The North Shore is a special place year round, with each season bringing different opportunities for adventure. I recently took my girls and one of their friends up north for the weekend and it was one of the best weekend getaways we’ve ever had! I was a little nervous about going up north in the winter because I didn’t want to be driving in snow so I waited to book the hotel room until about three days beforehand; I didn’t have any problem finding a hotel room. We decided to stay in Two Harbors which isn’t very far up the north shore, but it was a good spot to stay for taking day trips.
We left the Twin Cities early, so we would have plenty of time to play in Duluth before going to the hotel for the night. As we drive into Duluth we like to stop at the Thompson Hill scenic rest stop to view Duluth from the top of the hill. It’s a good spot for a potty break and to pick up any brochures you might need – and the view can’t be beat! From there I set the GPS for the Hartley Nature Center for our first stop… snowshoeing!
The Harley Nature Center is an independent non-profit organization focused on environmental education. The building is gorgeous and the park offers plenty of opportunities for exploration. They offer cross-country ski and snow shoe rental. My girls had never been snow shoeing and I was so excited for them to try it. The gentleman that was working that day was extremely helpful. He helped us make sure we all picked out the right gear and he even came outside to help me get the three kids strapped into the snowshoes. If you have never been snow shoeing I would highly recommend trying it out; it’s a great way to get out and ENJOY the snowy weather! My girls are 6 and 4 and they were able to take off on the snowshoes with no problems at all. The nature center has a great network of trails and it was the perfect place for my girls to try out snow shoeing. Once they were tired out, we headed back to the interpretive center where we hung out for awhile and warmed up.
Next we went to the Duluth Depot. The Duluth Depot is a must see in Duluth! The Duluth Depot houses the Duluth Art Institute, St. Louis Historical Society, Veteran’s Memorial Hall and the highlight for us is, of course, the Railroad Museum. The railroad museum has numerous train cars, and over half of them are open to explore. There are engines, cabooses, and various other railroad cars. The kids have a blast being able to explore real trains, and for adults and older kids there is a lot to learn.
On day 2 we spent a little time driving around Superior National Forest. Overall the roads were good, but I would be careful driving around on those roads if it had recently snowed. The kids actually had a great time driving around, the pine trees were coated with snow and it was so beautiful. We took the long way through the forest to get to Lutsen Moutains. Most people go to Lutsen to for skiing. I’m hoping that next year we will be ready to try skiing, but this year we went to ride the new tram that opened in November of 2015. If you aren’t skiing you can still buy a lift ticket to ride the tram. The tram is enclosed, very comfortable and a smooth ride with an incredible view! At the top of the mountain is the ski chalet. We ordered up a round of hot chocolates and took in the view. There is an amazing deck on the chalet with a view of Lake Superior that I could have enjoyed for hours!
Day three was the day we were all the most excited about, and the inspiration for the trip. We were going to go dog sledding! There are numerous dog sledding operations in Minnesota. We picked Stoney Creek Dog Sleds because they offer a short trip perfect for little kids. It was also a cost effective option! Tofte is about an hour and half north of Two Harbors and I knew that we were going to want to make some stops on the way up, so we packed up and left the hotel by 8:30am. We had breakfast at a place in Two Harbors called Judy’s Café, a decent local café.
We stopped at Tettegouche State Park to get a close up look at the ice along the shore that we had been admiring from the car. Tettegouche is a beautiful state park on the shores of Lake Superior. The Baptism River flows into Lake Superior and there are hiking trails along the river down to the lake. The trails were snow packed and the only difficult part for my little ones were the stairs, but it was well worth it for what we saw when we got to the shore of Lake Superior. We were fortunate to be there on a clear blue sky day, so the lake was a deep blue and the ice formations were sparkling. A word of caution if you continue hiking on the bluffs trails, there were some areas that were pure ice, and a couple parts that I wouldn’t let my kids even go on because it was pure ice on top of the bluff! We hiked until they were starting to complain about getting cold.
Stoney Creek Dog Sleds run their trips about 5 miles out of Tofte, in Superior National Forest. Because we were going to be meeting them at a parking spot in the forest, we stopped at a gas station in Tofte to grab a snack and a last bathroom break before the sled ride. We found the meeting spot with no problem, they have a large dog trailer with a big sign reading “Dog Sled Rides Today” The owners of Stoney Creek are both dog sled racers. They were the absolute best tour guides. Our driver was Rita, she has been racing dog sleds for over a decade and her passion for the sport and the dogs was immediately evident. Her husband Bill, was the one that met us at the trailer. Right away he started telling the girls about the dogs, and they were able to pet all the dogs and we learned all of their names!
The sled easily fit me and the three kids, and they had blankets to cover us up to stay warm. We did the 20 minute ride, the shortest one offered. It was perfect. My kids absolutely loved it. I think with older kids an hour ride would be awesome, but with my little ones I didn’t want to do such a long ride where they might get too cold to enjoy it. After the ride we watched the dogs enjoy their snack of fish heads,. Yes, fish heads. Gross! But even that my kids got a kick out of! Before, during and after the ride Rita answered all of our questions
about dog sledding and we learned a lot about it. It was an absolutely amazing experience.
After that we started back to Duluth. We made a pit stop at Split Rock Lighthouse, which is always breathtaking. Then we were off to the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth. On our way out of Duluth on the first day I pointed it out to the girls and mentioned it as a possible stop on our way home. I wasn’t sure if they would be interested in touring an old home, but they actually talked about it the whole weekend and they kept asking if we were still going to go. Our timing was perfect, we were there on the last day of the Christmas season self-guided tour. The house was fully decked out for Christmas with 25 trees in the house. The thing that my kids liked the best was the twelve elves hidden through out the house that they had to look for. In the kitchen they had cookies, and costumed guides throughout the house to answer questions. The house was beautiful and the self-guided tour was perfect for younger kids. After we walked through the house, we took some time to explore the grounds. The house is on the shore of Lake Superior and the views are spectacular. I was actually surprised that my kids liked it so much, so I was glad that we made the stop.
I am so glad that we ventured up north for a winter weekend getaway. We live in Minnesota, and winters are long! I want my girls to enjoy the outdoors, in all seasons! As they are getting older it has been so fun trying new things with them. Dog sledding and snowshoeing were great first experiences for us!
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