How Safe Is Grand Portage for Travel?

Updated On February 4, 2023
Grand Portage, United States
Safety Index:
80
* Based on Research & Crime Data

There’s a lot of Grand Portage in Grand Portage, Minnesota.

The name is assigned to this territory at the tip of the state’s Arrowhead Region, but it’s also an Indian Reservation, resort, casino, national monument, trail, island, and state park.

The name comes from a feat worthy of the task that faced early fur traders.

Once they navigated the waters of Canada by canoe, they arrived at Fort Charlotte to rest.

From there, they had to “portage” (por·tage/ˈpôrdij) their canoes and fur – carry the items over their head – for a nine-mile trail to the Lake Superior shoreline.

That trail is still open to hiking today.

The carrying of a boat or its cargo between two navigable waters.

This northeastern state region is simply mesmerizing – the state’s tallest waterfall, the elusive Northern Lights, the trading trail that once opened the fur industry to global influence, the Canadian border offering a gateway to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and a collaboration of cultures including Native American and the annual Powwow.

The Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, known as the Ojibwe, has a massive reservation here.

The Grand Portage region is shared by American and Native Americans, who once fought for land but now co-exist and collaborate to bring tourists to the region and share the respective multicultural footprints that still mark the land.

Make no mistake about it – this is rugged terrain with few major amenities you’d find in a tourism destination.

It is also one of the best frontiers to explore with enough modern flair to keep everyone engaged, no matter the fitness or experience level in the great outdoors.

Warnings & Dangers in Grand Portage

Overall Risk

OVERALL RISK: LOW

The risk is low as far as crime is concerned, but there are nature and weather risks that could be concerning if you aren't prepared. Most people will come here with a certain aptitude for the outdoors, but you have plenty of safety resources to learn about risks that aren't familiar to you.

Transport & Taxis Risk

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW

You're more likely to find a dog sled than a taxi here, so you'll need a car to get around. This is a vast region with an exhausting number of trails to explore if you don't have a car. Private shuttles are available for rent but can fill up quickly. You also have the option to take a ferry ride across the lake to Isle Royale National Park.

Pickpockets Risk

PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW

This is a low risk, with no pickpockets reported in years throughout all of Cook County. The highest theft category is "Other," which includes items that could be taken from campsites. The low risk doesn't mean it's okay to let your guard down.

Natural Disasters Risk

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW

As they say in Minnesota, "Uff Da, it's cold!" Heavy snow, ice storms, blizzards, snow squalls, and blustery winds are all part of winter's glory here. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible from spring through fall. Flooding and wildfires are risks at opposite ends of the spectrum, but each is just as concerning. Cook County has a robust emergency management plan open for public review.

Mugging Risk

MUGGING RISK: LOW

This is another low-risk, with a bear more likely to take your stuff by force than a person. You will see people with guns and other weapons during hunting season.

Terrorism Risk

TERRORISM RISK: LOW

The border crossing over the Pigeon River into Canada is the main safety concern here, protected by Border Patrol and Customs for two countries. While this isn't one of the busiest crossings, it's still going to have the same tight security to reduce illegal items getting in or out of the country.

Scams Risk

SCAMS RISK: LOW

Since most reservations and attractions here are paid through government, state, or clearly designated local businesses, there's a lower risk of being scammed. The most commonly reported scams target locals.

Women Travelers Risk

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW

This is another low-risk for female adventures, provided they know all the wilderness and weather safety tips. The outdoor dangers are equal for all genders, with experience and knowledge being the best advocates for safe exploration.

Tap Water Risk

TAP WATER RISK: LOW

The tap water is safe to drink and use for bathing at the resort and restaurants but check with the Cook County government website before your visit to confirm there haven't been any issues. If you plan to make river water drinkable during your trip, start with the Water Quality Standards through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Safest Places to Visit in Grand Portage

You’ll likely use individual park and resort websites to research this area.

For example, grandportage.com is the website for the lodge & casino, not the entire region.

The National Park Service has a website for the Grand Portage Monument.

Visit Cook County offers a Grand Portage section in addition to other Arrowhead Region amenities.

VisitThunderBay.com is a great website for those crossing into Canada and exploring that tourist region.

It’s ironic to see such a rugged wilderness area have a large casino resort right on the lakefront.

Still, here you’ll get a slice of Las Vegas life with rooms and cabins available for rent, a full casino of slot machines, several restaurants, and the Lake Superior shoreline just a few steps away.

