Grand Portage, Minnesota, sits on Lake Superior at the state’s northeast corner. And considering its remote location, you might wonder, is Grand Portage worth visiting? Absolutely! It is a great vacation destination and a true hidden gem!
Sharing a northern border with northwestern Ontario, the population of this reservation territory is about 600 people, giving the moose, eagles, bear, timber wolves, and deer plenty of elbow room.
The town derived its name from its fur trading days when traders ported their canoes and fur pelts a grueling 9 miles, passing from Lake Superior to Pigeon River’s navigable waters and the interior beyond.
Grand Portage is a community with long traditions and a thriving culture. This village is one of the first Ojibwe towns in Minnesota and home to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe – Grand Portage Band.
But what is Grand Portage, Minnesota, known for? Most people would point to its winding rivers, stunning waterfalls, picturesque cliffs, and dense forests. One of the most spectacular waterfalls along the Pigeon River reaches 120 feet. In addition to panoramic views, the area is teeming with life.
With 163 nesting species of birds in the boreal forest and bluffs dedicated to eagle watching, animals are at the center of Borderland life. Many wildlife photographers find Grand Portage heaven on earth.
There are always things to do in Grand Portage, Minnesota. It is the perfect destination for outdoor exploration and adventure. Whether it is summer hiking, canoeing, a boating tour of Royal Ise, or winter snowmobiling and snowshoeing, activity is the name of the game.
Life is busy in the small village, but only one local supply store exists. The historical Grand Portage Trading Post mimics the single-stop service of 18th Century trappers.
The trading post is one of the fun things to do in Grand Portage. While you are there, grab hot food, gas, and supplies. There is also a post office and money exchange. If you need additional supplies, the nearest town is 35 miles south.
Interested in a remote getaway in northern Minnesota? Read on for more info!
Looking for a cozy, private cabin to get away from it all? Look no further than Mossy Hollow Cove on Lake Superior! This lovely cabin is set in a gorgeous cove, near Grand port and just 23 miles north of Grand Marais. With two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a loft, there’s plenty of room for your whole family or group of friends. And the best part? The spectacular views of Lake Superior from the cabin’s huge windows! Whether you’re sipping coffee in the rocking chairs on the deck or cozying up by the wood-burning stove, you’ll be able to enjoy the beauty of the lake.
This off-grid cabin is 32 miles from Downtown Grand Marais, set on 10 acres of beautiful land with 700ft of lakeshore on Tom Lake. The cabin is equipped with solar 12V DC power, so you’ll have lights in the evening and USB charging ports for charging devices. There’s also a very nice outhouse on site with a wash station – perfect for getting away from it all! There are several hiking trails in the area, as well as motorized trails nearby, so you can explore the gorgeous scenery to your heart’s content.
This stunning timber frame cabin is built on a hilltop surrounded by 20 acres of old-growth maples. The walls of glass and wrap-around deck bring the outdoors inside, making this the perfect spot to enjoy the fall colors or a winter storm. With Cottage: Hovland Hut’s convenient location 30 minutes north of Grand Marais and near the Canadian border, the Hovland Hut is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
- Most significant landmark – Grand Portage National Monument
- Best park – Grand Portage State Park
- Best free activity – Grand Rendezvous and Powwow
- Best activity for kids – Grand Portage Dog Sled Race
- Best activity for adults – Snowmobiling
- Best food – Island View
- Best nightlife – Grand Portage Lodge and Casino
- Best all-around accommodation – Grand Portage Lodge and Casino
Fun & Best Things to do in Grand Portage, Minnesota
1. Grand Portage Lodge and Casino
Address: 70 Casino Drive, Grand Portage, MN 55605
Grand Portage Lodge and Casino sit along State Highway 61 in Grand Portage, Minnesota. The casino features a 15,000-square-foot gaming casino featuring over 450 video, multi-game, and multi-line slot machines.
Visitors can also try their luck at the casino’s adrenaline-pumping table games, including Blackjack and Progressive Three Card Poker. The Lake Superior Chippewa Indians – Grand Portage Band curates the casino.
