Nothing is more relaxing than a two day road trip and you will be amazed at how much you can see and do in those 2 days.  First, prep time is practically zero — how much do you need to pack for an over nighter?  Second, you only need to plan for one attraction for each day.  If you plan more things to do in a day you have put a time limit on your activities and that can make you feel rushed, and that is not relaxing.  Three, you do have to reserve a hotel/motel room at the first day’s destination, especially if you are traveling during a peak travel season — like Fall Foliage Runs up to Northern Minnesota.  But that’s it:  grab a change of clothes, your toothbrush, and camera and head out.

Hope you enjoy our two day get-a-way to Northern Minnesota.

Walking shoes, change of clothes and a jacket – Check.  Cameras – Check.  Next trip we will remember to take our walking sticks.  And I think it’s time for me to invest in a pair of hiking boots.

7:30 AM we head north to Banning State Park where we plan to spend the day.  Neither of us had ever been there and we did absolutely no research so we were in for a surprise!  That is good sometimes – if you have no expectations you have no disappointments!   The State Park was a Sandstone Quarry from 1882 to 1905 and The Village of Banning,  named for William L Banning, president of the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad that served the quarry ceased to exist in 1912.  Banning State Park is located about four miles north of Sandstone, in Pine County.

(Scroll over pictures for descriptions)

The September 1, 1894, Hinckley forest fire swept through the area and caused heavy financial losses on the Quarry as well as the railroad line.   Business resumed after the fire, but with the onset of steel being used in construction the market for sandstone had had declined making it impossible for the quarry, the railroad or the village to recover.

Encompassing 6,237 acres, the park runs adjacent to the Kettle River and attracts hikers, campers, cross-country skiers and nature lovers.  The Kettle River runs for 10 miles and its rapids are a favorite spot of many for canoeing and Kayaking.  For the birdwatchers there is reported to be 184 species inhabiting  or visiting the park.  There are 17 species of reptiles and amphibians  and 34 species of mammals.

The Banning Quarry Trail is a 1.8 mile trail through the quarry, woodlands and the ruins of the quarry buildings.

The woodlands which was once a forest of huge red and white pines was stripped by the logging industry and what remained was devastated by the Hinckley fire.  Today the remains of the quarry buildings are surrounded by a second-growth forest which is composed primarily of Aspen and Birch trees.

While the town of Banning disappeared long ago, the drilling lines on the face of the sandstone walls, the large rocks that were left behind when the last train pulled out and the remains of the buildings which housed the quarrying operations are evidence that this was a thriving and productive Sandstone Quarry.

Sandstone was not the only product exported from the area.  Inside the power house you will notice a small artesian well.  “Bottling water was a big sideline to the quarry business.”  Bottle water in the 1890s – who knew?

The Kettle River is a wild and scenic river with five amazing segments that provide a real challenge for canoers and kayakers: Blueberry Slide, Mother’s Delight, Dragon’s Tooth, Little Banning and Hell’s Gate.  You can reach Hell’s Gate if you are of sure foot and can locate the path.  When you think you have run out of a path look for the tree roots that have been marked with blue tape.  Along the path you will find an overhang where millions of years ago as the glaciers melted in Lake Superior the water with sand cut a hole through the rock.

We spent approximately four and a half hours in State Park, and there was so much more to see.    That will wait for another day – perhaps in the Spring!


We left Sandstone and headed north on Highway 23 which is known as the “scenic route to Duluth”.  As you get close to Duluth you will want to stop at the Veteran’s Memorial Overlook.  The view of the St. Louis River Valley is breathtaking.  As we were trying to capture the beauty of the valley with our cameras a couple of guys drove up and shared a remarkable feature of the overlook!  The overlook area is circular and in the middle is a circle.  We were told if you stand in the middle of this circle, stamp your foot three times and then talk your voice will echo.  Well, I think he threw in the stamp your foot three times for his amusement, but he was certainly right about the echo.  Move out of the circle and there is no echo.  I’ve searched the internet for more information on this but couldn’t find anything.  The picture below is of my husband Bill seeing if the echo could be recorded.  It could!  The Veteran’s Memorial Overlook is a stop not to be missed as you travel to or from Duluth on Highway 23.

We arrived in Duluth in time to check in at our hotel and make our 5:30 reservation at Hanabi’s Japanese Cuisine Restaurant.  I have never been crazy about sushi but Hanabi’s totally changed that!  Their sushi is the BEST.  The service was great and we had the sweetest Japanese waitress who noticed that I was not even close to being proficient with chopsticks and she asked if I would like a fork.

Back to the Hotel to take night pictures!

A great first day filled with beauty, education, and good food!

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