Grand Marais, Minnesota, Part 1: City, Campground, Food, and Drink
Grand Marais, Minnesota is a small town in far northeast Minnesota on Lake Superior. It’s one of the northern most towns in the North Shore geographic region that reaches south to Duluth, MN. In 2015, it was voted America’s Coolest Small Town. Phil’s aunt and uncle live in Grand Marais and we first visited together in 2012.
Grand Marais Campground
The city owns and manages the campground in Grand Marais -- a large campground that lines Lake Superior and the Grand Marais harbor -- and it’s one of our favorite campgrounds. Our first visit in May 2012 we stayed just a couple nights since it was still very spring-like and rained most of the time we were there. (Rain isn’t usually very fun in a tent!)
In 2015, after moving into our pop up camper, our goal was to find the beautiful shores of Lake Superior in Grand Marais to escape the awful heat/humidity combination in Kanas. We ended up delaying our time in Grand Marais there a week because there were no week-long, full hook-up spots available and we had not made any reservations. From what we can tell, reservable spots fill up quickly all summer long when reservations open in the spring. We got lucky finding a spot to stay just a week past our original timeline (we stayed in Duluth first, instead). We were able to stay a second week in Grand Marais when a lake view spot opened up (the beginning of September is the time the seasonal visitors begin to leave).
In 2016 we made reservations for just two nights in September with the plan that an awesome lake front spot would open up as they often do towards the end of the season (most people who stay for the season start leaving after Labor Day weekend). We ended up getting to moving into the spot we had the year before!
During our first trip in Grand Marais, we tried The Angry Trout Cafe - the upscale bistro with excellent fresh fish and very tasty trout. A decent wine and beer menu. This year, we tried their walleye sandwiches off the lunch menu and sat on the deck soaking up the sunshine.
Another place we tried during our first time in Grand Marais in 2012 was Hughie’s Tacos. Good Mexican food made special by the fried flour tortillas *drool* (For my Des Moines brethren, these were almost as good as Tasty Tacos!)
I also HIGHLY recommend to go to World’s Best Donuts - but don’t dilly-dally. Their selection will be low by early afternoon and they close up as soon as what they made fresh that day has sold.
We visited Java Moose quite frequently during our two-week stay in 2015 as we weren’t really on vacation and needed wi-fi for working. Java Moose was within walking distance for us from the campground and highly convenient as Phil and I could “head to work” at any time we wanted since we just had a 5-7 minute walk!) The coffee, espresso and chai is delicious and if you plan on working through lunch, they have great soup options and simple, cheap but good sandwiches. In 2016, we had acquired an unlimited data plan (for our work and play needs) and didn’t need to use the coffee shop wifi so much. Still, we make it a rule to occasionally spend time apart (weird, I know) so I still worked here a couple days over our visit.
Voyageur Brewing had opened just a few months prior to our arrival in 2015. We enjoyed our flights and tried a couple very creative appetizers (think Korean-inspired tacos). We visited a few times in 2016 as well, soaking up any sun from their roof top bar. It’s as dreamy as it sounds.
Dockside Fist Market is just that: a fish market that has a crew going out every morning for the daily catch. You can buy fresh fish to go and take home at night (along with some specialty foods and gifts) or you can order the fish and chips or chowder to eat in. And you’ll absolutely want to order the fish and chips because they will (I’m 99% sure) be the best fish and chips you’ve ever had. This is hands down the most affordable and most delicious meal you can get in Grand Marais. (And I’m drooling while thinking about it!)
In 2016, Phil purchased salmon and herring for our dinner from Dockside. He smoked the herring and, even though it was his first time smoking fish, it turned out amazing.
There are a couple bars in Grand Marais and we enjoy the craft beer selection (lots of Minnesota and upper-midwest selections) and the bartenders’ company in the lower bar area at the Gun Flint Tavern. We also enjoyed their roof-top space complete with live bands more than once.
- Campground Wifi: reliable, decent campground wifi is kind of like a 4 leaf clover. Not something you should expect to find often. Wifi was usable near the office but in no way reached the whole, rather large campground.
- Campground Laundry: Laundry services is on our “Nice To Have” amenity list and not mandatory so not a big deal that there's not one here. There are two laundrymats in Grand Marais. We recommend the one up the hill maybe a mile from the campground - it has a great view of Lake Superior!
- Grand Marais is small but is very busy in the summer. In 2015, we escaped from the rush of Labor Day weekenders by renting a canoe, heading up the Gun Flint Trail and finding a lake (there are a few to choose from).
- It may be because we’re way up north or because of state/county laws but beer especially, from the local liquor store seemed high (again, we were living in a college town with lots of craft beer options at pretty low prices). At minimum, $9 for a 6-pack of average craft-beer quality at the state-owned store in town. Our suggestion: just get a 12 pack of something for $14-$16; much better value!
Part 2 will include things to do outdoors (it’s a lot) and other local areas of interest!
And a little video of our time in Grand Marais:
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