Guests have their choice of lodging – a personalized stay at the rustic retreat cabins or full-service North Shore luxury in the Lodge’s rooms and suites. The RV Park is located adjacent to the Marina with full accommodations and amenities.
A Grand Portage day starts at a state-of-the-art fitness facility or with a few laps in the heated pool. There is also a rejuvenating sauna to soothe the soul.
Players can grab a drink at the casual Antlers Lounge in the casino before heading to the Island View restaurant for a succulent steak. The casino deli offers burgers and flatbread for a more casual fare. Then off to the tables for a night of gambling!
See Related: Most Famous Historical Landmarks in Minnesota
2. Pigeon River Waterfalls
Address: 170 Mile Creek Road, Grand Portage, MN 55605
Pigeon River’s 31 miles define the border between the United States and Canada. Carved from the Rove Formation of sedimentary rocks over 1,850 million years ago, the river’s headwaters start in Lake Superior and form part of the Ontario, Canada, and Grand Portage territory border. All three falls are great things to do in Grand Portage with kids. So be prepared for ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs.’
Pigeon River is famous for some of the roughest water terrain in North America. Pigeon River’s waterfalls include High Falls, a breathtaking 120-foot high waterfall, and Middle Falls, a 20-foot high falls further upstream on the Canadian side.
These falls are located in the Grand Portage State Park in Minnesota and the Pigeon River Provincial Park in Canada’s Thunder Bay District, Ontario. Another waterfall upstream from the famous High Falls, Partridge Falls, is only about five miles from the Grand Portage Lodge & Casino.
The drive along Partridge Falls Road is a challenge along a minimum-maintenance road. A 4WD is usually recommended. There is also a short but easy trek along a well-marked easterly .6 mile out and back trail that leads to the water. The trip to the falls is difficult, but don’t give up. The view of the 50-foot-high Partridge Falls, lined on either side with boreal pine, is worth the trek.
3. Grand Portage National Monument
Address: 170 Mile Creek Road, Grand Portage, MN 55605
Take a day break from hiking and visit the Grand Portage National Monument, which is one of the best Grand Portage tourist attractions. The living museum is situated along Lake Superior’s north shore in Grand Portage, Minnesota. The Monument preserves vital Anishinaabeg Ojibwe heritage and the essential history of the area’s involvement in the North American fur trade. This museum is also one of the iconic places to visit in Grand Portage.
Reconstructed buildings such as the Great Hall and historic depot provide a glimpse of a fur trader’s life. The Monument houses over 1,000 museum objects, including archeological artifacts collected from area fur trade sites. The Heritage Center gallery displays thousands of historical documents, photos, maps, and papers. A significant focus of the collection is native Ojibwe artwork, a canoe warehouse, Ojibwe Village, and everyday objects.
Part of the region’s history is the Grand Portage Trail. Surrounded by hardwoods and evergreens, this 8.5-mile route parallels the original portage that voyagers took to transport their canoes and goods.
Beginning with a hike to old Fort Charlotte before a switchback up Mount Rose, the trail takes about seven hours to complete one way. Immaculately maintained by the park service, there are picnic tables, tent platformed areas, and canoe landings along the path.
See Related: Best National Parks to Visit in November
4. Mount Josephine
Address: 170 Mile Creek Road, Grand Portage, MN 55605
Mount Josephine is a majestic summit in the Sawtooth Mountains overlooking Wauswaugoning Bay, Isle Royale, Grand Portage Bay, the Susie Islands, and Pigeon Point. Named for the daughter of an area businessman, Josephine was also an avid hiker.
Located on the Grand Portage Reservation, the mountain offers visitors a challenging 1,342-foot hike to its peak. The trailhead is barely marked. But the guides at the National Monument Visitor Center will help answer questions. Mount Josephine is a prominent area landmark with spectacular panoramic views, but the ledge rock can be uneven and slippery.
