Leaving the Canadian border country, Highway 53 goes southeast into St. Louis County – the largest county in Minnesota and the second-largest U.S. county located east of the Mississippi River (after Aroostook County in Maine).
St. Louis County
St. Louis County has more than 500 lakes, including the eastern part of Rainy Lake, as well as large pieces of Voyageurs National Park, Superior National Forest, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Canoeing in the Boundary Waters
In the center of St. Louis County is the Mesabi Iron Range, which has been America’s largest source of iron ore since its discovery in 1866.
The Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine in Hibbing (pop. 16,361) is the world’s largest open-air iron mine.
3.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide by 600 feet deep
Hibbing is the city where Greyhound bus lines began, in 1914.
Greyhound Museum, Hibbing
Bob Dylan grew up in Hibbing. For some reason, his boyhood home is a private residence and not a museum.
It’s alright, Ma.
Bob Dylan and Kevin McHale (the basketball player, not the guy on “Glee”) both graduated from Hibbing High School – classes of ’59 and ’76, respectively. The school was built in 1923 for $4 million, with help from the local mining industry.
Does any other city of 16,000 have a high school like this?
Nearby, the Iron Range town of Eveleth (pop. 3,718) has the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. For a time, Eveleth also had a hot water tower – but it was torn down.
North of Hibbing is the “Hill of Three Waters,” where the Laurentian Divide meets the St. Lawrence Divide. Rain that falls on this hill goes in three directions: north to Hudson Bay, east to the Atlantic Ocean (via Lake Superior), and south to the Gulf of Mexico (via the Mississippi River).
The Iron Range town of Virginia (pop. 8,712) is the northern end of U.S. Highway 169, which goes south to Tulsa by way of the Twin Cities, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas.
World’s Largest Floating Loon, Virginia
About 60 miles down Highway 53 from the Iron Range is Duluth (pop. 86,265), the county seat and the fourth-largest city in Minnesota.
Duluth and Lake Superior
At the west end of Lake Superior, Duluth is the largest freshwater port on the Great Lakes.
The Aerial Lift Bridge rises to allow ships to pass under it.
The Great Lakes Aquarium is on the downtown waterfront.
The Duluth Depot (1892) no longer has regular train service, but it does have museums, offices, and the North Shore Scenic Railroad, which has passenger excursion trains in the summer.
The last Amtrak service was in 1985.
Interstate 35 starts (or ends) in Duluth and goes south to the Twin Cities, Des Moines, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Laredo.
NEXT: LAKE COUNTY