Duluth, Minnesota is located approximately a two and a half hour drive north from Minneapolis in Northeast Minnesota where Minnesota, Lake Superior and Wisconsin meet. Being on Lake Superior, there are many outdoor activities to explore in and near Duluth making it a great spot to spend a summer weekend.
I will admit I had never thought of visiting Duluth before or knew much about the city. I always thought the only place in Minnesota that I would visit would be Minneapolis. But on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I found that one of the more popular races was in Duluth, so off I went and I am so happy I did as there were so many great things to see in and near Duluth.
The weekend started off a bit chaotic. As it was June 2022, in the midst of the early summer flight delays happening in the US, my flight to Minneapolis was of course delayed even though I thought I would be safe since it was an early morning flight. My flight ended up leaving about the time I was supposed to land in Minneapolis. After I landed I made a quick stop in Minneapolis to stretch my legs a bit and then was in the car to drive north to Duluth.
By the time I arrived in Duluth, it was late afternoon and I was exhausted and annoyed from the flight delays, so I only had a limited amount of time to explore. Luckily it was the weekend of the summer solstice so the sunset time was pretty late, which gave me time to explore some of the Duluth Lakewalk after dinner.
The Lakewalk starts in Downtown Duluth where it’s actually along the St. Louis River before the river empties into Lake Superior. The Lakewalk continues for over 7 miles north. Along the downtown section of the Duluth Lakewalk, there are many things to see along the way.
The walk starts at Bayfront Park Pavilion which is the site of many festivals and events throughout the year. From there the walk goes by the convention center. On the west side of the convention center make sure to make a detour to see the replica of the Statue of Liberty. Descendents of the sculptor of the original Statue of Liberty lived in Duluth and the replica statue was put here in 1976.
Probably the most photographed site seen from the Duluth Lakewalk is the Aerial Lift Bridge. Built in 1905, the Aerial Lift Bridge connects the mainland of Duluth to the Park Point neighborhood which is located on a 5 mile long sandbar. The bridge operates 24 hours a day and on averages it lifts 26 times a day to let boats thru.
Canal Park is located on the mainland side of Duluth. This former warehouse district has been converted into an entertainment district with restaurants, bars, shops, antique shops and hotels. It’s definitely a great spot to grab dinner and walk around.
Before heading over the foot bridge to Canal Park (pictured above being lifted), you will notice a large ship. This is the SS William A Irvin. Named after William A. Irvin, who was once President of U.S. Steel, this Great Lakes freight ship was in service from 1938 to 1975. Thru all those years in service and many a treacherous winter storm over the years, the SS William A. Irvin remains in great shape and is now open for tours from May thru September each year. In October, it is open as a Haunted Ship on select evenings. Part of me is now wishing I visited in October, as I would love to experience the Haunted Ship!
The Duluth Lakewalk continues on from Canal Park along the shores of Lake Superior passing by Leif Erickson Park and Rose Garden along the way. Once the walk passes the Edgewater Resort at about the 3 mile mark it moves inland away from Lake Superior.
Split Rock Lighthouse
The next day after running the Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon, I took a little road trip north from Duluth to explore more along Lake Superior. About an hour’s drive north just outside of the town of Two Harbors, Minnesota is Split Rock Lighthouse
The North Shore of Lake Superior has a reputation for some really awful storms, so much so that it has been called “the most dangerous piece of water in the world” After one particularly awful storm in November of 1905, which damaged 29 ships, the need for a lighthouse came into fruition. On July 31, 1910, Split Rock Lighthouse was first put in service and remained so until 1969. After that time it became a state park and in 2011, Split Rock Lighthouse was listed as a National Historic Landmark.
The Lighthouse sits on top of a cliff overlooking Lake Superior which makes for a great spot to take in the views of the lake.
But seeing the view of Lake Superior is just one of the great reasons to visit Split Rock Lighthouse. Touring the lighthouse and the other buildings on site including the lighthouse keepers homes are the true highlights of visiting. Everything is self guided except for the lighthouse. When you walk into the lighthouse, there is a guide who will give you some information on the lighthouse and then you can walk up the stairs to the top and get an up close look at the 6.5 ton Fresnel Lens which was built in Paris and then assembled in the lighthouse’s lantern room.
You can also go into the fog signal building, the oil house as well as the lighthouse keepers homes. Over the years there have been 35 lighthouse keepers. In the first 20 years, the only way to the lighthouse was by boat, so the lighthouse keeper and their family would leave for a few months in the winter when the weather was really bad. In 1924, the highway was built and they could reside onsite year round.