For those looking for a head start to the top, the Grand Portage trailhead shaves about half of the trek, about 656 feet, to the iconic old fire tower and several prominent points. Hiking up Mount Josephine is one of the top things to do in Grand Portage.
5. Grand Portage State Park
Address: 9393 East Highway 61, Grand Portage, MN 55605
Grand Portage State Park covers 278 sprawling acres in the northeastern part of Minnesota. This Minnesota state park is a day-use park with no overnight camping, but it still has some of the best things to do in Grand Portage.
The park’s flora consists of mixed hardwood, quaking aspen, and paper birch, with occasional eastern white pine, white spruce, and balsam fir. The park smells like Christmas, even in the summertime.
Spotting animals going about their daily tasks is expected in the park. Visitors may see moose, red fox, black bear, white-tailed deer, beaver, and river otter.
The park is home to Pigeon River’s breathtaking waterfalls. It is also home to fantastic hiking trails for all levels.
The easy, .4mile Grand Portage Picnic Trail is a flat, out-and-back trail that ends in picnic tables. This route averages seven minutes to complete. This trail is excellent for birding and walking. If you want to continue on the unpaved path, there is a Northern Border Historical Marker. Leashed canines are welcome.
Another easy trail is the Superior Hiking: Jackson Lee. An eight-mile out and back paved trail — taking about 3.5 hours to complete. Small streams and fields of wildflowers are the highlights of this path.
See Related: Best Hikes Near Minneapolis, Minnesota
6. Grand Portage Dog Sled Race
Address: PO Box 16506, Duluth, MN, 55816
If you time your visit, you can catch the Grand Portage Dog Sled Race. Known as the John Beargrease race, it is a qualifier for the Iditarod. The Beargrease is a 300-mile race that begins in Duluth, Minnesota, and ends at the Grand Portage Lodge & Casino. It is one of the most popular Grand Portage attractions.
Minnesota’s North Shore has hosted the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon race for over half a century, which celebrates and honors the spirit of John Beargrease and brings hundreds of mushers to the area. The series features several races, including the longest sled dog marathon in the lower 48 states. Each race fights the state’s extreme winter weather and terrain.
John Beargrease was born in 1858 to Anishinabe Chief, Moquabimetem. The family lived traditionally through hunting, ﬁshing, and trapping. Between 1879 and 1899, John Beargrease and his brothers delivered the mail between Two Harbors and Grand Marais. during winter, he traveled by dogsled. His dedication helped stabilize the community and region.
7. Grand Rendezvous and Pow Wow
Address: 170 Mile Creek Road, Grand Portage, MN 66505
The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa celebrates their heritage and history at the Grand Rendezvous and Pow Wow. Throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries, the North West Company Rendezvous was held here at Grand Portage. The fur traders delivered pelts each August from wintering Canadian posts down the historic Grand Portage.
Held at the Grand Portage National Monument, the opening parade features hundreds of dancers and costumed staff bearers leading the pow-wow dancers to the arena. The Pow Wow Grand Entry includes talks and activities.
Today, the Grand Portage Territory holds a music festival with hands-on workshops, dancing, demonstrations, and historic Ojibwe reenactments. Traditional and area food, music, and artisan stalls complement the annual Pow Wow.
Still, wondering what to see in Grand Portage at the annual Pow Wow? One of the more unique attractions is the Hot Air Balloons. Count Paolo Andreani, a wealthy Italian nobleman and aeronaut, explored the Great Lakes region, coming to Grand Portage in a birchbark canoe in 1790. The balloons celebrate his dedication to aeronautics and exploration. All cultural activities are free and open to the public.
See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in Minnesota
8. Isle Royale National Park
Address: 402 Upper Road, Grand Portage, MN 55605
Isle Royale National Park is a rich historical location, settled by Native American copper miners long before the days of Christopher Columbus. Isle Royale National Park, extending over 50 miles, is the “eye” of Lake Superior. The main island is 45 miles long and 8 miles wide, covering over 571,790 acres.
