Split Rock Lighthouse, Minnesota
Landscapes,  Travel

5 Essential Photography Locations to Explore on Minnesota’s North Shore

The North Shore of Minnesota is situated along the shores of Lake Superior, this region has a variety of photo ops. From rugged cliffs and rocky landscapes to breathtaking waterfalls and pristine forests, the North Shore offers endless opportunities to capture the untouched beauty of the great outdoors.

In this blog, I cover 5 locations that can be photographed in just a day or two, depending if you want to return to a location for sunrise or sunset, or to just to beat the crowds in the morning.  I’ll also pass along information on Minnesota State Park fees and how they can be purchased.

Upper Falls, Gooseberry Falls State Park
Upper Falls, Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry Falls

3206 MN-61, Two Harbors, MN 55616

Gooseberry Falls State Park has 4 waterfalls to photograph in a single stop along Highway 61 about 15 minutes north of Two Harbors.  When I visited, Minnesota was in the middle of a period of little rainfall and the falls were still flowing well.

The trails to the Middle, Upper, and Lower falls are only about a ½ mile long with some elevation. There is a longer, 3 mile trail to 5th Falls that has a bridge in the background of the falls.

Gooseberry Falls is the most visited state park in Minnesota. So, visit the park early or you’ll have to remove other visitors out of the composition with Photoshop.

Split Rock Lighthouse Photo Locations
Split Rock Lighthouse Photo Locations

Split Rock Lighthouse

3755 Split Rock Lighthouse Rd, Two Harbors, MN 55616

Split Rock Lighthouse is a picturesque lighthouse that is perched on a rocky cliff on the shores of Lake Superior. 

There are two Split Rock Lighthouse sites.  Split Rock Lighthouse managed by the Minnesota Historical Society and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.  Both are accessed from the same entrance and have separate fees.  I provide additional information at the end of the blog on Minnesota State Park passes and fees.

I found the at the best location to photograph the lighthouse is from Split Rock Lighthouse State Park which is just south of the Lighthouse grounds.  Bear to the right once you enter the grounds for the state park.

In the state park there are two good locations to photograph the lighthouse.  Both can be accessed from the Pebble Beach parking area. 

Take the trail to the left for a closer composition of the lighthouse.  When you reach a building on the left, take the small trail to the right to get to a big rock ledge for multiple compositions.

Take the trail to the right past the island to the end of the point.  Here you can photograph the lighthouse from a distance using the left side of the island as foreground. This is the composition for the image at the top of this blog.

Waterfall, Temperance River State Park
Waterfall, Temperance River State Park

Temperance River State Park

47.55425, -90.874412

Temperance River State park is a quick stop right along Minnesota Highway 61.  From the bridge on the left side of the road you can photograph the falls.  Take the trail on the right side of the road to photograph the rapids from the walking bridge.

Caribou Falls
Caribou Falls

Caribou Falls Wayside

47.466735, -91.028942

In Minnesota waysides are smaller parks with shorter trails that aren’t full scales parks.  There can still be plenty of photo ops in waysides.  Caribou Falls wayside is just the case.

It’s a 1 mile roundtrip hike to the falls with some elevation.  There are quite a few stairs down to the falls (and back up on your way back).  The trail continues on after the falls.  Watch for white trail markers.  On the trail marker by the falls, someone wrote “Falls and a left arrow” on the bottom of the marker.  Keep an eye out so you don’t walk past the falls.

Waterfall, Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota
Waterfall, Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota

Jay Cooke State Park

Parking Area for Swinging Bridge and waterfalls: 46.654824, -92.371264

While not technically on the North Shore, I had to include Jay Cooke State Park.  The park is about 20 minutes south of Duluth and just 10 minutes off I35.

The park features a swinging bridge and multiple waterfalls and rapids that can be photographed right from the bridge.  If the park is busy, you will have to be patient because the bridge will move when people walk on it.  You will also need to be patient for people to leave the bridge so you can photograph it with no one on it (or remove them in Photoshop).

You can also walk farther down the trail after you cross the bridge to get a closer photograph of the falls on the left.  You will need to walk across some rocks to get to a location with a clear composition of the falls.

State Park Passes and Fees

Minnesota does have a vehicle fee to visit their state parks.  Passes can be purchased at the parks (if they are open), Minnesota State Parks Website, and through the Yodel app.  I purchased an overnight pass for $7 that was good until 4pm the following day.  The passes are tied to your car’s license plate number, so if you are renting a car you will have to wait to purchase the pass until you get your rental

Minnesota’s North Shore has a wealth of beautiful landscapes to photograph.  The bigger parks like Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse get more traffic (especially in peak season) so you may want to visit them early in the morning.

But don’t overlook the smaller parks and waysides.  They are less crowded and still have some beautiful landscapes and photo opportunities.

Written by Martin Belan

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