BEST HIGHWAY - 2005
If you polled a few hundred well-traveled Minnesota motorists and asked them to identify the most beautiful drive in the state, chances are a plurality would cite the stretch of Highway 61 that runs from Duluth to Grand Marais. It is a natural pick. With its panoramic views of Lake Superior, dramatic rock outcroppings, and pleasing mix of evergreen, birch, and poplar, the North Shore drive is pure eye candy. These days it can also be depressing. If you hit the road at the wrong time--say, during peak leaf-peeping season--there is a good chance you'll be jockeying for position with an armada of speeding Hummers and Suburbans barreling north to their red pine McMansions. So here's a better suggestion: Take the North Shore drive but cut west when you see the sign for Highway 1. Stretching from the bucolic, still undespoiled hamlet of Finland to the edge of the Boundary Waters, Highway 1 wends through some of the most drop-dead gorgeous landscape the Superior National Forest has to offer. The winding, two-lane road is sparsely traveled, especially in the fall. So you can drive slowly and pull over pretty much anyplace to check out the beautifully glaciated landscape, typified by babbling brooks, rocky lakes, and a mixed forest of fir and spruce. One word to the wise: There is a move afoot to straighten this curvy highway, so you might want to take the drive sooner rather than later.