Sign up for a player’s card if you plan to gamble, as rewards can quickly add up.

The Grand Portage National Monument Heritage Center should be the first stop in the extensive nationally-protected land.

You’ll see artifacts and ingenuity used by the Ojibwe indigenous people who fueled the fur trade in collaboration with the North West Company.

Nearby, you can explore the former fur trade depot, canoe warehouse, and Ojibwe Village re-creation.

The closest is the Mount Rose Trailhead (don’t get this mixed up with Mount Rose near Lake Tahoe), which does have staircases to the summer with expansive views of Grand Portage Bay and Isle Royale in the distance.

The other trail is the toughest one – the Grand Portage trail that spans 17 miles round-trip with the option to backcountry camp at Fort Charlotte.

NOTE: Fort Charlotte’s buildings are no longer there; this is now a wilderness area with some historical markers.

The big event in Grand Portage happens the second weekend in August when Indigenous traditions come alive at Rendezvous Days and Pow Wow.

This is an event for the public to engage in the culture with hands-on exhibits, demonstrations, and games.

Grand Portage State Park is on tribal land, right along the Pigeon River.

You can hike in Minnesota while looking at Canada’s magnificence across the water.

The state park website is through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), not the NPS park website.

Since the state park is right at the border (and much smaller), you won’t get the two confused.

The only public boat trip to Isle Royale is Grand Portage Isle Royal Transportation Lines.

Trips run from mid-May through mid-September and include round-trip options to several stops on the island.

Since Isle Royale is a national park, you can find information on the NPS website.

Places to Avoid in Grand Portage

You won’t find a bad neighborhood or part of town in the Grand Portage territory.

In fact, you won’t even find many neighborhoods since the town has just 722 residents.

Visitors who aren’t familiar with tribal vs. public lands should talk to a ranger at the visitor’s center to understand the boundaries.

Tribal lands in America are governed and policies independently.

During COVID, the tribal lands were off-limits to non-tribal members.

When you are on National Park Service property, you’ll be on land owned by the United States (half of which was donated by local tribes).

The casino and lodge are owned by the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, so you’ll technically be on tribal land when you are there, but it is obviously open to the public.

Avoid making any jokes about Native American culture and spend more time listening and learning than assuming.

Research each park and trail before you embark on an adventure, as some trails can be closed seasonally or during extreme weather.

Roads might be impassible, and dangers might exist during specific times.

There are plenty of resources to get this information.

Safety Tips for Traveling to Grand Portage

  1. For the United States-governed land, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is the law enforcement agency. When you are in the National Park, the rangers are the designated law enforcement who work in tandem with tribal and county law enforcement as needed.
  2. Download the CodeRED app to sign up for emergency alerts, which will include weather watches, warnings, safety tips, road closures, and any other risk the public needs to know about.
  3. Use the Minnesota DNR website to check for wildfire risk levels and burn restrictions before you go on any trail. Drought or wind patterns can lead to sudden bans on burning. You can also review the Cook County Firewise website to learn more about wildfire behavior and safety guidance.
  4. You’ll also need the DNR website to apply for a fishing license, hunting license, snowmobile registration, and several other licensed activities. Look for the “Find a License” section to see what activities are regulated by the state.
  5. If you want to go backcountry camping at Fort Charlotte, you’ll need to get a permit through a detailed application process. You will need to disclose personal information, like criminal history (if any), and you shouldn’t lie or omit any important information. The application is on the National Park Service website.
  6. The NPS park app is quite helpful, with maps, details, contacts, social updates, alerts, and the like. Download as much of the information as you can in case you venture into a mobile phone dead zone.
  7. The “portage” in Grand Portage is still a thing. If you’re going to or from Fort Charlotte, you’ll still have spots where you need to carry your canoe. There are plenty of YouTube videos on how to do this safely. If you don’t want to walk nine miles with a canoe over your head, you can drive to Fort Charlotte instead.
  8. Watch out for moose in the wild and on roadways. Several moose have been hit and killed on roads where “Moose Crossing” is clearly marked. While it’s dangerous for the animals, you could get seriously hurt as well when hitting the broadside of a 900-pound animal. If you see a moose in the wild, enjoy the site but stay at a distance. If you are close enough for the moose to notice you, you are close enough for it to potentially charge at you.
  9. For those planning to cross into Canada or visit Isle Royale, it’s important to know both locations are in different time zone. Grand Portage and Minnesota are in the Central Time Zone, while the attached section of Canada and Isle Royale are in the Eastern Time Zone, which will always be one hour ahead of the Central Time Zone.
  10. If you’re heading to Thunder Bay in Canada, cross the border with a full gas tank. The crossing takes you into a remote section of Ontario, and the next gas station isn’t for 40 miles.

