Lake Superior State Water Trail: Grand Marais to Pigeon River

Lake Superior Water Trail

The Grand Marais to Pigeon River portion of the Water Trail covers approximately 42 miles of Lake Superior?s Shoreline in eastern Cook County. This section of the Water Trail contains some the most picturesque cobble and sand beaches along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Paddlers of Lake Superior need to be prepared mentally and physically to deal with adverse weather conditions and possess the paddling skills necessary to assure their own safety and that of others.

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Lake Superior Water Trail sections and maps:

Local contact

Kettle River location map
Order map

Cook, Lake and St. Louis Counties, northeastern Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Northeastern Regional Office: (218) 328-8980.

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Water characteristics

The Lake Superior Water Trail offers paddlers a chance to explore the largest freshwater lake on earth.  Views of sheer cliff faces, sea caves, and some of the oldest rock formations on earth will reward those who venture onto this great lake.

Lake Superior's rocky shoreline is beautiful, but often treacherous. Canoes are not recommended. Sea kayaks are better suited to these unprotected and often windswept waters. Be sure to read safety information specific to Lake Superior including the Lake Superior Water Trail Safety Guide, Safety Information webpage, and Lake Superior Boating Guide, and know where small craft harbors and protected areas are located. More specific information about this section of the Water Trail can be found on the Lake Superior Water Trail Map.


This section of the Water Trail will reward paddlers with cobble and sand beaches and many interesting geological formations embedded in the low basaltic shoreline outcroppings. Roughly half this section of the Water Trail falls within the Grand Portage Indian Reservation and has limited public access points. Located within the reservation are the Susie Islands and views of high inland vistas. Much of the reservation land is in an excellent state of preservation in a semi-wilderness setting.

Fish and wildlife

Lake trout, the most prevalent game fish, retreat to very deep water during the summer, when most paddlers are on the lake. Your best chance for success comes in spring and fall, when lake trout occupy shallower water near shore. Troll a spoon or deep-diving plug as you paddle. You might also hook steelhead (migratory rainbow trout), which ascend tributary streams in the spring, or pink and chinook salmon, which appears at stream mouths in fall. A few brown trout inhabit the lake and may lurk at river mouths throughout the year. You may catch trout (usually small rainbows with a few brook trout by fly) by fly-fishing the lower reaches of small tributaries to the lake. The trails in the parks are carved through a forest of fir, cedar, spruce, and northern hardwoods home to a variety of animals such as moose, deer, bear, and wolves.

Nearby recreational opportunities

Paddling is only one of many recreational activities that can be found along the North Shore of Lake Superior. State parks in the vicinity of the Water Trail include Judge C. R. Magney State Park and Grand Portage State Park. Activities in these parks include hiking, camping, wildflower viewing, and trout fishing.

State trails in the area include Gitchi-Gami State Trail. When complete, the Gitchi-Gami State Trail will be an 86 mile non-motorized, paved trail connecting Two Harbors to Grand Marais along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

The Superior Hiking Trail, also in the area, is a 296 miles footpath that begins in Duluth and follows the ridgeline above Lake Superior up to the Canadian Border. The trail is ideal for both day hikes and backpacking. For detailed information and trail segment maps check the SHTA website.


Prior to European settlement, the prevalent Native American nations in this region were the Dakota and the Ojibwa. French fur trading posts were established from Duluth to Grand Portage in the mid-1600s after the depletion of the beaver population in the Saint Lawrence River in the early 1600s. Grand Portage, near the northernmost point of the Water Trail, was a major trading center for the fur trade. Permanent settlement in the region did not occur until the 1850s when first iron ore mining then timber harvesting brought inhabitants to the area. The hospitality and tourism industry has a long past in this region and continues to be a major part of the economy. Please be mindful of Tribal land-use and shoreline regulations while enjoying the Grand Portage and Tribal areas.