Hike to the summit of Mount Josephine for a view of the Susie Islands, with Isle Royale on the horizon.
Sometimes when traveling near Lake Superior, we get so focused on our destinations that we forget to savor the surroundings, to stop and “smell the roses.”
Just off or along the highways around Lake Superior are scenic overlooks with such breathtaking views that you never forget them. Despite their relatively easy access, these spots can give you a sense of seeing something that other people have yet to discover – especially true when no one else is around. You’ll be eager to tell your friends and share your photos once you get home.
Exactly what you see – the curved-water horizon line, a nearby island or the distant shore opposite – and how far you see depends on the day and the height of your location. From Split Rock Lighthouse grounds (on a 130-foot cliff) in Minnesota, Lee Radzak, the light’s modern-day keeper, has seen Devils Island of the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin some 30 miles to the east.
We’ve compiled a list of scenic lake overlooks with suggestions from people who know the region, including great landscape photographers and people working in tourism and parks. Many of the spots offer memorable views of fall color. With one or two exceptions, these are easily accessible to most people even if some walking is involved. (Overlooks that require difficult hikes are on hold for another story.) When visiting a state, provincial or national park, remember to stop at the visitor center for a permit. There’s no doubt that you’ll find – or maybe already have – other favorites along the 1,300-mile circle route around Lake Superior.
High above Duluth in Enger Park, amid lovely gardens, take the steps up to the wooden pavilion on the bluff for remarkable views of the harbor, the downtown, Superior Bay and Lake Superior. The pavilion, which replaced a small gazebo, is close to the better-known Enger Tower, a five-story octagonal stone tower with a large green beacon for mariners and a 30-mile panoramic view of port activity and the Wisconsin shore. The park, a busy spot for weddings in the summer, is on the hilltop off Skyline Parkway at 18th Avenue West.
For the adventurous traveler, there are many wonderful scenic views along Duluth’s Skyline Parkway (a new map, sponsored by Skyline Planning and Preservation Alliance, is available free at Thompson Hill Information Center, the Visit Duluth office, Sugarloaf Interpretive Center and at some hotels).
Consider a stop at Spirit Mountain Recreation Center (off I-35 at Boundary Avenue) for a priceless panorama from a ski area. See the view from the chalet and you may want to stay for dinner.
On Minnesota’s North Shore, Split Rock Lighthouse, 20 miles northeast of Two Harbors on Highway 61, is a natural for the list. Whether it’s your first or 10th visit doesn’t matter. Who could be bored at this majestic historic site? The lighthouse tower is 54 feet tall on a cliff that’s 130 feet high, providing outstanding views of the lake and the coastline. Let the wind blow through your hair and take in the sights, including the state park and its stands of birch, spruce, fir and ash. Photographer Layne Kennedy likes Split Rock in the fall because of “tons and tons of yellow birch leaves just lighting up the hillsides.”
Palisade Head is another North Shore landmark, off Highway 61 near Silver Bay. Watch closely for the narrow lakeside road at milepost 57; it’s steep but safe to drive slowly while watching for opposing traffic. At the top of the high coastal cliff you’ll find a few parking spots and tight maneuvering, but the spectacular views make it worth the effort. Be careful and stay back from the edge. A lookout with a stone wall provides a comfortable place to shoot photos – the face of the vertical cliff is 350 feet high (107 metres), or look northeast to see the often-photographed Shovel Point jutting into the lake. Palisade Head and Shovel Point are made of rhyolite, a light-colored volcanic rock that provides a contrast to the dark basalt that’s dominant along the North Shore.
The Highway 61 pulloff near Grand Portage overlooks the Susie Islands.
Once you’ve seen the overlook at Minnesota’s Mount Josephine, you will never forget to stop when you’re in the neighborhood (unless there’s thick fog on the lake). Be sure to watch carefully for the turnoff, then pull off Highway 61 at the wayside stop (milepost 148) between Grand Portage and the Canadian border. Here you can look east for a view of the Susie Islands that will leave you stumped for words. You can also sometimes see Rock of Ages Lighthouse at Isle Royale about 18 miles off.