With the only access being by boat and the lighthouse located on top of a cliff, you might wonder how they got the materials up to the cliff to build the lighthouse and get supplies up to the lighthouse. When it was being built and during the first years it was in use, they used a hoist and derrick system. You can see the ruins of this system to the left of the lighthouse. In 1916 a tramway was built to haul supplies to the lighthouse. Make sure to take the trail that leads to the stairs down to the lake. These stairs pass right by the ruins of the tramway and also bring you down to the shores of Lake Superior, where you can get some really stunning views of Split Rock Lighthouse.
Gooseberry Falls State Park
Located just down the road on the drive back to Duluth is Gooseberry Falls State Park. This 1700 acre park includes numerous hiking trails, waterfalls and a campground and is a great spot to spend a few hours.
There are three sets of waterfalls in the park with a path leading between all three. These are the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls. It’s a nice easy hike between the three. I walked up to the Upper Falls and then made my way down to Middle and Lower Falls.
While the easy hike between the three waterfalls may be enough for you, if you are looking for a more extensive hike, there are other trails to choose from ranging from the 2 mile Fifth Falls trail which will take you to another waterfall to the 15 mile Gitchi-Gami State Trail.
Kayaking on Lake Superior
The following morning I headed to Lake Superior for a kayaking tour with Day Tripper of Duluth. The tour lasted 90 minutes and was located on Lake Superior at Glensheen Mansion (more on that later). At 31,700 square miles, Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes. It’s more than 4 times the size of the smallest of the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario. This seems crazy to me, I went to college near Lake Ontario and it just seemed like such a large lake to me, to think this one was more than 4 times the size was just crazy. The size of Lake Superior is also comparable to the size of the state of South Carolina and the country of Austria. Needless to say it’s a large lake.
That being said, kayaking on Lake Superior will not be like kayaking on other lakes. It’s more comparable to sea kayaking. For one, the tour provided (and required) wet suits for all on the tour. We were given the typical safety talk about what to do if you flip the kayak but it seemed more emphasized than on other kayaking tours I’ve taken. I won’t lie considering my recent kayaking experience has been on rivers and I had only done sea kayaking once in Alaska way back in 2014, I was a bit nervous, which is not usual for me when it comes to kayaking. The fact that the other person on the tour flipped probably 2 minutes after he was out on the water didn’t help.
Being a bit nervous, I took it slow and thankfully stayed upright and out of the water. The tour took us along the shoreline and the guide shared some history of the area and the nearby Glensheen Mansion and the Congdon family who lived there.
We also kayaked down a private channel that was part of the Glensheen Mansion grounds. It was a spot where the children of the Congdon family would enjoy in the summers. We weren’t able to get too far down it since the water was low, but it was definitely very beautiful. We then finished the tour by taking photos in front of the Glensheen Mansion.
Since the kayaking tour took place right at the Glensheen Mansion, it was pretty obvious that would be my next stop.
The Glensheen Mansion was built between 1905 and 1908 by Chester and Clara Congdon. The Congdon family was known for starting iron mining in this region of Minnesota. The 39-room mansion sits on a 12 acre estate on the shores of Lake Superior. The Congdon’s lived here with their seven children.
The family and the mansion have a sinister past as Chester and Clara’s youngest daughter Elisabeth and her nurse were murdered in the mansion in 1977. Her son in law was arrested for her murder. It’s thought that her daughter and him knew that they would inherit millions when Elisabeth died and that was the motive for killing her.
The tours of the house are self guided and there are two different tour options you can take. The Classic Tour includes the first three floors of the mansion, while the Full Mansion Tour includes all five floors of the mansion. I recommend going with the Full Mansion Tour. With that tour you get to see the entire house.
I’ve been on many mansion tours over the years and many feature replicas of items that were in the home back in the day or period pieces. Glensheen has original artifacts that belonged to the family when they lived there, making it a very authentic experience.
The inside of the mansion was just beautiful, I loved seeing all of the different rooms and some of the windows had stunning stained glass.
But my favorite room to see was the luggage room. Maybe it was because it’s not the typical room you see on a mansion tour or maybe it’s because of my love of travel I really enjoyed seeing all the old pieces of luggage. Or maybe it’s the fact that I was intrigued by the thought of a luggage room, how do I fit one of these in my small apartment? Haha!
After touring the inside of the mansion, I took a walk around the grounds which were beautiful especially on the late spring/early summer day I was there.
The views of the lake as well as the view of the house from the lake shore were also stunning.
While walking by the lake shore there were some interesting things to see including a diving bell which was lifted from under the estate in 2019 and is said to be a century old. And also the only shark on Lake Superior.
After touring the mansion, I left Duluth to head back to Minneapolis in hopes of exploring a bit of the city before flying home the next morning.
With it’s location on Lake Superior, Duluth makes for a great weekend vacation spot. There was more to see than I realized and I really enjoyed my time there. I highly recommend a visit here to others.
Pin for later: