

But you hardly need a map to find a tempting two-track here, which is the reason I’m not making good time on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but finally I’m at the famous Mackinac Bridge, gearing up to ride its five swaying miles to the Lower Peninsula. Yup, Big Mac is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world and it’s built to swing (apparently, up to 35 feet at its center span), and on a windy day, you can feel it, as I did when I crossed it years back on a Harley Ultra Glide Classic.

Great Lakes Getaway
The Old Post Office Museum encapsulates the history of Grand Marais, Michigan, which visitors can explore free of charge.

Especially in Michigan

But today it’s only breezy, and purring across the impressive bridge on the GS is a joy. I don’t have time to stop in touristy Mackinaw City because I want to ride some small roads I’d missed on my last trip, starting with M-119 from Cross Village to Harbor Springs, aka the Tunnel of Trees.

Great Lakes Getaway
Though not a fast road, Michigan’s famous Tunnel of Trees and its 137 snaky corners were high on my list of must-rides.

I approach from the north, stopping at the historic Polish-themed Legs Inn in Cross Village where you can spend hours taking in all the details of wood and stonework, or if you’re hungry, enjoy some kielbasa and pierogi. The famous 20-mile section of M-119 that kicks off from here is narrow, curvy, and truly a tunnel of foliage, and I’m sure its beauty is staggering in the fall, but it loses points as a premium motorcycle road for its 35-mph speed limit and profusion of deer and driveways. Still, those 137 corners are a lovely way to spend time.

Great Lakes Getaway
The GS I was riding was capable and comfortable, not to mention photogenic, even when encumbered by my ugly orange tent.

After an overnight in Petoskey, I head for Traverse City and M-22. If there’s one thing that’s undeniable about these Midwestern states, especially their more rural areas, it’s how genuinely nice the people are. Everywhere you go. The M-22 is recommended to me by a new friend, and I take my time exploring Suttons Bay, Northport, and the Leelanau Peninsula’s pretty lakes, all miniatures next to a hulking Lake Michigan.

Great Lakes Getaway
Leg’s Inn in Cross Village, Michigan

In Glen Arbor, I indulge in house-made cherry ice cream at the original Cherry Republic and slip a jar of cherry salsa in a saddlebag for later. I do not partake in the pit spitting at the establishment’s Olympic-size cherry spitting pit (the world record is 93 feet, 6.5 inches).

In addition to gorgeous views of the lake and rolling farmland, this part of Michigan has local wines to taste, dunes to explore, and apples to pick. The longer I spend on M-22, the more I realize it’s not just a road to the people in this area, M-22 represents a lifestyle. In fact, the M-22 highway signs have been stolen so often – 90 signs in three years – the Michigan DOT dropped the M on some replacements so they show only the number 22. If you missed your chance to nab a sign, there are plenty of places along the highway where you can buy a fake, as well as upscale M-22 apparel and souvenir tchotchkes.

Great Lakes Getaway
“M-22” has come to represent a lifestyle, not just an awesome highway.

And I get it. There’s something about this area (the people? the chill vibe? the scenery?) that just makes you want to stick around and explore every corner. Sadly, I don’t have time or tread for further exploration, and chug east from Manistee to Bay City, overnighting in some basic chain motel and wishing I was back in my tent on the lakeshore. In the morning, I scoot down I-75 to get the GS serviced and shod at BMW Motorcycles of Southeast Michigan. Again, the nicest people.

Great Lakes Getaway
Fields of sunflowers and historic landmarks dot the Great Lakes region.

Over the next five weeks I’ll ride through another 13 states, many of them bucket-list destinations for motorcyclists. And yet I’ll keep thinking about this Great Lakes area and its empty roads, slow pace, and big-hearted locals. If you’ve ridden there, you know. If you haven’t, go. I’ll be right behind you.

Great Lakes Getaway
The highways in this region of the Great Lakes aren’t meant to be traveled fast. A slower pace rewards riders with sweeping scenery and new treasures in every small town.

The post Great Lakes Getaway: Touring Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Highway 61 Remastered: Riding Along Minnesota’s North Shore

Rider Minnesota North Shore Lake Superior
The North Shore of Minnesota may look all pretty. But don’t let it fool you. Billions of years of violence sculpted this land. (Photos by the author and Sahlee Grace Kotoski)

If you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds

— Bob Dylan, “Girl from the North Country”

I had forgotten about that feeling of violence that rises up through the ancient volcanic rock of Minnesota’s North Shore, where Highway 61 carves a thin rivulet of asphalt against a dead mountain range that descends into deep, dangerous water.

Rider Minnesota North Shore REVER map

REVER Route — MN North Shore: Duluth to Gunflint Trail via Highway 61

The sun had yet to rise. The air was cold but there was no frost. Cars with bright lights and loud trucks with loads of lumber cut through the darkness on their way to the Canadian border. My mind wandered, from Bob Dylan’s youth to the geologic time scale to the warm, soft bed my wife and I had just left.

