Grand Marais Weekend by Bike

The Facts

  • Getting from Thunder Bay (Ontario, Canada) to Grand Marais (Minnesota, US) is about 140km (87mi)
  • The best way to get there by bike (and car) is to follow highway 61 all the way
  • The highway stays inland and goes through more topography on the Canadian side of the border and follows the coast of Lake Superior once in Minnesota
  • The Provincial and State Parks on either side of the border are good places to fill up on water
  • There are good to great paved shoulders most of the way (other than a 3 km stretch on the Canadian side)
  • The highest point along the route is Mount Josephine at 409m (1,340ft) but it’s a pretty gradual climb and has a really nice lookout at the top which is perfect for taking a long break
  • You’ll want to bring one or more spare tubes/patching kits plus a working bike pump and/or air valve adapter for the ride

The Story

Grand Marais, a quaint small town on the north shore of Lake Superior recently voted coolest small town in America, is located roughly 130 km south-west of Thunder Bay. With an abundance of great little restaurants, patios, art shops, trails and the likes, it is the perfect destination for a weekend get-away.

When my friend Caroline asked if I wanted to bike down I immediately said yes imagining a fun adventure south of the border. The weekend we planned to make the journey down was also the weekend of Herb Hedstrom’s funeral, a beloved member of the Grand Marais community and the father of Mary’s boyfriend, Al. My plan was to bike down with Caroline on a Friday, attend Herb’s funeral on Saturday, and bike back on Sunday. Little did I know, I was about to experience an amazing weekend full of surprises and great hospitality.

We left Thunder Bay on Friday morning around 11:00 EST and began our journey. I set a leisurely place on my road bike while Caroline followed on her hybrid. The majority of the ride was very pleasant thanks to a wide and fairly smooth shoulder most of way. Even with a lot of small stops to hydrate, eat, admire the scenery and sample local cheese, we made decent time… until I got a flat tire 30 km away from our destination. Changing the tube was no problem but putting sufficient air back in the tire proved to be a challenge we couldn’t surmount. (Note: It turns out that some tubes have short valves which makes it very hard to properly secure an air pump as was the case here.)

As we contemplated our options on the shoulder of a small side road off the highway, a pickup truck pulled in. The man driving slowed down, and after a quick glance at the scene we presented, asked if we needed air. That is exactly what we needed, so he offered to give us a ride to his place in Hovland where he had a compressor. Unfortunately he did not have an adapter to put air into my presto valve, but he did have a phone I was able to use to call my road-side assistance, Mary.

I told Mary our situation and where we were to which she responded: “Are you at Norm’s?”. To everyone’s great amusement, the answer was yes; we had been rescued by a good friend of Al’s. Caroline and I enjoyed wine, crackers, cheese and venison sausage with Norm while we waited for Mary. Did I mention that Norm’s place was a charming cabin perched on the shore of Lake Superior? It was not bad at all.

We were warmly welcomed when we finally arrived in Grand Marais, and we were invited to join the Hedstroms for a delicious family dinner. We were also invited to spend the night at the Hedstrom’s neighbours in their gorgeous home and former B&B. The night was spent in great company and ended with a bond fire on the shore of Lake Superior under a starry sky.

The next day Caroline and I parted ways after enjoying breakfast in the warm sun on a patio. I re-joined Mary, Al and what felt like my new extended family at Herb’s funeral. After the beautiful and heart-felt ceremony, I headed down to the marina to meet up with my friend Kelsey – a plan we had formulated in a series of last-minute text messages the morning before when we realized we would both be in Grand Marais at the same time. Kelsey and I ended up spending the rest of the day together doing yoga, playing on the beach, trying out long-boarding, having dinner at the Angry Trout, sampling local brews at the Voyageur Brewing Company, and going to a bond fire at one of Kelsey’s friend’s farm. I spent the night with Kelsey on her friends’ property in a prospector’s tent. It was magical, and for the second night in a row, I felt so grateful for such warm hospitality.

Sunday was a beautiful day to bike back to Thunder Bay. The fog that hung near the shore of Lake Superior cleared out once I crested Mount Josephine and I biked back into Canada under perfectly blue sky. Along the way I met and had great conversations with Peter, a 71 year old man who was hiking the Superior Hiking Trail, and Jenny, a former park ranger and another friend of Al’s. So many amazing people and such an amazing weekend!

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