Best Towns 2010: Grand Marais Minnesota/Michigan

Runner Up: Best for Flatwater

Grand Marais, Minnesota     Photo: Layne Kennedy/Corbis

Two things that'll surprise you: Not only are there two Grand Maraises along the shores of Lake Superior—one on Minnesota's North Shore, the other on the northeastern arm of Michigan's Upper Peninsula—but they're both home to some damn fine paddling. Minnesota's G.M. (pop. 1,412) sits at the base of the legendary Gunflint Trail, a paved road that heads 58 miles to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, giving locals fast access to 1,500 miles of the nation's best backcountry canoeing. Come winter, you can learn how to build your own nutshell pram or sew a traditional anorak at North House Folk School (northhouse.org). In Michigan, the start of the 120-mile Hiawatha Water Trail, which skirts the edge of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and was a historic water route for the Voyageurs, begins in that state's G.M. (pop. 400). Both have their own paddling festivals, affordable housing, brutally long and cold winters, and, because this is the Midwest, some of the friendliest neighbors and paddling partners you'll ever meet.

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