My wife was huddled, bundled tight, hiding from the wind in a wave-carved basalt pocket. Besides a flashlight and the burning ember of my Newport, it was completely dark. Slowly the sun rose, turning purple, red, orange, and finally yellow. The lake turned blue again, and behind the lodge, the forest that covered the mountain came alive with color. It had been over 10 years since I had looked clear to the horizon over Lake Superior.

“It’s hard to believe this place is real,” Sahlee said.

Rider Minnesota North Shore Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited
Regal riding on the Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited.

We were on the third day of a four-day motorcycle trip along Lake Superior to capture the peak autumnal colors before the heavy Minnesotan winter tightened its grip. And it was our first long ride together in many years. We started our journey at St. Paul Harley-Davidson, where we borrowed an Ultra Limited in Vivid Black — a beast of a machine in both weight and power, a 900-pound workhorse designed for regal riding. It turned heads, and with a 114ci Milwaukee-Eight V-twin, it chewed up miles without hesitation.

We had checked into the historic Cascade Lodge, located between Lutsen and Grand Marais — a ski resort and a bohemian art enclave, respectively — shortly before dark the night before, following a 100-mile brisk ride north from Duluth. The lodge was established in 1927 to serve affluent Duluthians and wealthy socialites. Profiting from fishing, forestry, mining, and trade along the Great Lakes, some had predicted that Duluth would rival Chicago. F. Scott Fitzgerald, a Minnesota native, would have fit in well there. Thom McAleer, who has run the Cascade Lodge with his wife since 2017, said business was good year-round, with plenty of motorcyclists in summer and snowmobilers in winter.

Rider Minnesota North Shore Cascade Lodge
The historic Cascade Lodge catered to the wealthy and elite during the early 1900s, now it welcomes motorcyclists and snowmobilers.

The geology of Lake Superior has always fascinated me. It is a history of violence that can still be felt today. Long before human barnacles — from the ghostly-white Scandinavians to the soiled French fur trappers on down to the spirits that guided the Ojibwe — clung to life on this rocky, inhospitable shore, billions of years of primeval and powerful forces created, shaped and sculpted what we see today: the world’s largest freshwater lake that has claimed thousands of mariners’ lives and at least 550 ships, including the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975. 

As we rode into Grand Marais (French for “big swamp”), we followed advice we received the day prior from Andy Goldfine, founder of the legendary riding apparel company Aerostich, and scanned the sky, hoping to see a congregation of seagulls darting at a skiff loaded with fresh herring.

Rider Minnesota North Shore Andy Goldfine Aerostich
The wise and wonderful Andy Goldfine at the Aerostich factory in Duluth, where Roadcrafter suits are made.

“If you sneak behind the Angry Trout Cafe, you can find fishermen cutting up the day’s catch, and freeze packing them to be sent to a rabbi in Chicago to make them kosher,” Goldfine told us.

When we met Goldfine the day before at his factory in west Duluth, we were greeted by a short, thoughtful, balding, and bespectacled man. Andy and I commiserated over our time at the University of Duluth, albeit decades apart, him with his philosophy major and English minor, and me with the exact opposite. As our conversation moved from topic to topic, from technology and its effects on society (good and bad), to the absurdity of the global fashion industry as satirized in the movie “Zoolander,” to the history of Duluth’s post-WWII economy, to global trade and how America has become a consumerism-driven throw-away society and finally trends in motorcycling, it became clear that Goldfine was not just an inventor, but a sage.

Rider Minnesota North Shore Highway 61
The road along the North Shore has few curves, but the scenery is beautiful.

He started Aerostich in 1983, when Duluth was in an economic recession and on the verge of becoming another hollowed-out Rustbelt town. U.S. Steel closed its coke plant in 1979. A decade prior the Air Force shuttered the base that housed the 11th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, a secretive Cold War defense outpost that housed 2,500 to 3,500 servicemen tasked with aircrafts that would be deployed in the event of a Soviet invasion.

When I was living in Duluth 16 years ago, the west side of town was rundown and largely abandoned. Tourism, college kids with bar money, and gentrification have revived the area, with craftspeople, brewers, and restaurateurs operating in clean, modern industrial spaces like you’d find in Brooklyn. Goldfine observed all of the changes to this historic part of town. What hasn’t changed is his philosophy regarding Aerostich’s Roadcrafter suits, which have been an integral part of the riding community for decades.

Rider Minnesota North Shore Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited
With leaves past their fall peak, winter is coming.

