The last town before the Canadian border, the little village of Grand Portage, on the Grand Portage Ojibwe reservation, has a surprising array of offerings for visitors. The last five miles of Highway 61 are a beautiful drive.
The Grand Portage Lodge and Casino (70 Casino Dr., 218/475-2401, www.grandportage.com , open 24 hours) has 15,000 square feet of gaming space, plus a bingo hall, 500 slot machines, and more. Because it is on Native American land, smoking is permitted. If you’d like to gamble without the smoke, the Trading Post across the highway is smoke free.
An excellent hike leads to the Mt. Josephine Lookout with panoramic views in all directions, including Lake Superior’s Susie Islands, important for the typically arctic plants they harbor. The fairly challenging 1.5-mile climb starts a mile east of the National Monument on County Highway 17.
Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation (Hat Point Marina, 218/475-0024 or 218/475-0074 May–Oct., 651/653-5872 or 888/746-2305 Nov.–Apr., www.grand-isle-royale.com ) takes passengers to Michigan’s remarkable Isle Royale National Park.
Day trips on the MV Wenonah (8:30 a.m. Wed.–Sun., June–Sept., $51) allow 2.5 hours on Isle Royale plus fantastic scenery—including the sacred Witch Tree at the tip of Hat Point, seen on countless postcards—along the way.
The Grand Portage Rendezvous Days and Powwow, held the second weekend of August, re-creates the summer gathering held annually during the post’s existence.
Grand Portage National Monument (170 Mile Creek Rd., 218/475-0123, www.nps.gov/grpo , Museum 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily late May–early Oct., Heritage Center 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m. daily summer, 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily rest of year, $3 adults) is an excellent living-history museum.
From 1784 to 1803 the Scottish-run North West Company, the most profitable fur trade operation on the Great Lakes, had their inland headquarters here, and Native Americans and Europeans came from across the region to buy and sell pelts. Grand Portage was one season’s journey from Montreal, and goods transported between the coast and the interior—the French Voyageur Highway extended far into northwest Canada—were exchanged here with Montreal men (“pork-eaters”) wintering in the city and the North men remaining in the wilderness.
To get here from the west they carried 180 pounds of “soft gold” over the 8.5-mile Grand Portage, bypassing a long stretch of waterfalls and rapids on the lower Pigeon River. The cedar-picket palisade and many of the buildings have been reconstructed and furnished in the 1797 style. In and around the stockade you will find exhibits on the fur trade and Native American heritage, historic gardens, and massive birch-bark canoes. Guides in period costume tell stories and demonstrate traditional skills.
The more adventurous can retrace the steps of the voyageurs along the Grand Portage Trail, a long but fairly level walk through the woods to the site of Fort Charlotte. Register with the park service if you wish to camp there.
The short but steep Mount Rose Trail climbs 300 feet from the parking lot with a couple of good vistas along the way.
The beautiful Heritage Center opened in 2007 to accommodate year-round visitors and expand on the monument’s educational offerings—as well as to fulfill a 50-year-old promise from the federal government to the band of Ojibwe that had donated the land. The 16,000-square-foot building houses exhibits on Ojibwe culture—with a life-size diorama—as well as a bookstore and classroom.
Tucked up against the Canadian border is one of Minnesota ’s smallest but most beautiful state parks (9393 Hwy. 61 E., 218/475-2360). The state’s highest waterfall, High Falls (aka Pigeon Falls), drops 120 feet at a narrowing of the Pigeon River. It’s no Niagara, but to call the scene awe-inspiring is not an overstatement. A half-mile paved trail and boardwalk lead to a pair of overlooks of the falls, one of which is wheelchair accessible.
To get here in the winter, consider renting a pair of snowshoes from the park office. It’s 3.5-miles round-trip along the Pigeon River to smaller Middle Falls.
To see High Falls from the Canadian side, park at the Ontario Travel Information Center and follow the mile-long trail under the bridge. It’s a bit rough and wet in a few places, but worth it since you can island hop in the rocky river right above the falls.
About halfway between Grand Marais  and Grand Portage, the secluded Hollow Rock Resort (7422 Hwy. 61 E., 218/475-2272, www.hollowrockresort.com , $230–370 for a two-night minimum stay) has five unique cabins sleeping two to eight people overlooking Superior. All the cabins have kitchens.
The Grand Portage Lodge and Casino (70 Casino Dr., 218/475-2401, www.grandportage.com , $90) has 95 rooms in a lovely modern lodge with an indoor pool, sauna, and a remarkable common room with a fireplace reaching up three stories. Their restaurants serve both guests and visitors.