Mini-Minnesota Vacation #5: Grand Marais and Oberg Mountain

The Path to Enlightenment, Grand Marais, MN

Sometimes you can visit a town many times for decades but still discover new places in it. That’s the way Grand Marais, Minnesota, was when Russ and I meandered north for a weekend in our Scamp.

We were too slow on the uptake to get a reservation at the municipal campground, which is right on the shores of the harbor. But half of the sites (the ones closest to Lake Superior) are first-come, first-served, and there are a lot of them. We figured if we arrived early in the afternoon, we might have a good chance of finding an open site. We didn’t have the option of travelling during a different weekend because we had reservations for a concert that wasn’t happening any other time. We made backup plans to camp in a friend’s driveway and headed out.

I’m sure the suspense is killing you. Did they find a campsite? Yes, we did. In fact, we had five to choose from, thanks to the shortness of our Scamp (13 feet). After we got situated, we had several hours before supper and the concert. We meandered around the campground, getting the lay of the land. We walked into town and along the way, checked out the fishing museum that’s on the shore of the harbor. It features an old fish house complete with fisherman mannequins, a fishing boat, and a smoke house.

Sailboat Layercake. The Hjordis sailing out of the Grand Marais Harbor.

In town, we visited the Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery, one of the places I’ve never been inside, despite coming to Grand Marais periodically for fifty years. Unbeknownst to us, the town was hosting a plein air (outdoors) painting festival and competition that week. The artists’ works were displayed in the gallery – a most impressive and inspiring collection!

No visit to the town is complete for us unless we stop in at the Ben Franklin Department Store. The owners are friends who we don’t get to see nearly enough. We also had time to visit the Sivertson Art Gallery, which I think I’ve only been inside once – another notable collection of local artists and photographers.

After supper at the Angry Trout Cafe, which features local foods (note, the Trout is open all year now but is closed sometimes in November), we headed north just outside of town for the concert. The artist is Michael Monroe, an acoustic guitar, ukulele and glass flute musician who’s popular in Minnesota (and other parts of the country, I’m sure!) He offers log cabin concerts. I signed up for our concert months in advance and was dismayed to learn along the way that Michael and his partner Deb sold their log cabin. But they found a friend who was willing to host the concert in their cabin right on the shore of Lake Superior, literally eight feet away from the water.

Musician Michael Monroe

With the sound of waves as a backdrop, we enjoyed an intimate concert in a home environment. Michael’s music makes a person feel all warm and fuzzy inside. If you like Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell, you’ll love Michael’s music.

After a peaceful rainy night’s sleep (we were impressed by how quiet the campground was), the following day, we pursued more natural activities. Right next door to the campground is the Sweetheart’s Bluff Nature Area. An easy, wheelchair-friendly trail begins on the end of one of the campground loops, offering lake and woodland views. If you’re up for a challenge, take the definitely not wheelchair-friendly black diamond-level trail up the bluff. Be prepared to clamber! But the views of the lake and harbor are worth the effort.

The view of Grand Marais from Sweetheart’s Bluff.

Soon, it was time to vacate our weekend home. One place I wish we would have stopped in Grand Maris is the Gunflint Mercantile. They make THE BEST maple chocolate truffles on Earth. Maybe next time!

On our way home, we stopped just outside of Tofte to hike the Oberg Mountain Trail.  This fairly easy three-mile loop is known for stellar views of the Superior National Forest and Oberg Lake. The Forest Service says the trail gets “medium” usage, but when we were there on a colorful fall day, I would classify the usage as extreme. There were tons of people there and parking was at a premium. It felt more like a major national park attraction than a national forest.

As we hiked through the cedars and maples, fog began to roll in off Lake Superior. The first few overlooks we reached were totally shrouded. So much for stellar views. But we persisted and were rewarded by fog-free views on the other side of the mountain.

Easter Egg Fall. Oberg Lake as seen from Oberg Mountain.

The wildlife seemed used to people. I was able to get a close look at a hairy woodpecker working on a birch. The red squirrels seemed to delight in racing across the trail just steps away. A ruffed grouse took noisy flight nearby.

All the good art we saw must have rubbed off, because I took some pretty darn good photos. Here’s a show of the ones I haven’t already shared.

I hope everyone’s having a good fall. Stay safe, my friends.

6 thoughts on “Mini-Minnesota Vacation #5: Grand Marais and Oberg Mountain

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