“Our customers are everyday riders because Aerostich makes equipment. Just like a farmer’s overalls, a carpenter’s pants, a lawyer’s or banker’s suit, it is the equipment that these professions invest in, not fashion,” Goldfine said. “Our logic is that our products are sacrificial. [A Roadcrafter] keeps you safe from the elements, and say you crash going 60 and you are okay, it did its job.”

We toured Goldfine’s factory, met with his tailors, and checked out his waterproofing testing equipment and impact armor fabrication set-up. When we left, he wished us a happy marriage and I felt better knowing that guys like Andy Goldfine are so dedicated to their craft.

Rider Minnesota North Shore Lake Superior
Sunrise along the North Shore somewhere south of Grand Marais.

From Grand Marais, we rode north and then northwest, 15 or so miles up the beautiful Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway that, further north, terminates at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — a 150-mile stretch of hard-to-reach pristine lakes along the U.S./Canada border that skirts the Laurentian Divide, which separates water flow from either going down to the Gulf of Mexico or up to Hudson Bay. Starting in the 1600s, voyageurs would make a special stop here to collect flint from chert deposits for their rifles.

A loaded lumber truck with two blown-out wheels partially blocked our path up the Gunflint, so we turned around and returned to the lake, thundering down the road on the mighty Ultra Limited as a kaleidoscope of fall colors became a blur.

Rider Minnesota North Shore Split Rock Lighthouse
A 1905 storm that wrecked 30 ships prompted the construction of Split Rock Lighthouse. (Photo by John Steitz)

“The Lake Superior Basin … sits dead center over an ancient rift [that] was active 1.1 billion years ago when Minnesota was really the center of the North American continent,” wrote geologist Ron Morton, in his 2011 book A Road Guide: The North Shore of Lake Superior on Highway 61. “Hot molten magma rose upward from deep within the earth, and as it approached the surface, it caused the crust to arch or bow upward, and then split like an overcooked sausage,” he added. A heavy, miles-deep pancake of basalt lava spread across the region, with larger eruptions piling pyroclastic rocks around the edges of what today is the rugged Lake Superior shoreline. When the volcanic activity stopped, the weight of the lava started to sink the earth.

Rider Minnesota North Shore
Morning coffee at a rustic family cabin.

But long before that, a massive mountain range — larger than the Alps or Rockies today — had formed. As the mountain range eroded over eons, the sinking basin filled with sediment, creating a swampy plain. Then came what’s known as the Last Glacial Period, starting a mere 115,000 years ago. Thick sheets of ice covered the land and pushed southward, violently scooping out the basin like excavators. The earth warmed, the glaciers melted and a lake was formed — the world’s largest in terms of area, third-largest in terms of volume. Geologic instability causes the south and southwestern sides of Lake Superior to rise a few centimeters each year, raising the waterline on the Canadian side.

From Grand Marais, we drove up to the Lutsen Mountains Ski and Summer Resort, where we paid $24 each to take the gondola up to the summit for impressive and expansive views of the landscape. From a western outlook hundreds of feet above the valley floor, the trees were dead brown and red, a couple of days past peak, while to the east, yellows, oranges, and reds mingled with the green, winter-hardened conifers.

Rider Minnesota North Shore Palisade Head
The rhyolitic red rock of Palisade Head and the Tettegouche area is the legacy of ancient lava flows over 1.1 billion years ago.

Our final sightseeing stop was Tettegouche State Park to see Palisade Head, a large rock formation with staggering 300-foot sheer cliffs that end in a jumble of jagged rocks along the shore. I remember coming here when I was in college. The wind would whip so hard it felt as if it would blow you right off the cliff edge, creating a mix of fear and excitement. Palisade Head and I have both aged. It looks and feels the same. Can’t say the same about myself.

Biting cold wind meant that Old Man Winter would arrive soon. Time to get back down to St. Paul to return the Harley and hunker down.

The post Highway 61 Remastered: Riding Along Minnesota’s North Shore first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Iron Range Ramble: Riding Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region

The Emergence of Man Through Steel
The Iron Man statue is actually named “The Emergence of Man Through Steel” and honors miners’ work through the Industrial Age. Photos by the author.

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” says the motorcycling adage. That’s true! Most highlights of motorcycling are experienced during the ride. I choose journeys with an interesting place to turn around (destination) before heading back home. Riding the Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota provides wide choices of appealing destinations and journeys, riding through forests, hills and curves in Minnesota’s “arrowhead.”

Northern Minnesota motorcycle ride
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Aptly named due to the huge iron ore mining economy formed in the late 19th century, we started our ride from the town of Mountain Iron, at the Holiday Inn Express. Riders will appreciate the covered parking for a few motorcycles. The Iron Range Tourism Bureau publishes ride guides every year. My wife Jean and I picked up one at the inn and selected potential routes to try during our few days “on the Range.” We modified and combined our routes to fit in a few destinations that piqued our interests. After our complimentary breakfast, our journey began.

