Plan to get away for a weekend this fall on a drive to the Iron Range. You can get to these desirable destinations in less than a day’s drive. For more ideas in planning your trip to this picturesque and historic region of our state, go to Explore Minnesota.

Great River Road, Mississippi River Headwaters

(credit: Paul Stafford/Explore Minnesota)

Getting There

Drive the Great River Road National Scenic Byway

The Great River Road follows the scenic Mississippi River 575 miles through towns and cities from the southeastern corner of Minnesota to its source in the north. Follow the Mississippi from Winona to the Twin Cities, on up to St. Cloud and Little Falls, on your way to a very scenic section of the Great River Road.

Related: Best Resorts In Northeastern Minnesota

Drive the Mississippi Crossings Scenic Byway
Drive the Mississippi Crossings Scenic Byway from Little Falls to Grand Rapids.

Follow the Great River Road National Scenic Byway for about 145 miles from Little Falls to Brainerd, the Cuyuna Range Area, Aitkin, Palisade, Savanna Portage State Park, Schoolcraft State Park and Grand Rapids.

Explore the Upper Mississippi River by Bicycle or Boat
Cycle, Path & Paddle
115 3rd Ave. SW
Crosby, MN 56441
(218) 545-4545

Rent a bike in Crosby and explore the Mississippi River on a marked bicycle route along the Mississippi. MRT signs along the route will be installed by 2015. Current route maps can be found here. A rental shop is in downtown Crosby and offers a variety of bikes, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards. Have one delivered to Cuyuna and paddle across the Pennington Mine Lake, all the way to the Arco Mine Lake for about a three- to four-hour trip. These old mining lakes are filled with bass, walleye, crappies and sunfish. More than a half-dozen canoe outfitters in Ely offer other excursion options at the gateway to the Boundary Waters.

Explore the Mesabi Trail by Bicycle
111 Station 44 Road
Eveleth, MN 55734
(877) 637-2241

Bike or hike for up to 75 miles from Grand Rapids to McKinley. See the town of Grand Rapids, Coleraine, Bovey and Taconite on the way. Challenge your stamina on hills, mostly to the west, and cruise comfortably on smooth trails on the eastern end. It is especially steep at the continental divide west of Hibbing, where the trail winds to the top of Mt. Rust and a spectacular overlook. Stop and rest at the Prairie River bridge, picnic and swim at the beach at the O’Brien Reservoir between Nashwauk and Keewatin. Bring your camera for the Pike River Rock Cut, west of Gilbert.

Explore the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail by Bicycle
Cuyuna Lakes Trail Association
PO Box 111
Crosby, MN 56441
(218) 545-4545

Seven miles of paved trail meanders through the beautiful hardwood forests and along sky-tinted lakes, thanks to the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail Association. That same organization is undertaking an initiative that may well be the best mountain biking destinations in the U.S. The Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail offers 25 miles of dirt trails for all skill levels. The trail is packed clay but there are areas of broken rock that can damage tires. It may help to bring tire repair equipment and extra tubes on the trip.

Explore Iron Range Mining Pits Underwater
Minnesota School of Diving – Brainerd
712 Washington St.
Brainerd, MN 56401
(218) 829-5953

Spring-fed mining pits make for great scuba diving. These clear, deep lakes offer unusual diving experience, such as cliffs, with depths up to 500 feet and huge surprises at the bottom. Some sites are conducive to winter diving. You will find 55 scuba diving sites in the Crosby Mine Pits. Some have underwater roadbeds, power poles, equipment and mine shafts. Lake Mine Quarry, about 15 miles from the town of Virginia, is up to 400 feet deep with old buildings and pipes plus an underwater pillar on the west end. Minnesota School of Diving in Brainerd has a full stock of scuba rental equipment for divers and snorkelers, such as buoyancy compensators or environmental kits, to ensure good cold-water performance.

(credit: Jupiter Images)

(credit: Jupiter Images)

Camp the Iron Range
Stubler Beach Campground
320 Jones St.
Buhl, MN 55719
(218) 258-3226

You will find Stubler Beach Campground a few blocks from downtown Buhl and across the road from Stubler Beach, featuring restrooms, two fishing docks, picnic areas and eight campsites. The campground is rustic with fire pits, elevated tent pads and picnic tables. The Mesabi Trail, for biking and hiking, runs adjacent to the campground. Snorkel the Stubler Mine Lake in mostly shallow water no deeper than 45 feet.

Explore the Forests With an Off-Highway Vehicle
Iron Range OHV Recreation Area
7196 Pettit Road
Gilbert, MN 55741
(218) 748-2207

See the north woods by ATV, OHM or ORV on a 36-mile recreational trail through 1,200 acres of wilderness. The region also contains iron ore pits, ore stockpiles and tailings basins. Go east from the city of Gilbert on Highway 135 onto Enterprise Trail in St. Louis County

(credit: Cathi Halbe)

(credit: Cathi Halbe)

Explore Minnesota’s Northeastern Forests by Auto
Superior National Forest Scenic Byway
Lake Cty Hwys 5 & 15, St Louis Cty Hwys 16 & 110
Aurora, MN 55705
(218) 749-8161

Drive the Superior National Forest the Iron Range through serene sylvan scenery all the way to the spectacular North Shore. Historic mining towns such as Aurora, Biwabik, Evelyth, Gilbert and Virginia all beckon visitors with great attractions such as the USA Hockey Hall of Fame, shops, trails and Lake Ore-Be-Gone.

Related: Guide To A Long Weekend In Minnesota

Robin Johnson was born in Annandale, Minn. and graduated from Richfield High School and then the University of Minnesota where he studied Political Science, Business and Industrial Relations. A writer for, he also consults with a variety of organizations and individuals helping them develop and grow. His work can be found at