In the late 1800s, it became the home of numerous commercial fishing families and, in 1980, was designated a biosphere reserve. It is home to wolves, moose, otters, beavers, and foxes. It is also a nesting and migratory area for various bird species, including cormorants, gulls, loons, ducks, and eagles.
Those who tour the island can see the Spirit Little Cedar Tree, also known as the witching tree. This white cedar is over 400 years old. The area also holds the shallow water wreck of the 182-foot steamship America and the Rock of Ages Lighthouse.
Looking for hotels to book near the national park? Booking.com offers the best accommodations and govs the best deals. And if you’re looking for a place to rent, VRBO offers the most competitive rates.
9. Snowmobile Trails
Address: Grand Portage, MN 55605
Grand Portage is known for snowmobiling and snowshoeing, and snowmobiling is one of the best free things to do in winter in Grand Portage. In winter and early spring, many routes have a snow depth of 35″ to 40″ and trail bases of 14″ to 16″ of snow. Significant snowfalls, with a bit of help from Hollow Rock Resort and Grand Portage Lodge & Casino groomers, provide a foundation for some of the best-maintained snow trails in the state.
Often referred to as “Snowmobile Heaven,” Grand Portage has over 100 miles of snow trails divided into 19 separate well-marked and patroled trails that crisscross the territory. And anywhere you can snowmobile, you can snowshoe, or even cross-country ski!
Skyline Trail parallels the Portage Trail, and Teal Lake Trail begins and ends near the Canadian Border at Ryden’s Border Store. Partridge Falls Trail is an easy way to get to the landmark in the winter.
See Related: Best Skiing Resorts in Minnesota
10. The Gunflint Trail
Address: Gunflint Trail, Minnesota 55604
The Gunflint Trail trailhead is 60 miles interior of Grand Portage and is well known for pristine snowmobile trails. The Gunflint Trail starts north of Grand Marais, climbing 600 feet in the first few miles to a maple ridge line. At the top is Pincushion Mountain Overlook, a 180° Lake Superior overlook.
The trail continues northwest to Trail’s End Campground near Saganaga Lake. The road ends and loops around to let you know you are done.
As part of the trail, The Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway is one of three nationally designated scenic byways in the Superior National Forest. It’s a wonderfully peaceful drive, but keep an eye out for moose on the side of the highway – they’ll pretty fearless and will likely shrug off a car collision (while your motor gets totaled!).
See Related: Ideas for Weekend Getaways in Minnesota
11. Eagle Watching
Address: 50 Casino Drive, Grand Portage, MN 55605
In Grand Portage, approximately 11 miles southwest of Grand Portage Lodge & Casino, is an area where Bald Eagles nest. Other places in the area where eagles have been spotted are the Westlake Nature Preserve, Long Lake, Gravel Lake, and Ramona Park.
Minnesota is home to the largest nesting bald eagle population outside of Alaska. The average wingspan of an eagle is 7.5 feet, with a female bald eagle weighing 10-14 pounds. They fly 30 mph and dive at 100 mph. An eagle can see a rabbit running from three miles away.
Bald eagles are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1940. But they are truly spectacular in wildlife photographs if you can catch one mid-flight.
Why is it called Grand Portage?
In the 17th Century, Grand Portage became the North American fur trade center. Grand Portage was named because the trading route started with a grueling 9-mile portage or carrying of boats and cargo from Lake Superior’s north shore to Pigeon River’s navigable waters – bypassing a series of treacherous waterfalls.
What is a unique thing to do in Grand Portage?
Approximately 11 miles southwest of Grand Portage Lodge & Casino is an area where Bald Eagles nest. Other places to spot Bald Eagles in Grand Portage are by Long Lake and Ramona Park.
What is the best thing to do with kids in Grand Portage?
Wildlife photography at Eagle’s Bluff or on one of the hundreds of miles of hiking trails is the best thing to do with kids on the Grand Portage Reservation. It will keep everyone busy and could become a lifelong hobby.
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