Downtown Cook’s main drag, River Street, is just beggin’ for a parade.
Downtown Cook’s main drag, River Street, is just beggin’ for a parade.

The Mines and Pines tour was our warm-up ride for Memorial Day weekend. Heading north on U.S. Route 53 to Cook, turning west, we rode through the rural settings on Trunk Highway 1. Logging and farming appeared to be the main economic activities. Heading south on County Road 5 there was a noticeable change from farming to tourism as we rode to McCarthy Beach State Park for a break. Out of the saddle, we rehydrated, and off we went.

Mines and Pines tour
The northern part of the Mines and Pines tour is filled with rural settings.

Finally, we arrived at the “mines” part of the Mines and Pines tour. We ended up at the Iron Man, a tribute to the miners who worked the iron mines. After a quick lunch under the shade tree at The Stand, we were refreshed and ready to explore our destination for the day, the Minnesota Discovery Center. The Center is an exhibition of the mining and cultural artifacts associated with mining in the Range. A rail trolley used for transporting miners to and from the mines is still in operation for tourists. Some of the original buildings, homes and boarding houses still stand and are well maintained, providing a glimpse into the past’s daily life above ground.

Minnesota Discovery Center
The mine trolley is still running. Our conductors shared the history and evolution of mining technologies
with us on the loop around an open pit iron mine.

We finished back at our starting point and went out to dinner. We discovered a nice new restaurant in the neighboring town of Virginia, The Northern Divide, which provided an excellent dinner and outstanding service.

The next day was dark and gloomy in the north woods of Minnesota. Another adage for motorcyclists is, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad wardrobe choices.” We mustered up the right perspective with, “Today is a good day to test our rain gear!” Since it was raining, we decided our journey should take us to an indoor destination. More than indoors, we picked an underground destination. Trunk Highway 135 runs from Gilbert north to Tower. It’s smooth and wide, and the forest is cut back from the roadway, providing good visibility for any deer, moose or other forest creatures that might wander onto the roadway.

open pit mine
All the public mine overlooks were closed due to expansion of the mining operations, but we knew a guy who knew a guy who could give us a private tour of the new overlooks still under construction. Mining technologies allowed more efficient open pit mining of lower grade ore. Although the iron ore in the Soudan Mine is much higher quality, steel can be produced at lower costs with ore from the open pit processes.

After we arrived at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, a three-minute elevator ride took us down 2,341 feet below the surface. From there we rode a trolley in total darkness. Arriving at a “stope,” a steplike excavation that is formed as the ore is mined in successive layers, we could see and hear how miners worked one of the richest iron ore mines in the world.

Minnesota Discovery Center
James, our guide, is a geologist and miner with experience in underground mines in North America and South America.

Back on the surface, the rain had stopped but the roads were still wet. Back in our rain suits and off we went to Ely via Trunk Highway 169. The journey on the two-lane road was through heavy forest and light traffic, just the way it should be. We had two destinations in Ely, the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. I can’t say enough about these attractions. The quality and educational value of the displays are superb! We arrived at each just before feeding time, so the wolves and bears were up and active. Both centers have large glass viewing areas great for photographers.

black bear
As the bears meandered back into the woods, it’s time to get back on the motorcycle and head for dinner ourselves.

Backtracking west on Highway 169, then south on Highway 135, our destination for the night was The Lodge at Giants Ridge. It’s open year-round for skiers, travelers and golfers. Tomorrow’s ride would be over to the north shore of Lake Superior.

The North Shore Scenic Drive is a must for any rider. Our destination was Two Harbors, where all the iron ore from the mines comes by rail then ships out to destinations all over the world. County Highway 110 winds through Aurora and Hoyt Lakes, then County Highway 11’s sweepers took us into Silver Bay. I mentioned to Jean, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many shades of green.” The north woods were waking up from the long winter and the brilliant sunshine illuminated the greenery from every angle. Following the designated scenic route, we leaned into the curves going up and over the rolling forest terrain.

Baldwin Yellowstone Mallet #229
Built during World War II, this is one of the “locomotives that defeated Hitler.” Manufacturing the Baldwin Yellowstone Mallet #229 was a higher priority than military tanks and ships. It was so powerful that it pulled ore trains that would require four diesel locomotives today. An average of 10,000,000 tons of ore are shipped every year.

Reaching Silver Bay, we turned southwest on Trunk Highway 61. The road hugs Lake Superior’s north shore. It is smoother and straighter than it used to be, but the scenery is still a beautiful shoreline drive all the way to Two Harbors. Along the way we stopped at The Rustic Inn Café. It has the best pie on the north shore. Although the day was sunny, it was also cool and windy. With a hot cup of coffee, a warm piece of pie and a scoop of ice cream, I agreed with my GPS navigation when it said, “You have reached your destination.”

Source: RiderMagazine.com