So... How Safe Is Grand Portage Really?

Cook County has a very low crime rate, with just 16 violent crimes reported countywide in 2021.

Thefts came in at just 36 reports, which is 400% lower than the rate 10 years ago.

The challenge on Grand Portage is that the tribal land doesn’t offer crime statistics, and the NPS doesn’t provide FBI-regulated statistics.

You can look for the National Park Service Annual Report, which will cover crimes and concerns across all parks.

One thing I want to be really clear about is – outside the parks, casino, trails, shoreline, and island adventure, there isn’t much else to do here.

I haven’t left off a heaping amount of things to do for lack of article space, as generally happens in large tourist areas.

If you don’t like any of those things, you won’t like Grand Portage.

True road trippers can tackle the Lake Superior Circle Tour, which covers 1,300 miles around the perimeter of the lake, including several U.S. states and two countries.

The North Shore All-American Scenic Drive takes you from Grand Portage to Duluth, through several small towns, including Grand Marais.

The drive is 154 miles and rides the coastline.

You should check the safety of the cities along the way to gauge if you want to stop or keep going.

SPOILER ALERT:

The most dangerous city on the route is Duluth, but even that city isn’t as dangerous as in some other cities where violent crime rates are exploding in a post-pandemic country plagued by gun and drug crimes.

Learn more in our article “How Safe Is Duluth for Travel?”

How Does Grand Portage Compare?

CitySafety Index
Grand Portage80
San Francisco61
Philadelphia60
Houston59
Atlanta58
St. Louis58
Los Angeles56
Belize City (Belize)37
La Paz (Bolivia)52
Sao Paulo (Brazil)45
Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)43
Sofia (Bulgaria)73
Siem Reap (Cambodia)63

Useful Information

Visas

Visas

Since Grand Portage is at the border, there is a lot of case-specific guidance for travelers, whether you're crossing for a long trip or a short time. For the requirements to get into the U.S. from Canada, you'll use the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website. To go from the U.S. to Canada, you'll need to review the Canadian Border Service Agency website. Each country has different rules for what you can/can't bring across the border and ID requirements.

Currency

Currency

The Minnesota currency is the U.S. Dollar, and across the border, it's the Canadian Dollar, but businesses on both sides might accept both. On the U.S. side, Ryden's Border Store is a duty-free shop where you can exchange currency, among other things. To err on the side of safety, always use the currency of the country you visit.

Weather

Weather

The average highs don't get above 50° from November through April, with January having average lows near -3°(F). Spending time outdoors requires smart layering techniques of base, middle, and waterproof outer layers. You'll want thick gloves and a warm hat, with hiking boots or snow boots designed for the weather element you'll be facing. Bug spray is needed from spring through fall.

Airports

Airports

On the U.S. side, Duluth has the nearest commercial airport, and it's 150 miles south. Thunder Bay International Airport is 50 miles away on the Canadian side and in a time zone that's one hour ahead.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

Standard travel insurance can be paired with adventure sports insurance if you want to protect your travels and activities. Insurance plans are available for wilderness in general or specific activities like skiing, canoeing, or camping.

Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

Grand Portage Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan -13° C
Feb -11° C
Mar -5° C
Apr 3° C
May 9° C
Jun 14° C
Jul 17° C
Aug 17° C
Sep 13° C
Oct 6° C
Nov -2° C
Dec -9° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
-7-4181520232318113-4
Low
°C
-18-17-10-338111171-6-13
High
°F
192534465968737364523725
Low
°F
-011427374652524534219

Minnesota - Safety by City

CitySafety Index
Bemidji78
Brainerd72
Brooklyn Park57
Detroit Lakes82
Duluth78
Ely84
Fergus Falls78
Grand Marais80
Grand Portage80
International Falls77
Lanesboro82
Mankato82
Maple Grove84
Minneapolis51
New Ulm83
Pipestone81
Red Wing78
Shakopee81
St. Cloud52
St. Paul64
Two Harbors83
Winona86
Woodbury83

Where to Next?

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