Photographer Travis Novitsky, born and raised in Grand Portage, says Josephine “is a truly glorious spot to take in the view over the lake no matter what time of year, but it’s especially beautiful in the fall. With the Susie Islands in the foreground and Isle Royale hovering on the horizon, the view is unmatched by anything else on the shore from Duluth to Grand Portage.”
This scenic overlook has been renovated with a new observation deck jutting out from the cliff, along with restrooms and picnic tables for the Mount Josephine State Wayside Rest.
Bob Berg / Lake Superior Magazine
On the eastern edge of Thunder Bay, the Terry Fox Monument, on a bluff above Highway 11/17, provides a superb view of the iconic Sleeping Giant.
On the eastern edge of the city of Thunder Bay, the Terry Fox Monument and Travel Information Centre stands on a bluff above Highway 11/17, providing a superb vista of the Sleeping Giant, the Thunder Bay icon, and the bay named Thunder Bay. A 9- foot-high bronze statue honors Terry Fox, the one-legged runner who was crossing Canada in 1980 to raise cancer research funds when his own cancer recurred and forced him to stop at Thunder Bay. He died the following year. This peaceful, relaxing place is a fitting memorial to one of Canada’s true heroes.
Courtesy Tourism & Economic Development / City of Thunder Bay
The Thunder Bay Lookout in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
East of Thunder Bay is Sleeping Giant Provincial Park’s Thunder Bay Lookout. The park is off Trans Canada Highway 11/17. Take Highway 587 to Thunder Bay Lookout Road. This overlook on the northwest end of the Sibley Peninsula features a cantilevered platform that allows sightseers to step beyond the edge of the cliff for stunning views of the bay and the Thunder Bay coastline from atop the 137-metre (450-foot) vertical cliffs.
Paul Hayden / Lake Superior Magazine
This wonderful view of Kama Bay, east of Nipigon on Ontario’s rugged north shore, is from a wayside lookout off Trans Canada Highway 17 near the Jackpine River.
East of Nipigon on Trans Canada Highway 17, look for the roadside pullout and lookout over Kama Bay, the northernmost waters of Lake Superior. The town of Red Rock is in the distance. Beyond the cut, as you climb to the east past Kama Bay, you’ll see a road (a quick turn) toward the lake to a picnic area. This spot overlooks the lake from high atop the cliffs with tracks of the Canadian Pacific running below.
Farther east on Highway 17, past Schreiber and Terrace Bay and the Prairie River, another recommended stop is the Neys Lookout at the Little Pic River and its spectacular views of Lake Superior. “The lookout is set on igneous rocks, part of a large 500-square-kilometre intrusion that occurred during the Midcontinental Rift, about 1.1 billion years ago,” according to Canadian Geographic in its Pigeon River to Sault Ste. Marie Highway Guide. “The rock here looks like granite, but is not. It is pink syenite (like granite but without quartz) that has intruded the darker gabbro.” The highway pulloff comes quickly, so watch carefully for it.
South of Wawa, Trans Canada Highway 17 takes you to Lake Superior Provincial Park and Agawa Bay scenic lookout, one of the sites recommended by Carol Dersch, the park’s natural heritage education leader. It’s a highway pulloff with easy access (though not for big trailers) 5.9 kilometres (3.6 miles) north of the Agawa Bay Visitor Centre. Watch carefully for the turnoff, which comes at the top of the hill north of Agawa Valley. There’s a nice view over Lake Superior, Agawa Bay, Montreal Island and the Agawa Islands, and also a good view of the Algoma Hills, a landscape made famous by the Canadian painters the Group of Seven.
Alona Bay, south of Lake Superior Provincial Park with an accessible pulloff, “is a great spot to watch the rolling waves when the lake is rough,” according to Carol. It also offers a nice show of fall colors.
On to Michigan and the always impressive Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, where Log Slide and Miners Castle are recommended for panoramic views.
At Log Slide, you can see Au Sable Light Station to the west and Grand Sable Dunes to the east. “It’s a short walk to the overlook also,” says Brenda St. Martin of the park staff. “I think the view to the west would have very nice fall color.”
From Miners Castle, visitors can see a portion of the compelling Pictured Rocks as well as Grand Island. This overlook “is really easy for people to walk to,” she says.
