Grand Marais (/ˌɡrænd məˈreɪ/) is a city in Cook County, Minnesota, United States. It is a northern village located on the shores of Lake Superior; the population was 1,351 at the 2010 census. It is also the county seat and sole municipality of Cook County. Prior to inhabitation by French settlers and prior to Minnesota’s statehood, Grand Marais was inhabited by the Anishinaable indigenous people, the thriving woodland people also known as the Ojibwe. The Ojibwe name for the area is Gichi-biitoobiig, which means "great duplicate water," "parallel body of water" or "double body of water" (like a bayou), a reference to the two bays which form the large harbor off Lake Superior.
The area was a bustling fur trading station since the 1700s, and the French Voyageurs termed the settled village ‘Grand Marais’ which is French for "Great Marsh", referring to a marsh that, in early fur-trading times, was 20 acres (8.1 ha) or less in area, nearly at the level of Lake Superior, and situated at the head of the little bay and harbor that led to the settlement of the village there. Another small bay on the east, less protected from storms, is separated from the harbor by a slight projecting point and a short beach. Also, ‘Grand Marais’ also may mean "sheltered water area," as the harbor has natural breakwall rock outcroppings, providing for a natural safe harbor for early Lake Superior explorers.
Located on the east side of Grand Marais is Chippewa City. Chippewa City thrived in the 1890s, with about 100 families living in the village. The historic Francis Xavier church still stands slightly north of town, just off Highway 61. The church began as a Jesuit mission from Fort William, Ontario in 1855 to minister to the Ojibwe residents of the area. The permanent structure was built in 1895 and was used until declining attendance forced it to close in 1936. The Cook County Historical society restored the site between 1970 and 1974 and it was added to the National Register in 1986.
Grand Marais is a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, with the Gunflint Trail, historically a footpath for travelers and fur traders from inland lakes to Lake Superior. It is now County Road 12, a paved National Scenic Byway that begins in Grand Marais and ends at Saganaga Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), near the U.S. border with Ontario. It provides access to many of the entry points in the BWCAW.
Many are attracted to the natural beauty of the area, making it a regional arts, music, and crafts hub, as the home of nonprofit educational institutions, such as the Grand Marais Art Colony and the North House Folk School, and art galleries featuring the work of local and regional artists. Grand Marais is also the hometown of 300 Entertainment recording artist Cobi.