Monday, July 6, 2009

Take the Scenic Route!

Fourth of July has come and gone, so summer on the North Shore is in high gear.

To me, one of the main indicators of summer on the shore is the big pick-up truck RV swaying and bouncing along Highway 61 at 45 mph leading a train of 5,6,8,10 cars through the curves. If you're in a hurry to get somewhere, it's frustrating to be caught in the train of cars. Passing on Highway 61 is a risky endeavor at any time.

But, hey, you're on vacation. If you're headed up or down the shore and the traffic is looking heavy, don't stress---relax and take the scenic route!

All along the North Shore, there are secondary roads that parallel Highway 61 and can get you from almost whatever Point A to nearly any Point B you want.

Last week I drove Lake County Road 3 from Two Harbors to Beaver Bay. It's a beautiful stretch of road through a variety of terrain. 30 miles of paved and gravel roads bypass 23 miles of Highway 61. The roadside was littered with wildflowers, from towering cow parsnip to meadow rue to fields full of daisies.

County Road 3 is really easy to find. You turn left (north) just past Bettys Pies and you're on it.

The first 8-10 miles are in lovely agricultural landscapes, with old barns and open fields, dark green ridges of the Superior Hiking Trail in the distance. Stop for pictures, but use caution as the road is narrow.

The middle 8 miles are on gravel and are very wooded. You're on old logging railroad grades here. Scattered through the woods are run-down tarpaper shacks left over from the railroad and logging days. You cross the upper reaches of familiar North Shore rivers, like the Gooseberry and the Split Rock; here they're just gurgling brooks.

The last 7 miles are paved again and bring you back through scenic fields and ridges, like this view near the Silver Bay airport:

One of the best parts of the drive is also one of the hardest to find. About 3.5 miles past the Silver Bay airport, with a hillside full of crushed boulders on the left, the road dips down and back up again. At the top of the far side of the dip, an unmarked clay dirt road turns roughly to the right and leads to a field. Below that field is Glen Avon Falls, a watery playground on the Beaver River.

From Glen Avon Falls, it's 1.2 miles further on County Road 3 to a T-junction with Lax Lake Road. Turn right on Lax Lake Road for the short drive down the hill to Beaver Bay. There, you can get back on the busy highway and continue on your way,

If you drive straight through, this scenic back route takes about an hour to drive. Plus, instead of getting mad at that bouncy, swaying camper, you can get happy about wildflowers, wildlife, and waterfalls.

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