In the Keweenaw Peninsula, Brockway Mountain Drive, off M-26 between Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor, extends about 9 miles along the ridge of Brockway Mountain. At the summit, some 726 feet (221 metres) above Lake Superior, you’re surrounded by breathtaking vistas. “From there, Lake Superior, the town of Copper Harbor and an occasional passing freighter provide quite a panorama. You have Lake Superior to one side and rolling hills of the Keweenaw on the other. It is a favorite autumn spot,” says photographer Shawn Malone.
Farther west is Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park at Silver City, Michigan, on M-107. Head for Summit Peak, 1,958 feet (or 597 metres) above sea level. Visitors will find a deck and a 40-foot observation tower. On a clear day, at Michigan’s highest viewing spot, it may be possible to see Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands and Minnesota.
“The view is breathtaking. One thing that I and my friends have found fun is to visit the location at night. With flashlights, the trail is easily manageable and the star-gazing from the deck is awesome,” says Patty Urbanski, who owns Silver Image Studio in Silver City.
Courtesy National Park Service
Encountering the Sea Caves from Lakeshore Trail (also called the Mainland Trail) in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore requires a hike, but the scenery is worth it.
In Wisconsin, head to Meyers Beach, about 4 miles east of Cornucopia on Highway 13. From the beach parking lot you can walk (the only major hike on our list) along the Lakeshore Trail, often referred to as the Mainland Trail, in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Photographer Layne Kennedy calls it a “fabulous” trail and recommends it for the variety of tree species, the popular Sea Caves and also for the sound of waves lapping the caves.
It’s about a 2-mile hike from Meyers Beach to the Sea Caves area, says Jim Nepstad of the Apostle Islands park staff. But “it’s an easy hike, for what it’s worth,” he says, “and the views are truly magnificent.”
Kristen Sandstrom, marketing manager for Bayfield Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau, says the trail has an amazing view of Sand Island and also is a great fall color spot. “There is a hike involved to get to the overlook. But those who are less inclined to walk can still go down to the beach and enjoy the view.”
A map of Lakeshore Trail is available through the park.
Mapping the Overlooks
Lake Superior Magazine
- Spirit Mountain Recreation Center, owned by the city of Duluth. Walk around on the hill; catch a sweeping view of the harbor and lake from the ski chalet.
- Enger Park gazebo in Duluth, in the hilltop park off Skyline Parkway at 18th Avenue West.
- Skyline Parkway in Duluth ... anywhere is an overlook.
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Minnesota, off U.S. 61, just north of Castle Danger.
- Palisade Head, Minnesota, off U.S. Highway 61 just northeast of Silver Bay. Watch for the turn onto the narrow road at milepost 57.
- Mount Josephine, Minnesota, Highway 61 overlook between Grand Portage and the Canadian border.
- The Terry Fox Monument on a bluff above Highway 11/17 on Thunder Bay’s eastern edge, the site also of an outstanding Travel Information Centre.
- Thunder Bay Lookout in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park east of Thunder Bay. Off Highway 11/17, then Highway 587 to Thunder Bay Lookout Road.
- Kama Bay, east of Nipigon on Trans Canada Highway 17, with a pulloff for cars and memorable views of Kama Bay and the larger Nipigon Bay.
- Neys Lookout at the Little Pic River on Trans-Canada Highway 17, near Neys Provincial Park, has wonderful views of Lake Superior.
- Agawa Bay, a pulloff on Trans-Canada Highway 17 north of Agawa Bay Visitor Centre, Lake Superior Provincial Park.
- Alona Bay, south of Lake Superior Provincial Park and north of Batchawana Bay, has an accessible pulloff on the Trans-Canada Highway.
- Log Slide, also in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, provides great views that include Grand Sable Dunes.
- Miners Castle overlook in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, Michigan, has panoramic views of the intriguing Grand Island and part of the Pictured Rocks.
- Brockway Mountain Drive in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, on M-26 between Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor.
- Summit Peak in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, at Silver City, Michigan. Outstanding panoramic views from 1,958 feet.
- Apostle Highlands Golf Course, 1 mile south of Bayfield, Wisconsin, on Highway 13, then west one-quarter mile on County Hwy J. View from the deck of the Club House.
- Lakeshore Trail, starting at Meyers Beach east of Cornucopia, Wisconsin, on the mainland of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, offers views of the Sea Caves.