With over 3,600 residents, Two Harbors is the largest community on the North Shore —after Duluth , of course. The city promotes itself as the trailhead to the North Shore, and realistically the spectacular lakeside scenery and most interesting sights do begin just beyond town.
Most businesses are centered along Highway 61 (7th Ave.), though most places of interest are down along Agate Bay, the more industrial of the twin bays. Two Harbors actually began as two communities—Agate Bay and Burlington—each named for the natural harbors on which they sat.
Though the first settlers arrived in 1855, the towns didn’t really blossom until iron ore was found on the Vermilion Range. This was the shortest route to Lake Superior from the Soudan Mine , and the railroad hauled its first ore to a waiting boat on Agate Bay in 1884. Ore shipments peaked in 1945, but to this day more ore is shipped out of Two Harbors than any other Great Lakes Port.
The city hosts several wonderful events during the summer. Two Harbors’s biggest festival is Heritage Days (www.theheritagedays.com ), the weekend after the Fourth of July, with a car show, kiddie parade, and lutefisk toss.
Later in the month is the Knife River Music Festival (www.kniferivermusicfestival.org ) with three days of music.
There are races, clinics, and demos during the Two Harbors Kayak Festival (www.kayakfestival.org ) the first weekend of August.
The short, easy loop of the Sonju Harbor Walking Trail behind the Two Harbors Lighthouse is a surprisingly scenic stroll. A paved stretch of the trail heads along the shore up to Burlington Bay.
If you want to hit the trails or the water, The Canoeist (710 7th Ave., 218/834-3523, www.thecanoeist.com , 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–5 p.m. Sun.) will arrange hiking, canoeing, and fishing trips, with or without a guide. Whether you want to be out for a few hours or several days, they’ll take care of all the equipment and transport. You can get your BWCA permit here, too.
You can visit Two Harbors with the North Shore Scenic Railroad (520 South Ave., 218/722-1273 or 800/423-1273, www.northshorescenicrailroad.org ), which travels here from Duluth  and lays over for two hours every Friday and Saturday May through October. Arrangements for an overnight stay on Friday can be made with the Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast (218/834-4898).