Located on the North Shore of Lake Superior, Duluth, Minnesota, offers the best of lakeside and cultural attractions. As Minnesota’s second-largest metropolitan area, just behind the Twin Cities, Duluth -- best known for being the hometown of rock ‘n’ roll legend Bob Dylan -- is lots of fun to explore.
From historic sites such as the Glensheen mansion to a beautiful drive along Lake Superior, there’s plenty to see, so plan for a weekend stay or consider a three-day exploration of the city.
Here’s how to have a great time on your visit.
Explore Lake Superior At Canal Park And Point Park
The heart of Duluth’s waterfront, Canal Park is the perfect spot to enjoy an up-close view of Lake Superior. Watch as the Aerial Lift Bridge rises to allow giant tankers and freight ships to depart the harbor and navigate the Great Lakes. The small rocky beach is a great place for a selfie. Stroll along the boardwalk, where you can buy popcorn and birdseed to feed to the gulls that call the area home.
You can learn about the history of the Great Lakes at the Lake Superior Marine Museum, which includes a replica of a pilothouse where you can captain your own boat. The 20-year-old Great Lakes Aquarium offers a view of animal and underwater life in the Great Lakes as well as other freshwater regions, including the Amazon River.
Connecting the lakefront to Duluth’s other parks, the Lakewalk features about 8 miles of trails that take you through the majestic rose gardens of Leif Erikson Park as well as to Point Park. Point Park is about 4 miles from the canal. It offers a beachfront experience where you can enjoy a walk along the soft sand and dip your toes into Lake Superior. Plan a picnic lunch at the beach to complete your experience.
Feel Like Royalty At Glensheen
One of the most impressive historic homes in Duluth, the 39-room Glensheen mansion once sat on 22 acres of beautiful landscape. The Congdon family, the original owners, lived there through the 1970s before they donated Glensheen to the University of Minnesota.
Today, visitors can tour the 12 acres that hug Lake Superior, offering majestic views of the lake. The nearly 125-year-old mansion’s rooms feature period decor, such as deep mahogany wood and gilded trimmings. As you tour the grounds, you can see and hear the waves crashing against the Lake Superior shoreline.
Appreciate The Art At The Fairlawn Mansion
If you can’t get enough of the area’s gorgeous historic homes, cross into Wisconsin and tour Superior’s beautiful Victorian Fairlawn Mansion. Built in 1891, the home features a four-story turret with a widow’s walk that looks out over the bay. Originally the home of a mining baron, the mansion’s rooms are decorated as they were when the Pattison family lived there. You’ll love the gilded murals on the ceilings and the stained glass windows. The botanical garden on the grounds is full of flowers, including peonies and hydrangeas.
Climb Aboard The SS Meteor
The last remaining whaleback ship in the world, the SS Meteor offers a look at Lake Superior history. The ship, originally dubbed the Frank Rockefeller, got its nickname because of its cigar-shaped hull that rode low in the water. It once carried cargo such as iron ore and grain.
Today, you can tour the ship and the nearby Lake Superior shipwrecks. The SS Meteor Museum is open from May through October.
Pro Tip: It’s best to visit on a cool day. The ship may be closed if the temperature reaches 86 degrees.
Wander The Jay Cooke State Park
Located about 10 miles southwest of Duluth, the Jay Cooke State Park offers beautiful scenery along the Saint Louis River. With a 13-mile-long gorge, the park is one of the most popular in Minnesota. Visitors can cross the river on an accessible swinging footbridge and take in the views of stone buildings built during the Great Depression. The trail also offers impressive views of the river and the surrounding woods.
As you hike through the area, be sure to stop at the historic Thomson Pioneer Cemetery.
Take A Cruise On Lake Superior
You can explore the Duluth area from Lake Superior aboard a Vista Fleet cruise. Tours are offered daily from May through October, featuring unique views of the Duluth skyline, canal, lighthouses, and wildlife. You’ll pass freighters heading through the Great Lakes locks and canal system. Vista Fleet offers a variety of affordable cruises -- including sightseeing, lunch, and dinner tours -- as well as special cruises like brunch, bluegrass, and sunset cruises.
Ride The North Shore Scenic Railroad
Enjoy a scenic view of Lake Superior and its surroundings from the comfort of the North Shore Scenic Railroad. Running from Duluth to Two Harbors, the 6-hour experience features a layover in Two Harbors, where you can explore Lake Superior and enjoy lunch at Louise’s Place, which serves up great sandwiches, salads, and vegetarian dishes. Then, tour the lakeside community, including its historic lighthouse and lakefront. Enjoy the scenery from the window of your passenger car or stand on one of the observation decks for unobstructed views.
Make The North Shore Scenic Drive
From Duluth to the Canadian border near Grand Portage, you can explore waterfalls, get up close to Lake Superior, and more along the North Shore Scenic Drive. The 5-hour round trip along Highway 61 will take you through quaint towns with unique attractions, shopping, and dining.
Two Harbors features a historic lighthouse, while Gooseberry Falls State Park boasts accessible hiking trails and impressive waterfalls. Stop at Split Rock Lighthouse, which stands high on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior.
Lemon Wolf Cafe in Beaver Bay is the perfect spot for lunch, since it’s at the midway point of the drive. It offers sandwiches and burgers as well as fish specials and steak entrees in a casual environment.
Sugarloaf Cove near Grand Marais offers a beautiful view of Lake Superior; take the short hike from the parking lot to the rocky beach. A stop in Grand Marais calls for a visit to The Beaver House -- a family-owned store that offers fishing equipment -- where you can take a picture with the giant walleye atop the building.
About 35 miles north of Grand Marais is Grand Portage, which might just have the most spectacular view of Lake Superior you’ll ever see. A lookout point just south of town offers a magical glimpse of the woods flowing into the blue waters of Lake Superior.
A short drive north will take you to the thunderous High Falls, which drop 120 feet to the Pigeon River below.
As you head back to Duluth, you might want to spend a little time at some of the other towns you passed when you were making your way north.
Eating In Duluth
Duluth is home to an amazing culinary scene. With several local restaurants and brewpubs to choose from, your toughest decision will be where to eat rather than what to try.
Grandma’s Saloon & Grill
Located in the heart of Canal Park, Grandma’s Saloon & Grill features a beautiful view of the harbor area and the Aerial Lift Bridge. With a menu that includes burgers, sandwiches, and salads, Grandma’s offers a casual dining experience. The restaurant also sponsors an annual marathon.
Producing more than 1,500 barrels of beer annually, Fitger’s Brewhouse offers local beer along with unique items such as poutine, smoked fish salad, and wild rice vegetarian burgers. Fitger’s also serves up standard pub fare, including burgers, prime rib cheesesteak, and smoked fish wraps.
Sammy’s Pizza & Restaurant
Located in downtown Duluth, Sammy’s Pizza & Restaurant has delivered quality pizza and pasta for nearly 65 years. You’ll want to try one of the award-winning pizzas like the House Special, with beef, kosher salami, mushrooms, peppers, onions, sausage, pepperoni, and mozzarella. The eatery also offers gluten-free and cauliflower crusts for a small fee.
Shopping In Duluth
Duluth’s Lakewalk takes you from the waterfront to the city’s historic downtown, where you can find almost anything, from souvenirs and gifts to clothes and antiques.
Minnesota Gifts by Sandra Dee inside the DeWitt Seitz Marketplace building offers unique gifts to remember your Duluth visit by, from shirts featuring the Aerial Lift Bridge to mugs, spoons, loons, wolves, and wood-burned paddles.
Duluth Candy Co. sells gourmet popcorn in unusual flavors like dill and s’mores; you’ll also find delectable handmade candy, including chocolate in many different forms. You can even order treats online.
Antique enthusiasts will enjoy visiting the Duluth Antique Marketplace. Offering vintage and antique items, such as household goods and vinyl, the store also sells a few new items. Stop in to browse or pick up something quirky for your home.
Where To Stay In Duluth
Duluth has several accommodation options. Whether you decide on an elegant stay by Lake Superior at The Inn on Lake Superior or a more economical choice like the Tru by Hilton, you can find a comfortable place to rest after a day of exploring, shopping, and dining.
For a unique experience, consider staying at Northern Rail Traincar Inn in Two Harbors, located about 33 minutes north of Duluth. You can stay in a railcar that’s been converted into a hotel room!
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